Some gardening purists out there will tell you there is only one way to start a garden. They will tell you about the joys of breaking new grounds, testing and amending the soil, and rotating crops between seasons and years. And if you were to mention you were considering a garden box or raised bed, you'd be shamed right out the door of Tractor Supply.
But, rest assured, there is a movement, and you aren't along if you haven't been considering switching to garden box gardening. While it is smaller in scale, it provides so many benefits to the casual gardener or anyone who is trying to grow some crops with less weekly responsibility. After some upfront work getting things going, you'll find a garden box to be less work and more productive than a comparable plot of earth.
What's The Benefit Of A Garden Box?
There are a few downsides to using boxes. There is more work at the outset designing and building boxes and planning within those limitations. But after a box garden is set up, you can sit pretty for most of the growing season.
We've always found that if there is a way to sell a gardener, novice or veteran, on a new method, it's to let them know how much weeding they won't be doing. With garden boxes, you have way more control over your soil and what types of compost or fertilizer you use. You also get to fill the space tightly with desirable crops, leaving little space for weeds once the garden is in full swing. Also, the boxes can be set up anywhere, so there's no need to weed the spaces between long rows of a traditional garden. You can plant grass between boxes or lay down mulch or stone to keep those weeds away.
Anyone who has started a traditional garden from scratch knows the pain of having no control over your soil. You begin with a vision of tomatoes in bountiful abundance with hot peppers to one side and a row of sunflowers gracing the other, only to find out your soil is far too acidic for this and doesn't have enough nitrogen for that. With a few garden boxes, you can have complete control over soil quality. A single load of quality topsoil is an affordable purchase that can get the garden growing right. Add in your desired mix of compost and fertilizers and rest assured your soil quality isn't going to just leach away into the earth. You can try a different combination for different crops and fine tune each box to the desired product.
A garden box isn't a complete pass on caring for a garden, so this one is by no means ensured without some legwork on your part. However, garden boxes allow for easier planning, and it's a no-brainer to take advantage of every square inch of your garden. With vertical planting, trellising, a high density of plants, and more control over succession planting, you can really maximize the output of your garden.
Do You Need A Garden Box
For many people, a garden box is an unnecessary project. If you already have established gardens, understand your terrain, and have learned the secrets to being productive in your gardening niche, more power to you. But for many of us just setting out in the gardening world, it can be daunting to think of all the variables and costs associated with breaking ground.
Some people just don't have the land needed to start and maintain a full-fledged garden. In these cases, a garden box can turn a building roof or a patch of hardpan into a garden. If you have a portion or driveway or a portion of yard you aren't just willing to tear up, garden boxes slot in beautifully.
We've talked about it before, the benefits of getting to choose and manage your soil. For some, this is a nice perk, but for others, it is a necessity. We've seen people who live in areas with bad quality soil turn to garden boxes knowing how difficult or pointless it would be to try to amend the soil. If you live in an area with steep topography and lots of rain, why waste money on amendments that are just going to run-off in the next hard rain? Similarly, gardeners in the high desert or hardpan know that cutting into their ground is like digging into asphalt and that any attempts to amend the soil on a large scale would be futile. Always keep your environment in mind, in all aspects of gardening, and soil control is of utmost importance when starting out.
Ease And Aesthetics
Garden boxes, once established, require much less attention over the course of the season. While for some this is a luxury, for others this is the only way they can garden. Those of you who just don't have the time to be watering and weeding and mulching and pruning every day will find garden boxes more efficient in most ways. Also, for the aged gardener, it can be murder on the knees and back to get down and plant and weed at ground level all the time. Raised beds, especially higher beds further off the ground, can eliminate bending and kneeling entirely from your daily gardening experience.
Garden boxes can also have a wonderfully full and bountiful look to them as well as feeling organized and maintained. Traditional gardens tend to get out of hand, especially when they are doing well. Also, depending on your choice of material for the box, they can be quite aesthetically pleasing even before the crops start to grow.
Types Of Garden Boxes
When considering what material to use for your garden box, there are many factors at hand. Not only does it need to look good, but you should also choose a material you understand and are comfortable working with. There's no need for this to be your first foray into pouring cement when you could simply find some lumber to work with. There are pros and cons to each type, and we'll be looking at a few different types of boxes.
Many of you might not even consider this a garden box in the way you've been picturing. Even before boxes started trending, avid gardeners have been using rocks at hand to hem in flower beds and build up terraces on inclines. However, for some of you with a surplus of rocks in your garden, this might just be the cheapest option as well as a way to use up those rocks you've been hauling to the tree line for years. Rock beds can have that nice pastoral look to them, but they aren't the easiest material to work with, so don't break your back over them. Also, keep in mind that if you aren't sealing up the gaps in a rock bed, you can expect weeds to find their way into the crevices which can often look unkempt and can add more weeding than necessary to your garden.
Brick And Cinderblock
This is again a cheap option as many of you probably have some brick pavers or cinderblocks sitting around. Even if you don't, both are usually cheap purchases and can be found at any hardware store. These are an extremely durable option, and it's easy to repair if anything does go wrong. Keep in mind that you can expect weeds and unsightly gaps if you aren't diligent in the building process. Also, keep in mind that some blocks tend to heat up in the sun and store that heat for a long while. This might be useful for Spring and Fall gardens when frost is an issue or you're trying to start seeds early, but in Summer, it can raise soil temperature unnaturally high and damage fragile seeds and seedlings.
With a concrete bed, you won't have any nooks for weeds to take hold, and they can be more durable and long lasting of all the options here. This is not a good choice if you're just starting out and aren't sure about garden boxes long term. Also, they are expensive and difficult for anyone trying to DIY without prior concrete experience.
Wood is probably the most classic and common choice out there. Wood boxes are easy to install, are probably more in-line with home gardener expertise, and can be quite durable depending on the wood choice. Be certain that the wood you choose isn't chemically treated wood. The EPA banned such lumber for commercial growing purposes, and there's no reason you want to take the chance of chemical leaching into your home products. This means you need to be wary of pallets and scrap lumber when choosing your material. We would recommend using untreated redwood, cedar, or black locust for a durable, safe, and long-lasting wooden garden box.
Garden boxes are not just a fad for casual gardeners. They come with a diversity of looks and benefits that any gardeners should want to take advantage of. Take some time to see if garden boxes are right for you and pick one that has the longevity, aesthetics, and potential to enhance your gardening experience to the fullest.