Jakewins on data, food and technology.

On raised bed gardens, and holes

I've never understood raised beds. Why would it be better to plant in soil that's slightly higher than the soil around it - are people paying hundreds of dollars for the comfort of not having to bend down to their plants?

This is part of my project to grow a meal, and is about how I learned to appreciate raised bed gardens.

When I was nine, some friends, my brother and I embarked on a grand project to dig a hole in the vegetable garden. I'm told that eventually my parents came home to find a two-yard ladder barely reached the bottom of the hole. At the end of the ladder sat my ten-year old partner in crime, Robert, dutifully digging deeper. In order to avoid explaining to the neighbors that their son was entombed two yards underneath our potato patch, dad mandated the project be aborted.

I remember the moment we broke through the black soil and reached a thin layer of clay. It was about a third of a way down the hole and it was a great milestone, granting a much-needed morale boost for everyone involved.

The garden was sometimes a point of contention, usually centered around the mountain of new organic life it produced every year. It was a delicate truce between nature and my parents that the house was allowed to remain in place at all. And I never thought much of that - that's how gardens were, each family fights a never-ending battle against the roses, pear trees and the plums for the right to keep a path to the front door.

I can think back now and realize that by the time we hit the clay, we had worked our way through nearly three feet of top soil.

Raised beds

And so, I never understood raised beds. Why would things grow better if you elevated them a bit? Are they just ornamental? It speaks to my garden-privilege that it was not until last year I learned that all gardens are not as lucky as ours was. My parents garden is two hundred years old. It came with a contract from the 1800s allowing the owner to collect sea weed from the local beach to use as fertilizer.

My garden, on the other hand, is forty years old, and it did not come with a contract to collect anything. When the suburban American duplex I live in was built, the top soil was dutifully scraped away, revealing a brick-hard layer of light brown clay, perfect for placing a house on. When it rains, the water runs over the turf-grass as if it were asphalt. There is no soil in my back yard, and building a raised bed is one of the fastest ways around that predicament.

If I do my job right, perhaps my raised bed will be the seed for some brat spelunker digging a hole and learning about the layers of the earth a few generations from now.

Find out how the raised bed worked out here!