Friday, April 5, 2013

Gardening Methods: Raised Beds and Vertical Gardening

This post is part of the current 'gardening methods' series going on here at the Backyard Farming Connection.  If you missed the other posts from this series, visit the Gardening Design Link or check out some of the links at the bottom of this post.

You may also link up interesting posts below as part of The Homesteading Resource Guide, and I am looking for photos of some of these methods in action.  If you have photos of your experience using different gardening methods, please share them to my flickr page (or email me at gstuppycarlson at gmail dot com) and I will share them within my posts (with due credit given of course).

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised bed gardening is a wonderful option for people with poor soil and drainage, difficulty bending over, a small gardening space, or someone looking to minimize root compression and maximize yields.  Raised beds allow you to transform and adjust your garden space to your needs.  Here are some of the benefits of raised beds:
  • Great for intensive planting and areas with limited space
  • Allows you to improve your soil since you often bring in soil and enrich it (allows for good drainage)
  • The raised beds warm earlier than a traditional garden so you can plant your vegetables earlier in the season
  • The soil is not walked on and compressed which results in higher yields
  • Since you are focusing your gardening in a specific area, it is easier to control weeds
  • The raised height makes it easier for elderly or handicapped people to work
  • Raised beds allow you to build a level garden space on a hillside or slope

Just like any garden space, you will need to work out a system for watering, especially since raised beds may dry out faster that the surrounding ground.  There is usually a higher up front cost to creating raised beds, but you can keep costs down by choosing your materials wisely and adding your own soil or compost.  We chose to use logs from the land we cleared, but did opt to bring in soil and compost to create rich beds for our plants.

One of the simplest ways of creating raised beds is to simply mound up the soil to create a raised row.  This type of raised bed is less well defined, but since there are no borders, the soil along the edges does not dry out like it sometimes does in other raised beds.  You can find out more about using this method at Old World Gardens.

When creating raised beds with edges, you can use boards, branches, logs, rocks, cinder blocks, or any material you can find to create an edge.  Remember that whatever you use will come into contact with your food, so use safe sealers on any wood surface or choose hardwoods.  Rock will retain heat better, but will cause the soil to dry out along the edges.  You can also purchase prefab raised beds which are only a good choice if you will be make one or two gardens.

Most raised beds are created 3 or 4 feet across (just wide enough for you to reach the middle without stepping in the garden) and as long as you choose.  For some ideas of different raised beds, check out this article over at Organic Gardening.  The higher you create your beds, the stronger your plants will be.  Many articles recommend 12 inches high, but you can also build up over time or if you have decent soil and drainage you can stick with shorter beds.

Fill your raised beds with a great mix of soil and compost, especially if you're planting a perennial bed.  It's easier to start with great soil up front, but you can also build up your soil over time.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening is all about growing up instead of out.  You can employ vertical gardening techniques by simply growing up a trellis or arbor, or by completely rethinking how you garden and reusing materials to grow up.  Vertical gardening is a great method if you are restricted on space, but is also useful if you have a larger area as well.  You can also use vertical gardening to create micro climates (by planting shade loving plants below a trellis) and grow alongside a wall to take advantage of the extra heat, you can use vertical gardens to create a privacy hedge and increase visual appeal.

Get creative about vertical gardening by using material you have around your home, and don't forget you can also grow down as well as up!  For some ideas, check out the great book Vertical Vegetable Gardening.

Have you used raised beds or done any vertical gardening?  Let me know if the comments and link up your posts of garden methods below.


  1. Vertical gardening is really interesting to me. We haven't tried it yet, but I'd love to give it a go. We currently do raised beds because I like the organized look and it's easy to maintain and tend to.

  2. I don't know why I never thought about building a raised bed on sloped ground! Great use of space. I love gardening in raised beds. The resources included here are awesome, thank you!