Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Are raised beds really necessary?

Raised-bed gardening is not necessary and it seems to be all-the-rage these days.  I wonder why folks think they need to move away from our native soil, it is some of the most fertile on Earth.  My grandparents were farmer/ranchers in Kaufman County and they were on our wonderfully rich black clay, they always had a very productive garden without raised beds.  I can see some benefit to them: if you can't get down that low, if you are on VERY thin soils or if you just love the aesthetic but the farther away from the Earth you get the more complications you will have.  I have touched on this subject before but I want to reiterate that the so-called 'custom bedding mixes' that I have seen are a carboniferous load of crap.  Way too much high-carbon 'brown' material mixed with a little expanded shale, this stuff can cause you major problems.  Nitrogen sequestration is almost assured with these mixes and most of the time plants installed in them just sit there and do nothing.  This situation is unnatural and the plants tell you that loud and clear not to mention the enormous cost involved;  some companies are charging as much as $700.00+ for these contraptions.  Over time, as the soil biology has a chance to break-down the material, this will change and the system will work just fine but why not take advantage of what you already have and save all the time, expense and money?  If you garden organically you can't use treated lumber and your boards will last about two seasons and then it will be time to replace them..... cha-ching.  Plus I hate the abrupt edge to these beds, zero transition zone.  'Edge Effect' is a powerful, dynamic situation and this is completely lost with the design of most raised bed gardens.  'Edge' is created when two ecotypes converge and merge, it is a transition zone and it is the zone of highest biological activity (think faunal activity here) and will reflect this in high biodiversity.  Martha Stewart would describe this as a "good thing".
    Clay can indeed be challenging but the most that is required is to amend your clay soil with some good, finished compost and if you like  some expanded shale, this will create an environment in which you will be able to grow most any food crop....... but my grandparents never saw expanded shale and only used compost.  They went to town occasionally to supplement their pantry but most of what they ate came right out of the ground, not from a raised-bed.  I guarantee you this:  Nothing engineered by man can compete with what Mother Nature has already provided....... 


  1. I grew (or tried) without raised beds for a few years, but I have a black walnut tree and things just wouldn't grow. It never took off until I had the raised bed. It does take a while to get the soil biology - I can definitely attest to that!

  2. Informative article Randy, Thanks! I had to look up the definition of "faunal activity". I learned something new today. Keeping your plants in the ground regulates the moisture and temperature better than in a raised bed. For those that are disabled or have physical ailments that need a raised bed, using non treated lumber, bricks, stone, cinder blocks with keyhole garden design may be a good alternative.