Raised bed gardens are a great way to get started with growing your own food right away. But if you have never used raised garden beds before, you might have some questions. So, I’m answering the most common questions and concerns about raised beds below!
Why Raised Vegetable Garden Beds?
Many people wonder what the benefits of raised bed gardens are. Here are some of the ways raised garden beds are ideal:
- Raised beds are neater – It’s easy to see where the garden begins and ends as well as where the rows are. You can more easily keep grass and weeds from encroaching on your garden space.
- Raised beds are easier to use for older folks or anyone who has trouble bending down (you can build them as tall as you need).
- Soil doesn’t get as compacted in raised beds – In-ground gardens must be walked on so soil can become compacted. Raised beds never have foot traffic, so the soil stays looser.
- Raised beds can be used in otherwise ungrowable places (on top of concrete, for example).
- They are great for places that have bad soil since you are bringing in your choice of soil. Yes, it’s possible to amend existing soil, but raised beds are the quickest way to create growable space.
- You may be able to take the raised beds with you if you move. This is especially true for metal raised beds.
- Raised beds create a slightly longer growing season since they warm up earlier in the spring and stay warmer later into the fall.
- Raised beds may also help with drainage if your soil contains a lot of clay.
While raised beds aren’t always the best choice for a space, they do offer many benefits that many gardeners like to take advantage of. But there are also many ways to create raised beds in your garden, so let’s explore that next.
Raised Garden Bed: Wood vs. Metal
There are limitless ways to build raised beds. As long as you have a raised bed material that is safe for growing food in, you can build a raised bed. But, for the most part, raised beds will be made from wood or metal. But which one is best? Here are my thoughts:
Benefits of Wood Raised Beds
Building raised beds from pine is a quick, easy, and cheap solution for raised beds. Untreated wood is a safe material for your raised beds and pine is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive (though prices of all lumber have shot up since 2020).
However, pine will not last very long — 5 years or so. Once the bed starts breaking down, you need to replace it. If you let pine raised beds go too long without replacing, they will start to become one with the surrounding landscape (ask me how I know!) and it becomes VERY difficult to remove them and replace them.
Cedar or redwood raised beds are longer lasting (10-20 years) than pine but are also MUCH more expensive.
Benefits of Metal Raised Beds
Metal raised beds are becoming more and more popular with rising lumber costs. Galvanized metal raised beds are an investment up front but ultimately pay off in the long run since you don’t have to replace them often (they last 20 years!). Metal is also ideal because it doesn’t expand, shrink or warp from the elements. Quality galvanized metal raised beds like the one I received from Olle Garden will not rust or overheat.
Metal raised beds are also very modern looking and come in many colors, so you can make your space look exactly the way you want it to.
How to Fill Raised Garden Beds
Depending on how tall your garden beds are, you don’t need to fill them entirely with soil. I would not recommend adding more than a foot of soil to any garden bed. The reason is that most, if not all, of your annual plants will not root down deeper than that. So adding more than a foot of soil to the raised bed is just wasteful.
What Do I Put on the Bottom of a Raised Garden Bed?
I recommend filling the bottom of your raised bed with organic materials such as small sticks and brush, fallen leaves, straw, and even kitchen scraps (though it’s best to avoid seeds). Then top the bed off with the topsoil of your choice.
Here’s what I do:
- Add a layer of mulch to the ground below where you are going to place the raised beds. This helps keep grass from growing up into your raised bed. Some people will use cardboard, but I prefer a leaf and straw mixture.
- Place the garden beds and add organic material to fill the bottom. I like to use leaves and strwa to make a nice layer so the soil doesn’t fall through. Leave at least 12 inches of space at the top for soil.
- Add your soil of choice (more on that below).
In this picture you can see the start of adding brush and fallen branches. I didin’t get a picture when Iwas done adding them!
After adding yard brush and fallen branches I add another mulch material like fallen leaves.
It’s that simple! Filling raised garden beds doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Each year the soil will settle a bit and you will need to add compost or soil to the top.
Soil for Raised Garden Bed
So, once you have your organic materials at the bottom of the bed, what kind of soil should you put on top?
I would recommend simply using compost if you have it. Compost is full of organic matter that plants need.
It will also help the organic matter in the bottom of the bed start breaking down without depleting the soil. However, you could also use a mixture of compost (even worm compost), manure, and garden soil.
Since it’s November in NH as I set up these beds, I’m waiting until spring to add the compost/soil. When I add it, I will take another picture!
Update: Here are my raised beds planted with carrots and beets:
As you may have noticed, the soil settled more than I expected. I’ll need to add quite a bit more soil next year to fill the beds.
Do Raised Garden Beds have a Bottom? Do They Need Drainage?
Yes, they do need drainage, but raised beds are bottomless, so as long as the soil you add to the bed is good soil (i.e. not clay) your drainage will be fine. No need to do anything else!
If your raised bed is not bottomless, then what you actually have is a container garden.
How Deep Should a Raised Garden Bed Be?
The minimum height for a raised bed is 10 inches if it’s on the ground (not on concrete or another hard surface). But you can have a raised bed that is much higher.
The raised bed kit I received from Olle Gardens is a modular raised bed, meaning you can create 1 of 4 different configurations. I chose two 63×31.5-inch raised beds that are 17 inches high, but you could also make one extra deep raised bed from this kit.
The 17-inch height is perfect for me, but I know some older folks and those with health issues difficult find that a taller raised bed is better for them.
What I Think About the Olle Gardens Metal Raised Bed
I’m becoming a big fan of metal raised beds which is a bit of a surprise to me.
I like that they last a long time (20 years or more!) and that even when their time is up, they aren’t going to become part of the surrounding environment to the point where it becomes impossible to replace them (yes, I have had a bad experience with neglected pine raised beds!).
I also like that I will be able to take them when I move to a new home.
The kit comes with 66 short screws and 6 long screws. I believe the long screws are for stacking the two 63×31.5-inch beds to make one much taller bed (the long screws are necessary for going through 4 layers of metal).
However, I needed to use the long screws in the configuration I chose as well since there weren’t enough short ones. I didn’t love this, so I asked Olle Gardens to send me some extra short screws and they did without any problem.
I can’t say how well things are growing in the raised beds since the season is over and I haven’t used them yet, but these metal raised beds are sturdy and high quality, so I have no concerns about them!
Is Your Raised Bed Garden a Vision of Perfection?
Raised beds have many benefits, including being more visually appealing and orderly, making it much easier to get growing right away, and working well for areas where native soil is not ideal. It’s simple to start using raised garden beds and is a great choice for many people.
Do you use raised beds? What are your reasons?