Raised beds are a common feature across all our vegetable gardens and farms, and we often have full time farmers question the wisdom of creating these beds for various reasons.
Sometimes, in sandy soil, they feel that this results in excessive water requirements because the water settles at the bottoms of the beds. In other cases, we’ve had it pointed out that the effort that it takes to make them is not worthwhile when planting at ground level works as well.
Our reasons for sticking with raised beds are both functional and aesthetic.
- Primarily we do this because our fields are the low-lying variety, and are inundated through the monsoon. This results in the presence of water till quite late and we’re worried that the excessive presence of water in the young plants will result in disease. By raising our beds we are insuring ourselves against this and allowing our planting to begin a little earlier.
- The visual order that these beds bring to our farms appeals to customers and clients who visit, partly because it appeals to their urban sensibilities and also because it becomes easier for them to figure out where not to step.
- It also allows for a little extra depth of loosened soil for our root vegetables which we have found results in better growth and less work in terms of having to pile up soil for carrots or radish that pop out of the soil.
The height of our raised beds varies according to the nature of the soil in the fields in question. In soft sandy soils we start out with beds raised about 5-6″ and these settle to about 4″ after some time. In more loamy soils we would have beds raised to 6-8″ levels and if the field is particularly low lying (ie. the water table is really close to the surface), we will raise it as much as 10-12″ high.
The width of the beds is usually 2.5′ wide so that you can reach across for weeding, sowing in watering instead of having to walk around to the other side. The walking paths are typically a foot wide, to allow for squatting comfortably especially when you are weeding or harvesting. However, if efficient use of the land area is required you can make beds of upto 4′ width so that the area lost to the walking paths in between is minimised.
A good tip we’ve learned to increase the watering efficiency is to create a raised border on the beds to keep the water in, so it doesn’t spill over the edge into the walking paths. This needs to be reinforced from time to time as it gets eroded. Covering empty space with straw mulch is another way to be more water efficient.
The length of our raised beds is usually 25-30 feet, but we’ve gone as long as 27 metres in a larger field.
You can of course choose to avoid raised beds, if you feel that it isn’t affected by the problems we have described above.