Food Gardening Network

Growing Good Food at Home

Creating an In-Ground or Raised Bed Garden

Once you have a plot of land for your Freedom Garden, whether it is on your property or in the community, the next question is whether it should have raised beds, or if you’ll want to plant directly in the ground. Cost-wise, planting directly in the ground is the cheapest and fastest way to get started. You can even use weed covers to protect your plants. What you don’t get is control over your soil, but the perk is that you don’t have to pay to fill the beds with soil! Let’s talk about a little about the differences.

This is an unofficial list, but I have to give you an official warning: It is not a pros and cons list. I’m not here to say one is better than the other. They’re just different. It’s up to you to decide whether planting in raised beds seems like a better or worse choice than planting your Freedom Garden in the ground directly. So with that in mind, here we go.

Soil quality. Soil quality is one reason many people decide that planting in raised beds is right for them. You don’t have to worry as much about lead or other toxic debris or runoff. If you have a lot of clay in your soil, that’s not a problem either, in fact, it can help your raised beds stay moist to have that as the ground underneath. Of course, the flip side is that it can get pretty expensive to buy garden soil if you have a large raised bed garden and you may need to have it delivered, though that’s mostly a one-time cost because you can always use compost and bagged soil in the years following.

Cost. Speaking of expenses, it’s not just the garden soil that can make planting in raised beds more expensive. The frames can add up, too. That’s not to say it has to cost a lot; you can use straw bales or pine as relatively inexpensive framing options. It is something to consider, though. We’re in the times of supply shortages where lumber is at an all-time premium, so for that reason alone, it may be cost-prohibitive despite the benefits.

Landscape. Unless your ground is perfectly flat, you may be building raised beds on a slope, which can add to the cost if you’re not building yourself, or the sweat equity if you are. Planting in-ground means you don’t have to worry about landscape, and you can always level the soil as needed.

Maintenance. If you’re planting in a raised bed, you will need to do some occasional repair or upkeep. Sides deteriorate, joints come undone, or your neighbor accidentally backs a car into it. This probably won’t be anything you need to deal with right away or even every season, but eventually, you’ll need to do some repairs. Using untreated cedar for your beds will help them last longer, about 10-15 years or longer.

Planting. Once we move away from the set-up and equipment, this is where some of the most significant differences come in. The soil in raised beds generally warms up earlier in the spring, so you can start planting outdoors earlier. This is ideal for some of those veggies that don’t like to get transplanted. However, vining vegetables, such as watermelons or cantaloupes, which want a longer growing season, can grow as far and wide as they want when you plant them directly in the ground.

Watering. There’s no way around it; planting in raised beds also means you should plan to water more often. All that exposed siding that helps the soil warm up more quickly also means that water can evaporate more quickly. Installing a drip line or soaker hose irrigation system is a bonus idea that is good for both.

Mulching. Adding mulch on top of your growing area can help the soil retain moisture, decrease the number of weeds that grow, help equalize soil temperature, and improve soil health. But as far as mulching being different in a raised bed than it is for an in-ground garden? The only difference is that your mulch is more likely to blow away or slide away in a good rainstorm if you’re planting in the ground. Raised beds seem to keep the mulch in-tact.

Weed covers. Using something like burlap or weed fabric can be really helpful at keeping weeds from entering and emerging from the soil. You may find that you need more when planting in-ground than in raised beds, but that could be rectified by simply planning your space out most efficiently.

Weeding and pruning. This is by far one of my favorite parts of planting in raised beds, especially taller raised beds. Weeding and plant care are so much easier, less bending, more pulling.

As you can see, the biggest differences aren’t really all that big and it depends on your budget. The cool thing about building a Freedom Garden is that there is usually more than one right way to do something. That means you could go wild and mix things up. Plant a raised bed garden and an in-ground garden. Create a front porch and patio garden too!


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