People often want to grow their own edibles to save money. Buying quality produce can really 'eat in' to the budget. But when first starting a garden, seeds, starter plants, tools, soil, mulch, and other materials can really add up! Raised beds in particular can be pricey, especially if purchasing kits.
We are here to share some of the pros and cons of using raised beds. And, if you decide a raised bed is the way to go, we've provided some frugal design ideas to get you started.
Let's start with the cons.
One of the major things to consider when thinking of using raised beds is your area's overall climate. Since raised beds drain more efficiently (which is mostly a good thing), it may mean you need to water more frequently. Rootsimple warns that in hot, dry areas, using raised beds may significantly increase water usage. Also, raised beds need to be planned carefully if you intend to use plants that need a lot of room to grow. And, of course, having to buy materials to build a raised bed is a big downside.
Now, for the benefits that raised beds offer.
Healthy soil is a must for a healthy garden. Using a raised bed allows you complete control over what material you use for growing your plants. You can guarantee healthy, nutritious soil (like this one suggested by Weed em' and Reap) from the start. Once you create a good foundation for your garden, you should top it off with a couple of inches of fresh, quality compost each year. The improved drainage raised beds offer is especially beneficial if you live in an area that sees a lot of rain, or your land tends to hold water.
Raised beds also improve the overall microenvironment for your plants. The walls of a raised bed protect the soil from erosion, as well as compaction. If you keep your bed no more than 4 feet wide, everything is within arm's reach and you never have to step foot into your garden. According to Eartheasy, the soil in raised beds also tends to warm up more quickly, which means an earlier planting time for many gardeners. Depending on how high the walls of your bed raised bed are, they can also effectively protect against rabbits and rhizomatous weeds, as well as some weed seeds blowing along the ground. Weeding overall is generally a little easier to manage in the confined area of a raised bed.
Raised beds also make it possible for those with physical limitations to enjoy gardening as well. Of course, this will require more materials to build the bed to the desired height. But, if it makes the difference between gardening or not gardening, it's worth the investment.
Raised Bed Design
As for building your raised bed, make it a minimum of 6 to 8 inches above the ground to provide adequate space for root growth. And, just a reminder, don't make the bed any wider than 4 feet to allow for easy access. Also, try to steer clear of treated lumber since the chemicals have been known to leach into garden soil. Instead, try to use naturally rot resistant wood, like cedar, or other natural, non-toxic materials, like stones, stumps, or straw bales.
Cedar Raised Beds
Cedar is one of the best materials to use when building a raised bed, but it's expensive. Ana White created a cheaper version using dog-ear cedar fence posts. This is a great option for building one or two raised beds to see if raised beds are for you.
Log Raised Bed
If you have a lot of firewood waiting to be cut, toss some aside. This idea by Rodale's Organic Life of logs stacked and lined up makes a great frugal, rustic looking garden bed. There really isn't a right way to do this, but the longer the pieces you use, the less soil will spill through the cracks. If you end up using a lot of small logs, consider lining the inside of the walls with burlap to decrease evaporation and soil loss.
Stone Raised Bed
Making a raised bed from stone is a little more time consuming and cumbersome, but it's cheap and effective and completely customizable. You can create any shaped garden you'd like. The DIY Network does a good job of walking you through the process. The trick is to source your stones for free, from your property or maybe a friend's or even a development site. Get creative sourcing your materials. Landscape stone is expensive and could be treated with chemicals, so it's not the ideal option. Again, consider lining the inside of the walls of your bed with burlap to decrease evaporation and soil loss.