Benefits and Considerations of Using Raised Garden Beds
Raised beds allow you to control the health of the soil in which your plants grow. A raised garden bed is a simple mound or one raised above the surrounding slope. The goal is to create a deep and wide growing area that encourages plant roots to grow downward.

Native Soil in Raised Bed Gardens

Challenging native soil conditions can be overcome with the use of raised bed gardens.

Raised beds allow plants to be placed at eye level for better viewing of pest problems. When the bed is included in the structure, you can better really get in there and work on the bed without compromising the overall shape.

I also prefer not having to bend over to maintain the bed. Just a little added convenience makes working the garden easier, even on those days when I might want to relax with a cold drink. Trust me; I have days like this too.

Where do you live have hard soil, heavy clay (like my red Atlanta clay), fine grained sand, or is your home surrounded by concrete? Perhaps, you've had a soil test done and found lead or other contaminants in your native soil?

Elevating the garden surface will keep your plants above problem soil and prevent exposure of plant roots to these pollutants. With the use of loft beds, there really are no surface issues that will stop you from gardening.

When your soil bed is higher than the surrounding terrain, you can control its health and drainage. So, anyone, anywhere can grow a highly productive raised bed garden, no matter how bad the land you start with.

Frankly, I also like the look of the loft bed. I have found their aesthetic value to be of great benefit to my possessions. Given these options, I can't imagine gardening without raised beds.

Do the benefits of a loft bed outweigh the cost?

There are many variables that can determine whether a raised bed is the best garden choice for you. Some great gardeners prefer subterranean gardening. The regular on these podcasts has mound beds in his underground garden and he has no choice.

In nosstagarden gardens, stacked beds line the inner gardens in a row.

Building a loft bed can be expensive. It doesn't need to, but it can. In 2009, I was asked to build a full garden (including plants) for $25 or less and I was lucky enough to find 110 year old barn lumber to build my raised beds. It might be worth looking at sites like or for repurposed material.

Some other potential disadvantages of loft beds:

their persistence. For most people this is a benefit, but if there is a chance that you will need to relocate your garden in the next few years, the permanent raised bed structure will need to be removed.

Uplifted soil is more susceptible to heat and cold than topsoil. If the side walls of the bed are not very thick, nearby soil and plants may be affected by extreme conditions.

Elevated soil dries faster than topsoil. In this series, I'll cover some ways to significantly reduce this adverse effect, but the fact remains.

Raised beds require space between the beds to cross the garden path. If you have very limited real estate, losing some of it to walkable space could be a deal breaker.

Garden Area Planning

There are countless loft bed designs and variations out there. We'll talk more about it next week, but first, consider your space. Remember that these guidelines and principles apply best to an edible garden - growing fruits and vegetables.

You don't need a lot of space to create a raised bed garden. What you need is a spot with full sun for most of the day -- at least 6 hours. These edible plants need full sun to fully mature and produce fruit for you to harvest. Therefore, the sunniest areas of your property will be the best garden locations.

If your property is shaded by many trees, you may want to consider some selective pruning to allow sunlight to reach your garden location.

Ideally, the garden area should be relatively flat. Many of you started out in the hills, so I recommend going as far into the mountains as possible. Level the area as much as possible before building.

If your location isn't level and you can't level the ground, remember that the surface of your raised bed will need to be level when you're done. Therefore, starting with uneven surfaces needs to be considered in the overall design.

Make sure the raised bed area has easy access to water. Is there a water tap nearby? If not, is it feasible to connect with a garden hose from the tap to the garden area?

It's easy to forget that a pulled garden hose needs to be pulled back periodically (if not daily) to trim, use the hose elsewhere, keep it from being chewed by dogs, etc. Water is key to gardening success, so you want to make sure your methods are practical for you.

Also consider proximity to your home. I strongly advocate going to the garden every day. Take at least some time to enjoy the beauty of what you've built. Taking some time each day can also help you spot pests and diseases early.

Let's be realistic. If your garden is tucked away on the other side of your yard, the distance can feel like a long walk after a long day; you might be inclined to sit in your favorite chair. Don't forget, you want these garden foods to be as close to the kitchen as possible for a quick dinner. Why grow it if you're busy harvesting and eating it?

Matters needing attention in the size of the loft bed

You have no doubt seen dozens, if not hundreds, of pictures of other gardens. So you know beds come in all sizes and shapes. I've seen pretty much everything too - even plants inserted directly into garden soil bags (which I don't recommend). Here are the guidelines I recommend:

1. Height: 12-18 inches is ideal, but even as low as 6 inches will work and increase productivity. Most feeder roots are in the first 6 inches, but the deeper the roots, the higher the shoots. Going over 18 inches can cause more structural problems due to all the weight and pressure of the soil.

Think about what type of crop you want to grow (root vegetables that need more space, herbs that need less space, etc.). Also consider the foundation you will build on. Will the surface allow the soil to erode the bottom (higher), or will it be affected by the weight of the bed (not too high)?

Provide as much practical space as possible for the growth of plant roots. (If you checked out last week's podcast, you'll know that the 18-inch depth is also the perfect seat height.)

2. Width: Four feet is perfect, three feet is also fine. Four feet provides more flexibility for row spacing, but more importantly, staying within that width will allow you to easily reach the center from either side of the bed. It's important that you don't have to go into the bed to weed, plant, etc., as this compacts the soil and affects drainage and overall health.

3. Length: whatever suits your needs. You can build a 4'x4' square. You can build 4'x20' rows. Your length is limited only by space and budget, as long as you stick to the four-foot maximum width.

4. Shape: As mentioned earlier, you can build squares, rectangles, T shapes, circles, ovals, etc. As long as you can reach all areas of the bed from the edges (staying within 4 feet of the width), you're good to go.

Preparing the garden bed area

Maybe you're really lucky and have a bare, flat, beautiful piece of land just waiting for you to make your bed. don't want? Then you paid (or had to) a little blood, sweat and tears like the rest of us to take over our gardens from lawns, shrubs or weeds.

If your space is currently a lawn:

Hire a sod cutter to remove sod quickly and easily - but be aware that it can hit your budget.

Dig the turf the old-fashioned way. Hello shovel, my old friend.

Choke and compost high maintenance grasses. If you're willing to wait a while (a few months), this method will provide a nutrient-rich base for your garden beds. I lay out the steps for this "no-till method" in my no-till gardening vlog

If your space is currently overgrown:

Sunburn the area. Suning takes some time (4-8 weeks), but it's a good way to kill most weeds and seeds 2-3 inches below the soil surface. Basking takes advantage of the trapped moisture and heat and is best done during the hottest months of summer.

To get a tan, mow the area as low as possible to the ground, then wet it thoroughly—to really soak it up. Then, cover the area with clear plastic sheeting (which allows more of the sun's heat to penetrate the soil surface than black or cloudy plastic).

The key to sun exposure is to ensure a tight seal around the edges of the plastic. Your goal is to trap all the moisture underneath, not provide room for heat to escape. It's best to bury the plastic edge under an inch or so of dirt.

Check the area regularly throughout the summer to make sure the plastic is still well sealed. If you poke any holes in the plastic at any point in the sun, cover them with tape.

Do not store plastic for more than eight weeks. Sun exposure kills some of the beneficial microbes in the soil, but they quickly repopulate the area. Keep in mind that this process kills weeds in the soil about 3 inches deep, so if you dig after sun exposure, you'll be bringing those deeper weed seeds back to the surface, making you even more upset.