Raised beds or plowed fields

There are a couple of ways to plant a vegetable garden, the two most common being a traditional tilled plot and raised beds. I grew up with a traditional tilled plot of land vegetable garden, but over time converted to raised beds.

Every spring, just as soon as it warmed up enough and the ground was dry enough, Dad would get out the roto-tiller he co-owned with the neighbor and till up the vegetable garden. Then he would use a shovel or hoe to mound up the basic rows where everything would be planted, and then lay old plank boards in the paths where we would walk. Later on, he would cover the planting rows with black plastic, and then cut holes in it to plant tomatoes, peppers etc. This black plastic, along with all the grass clippings from the lawn, helped keep the weeds down.

So, naturally, when I had my first house and it was spring, I proceeded to do the same. I rounded up a roto-tiller, tilled up the ground and planted my garden. I didn't use black plastic to cover the ground, and I didn't bag the grass clippings to put on the garden. So by the end of the season, I had as many weeds as vegetables. (Did I mention I also didn't keep up on weeding?)

I had to find another method that would allow me to stay on top of the weeding and not be reliant on tilling the ground every spring and fall.

That method turned out to be raised beds. Now, I have a vegetable garden the consists of many raised beds. I used 1 x 6 cedar boards to form various sizes of raised beds. I strengthen the corners of the beds by attaching the boards to a 6" high section of 4 x 4 post. The largest bed is 4' x 8', which allows me to comfortably reach across to the middle of it from either side. The beds are arranged in more or less a formal pattern. In the center of the garden is a 4' x 4' bed which contains a dwarf apple tree and a few herbs. On each side are 2 4' x 8' beds. Next to each of those pairs of beds is another pair of 4' x 8' beds running in the opposide direction. Along the 'front' side of the vegetable garden are 3 more beds, a 4' x 6' bed in the center and on each side of it a 4' x4' bed. Then along the back side there are 3 2' x 8' beds.

I placed my first raised beds where I had previously tilled up the ground for the vegetable garden. Once I figured out this method worked better for me than a plowed plot of ground, I re-arranged the raised beds to make my paths wider, and added more raised beds so that the back one-third of the yard is now all raised beds. To keep down the weeds in the paths between the beds, I used landscape fabric covered with "playsoft" mulch which is supposed to be easier to walk on.

Where I had not plowed up the ground, I used Round-up to kill off the grass, then put down a raised bed box, placed several layers of newspaper down, and then added soil and compost on top. I did this in the fall, and by spring, the ground was ready for planting.

My maintenance of these beds involves clearing them off each fall, and topping them off with some compost, if available. Since my compost bins fill up quickly in the fall, I also dig trenches in some of the raised beds, fill the trench with garden refuse, and cover it over.

Now in the spring, all I need to do to get a bed ready to plant is some light howing and raking. I also don't have to wait too long after a rain to be able to work in a bed, because I'm not tilling it up each spring. And it just take a few minutes to weed each bed, so if I have just a few minutes, I can take care of the weeding in a least one bed.

This method works for me, and I recommend it to others who may find it too daunting a task to roto-till up a vegetable garden each spring and keep up with it through out the season.


  1. The apple tree by the fish pond in front of the patio is, or should I say, was supposed to be a "dwarf" Hope yours is smaller.


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