Where is the Best Place to Grow Your Veggies?

A client recently looked at me a little sideways when I said she could plant her veggies either in raised beds or directly in the ground.  "You can plant them directly in the ground?  But what does it look like?" she asked.  Raised beds are so common in Portland that I'm not surprised my comment resulted in a sideways glance.  This conversation got me thinking about the pros and cons of raised beds and in-ground beds.

I've never thought twice about my decision to plant directly in the ground, for two reasons.  First, in-ground beds are endlessly flexible and the layout could be adjusted every year if I wanted; and second, it's less expensive to just plant directly in the ground, usually with minor soil amendments.

When I say raised beds, I'm referring to framed garden boxes.  They are usually made out of wood, although I have seen them constructed with other materials.  Raised beds area a great way to keep your veggie garden neat and tidy.

 Raised beds constructed with wood. Photo was taken during the winter in a front yard of a house in my neighborhood.

Raised beds constructed with wood. Photo was taken during the winter in a front yard of a house in my neighborhood.

 This is a combination of a raised bed and in-ground bed set into a sloped front yard. It is built with urbanite (broken up pieces of concrete).

This is a combination of a raised bed and in-ground bed set into a sloped front yard. It is built with urbanite (broken up pieces of concrete).

RAISED BEDS: PROS

  • Clearly defined planting area

  • Clearly defined paths (this is helpful for children, pets, and wandering garden-unaware folks)

  • Choose your own soil/compost

  • Soil heats up faster in the spring

  • Good drainage

  • Easy to access, especially for those who cannot get to ground level

  • Rectangular shaped garden is easy to plan

  • Easy to add hoops/plastic for a mini-greenhouse effect

RAISED BEDS: CONS

  • Limited creativity for garden design

  • Inflexible as your sun/shade situation changes over the years

  • Up-front cost of materials and labor to construct beds

  • Up-front cost of soil/compost

  • May dry out faster than in-ground beds

  • Wood frame will eventually rot

  • Everyone is doing it - why not try a more unique design?

If you decide to grow your veggies in raised beds, there is only one thing I beg of you.  Please don't grow any veggies or other edible plants in raised beds constructed with pressure treated wood!  It's true that pressure treated wood will last a long time, but it is treated with chemicals that could be taken up by your plants, right into the beautiful veggies you just grew!  Why take the risk? 

In-ground beds have their pros and cons too.  Here are a few photos of tomatoes grown directly n the ground, surrounded by an edible and medicinal landscape.

 Young tomato plants grown in the ground next to medicinal herbs, jostaberries, and a cold frame.

Young tomato plants grown in the ground next to medicinal herbs, jostaberries, and a cold frame.

 In-ground tomato plants blend in nicely with the surrounding garden and are easy to harvest.

In-ground tomato plants blend in nicely with the surrounding garden and are easy to harvest.

 Tomatoes harvested from plants grown directly in the ground.

Tomatoes harvested from plants grown directly in the ground.

IN-GROUND BEDS: PROS

  • Endlessly flexible layout options (veggies don't need to be planted in rows!)

  • Easy to shift beds as sun/shade changes at your site

  • Blend your veggies right into your garden for a cohesive look

  • Little to no up-front material/soil cost

  • Can amend your existing soil if needed

  • Easy to transform lawn to garden beds by sheet mulching

  • Easy to transform garden beds to other uses as your surrounding garden matures

IN-GROUND BEDS: CONS

  • Garden bed/path boundary can be unclear to some (like my young daughter!)

  • Pathways and lawn can slowly move into the garden beds, so some upkeep is needed

  • Warms up slower in spring

  • Dries out slower in spring so you may have to wait longer to plant

  • More bending and reaching to tend and harvest veggies

  • Slugs have direct access to your beds

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There is not one "right way" to garden.  All gardens are unique and all gardeners have their preferred methods.  Decide which type of bed works best for your lifestyle, site conditions, and design aesthetic.  You may even do a combination of raised beds and in-ground beds depending on your situation.  Experiment with different types of beds to see what works best for you.  Happy gardening!

I'd love to hear from you!  What's your choice? In ground or raised beds?    


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