The Great Debate: Raised Beds vs Design

I continually hear gardeners talk about raised beds as if it’s a holy grail.

I hate bursting bubbles, but this cookie cutter approach to gardening and life needs to end. Lets begin.

Better Water Retention
Yes, when you build a bed and fill it up with healthy soil it will retain water better. However, this is true of all garden beds with healthy living soil, not just raised beds. Living soil helps to retain, capture, and recirculate water endlessly as organisms drink, pee and eat each other in the soil biome. You can do this without building a box.

There is a downside to raised beds and water retention in particular areas. Here in Texas, we tend to have high winds and high heat through a large portion of our year. When you raise anything, it’ll catch more wind. Water will wick away much more quicker when you raise your garden bed. Heat rises and will have a similar effect as the wind. These two things combined and you’ll have to drown the soil to get the moisture to stick around. 

Less Weeding
This is partially true. You’ll live weed free for a while, but nothing stops weed seeds if you continually till the soil. Enjoy it while it lasts. The best way to eliminate weeds is again to build on soil and to eliminate the tillage. The weed seeds are adapted to frequent soil disturbances. Eliminate tilling and there are no more weeds.

Warmer Soil + Earlier and Longer Season
This is more true for colder climates. Texas has a growing season that is all year round. You can extend the year longer for particular crops, but if you are willing to wait a few weeks, you can get away with doing less work for similar yields. In colder climates, the need to get crops started earlier is more apparent since their growing season is shorter compared to Texas.

Every Garden is Raised and Other Considerations
When you build soil, you are raising the bed without the frames and the extra materials. You’ll have more gardening space without the frames, and it’s much easier to change a design over time to something that could be more functional. In my opinion, the main driving force to raised bed gardening comes from advice from people who are already doing it and have established credibility in the field. The majority then follows and it spreads. This is true of many other fields and disciplines and not just gardening. The sad truth is that although it worked in their area, it doesn’t always replicate itself in another location or condition.

The Greater Debate
This brings us to the greater realm of design. The first step is identifying the building blocks and the limitations enabling a greater realm of creation to unfold. Copying ideas can be successful when the elements of design are taken into consideration for various climates and conditions. Otherwise, ideas should be constructively criticized and thoughtfully questioned.

So. . do you raise a garden bed? You can, but think about the factors that are going to interact with the garden, and you may find other paths instead.