You will get the very best benefits from your efforts if you grow in raised garden beds. We've enjoyed a huge increase in yields since we started gardening in these raised beds that Mike built about 10 years ago, long before it became a trend.
We have 2 beds that are 3' x 40' and 6 beds 3' x 16'. We chose to just keep grass in the pathways, although many gardeners opt for mulched pathways. Our paths were perfectly sized to be cut with our zero-turn riding mower.
Here are the primary benefits of raised gardening:
- EASIER ON THE BACK I'm not bending over so far so gardening isn't so strenuous. Everything is easier to plant, weed and pick.
- BUILDS BETTER SOIL First, it's easier to build your best soil in your growing area, rather than covering a whole garden plot that includes the walkways. Second, there's no need to till the soil; you're not walking on the beds so the soil doesn't get compacted. And by not tilling, you're allowing the nitrogen in your soil to stay where it belongs.
- GROW MORE DENSELY Better soil allows you to grow plants closer together. While 1' squares are popular in "square foot gardening" schemes, you'll actually use space more efficiently by staggering plants into triangular planting patterns and provide better space for air movement.
- WATER MORE EFFICIENTLY I usually water with a hose when that will do the job, because I enjoy weeding or just standing there admiring the plants for a little quiet time. But when things have been really dry or I don't have time to lollygag in the garden, I have drip hoses laid in the beds. Either way, I'm not watering a whole large garden plot and am able to just water the plants.
- ADD FEATURES I absolutely require flowers in my veggie garden because I want it to be visually appealing as well as an efficient way to grow veggies. We have two permanent arbors added to our boxes; one has grapes and kiwis planted on it and what grows below changes every year as I rotate the crops. This year one box got pvc pipes bent into hoops; early in the season I covered it in white cloth to protect early lettuce then covered it with netting to keep the chickens out of that bed before Mike put fencing around it. To change my garden "decor" depending on the time of year I'll put a birdbath here or a scarecrow there, put up an urn for flowing plants, etc. This year we added a rabbit hutch and the bunny adds his own fertilizer to the compost bin below it where weeds and the like are tossed in.
- EXPAND YOUR GARDEN EASILY Start small and add more boxes as you feel the need. Start short and grow up. One thing Mike did is to leave taller posts at the corners and in the center of the boxes with the idea that we can add boards to deepen the boxes for even less bending as the years go by. We build soil slowly with recycled materials so some boxes may only increase soil depth by 1" to 3" a year.
One other feature I've enjoyed is the ability to add vertical gardening methods to the raised beds. I've installed several trellises to grow melons, which I didn't previously grow becase one good melon plant can consume a whole raised box. And that fence we added to the perimeter... great vertical gardening opportunities there too! The 4' fence supports tomatoes without stakes, cucumbers, beans, grape vines, etc.
I'm convinced that what we grow in our raised garden would require 4 times the footprint in a traditional garden plot