How I Fell in Love with Raised Garden Beds

By Rita Brhel

If you have the longing for homegrown produce, give raised beds a try.

April showers bring May flowers and…the gardening itch. If you have the longing for homegrown produce, but the traditional garden plot holds no appeal, give raised beds a try.

Raised garden beds, also known as garden boxes, are exactly what they sound like — a frame of soil sitting atop the ground, creating a small, defined garden plot with its soil surface raised above ground level.

You can immediately see how this would be helpful for those with back issues or arthritis. The frames allow them to sit down while tending to their garden. Raised beds are also touted for preventing soil compaction, improving soil fertility, providing good drainage, and reducing pests and weeds. Sounds too good to be true, right?

That’s what I thought.

From Necessity to Nicety.

My husband and I are both farm kids, growing up during the 1980s farm crisis. Our families both tended to large gardens to supply a great deal of each year’s produce.

Gardening wasn’t a nicety; it was a necessity. In my childhood home, we ate fresh fruits and vegetables from spring, summer, and fall garden plantings. We grew extra for canning, freezing, and dehydrating produce for winter meals.

Now that we’re grown up, the economy is different and so is our lifestyle. We don’t need a huge garden to have enough food for the family. Yet, we would rather eat homegrown than store-bought produce. And we enjoy passing on the wonder and excitement of growing plants to our children.

Before we had kids, my husband tended to a large garden with a variety of vegetables. He had seasonal plantings for spring, summer, and fall. We had a small orchard and vineyard. I helped out here and there, but it was more his hobby and he did well. He had dreams of adding more to his main garden plot, rows of sweet corn, perennial plantings, and more fruit trees.

After three kids and two moves, our garden looks a lot different. For one thing, it’s been scaled down quite a lot. And the other thing, it’s in raised beds.

When we moved to our home here — where we plan to be until we die of old age — we took up the previous homeowner’s garden spot. We had a lot of trouble for a lot of years. The soil was compacted and didn’t seem to grow much of anything but weeds. So we mixed in composted manure to improve the soil fertility, which only seemed to help the weeds. By mid-summer, the garden was so overrun with bindweed and crabgrass that we mowed it off.

That’s a terrible feeling of failure: to run your lawnmower over your garden.

We also battled squash bugs and cucumber beetles year after year. These little varmints feed on squash plants, and the like, spreading deadly plant diseases. The bugs don’t just move on, though, as they overwinter on plant debris.

Exasperated, we took a year off from gardening and visited local farmers markets instead, which was a great alternative. But we missed growing …read more

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