Q: "I am trying to decide if I should start a vegetable garden directly in the ground, or created raised beds. What are the advantages/disadvantages to both?"
A: Heather Mason, farmer, Stonewall Farm, Keene, New Hampshire
Starting a garden is all about choices. When deciding if you will plant right in the ground or build raised beds here are few things to consider: Raised beds are very popular lately for good reason. They look beautiful, they warm quickly in the spring and drain well, and they often contain perfect garden soil since they are filled manually with the soil of your choice. They also make garden chores — such as weeding, planting and harvesting — a little easier because they are higher off the ground. The drawback is that initially, they can be expensive. First, you need to purchase the materials to build them. Usually they are made from cedar to hold up to the elements best; it is not recommended to use pressure treated lumber to grow food. Next, you need to buy landscape fabric for the bottom, and then the soil to fill them; one yard of soil will fill about six inches deep in a typical 4’ x 8' bed. Once the initial investment is made, raised beds are fantastic. The soil never gets stepped on, and vegetables can be grown quite intensively in such great soil. Planting directly in the ground also has its advantages. It is easier to plant a large area to grow big, spreading plants such as melons and winter squash; your garden will require less watering than raised beds; and it is often easier to grow crops such as potatoes, which need to be hoed up into mounds several times throughout the season. To save money, I recommend a hybrid of a raised and regular bed by making raised beds in your ground garden. Sketch out your planting spaces and shovel the soil from your walkways onto your beds. This gives the same good drainage without the lumber and also keeps you from stepping on your planting areas. Also, when amending the soil, none of your compost is wasted by fertilizing the walkways. Watering should be less demanding as well since your beds are still part of a large soil mass.
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