My original garden was row-style, which afforded a lot of flexibility. No borders allowed me to expand on all sides as I pulled blackberries and amended soil gradually over the years. I broadcast cover crop seed liberally over the whole area and turned it in easily while weeds were efficient to hoe in the open soil. Large and sprawling plants like winter squashes could have free reign and it also made it possible to rotate my plantings without a great deal of forethought.
When brainstorming a new garden, however, I knew that raised beds were the way to go. We decided to go first class since this garden will be the space we’ll use for vegetables until we can’t garden any longer. Here are some of the reasons I chose to build raised beds:
- Require less bending & therefore are physically easier to tend for longer in our lives
- The soil in raised beds is protected from the compaction of foot traffic
- Paths surrounding are easier to maintain when the soil you’re planting in doesn’t wash out into the paths
- You fill the beds with soil of the ideal texture rather than being stuck working with what nature deposited in your garden (no glacial till, rocks or sticky clay) and therefore you can have a balance of good drainage & moisture retention
- Soil in raised beds warms up faster–plants are active sooner and produce later.
- If you line your raised beds with metal landscape mesh, you can exclude pests that tunnel such as moles and voles (plentiful in my garden)
- Hoops that serve as framework to attach cloches (protective devices) are easy to anchor to the sides of raised beds.
The big question was what material to use for the raised beds. What gardener doesn’t have bookshelves of “garden porn” or binders of inspirational landscape plans incised from magazines? I perused hundreds of unique, gorgeous, artistic and more or less functional vegetable gardens, not to mention falling into the rabbit hole of internet images.
When we were still planning on constructing the beds ourselves, the plan was to use stacking stone. I don’t have carpentry skills but can set stone walls. The material lends itself to our sloped ground. Gayle at Dancing Raven Design has beds built this way and I admire how they look and function.
Once we decided to have them built for us, the materials were no longer limited by my own capacity to work with them. New options appeared. The final decision was composite lumber (think of the deck boards made of recycled plastic and wood fiber). Why composite? Unlike stacking stone, which could shift or slide when turning cover crops, or otherwise working the beds, lumber won’t move. I wanted the end result to last and not have to be rebuilt.
Clearly pressure treated lumber was out because of the potential for harmful chemicals to leach out into the soil, and regular lumber, even cedar would rot in a matter of years. Amazing that the decision that took months to make can be summed up in one paragraph.
For more information on the pros and cons of raised beds, read WSU Fact Sheet FS075E by Craig Cogger “Raised Beds: Deciding if they Benefit your Vegetable Garden” at
©Colleen Miko, 2016