Building in “raised beds” is a fantastic way to grow fruit and veg in a small garden. I’ve outlined how I built the kitchen garden with raised beds in my earliest posts.
But when I first started this one, I had several people ask why I spent so much time, and a certain investment of money (well, overdraft, actually), to carefully plan out and build a raised bed system when I could have just stuck the plants straight into some dug soil.
So here are the top six practical benefits, AND my ‘inner-child’ reasons, for getting the foundations right before I started planting:
- They’re attractive OR “Oh, what a beautiful garden!” (Yep, pure showing off). Raised beds can be built to look attractive, providing structure to the garden that looks good all year round. They can be relatively cheap to make, with rustic charm, or you can spend hundreds and go very swanky… but if you enjoy the aesthetics of your garden, then this classic “potager” approach is both beautiful and practical, whatever your style and budget. My kitchen garden takes up most of the lawned area (and is spreading!). It is the dominant feature all year round and I want it to be a pleasure to look at and be in. The plants are also given a framed effect, which makes even the laciest-leafed cabbage or wonky-windblown turnip look spectacular!
- They’re functional OR “I don’t like getting my feet wet!” Dissecting pathways with gravel, slabs, wood chip or straw provide mud-free access to tend the plants from all sides (I’d steer clear of leaving it grassy, as it’s difficult to cut, will get into the beds and will turn boggy). Wheelbarrows and hosepipes are kept off the soil, protecting the seedlings and staying relatively clean. By building the beds up the soil is not compacted under foot, keeping it aerated and free-draining. There is less bending down to tend and harvest your crops. If you don’t have to put on boots then you’re more likely to nip out to tend and harvest your crops on a regular basis. It’s a pleasure, and not a muddy chore.
- They’re productive OR “I can’t resist buying more
sweetsseeds!” Because you don’t need to allow for access between rows, plants can be grown closer together. I find it easier to plan a rotation of crops, but it also allows more control when mixing companion plants together.
- They help maintain good soil health OR “I want everything to be perfect!” If your garden soil is less than ideal, then adding a good quality top soil to your beds is a great way to give your vegetable garden the best start and the best opportunity for seeds to root and grow into healthy vegetables. They have all the benefits of the “no dig” method. The soil can easily be topped up with compost, mulches stay in place, and pests and diseases are more readily spotted and kept under control.
- They increase the soil temperature OR “I can’t wait any longer!” The soil in raised beds warms up quicker in spring, so you can get your seeds and plug plants off to a good start. I’ve built my beds large enough so that they can take cold frames, which help protect seedlings as well as extending the growing season.
- They allow creativity OR “I want to go outside and play!” There’s something really rewarding about building a garden, and then being innovative with temporary structures and the plantings in the beds. I can spend endless hours fiddling about with posts, cages, nets and beanpoles. It’s Meccano for grown ups! This isn’t exclusive to raised beds, of course, but there’s something quite attractive about the overall unifying effect that the squares add to what otherwise might just look like a bit of a shambles.
I got my 120cm square raised beds from Greenfingers.com They often have them on sale so if they are full price, and you’re not in a hurry, it might be worth waiting. I then stained them using Eco woodstain from AURO UK, which has a great range of colours (as well as the black I used here).