Raised Bed VS In-Ground Vegetable Garden Options

March 10, 2014

As a garden expert I am often asked “what are the advantages of starting a raised bed vegetable garden over working in the ground?”

Upgraded Complete Raised Vegetable Garden Beduntitled-69 copy

It’s a complicated but important question when you are considering your home vegetable garden options.  The simple answer is:  Convenience, Protection, and Instant Gratification.

Convenience:  By elevating your garden you make it a little easier to work.  Spending hours hunched over or on your knees in the dirt can deter even the most serious of gardeners.  Your garden is going to require a consistent effort and should therefore be as comfortable as possible.  Some gardeners will even build in a bench seat on the edge of their raised planter for maximum comfort.

Protection:  A raised garden offers some protection from insects, rodents and even frost while providing a framework for future enhancements.  The sides of a raised bed can deter rats, rabbits, and other rodents by simply removing your food from their field of view and making it difficult for them to climb inside.  Installing protective galvanized gopher wire underneath your raised bed will prevent your crops from being taken from below.  The framework around your garden can also be used to attach bird netting preventing damage or theft of your young sproutlings.

Instant Gratification:  Conditioning your existing soils to be the ideal growing environment can be tough work.  Turning or tilling clay soils, adding compost amendments, and adding the right amounts of natural fertilizers is a consistent effort and quite laborious.  It can take a few years of working your soil to create the consistency you can achieve by importing soils to fill your raised bed in one day.  The pre-blended soils you can buy at most garden outlets have the right ratio of topsoil, compost and fertilizer already mixed for you.

Just to be clear about this issue and to play devil’s advocate, a strong case can be made for choosing to start your vegetable garden in the ground. If you are considering starting your own garden you should also consider these factors before making your decision: Sustainability and Cost.

Sustainability:  Conditioning our existing soils and planting crops in the ground requires very little inputs and lowers our collective carbon footprint.  Purchasing and collecting materials for raised beds contributes to oil production even if you are only using wood or stone.  Additionally, the process of building topsoil is becoming more important each year as fertile lands are eroding away and/or developed for cities.  We have a responsibility to ourselves, future generations, and planet Earth to live sustainably.

Cost:  Building a raised-bed garden with new materials is costly.  For example, the lumber material alone to build a 4’x8’ redwood box costs around $150 (using 2”x12” Redwood).  To fill thebox with imported soils requires 1 cubic yard of soil material and costs $120.  These numbers don’t even take into account the labor to build the box or move the soil.  If you count starter plants and an automated irrigation system your new 32 square foot veggie garden has cost you about $400 (and at least 1 full day of labor).

You have a number of vegetable garden options.  Whether you choose to grow in raised beds or start your garden in the ground research and plan before you dig to give yourself the best advantages for success. We wish you the best of luck.

Happy Growing