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  • Dana Tutela

The Pros and Cons of Raised Beds

Updated: Mar 6

side yard with raised beds and pea gravel path

Raised beds in your garden have their ups and downs!

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My dad used to make me laugh when he would pretend to be the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz and yell “Oil Can!” through gritted teeth when he got out of a chair. I find myself joking the same way now that I am older. We all could use a little oil can to loosen up the old joints, right? Until then, I find using raised beds in my garden has been a back saver.

The most obvious reason people choose to make raised beds is to avoid bending over to tend to their plants. Strained backs, arthritis, pinched nerves-we know how it feels after you’ve worked for long periods of time bent over and then try to stand up straight-ouch! Or how about the next morning? Even worse. Raised beds come in all different sizes and heights. They can be pre-built, assembled on site, or built custom DIY. I’ve used many types of raised beds for different purposes and find I like certain qualities about each one. I also find each one has its own disadvantages, too.

Wooden Raised Beds

kitchen garden with cedar raised beds

Let’s start with the DIY cedar raised beds that my husband built for me in Greenville, SC. Our brick house had a narrow side yard between us and the neighbors with a tall privacy fence. Along the house wall, the previous owners had planted a fig tree, a blueberry bush and gardenias. I wanted a kitchen garden to expand upon this so we built several rectangular wooden raised beds along the privacy fence side and filled them nutrient rich soil and compost. We finished with a pea gravel path and slate stepping stones down the middle. I loved everything about this little secret garden! I had fresh herbs growing, flowers climbing, bird houses and landscape lighting. It was my oasis on a property running wild with kids and dogs.

red roses climbing fence with raised beds

wooden raised beds with fence behind and flowers

The raised beds were constructed out of cedar and lasted ten years until we moved. They’re still there, but the wood is beginning to decay in a few places. I was also facing a problem with growing vegetables. The space was so narrow, it only received about 3-4 hours of direct sunlight. This was not good enough for growing vegetables. I decided to try raised beds in the backyard, but they had to be tall enough to keep the dogs out of them.

Galvanized Stock Tank Raised Bed

white stock tank with plants

Our second attempt at making a raised bed was by using a galvanized oval stock tank. After reading different opinions about the chemicals from the galvanization process leaching into the soil and eventually the plants, I found a paint product online that vintners use to paint the wine making equipment that has indirect contact with food. Basically it’s a food grade paint product. I used this to paint both the inside and outside of the tank. Then I painted the outside with regular paint for aesthetic purposes.

galvanized stock tanks

stock tanks being painted white

I made three of these and arranged them side by side near my chicken coop. We drilled holes in the bottom and then added a layer of rocks for good drainage. We then filled them with bags and bags and bags of good soil. I had not heard of the lasagna method yet! More on that later! My plants were gorgeous! I loved these raised beds so much and detail the transformation process here DIY Galvanized Stock Tank Planters.

white stock planter with orange flowers

harvested carrots in white stock tank planter

Unfortunately, a freak summer storm split my neighbor’s oak tree in half and it landed on two of the raised beds, narrowly missing my chicken coop. I salvaged one of the tanks, but had to remove the other two.

wheeled wooden raised bed with flowers and herbs

Next I tried using raised wooden troughs on wheels to keep on our backyard patio, away from the trees! I bought two kits online (Link here for planters) and assembled them according to the instructions. They were a very comfortable height and worked great for small herbs and flowers. I even had potatoes growing successfully in one! I also appreciated the fact that I could roll them around my patio to suit my needs which you definitely cannot do with standard raised beds. Unfortunately, they didn't last as long as our cedar raised beds. These are not a long term investment, but would be fantastic for a renter or someone with limited space!

wheeled wooden raised bed on patio

girl planting in raised bed

Vego Metal Raised Beds

vego grey metal raised beds with gravel paths

When we moved to our current property, I wanted to recreate my stock tank planters. The only problem was that I knew how much work it would take to prepare and paint the 8-10 raised beds that I wanted. I was dreading that job. Thankfully, I found Vego Raised Beds (affiliate link) in my Instagram feed one day. I know most people hate having their phones eavesdrop on them, but I find it pretty helpful. These beds are fantastic! I quickly ordered one to see what it was like. The final assembled product was perfect for what I wanted to do. However, peeling the plastic film off of each panel front and back was soooo tedious. I really hated that part! I ended up ordering 3 large extra tall raised beds and 4 shorter ones. My husband and I assembled them partially in the house because it was freezing outside and then finished them in place on the hill. I liked that I could stand inside the empty bed and move it around before committing to its permanent spot.

When we were finally ready to fill them with dirt, we decided to use the lasagna method, or hugelkultur method, that so many gardeners were raving about online. We lined the bottoms with several sheets of cardboard. Then we tossed in lots of sticks and branches. We added pine needles and leaves until they were about half filled. Then we put in inexpensive bags of topsoil and sand. Finally we topped it all off with a tremendous amount of compost and some red wigglers in each bed. My plants thrived! I was so happy with the outcome. It’s amazing how much the soil compressed as the branches and leaves broke down over the past year. I’ve been adding more compost with each season and each new round of plants.

*Ginger Tip: Choose the Correct Color

Keep in mind the color of your bed affects the temperature of the soil. Mine are the modern grey color which is lovely, but it gets hot! This can dry out the soil faster which means a little more watering in the heat of summer. On the other hand, it also means you can plant sooner in the spring because the soil temperature is heating up faster than the ground.

*Ginger Tip: Choose the Correct Plants

My large extra tall beds are spectacular because I do not have to bend over. It's also easy to inspect the undersides of leaves for nasty critters. However, if your plants get super crazy like my raspberries and blackberries did, it can be difficult to reach in there and deal with them. I’m 5’9” and I’ve resorted to keeping a step ladder in my garden so I can reach the tops of the branches and pick off the Japanese Beetles. I do not regret the size of the raised bed, but maybe what I planted in them! Choose wisely.

black stained fence with vego raised beds and bamboo trellis

Raised Beds are a wonderful addition to the homeowner's garden if chosen properly.

Raised beds can be beautiful and easy on our backs. They can be filled with soft nutrient rich soil when maybe the ground isn’t (ie: hard orange clay in SC). They can also be expensive, difficult to create, crushed or broken down over time. Regardless, I love having them in my enclosed garden and expect them to last a very long time!

Discover other ways to garden with physical limitations in my post: Gardening with Mobility Issues

Make your garden your oasis with these tips: 6 Ways to Create a Relaxing Garden

woman in relaxing garden

Read my post 6 Tips for a Successful Kitchen Garden for details about my kitchen garden.

kitchen garden with bird bath

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