Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening-Advantages of Raised Vegetable Gardening

Raised bed vegetable gardening has many advantages compared to the traditional in ground garden. The area is smaller and easier to tend. The soil inside the bed is rich and loamy. Since you never step on the raised bed, the soil won't compact and get hard for plant roots and water to move through.

You can get an earlier start with your garden because the soil in the raised bed will warm up faster than the regular ground will.

Seeds will be used sparingly, because you only plant a certain number of seeds in each area. Fertilizer and weeding are concentrated on the area which holds your vegetable garden, and not wasted on footpaths and weeds.

Pulling weeds from this loose loamy soil will be much easier, since their roots won't go very deep. If you use a planting mix that does not contain native soil, you won't have to amend it as much, and you won't have the seeds of all those weeds in it from the start.

If you used the hardware cloth and the landscaping fabric, not only weeds, but gophers and moles will not come up from underneath and devour the roots of your vegetables; something very hard to achieve in an in-ground garden. You are unlikely to see your best plant suddenly dry up and die, still full of fruit, because the roots are gone.

Your water won't all drain out the gopher hole, leaving your garden soil dry. Those little telltale mounds of dirt next to a gopher hole can ruin your whole day, and your garden.

evening out soil with a rake

Planting Medium for the Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

When you have assembled your raised bed for your vegetable garden, you will be eager to fill it and start planting. You need to give some thought to what you want to use in your garden bed for a planting medium.

The benefit of a raised bed vegetable garden will be less if you fill it with rocky, sandy or clay soil that is nearby. You will need to add amendments just like an in-ground garden, and drainage would be more difficult too, because the soil would not be a good loam.

For such difficult soil, it would be better to buy compost, sphagnum peat moss, and horticultural vermiculite, or some topsoil. Mix in about equal amounts. I recommend the Kellog's Brand Compost.

If you have good loamy soil, rich in organic matter, then you can use about 75% native soil. The rest should be compost and steer manure. A little outdoor potting soil to give it more fluffiness wouldn't hurt, but isn't as necessary if you have good soil.

Be aware that you will bring insects, weed seeds, and possibly even plant diseases in with that native soil. So it's a personal choice which you would prefer to use.


When you buy steer manure, you need to get the sterilized bags at the garden center. Using raw manure that hasn't been composted can expose you to bacteria like E. Coli and Salmonella, among others. See Organic Food Safety-Manure

Even sterilized manure can burn plants if you use too much. A thin layer on top, worked into your soil, will be all you need. Maybe 1/8-1/4 inch thick, depending how deep your bed is. Compost will not burn, it is already broken down to the point where it is like a fertilizer, with the added benefit of bringing body and microbes to your soil that will work to help your plants grow and be healthy.

It is easier to mix the soil well by using a plastic tarp and mixing so that it is all even and thoroughly mixed. Then putting it into the bed. What you don't want is to have pockets of unmixed parts that keep the water from penetrating properly or stunt your plants roots.

Also, if you plan to garden organically, this is the time to add your organic starter fertilizer so that it will be evenly distributed. Dr. Earth's premixed fertilizer comes with trace minerals and microbes that break down the fertilizer to make it more available to the plants. Fish meal and kelp meal combinations are great starters too.

Make sure that once your soil in is the raised bed, you take the time to level it well. Otherwise the water will puddle at one end and leave the other end dry. Soaker hoses are a good choice for a raised bed. You can even bury them an inch down in the soil to save on evaporation. Raised beds will dry out faster than an in-ground garden so expect to water more often.

Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening is the basic approach used when planting a raised bed vegetable garden. If your bed is 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, then you have 32 square feet of planting space available. Using tomato cages and trellises can greatly increase your available space by limiting large plants to 1 square foot of ground space, and letting them grow upward, or vertically.

One idea is to set up a pole that goes across the middle, about 5 feet above the soil. You can use jute strands for climbing plants to hold onto as they grow up. Staking or caging tomatoes is another alternative. For plants that need sturdy supports, a trellis can be screwed on to either end of the garden.

Make sure that your bed is oriented north/south so that it will get sun from east and west on both sides of the garden. Many people use string to mark off the squares in the beds. To go lengthwise, start 1 foot in from the edge on either side, and 1 in the middle. This will give you (4) 1 foot wide by 8 foot long strips to plant in.

In square foot gardening, you use 1 square foot for large plants like a pepper or tomato. Be sure to put the large plants in the center of the square. For the smaller vegetables, 4 bush beans can go into one square. One Square holda 16 radishes or 9 carrots or onions. Alternate large and small plants so that as the large ones grow out, you can harvest the small plants that they are growing over.

When you've harvested a square, plant seeds for a new crop of something else.

Whatever system you use, you will need to remember to check the limits of your growing season, the last frost date, and your climate zone. Every year rotate the crops. So if you grew potatoes, tomatoes, or peppers in one section, write it down. You need records to know where something's been and where it should go next. Each year rotate the area for each crop to prevent soil depletion and disease problems. And Have fun!

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