New veg. garden: raised beds or ground level?

carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)June 23, 2009

Fellow NE gardeners, your postings about starting veg. gardens have finally gotten to us, and we're going to fence in an area which is south-facing with all-day sun by Fall so as to get those veggies growing early next Spring. (And garlic in, this Fall.) Can you help us decide: raised beds or flat on the ground? Our land slopes gently downhill to the east. Hose faucet will be about 25 ft. away. We are "in residence" mostly on weekends, this being originally a summer cottage (we live in town during the week). No irrigation systems, so the plants must survive on weekend water and heavy mulching.

What are the advantages of raised beds vs. the benefits of ground level?


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lisazone6_ma(z6 MA)

I'm using a couple of raised beds for the first time this year. I usually garden in-ground. It's hard to tell sofar which method is better. The raised beds are nice because you don't have to dig out grass, weeds, rocks, etc. from hard clay, which is what we mostly have in NE (I know that's what I have in my yard - clay and rocks!!) and you can control exactly what goes in the beds. But it can be expensive to fill - it takes a lot more "dirt" than you think to fill even a small bed. Unless you lay hardware cloth down first you'll still have to deal with voles and things like that if you have them. In-ground is nice because you're not limited by the "walls" of a raised bed. But a raised bed will warm sooner. There are tons of plus's and minus's to both methods. A lot depends on what you plan to grow as well. Sofar, I'm liking doing a little of both!


    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 4:27PM
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At my last house I had raised beds - 4' wide by 12-20' long with wooden sides about 1 1/2 foot tall. Over two or three years we built 8 of these large beds plus several smaller beds for perennial crops like stawberries, rhubarb, and horseradish. For that situation, there were several advantages. It allowed us to have flat areas on a hill; we terraced with rock walls and put the beds on those flat areas, surrounded by woodchips for mulch, so there was no weeding at all. The beds were sunk about a foot below the grade, and we had to sift the soil, which was shallow over fractured ledge, to get rid of all the rock, and then we filled the rest of the beds with composted cow manure, thanks to our local dairy farmer. So, we ended up with no weeds & great soil in flat beds from an area that started out mostly rock on a steep grade. Other pluses were sitting on the bed sides to plant, screwing trellises for beans, melons, cukes, etc. directly into the bed sides, and the ablility to plant early due to good drainage and early season warm-up. We also sometimes put plastic hoops over the beds, tucking the hoop ends inside the beds to hold them, to cover with spun-bond or plastic. On our strawberry beds, we put hinged wire mesh covers so the chipmunks couldn't eat the berries. Between mulch and the high organic content of the soil, we only had to water when it had been dry for a couple of weeks or more.

Our current house had a pre-existing ground-level garden which we simply took over as was since the house needed a huge amount of work, so that's where our efforts and energy went. I miss the raised beds, and find that I have more difficulty with soil-living bugs like wire worms in my potatoes and cutworms crawling in from the surrounding field. I can't work in the garden as long since I have to bend more or sit on & scoot along the ground. (I'm no spring chicken!) The grass and weeds migrate into the veggie garden from the surrounding field, and the soil needs to be prepped in the fall so I can plant peas, potatoes, etc. earlier in spring since the soil stays cold and wet for much longer. There are two only advantages I can see to the ground level garden: it's easier to till with a machine like a big tiller or tractor if you want to be able to do that, and any crops that need winter warmth can be well mulched and will stay warmer in the ground. Garlic, which is a bit borderline as far as hardiness here, has better survival rates, and my leeks and root vegetables overwinter better with a thick layer of mulch when they are in the ground rather than in a raised bed.

So, like Lisa, I will eventually have some of both, but with most of my garden as raised beds and a smaller part of it in the ground.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 8:30PM
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marie_of_roumania(z6 MA)

i favor raised beds but the reasons are difficult to articulate ...

the primary reasons are aesthetic -- i like the simple structure they add to my unruly yard and i like the squareness of them (not a curvy-line bed kind of gal).

i like just having to think about just one square (or rectangle) at a time.

i like the fact that they cost less than stone.

i like not having to bend down as far.

i like that whatever i plant is less likely to creep somewhere it shouldn't.

i like that i can move them around. i have mortis-and-tenon raised beds (link below) so they are easy to take apart. i set up a couple in the winter for outdoor seed-starting & tuck them away in a corner of the garage in the summer.

i like the fact that i can smooth a couple of wheelbarrows of half-finished compost over the top of a raised bed at the end of fall and the wooden sides will keep the compost from blowing all over the yard.

i like coming home from work & sitting on the side of a raised bed & eating lettuce ... but don't tell anybody.

Here is a link that might be useful: made right here in massachusetts

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 10:26PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

We went to raised beds largely because the sunniest place in the yard that wasn't in the middle of a play space was next to the swamp. So raised beds gets us out of the muck. They also warm up a lot earlier in the spring, and that can count for a lot here.

The frames are regular framing lumber. After ten years, a couple of them are falling apart, but the fill soil should probably be replaced anyway.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 9:33AM
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leira(6 MA)

I know that some people are are huge raised bed fans, but I'm going to weigh in and say that I like to garden in the plain old dirt.

I currently have my herbs and some perennials in a raised bed, and my vegetables in the ground. We chose the raised bed (built with wall stones) for architectural reasons, and it looks great, but it was a lot of work and expense to build it.

Part of my motivation is that I'm on a "simplify" kick with regard to gardening, and "turn over the dirt and go" is more appealing to me than having to build beds and haul in (and pay for!) something to fill them with. I'd rather amend the soil I have and make good use of it.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 11:35AM
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ctlady_gw(z6 CT)

One question I would have (and I have a raised vegetable garden myself, though it's small and only two "boards" high) is whether a raised bed will tend to dry out faster than an inground bed. It would seem logical that it might, just as hanging baskets dry out faster than plants in the ground (more air circulation, etc.). So if watering is going to be intermittent (and I would warn that in hot spells, you may find that relying on weekend watering and rainfall may not to be enough for some vegetables, moist of which have high moisture content -- tomatoes, in particular, need a steady level of moisture, whether it's too much or too little, it needs to not fluctuate greatly or else the fruit will split), I would think inground might provide better moisture retention (mulching well either way!)

Just my thoughts. We had an large inground garden at our old house and I loved being able to bring in a big tiller each spring and really turn the soil. On the other hand, the raised bed is much easier to weed, harvest, etc. (less back-bending). So there are pros and cons to each....

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 2:05PM
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