For all of the hype about square foot gardening and raised beds, when two of my sisters, both avid and experienced gardeners (better than I am) stopped by last week, we had a little discussion and all decided that raised beds and square foot gardening is less productive and harder than the time tested standard row garden.
I can hear it already, “Heresy!”
So, here is why three sisters in Minnesota are going back to row gardening:
- The raised beds dry out faster and hence need more water.
- The raised beds aren’t high enough to stop the back breaking work of weeding.
- The raised beds get just as weedy, if not more so after a few years of use, than regular in-ground beds.
- With the intensive planting of a square foot garden, if you go on vacation for a few days at just the time the weeds are coming in, you can lose a whole crop of root vegetables (carrots, onions, radishes, etc.) because as you pull out the weeds the intensively planted fledgling veggies also come out.
- Raised beds need tending at least 3 times a week. A standard row garden and you can get by with once a week weeding.
- It is a lot easier to work a hoe between rows of plants while standing up than to sit and constantly be bent over weeding in a raised bed.
- It seems to be actually easier to manage the fertility of the soil in a standard garden than in a raised bed – we don’t know why, we only know what is…
- It is easier to water the whole garden than individual plants.
- Intensive planting in small beds leads to more conflicts with companion planting.
- Lots of paperwork recording when you planted what, where, how to plan rotations, companions, etc.
- Expensive and time consuming to put in and get the right mix of soil in them.
I recently got this private email that Phil said I could share…
“Well I’ve been an SFG addict since I first read Mels first book, became a SFG certifed instructor and have been doing SFG ever since, and I couldn’t agree with you more.
As in any system there good and bad things. Everything you say about them is true. My wife had a stroke 2 yrs ago in June and I had left my garden in beautiful green plots and when I came back to my garden the weeds had completely taken over. The soil/mix is so rich the weeds out grew my veggies and had gone to seed.
When I had laid out my garden, I laid weed barrier down and then covered it with wood mulch and now I have weeds everywhere. In desperation I have sprayed industrial strength vinegar, weed whacked, used a blow torch and finally I lowered myself and used some Roundup.
I’m thinking I will have to pull up everything and go back to doing it in the dirt. However, if one has the time, and energy to pamper their garden, you will get some fantastic results. but not massive amounts.”
Don’t tear up everything! Just cover it with black plastic for a month and that should kill all of the weed seeds and anything else bad. I use black plastic and tarps to clear an area before I start a new garden – it works!
All that said, what is good about raised beds and square foot gardening?
- Great for small areas where you don’t have room for a row garden.
- Fewer tools and no rototiller or cultivator needed.
- Good for wet areas.
- They can be very attractive.
- Great for someone who has the time and is obsessed with their garden – picking at it every day and never leaving home.
- It is easier to build little mini-greenhouses over the beds thus extending the growing season.
So, what do we three sisters see that could work?
- The original square foot gardens were in-ground – retains moisture and uses the soil that is there.
- Intensive planting and vertical growing can save a lot of space in a small garden plot.
- It is easier to fertilize and water a small garden.
- It is easier to fence a small garden and protect it from wildlife.
- You only need a shovel to dig it and because you don’t step in it the soil doesn’t compact.
We three sisters from Minnesota….. think Mel got obsessed and made a good thing too hard and complex.