If you’re thinking about building a vegetable garden this year, raised beds are one of the best ways I know of to start a vegetable garden. Instead of renting a rototiller or hand-digging the soil, adding amendments and turning it all under to create a good garden bed, you start with the best soil mixture you can afford. The growing season may be a little longer, as I’ve found that raised beds tend to hold heat better than ground-level beds. You can place trellis, hoops and supports over the bed to grow crops such as squash, cucumbers, vine-grown beans, peas, and other similar crops.
Drawbacks to Raised Bed Gardening
Are there any drawbacks to using raised beds? A few. The biggest drawback is the cost. No matter how you look at it, you have to purchase the lumber or the kits to build the beds; you have to buy bags of soil and compost, or at least have plenty of good-quality soil trucked into the garden. You can’t skimp on soil. Good soil grows good vegetables. An investment in soil is an investment in the future of your garden.
A friend of mine just messaged me over the weekend to tell me that her husband brought home the materials for her first raised bed garden – over $1,000 in lumber and supplies. It’s a huge investment for their large family, but one that she thinks will pay off in the dividends of fresh vegetables and herbs. I think so, too.
Over the years, readers of this blog may remember that I’ve often paused to calculate the savings gleaned from my garden. One year, I raised over 70 pounds of sweet potatoes, and calculated that at the going rate of $1 to $2 per pound for organic sweet potatoes, my $16 investment in started plants yielded an impressive return of $120+ dollars (again, estimated, depending on how it’s calculated.) Amortizing the cost of the garden infrastructure, such as the lumber, nails or screws, and soil over the years the garden produces edible may make you feel better at the significant investment in building a raised bed garden.
Can you build beds cheaply? Yes! I’ve read articles on frugal gardening where people have used old truck tires to grow potatoes, or pallets with the interior slats taken out and stacked to make a square bed. I’m sure that with a little ingenuity, you can find a way to build raised beds for a fraction of the cost that I spent. I would never skimp on my soil, but saving money in other areas may be worthwhile.
Spring Is Almost Here: Start Your Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
Here at Seven Oaks, we’ve finished replacing the second of three untreated lumber raised beds in the vegetable garden. We refilled it with soil, and in about a week or two, we will be ordering mulch by the truckload for the perennial garden and the fruit trees. For the vegetable garden, I’ll be adding bagged compost; I want to gather enough cow manure, but didn’t get started early enough this year calling my neighbor who raised black Angus cows to ask permission to gather manure, which hasn’t left me with enough time allow it to compost. So it’s off to the garden center I go to buy bagged manure. My own compost pile, although quite full, cannot produce enough to feed the hungry plants in the garden.
Soon the asparagus will emerge, a visible and yes, quite tasty reminder that spring is here. Given that today, March 17th, I awoke to sleet and gray skies, spring can’t come soon enough.
How to Build a Raised Vegetable Garden: The Gardening Series on Seven Oaks
Below is a list of articles I’ve written on building raised vegetable gardens. There are step-by-step instructions offered here. You may also wish to check with your County Cooperative Extension office for more information, building plans, and soil tests.
- How to Plan a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
- Designing a Vegetable Garden
- Pathways for a Raised Bed Garden
- Soil for Raised Bed Gardens
- Can You Use Pressure Treated Lumber in the Garden?
I also wrote a book on raised bed vegetable gardening! It is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.