Raised bed gardening is a great way to get into growing your own veggies. It is simple and doesn’t require as much space as traditional gardening. This is super helpful if you are limited in space, if you live on a small property or in an apartment. It is also the perfect solution for apartment living since it allows for growing to happen on balconies!
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Most homesteaders who aren’t in the city aren’t super keen on the idea of raised beds.
And honestly, I’ve never gotten much of a straight answer out of any of them. Every time I ask one of my Already-Homesteading-or-Living-on-a-Farm friends about raised beds, they just make kind of weird noises, hum and hah, or will say things like “Yeah but you’re in the city”. Not really helpful. Now, of course if these lovely folks are having major success with standard in the ground gardening the power to them! Keep it up! Grow that tasty tasty!
But here’s the thing;
I wasn’t out on a big country lot yet.
I had a 15’x15’ plot of rented grass that got a little bit more sun then the rest of the street due to an old tree coming down the year I moved in. So my landlord wasn’t super keen on me ripping up the tiny lawn and filling it with veggies. Lawns seem to be every city lovers dream, which never made sense to me, because I don’t eat grass. But hey, to each their own I guess. I still wanted to grow veggies and thankfully he was perfectly happy to let me have raised beds (as long as I promised to put the law back the way it was whenever I moved out.)
And so, raised beds became my thing.
I was reading so many books that fall and winter about sizes, techniques, soil mixing, companion planting, crop rotation. I was a bit flooded to say the least.
Now, please don’t let that list make you think this is a crazy undertaking. It was actually super easy and well worth the afternoon of drilling to build them. Remember, this post is about why I’m still using these beds and even added more regardless of having more space now.
So why did I keep going if all my other homesteading friends had spouted glories about their traditional gardens?
Well, I have quite a few reasons (4 to be specific!) Though I do grow a couple things in the ground now that I couldn’t grow before, I still love my raised beds and will likely continue using them (and will be adding many more well into the future.)
Okay, so without more rambling, here are the reasons I still use raised beds:
1. They save space (and I already had a couple!)
Lets start with the obvious, I had 2 already! We had built these two boxes with scrappy wood on our tiny lawn and I honestly really liked them. When we bought our house I was going to have to remove them from the lawn anyways, so why not bring them with us! We borrowed a trailer from a friend and hauled the boxes (dirt and all!) out to our new property.
Originally I wasn’t going to use the raised beds for my veggies. I had figured we’d bring them with us and I’d throw some perennials in them to attract beneficial bugs and they’d live out their boxy lives in piece. Then when we were informed that we shouldn’t be growing things on our big lawn because it’s the septic bed we changed our plans. Oops! That should have been obvious since there was no other logical place for the septic bed to have been, oh well! The rest of the property is not really well suited for traditional gardening (more on that further down). So we had to get creative with what space we had left.
Our tiny lot in the city had not allowed us to grow much and this wasn’t nearly as cramped so we kind of felt like pros! Not much usable space? No prob! We got this! Our tiny seedlings that were getting a bit leggy at this point needn’t worry anymore!
The top of our property had previously been used for a sort of party hang out with a couple horse shoe boxes that were pretty overgrown. A fire pit and something that maybe looked like it was used for shooting at or throwing axes (yikes!). We thought, well we don’t throw too many parties that require a horse shoe game and those are the beginnings of boxes. With the addition of some extra wood and by removing the sand we had a couple more good sized boxes.
Blam! 4 boxes!
2. More control over the soil
Alright, so now we have these boxes and a great place for them. You might be thinking sure Liza, but don’t you have to fill them with fancy soil now? And aren’t you wasting the soil all around that you probably could have figured out?
Yes. They did need soil. Well at least the new ones did, the old ones had the soil that we had brought with us from the old house. Because transporting dirt with you is Normal! …ahem…
Anyways, I agree, if you have awesome soil in a tough location then darnnit you figure out how to deal with it.
But we are on a hill that’s almost entirely made of dense clay. I actually did plant a few things in the ground and let me tell you, my arms would be pretty jacked if I had to dig into that stuff to get it turned and fixed with nutrients!
So filling the boxes with purchased soil was the far better option. Plus did I mention those Leggy plants? Guys, seriously, they were SO leggy! They needed a home, fast.
My hubby was a touch concerned about the cubic footage of these boxes and how much fancy soil we’d have to buy. But not to fear!
Mixing your own soil is easy and way cheaper then you’d think.
And the best part is that YOU get to choose what goes into it. This was key for me. I love learning how things work and why they work, and I like to do things myself. This means that because I know what I’m planting I can build the mix accordingly. I get to control drainage or moisture retention which is huge if you’re planting a bunch of different things.
We ended up with one box that was for plants that like more drained soil. One that had slightly higher pH. And two super moist boxes for warmer/wetter plants and everyone looked so happy! Well worth the soil mixing! Check out our basic Soil Mix Here!
3. Less weeding!
LESS WEEDING! Oh. My. Gosh. So much less! This is pretty straight forward and there’s not much to it, but think about it. By building a box that’s raised up off the ground you prevent the spread of weeds that spread through their roots. And then of course by mixing your own soil to fill the box you are ensuring that there are no seeds of anything mixed in.
When I’m gardening in my raised beds I pull a few weeds here and there throughout the season. No joke. This reason is nearly the only one needed.
4. I like the look and organization! Plain and simple
Whether your property is big or small, raised beds are very attractive. They can be designed to look however you want and can match any other outside décor you have. I love the natural look of the wood, but they can be stained or painted to look great with all your outdoor accessories.
If you are renting your space then, gardening in raised beds is a clean and easy way to grow your food while keeping your landlord happy. You can reassure them that you will remove the beds when you move and its very little work. I know that my landlord in the city wasn’t really concerned about what the yard would look like after I left (since it was a deserted ghost of a lawn before). What worried him was how it would look while I was using it. Thankfully with the beds and the lovely weed free plants inside them, everything was organized and compact.
Happy landlord, Happy me!
A word about garden organization
Organization of garden space didn’t used to be something I excelled at and I find that having the beds has really helped with that.
Originally when I built the first bed, a friend had just gifted me a second hand book about square foot gardening. I was very excited by this idea and the potential for how much could be grown in a tiny space. The first year was small because I only had one box on a balcony but I enjoyed using the techniques I learned. They gave me confidence in rotating crops, companion planting, and succession planting which I definitely had not done well at in the past.
Now, I don’t really use those techniques in full, but they are still super useful for my organization. And yes, if I wanted to, I know how many of specific plants I can realistically plant in a one square foot space!
If you are unfamiliar with square foot gardening but have only a small space to work with, here are some books I recommend checking out:
- All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew – this one is a little bit dated, but the techniques are all still great.