Raised beds vs in-ground

Asked August 2, 2017, 5:14 PM EDT

Hello, I have several trenches/holes in my garden (1.5 ft by 15 ft, 1 ft deep) that originally had some small bushes which I had to pull out. I dug out the red clay and re-filled it with a mix of compost and some of the original red clay soil. I ended up putting pepper plants and watermelon in them since I ran out of space in my raised beds and surprisingly those plants are doing really well. I was under the impression that raised beds were the way to go and to forget about doing any in-ground gardening. My question is-- is in-ground really not as good as raised beds or is it ok. I'm thinking about next year and am considering expanding those in-ground trenches for things like sweet potato and squash vs putting together raised beds. I can also put in raised beds but that does require cost for wood, etc. Was putting some of the native "clay soil" back into the hole with the compost ok or should I use some other soil?

Howard County Maryland fruits and vegetables horticulture raised beds

1 Response

In-ground gardening is fine to do, but raised beds have several advantages. In raised beds:

  • Soil warms up quickly in the spring
  • Soil drains well
  • The available rooting area is increased
  • There is less compaction and erosion because you never walk in the planting area
  • Provide greater yields due to high fertility and increased root growth.
A challenge with red clay is that the soil can be very dense and compacted, limiting root growth. Clay also holds moisture (which can be an advantage, but also a disadvantage if it holds TOO MUCH water and doesn't drain well. This could lead to root rot).

We generally recommend a mix of top soil and compost for vegetable gardens. It is fine to mix the soil you have with compost. Keep in mind, however, that compost is organic matter that is going to break down and become depleted as your plants use up the nutrients. You have to keep adding and mixing in organic matter for good soil structure.

Following is a good video on creating raised beds of different types:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL13D4BEA3D39CE765&v=TKE2Ya7k9-0

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