Due to contaminated Los Angeles soil, we’ve got to grow our veggies in raised beds. There’s just too much lead and zinc in the ground, according to our local soil lab. Putting together three new beds recently got me to thinking about the ups and downs of gardening in raised beds. I thought I’d list off the pros and cons:
- Keeps roots away from contaminated soil.
- Good for disabled or elderly gardeners.
- If high enough, can keep out some critters–and keep veggies above the dog pee zone.
- Plug and play–no need to build or improve soil.
- Keeps roots from getting waterlogged in a wet climate.
- Requires materials to construct.
- Might need to buy soil–gardening in the ground is free.
- Roots dry out quicker in a hot climate.
- Lack of mineral content in bagged soils.
- Use of peat moss in bagged products.
- Unable to truly embrace the “no dig” philosophy: despite best efforts to the contrary, it seems the soil needs to be swapped out every few years. It’s container gardening, really.
Going through that list of pros and cons, if it weren’t for our contaminated soil it would be better for us to grow in the ground. From a water use perspective, in Mediterranean climates such as ours, it’s better to garden at ground level. Less evaporation. In dry desert climates such as New Mexico it’s often better to garden slightly below grade to take advantage of summer rains. Conversely, in soggy climates raised beds have some advantages.
Another factor is cost. A bulk soil order doesn’t start to make sense until you’ve got a lot of raised beds to fill or neighbors to split the order with. This leaves me stuck with bagged products. I’m testing out a variation on Mel’s mix: one part coconut coir, one part vermiculite, one part compost. It’s still expensive, but at least I’m weaning myself from peat moss, an unsustainable product. Unfortunately, all those bags have to be hauled up thirty steps.
As a whole, what we’ve done with our garden is a compromise. Most of the yard is permaculturish: lots of small fruit trees, some native plants, ornamental flowering plants for the wildlife and a whole lot of mulch. But I like to have a few Italian veggies so we’ve got five small raised beds.
Did I leave anything off this list of raised bed pros and cons? What are you growing your veggies in? Leave a comment!