let raised beds in a greenhouse be part of your advanced growing setup. it’s easier and more practical than you think, and brings you benefits you never knew you wanted.
Likewise, getting a greenhouse doesn’t mean you have to be a high-producing, entrepreneurial farmer or horticulturist. (Though hey – it never hurts.) So to all you gardeners and homesteaders out there: yes, greenhouses can definitely be worth it for small production and your home needs.
And to all you greenhouse growers out there too: you don’t need to go high-tech and streamlined from the very beginning. This is especially the case if you just want a neat, good-looking setup to produce a small, basic production margin for your personal needs.
But what about for raised bed gardeners particularly? For this popular small-space gardening solution, greenhouses may seem like enormous, wieldy contraptions that are more or less unnecessary for littler-sized spaces. For those with the landscaper’s eye as well, you might also worry about making greenhouses look good with everything else in your garden.
We think it’s about time to put these misconceptions to bed – pun intended.
WHAT IS RAISED BED FARMING OR GARDENING?
Raised bed growing has made a popular comeback in recent years. While the name “raised bed” also applies to simple beds prepped just a few inches higher than the topsoil to create a fluffy soil layer, the term is now more often given to actual constructed containers that elevate your entire growing space several inches – or even feet – above the ground.
These containers are constructed from a wide variety of materials: plastic, fabric, sometimes even steel. They can be made in a square, rectangular, circular, or even stacked or tiered shape. The most widely popular ones are made of wood, probably because of their folksy, rustic appeal.
Of note, many of the same types of wood that are great for greenhouse construction are also the best choices for raised beds. Just like with container growing, you fill these with your desired soil, and then get planting. You can purchase pre-fabricated designs, or even make your very own.
All that construction and work for a garden bed, and to grow things just a bit differently – but why?
RAISED BED BENEFITS
- MORE SOIL CONTROL
Ultimately, you get more control of your greenhouse growing medium. You’re not limited to the natural soils found underneath your covered structure in the first place. This means you can bring in your own potting or growing soils to start – and even get a step ahead on soil building.
- CUT OUT COMPACTION
The beauty of raised beds in a greenhouse is that you don’t have to step in them! To access these containers, all you need is your hands. Accidental oversteps won’t threaten the life and livelihood of your soils, and this also automatically boosts root growth.
- NO TILLAGE NECESSARY
No need for mechanization. You simply work your soils the good ol’-fashioned way: with hand tools. While this may slow things down, there’s no rush with such small production. You also curb your use of fossil fuels, which makes your growing practices good for the planet.
- BETTER BODY MECHANICS
Because these containers bring soil up higher, working with them is better for your body. Some create provide spaces just a few inches tall; while others are even made with legs, bringing beds up to waist level. Less stooping, bending, and kneeling will do your body and back some favors, plus it makes working in your medium much easier and faster.
- LESS WEED COMPETITION (FOR ORGANIC GROWERS)
When you have more control of your medium and soil building, you also tend to have more control over the weeds that grow there, which is important to handle when you’re growing organically in a greenhouse. No doubt, the soil you till under your greenhouse cover will likely be full of weed seeds, just waiting to sprout – so you can skip the bulk of weed-removing steps.
- KEEP CHEMICALS AWAY (FOR CONVENTIONAL GROWERS)
Raised beds in a greenhouse also prevent the common problems of erosion and runoff (which, by default, greenhouses also prevent). Soil all stays in the same place in these containers. If you apply chemicals too, they’re more likely to stay within the container, rather than go elsewhere – another way you can grow ecologically and sustainably.
BUT THE BIGGEST PERK…
The above list includes some top perks and incentives for growing in elevated containers, especially for gardeners, homesteaders, and some small-scale farmers. But one of the choice reasons why these setups are so worth it: they help you produce a lot more in a lot less space.
When you combine this with what greenhouses are capable of, you:
• Achieve better space savings within your structure
• Get more production per parcel of space
• Increase your production window with season extension
Not to mention, greenhouses are known to automatically boost profits per square foot because of the benefits they give. In conclusion: who wouldn’t want to combine raised bed benefits with greenhouse benefits?
You grow a lot more in less space, and if you’re running a small business, you make more money when you produce more in a greenhouse, especially if you use certain greenhouse growing techniques (such as companion planting). As many gardeners full well know, too, raised beds are the perfect match for certain space-intensive growing methods. Such as….
SQUARE FOOT METHOD
Square foot growing, the popular small space gardening technique started by Mel Bartholomew in the 1980’s, is practically wed to the use of these growing kits. If you want to use this technique in your greenhouse, you won’t be able to do it without a raised bed of some sort.
The method’s trademark is the use of a pre-fabricated square measuring grid, which allows you to measure and plant a certain number of plants within a measured space. Companion planting for mutual plant benefits is highly encouraged, and you also produce more this way. Add on a greenhouse, however, and the benefits multiply.
Similar to the above method, biointensive growing – a method coined by John Jeavons – also involves being able to grow a lot more in a smaller amount of space. It doesn’t have to be done in a raised bed, but all the same, biointensive and raised beds can be a match made in heaven.
This is because raised beds are especially helpful in catering to the intensive staggered planting methods required of the technique, which is a lot of work at foot level. At a raised level, planting is much easier. And once again, you won’t only be able to grow a lot more food in a small space, but you’ll also be able to boost quality and profits as well.
MAKING IT WORK IN YOUR GREENHOUSE
So you’re aware of the benefits greenhouses bring to your heightened growing system – and vice versa. But what about the logistics? What are some ways to make them work in your greenhouse, and to work really well, for that matter?
USE A HOOP HOUSE
From the perspective of a humble gardener or homesteader wondering about mixing greenhouses with their setup for the first time, try a hoop house to start. These are very simple, efficient structures that give you all the basic perks of a covered setup, without being too advanced or complicated for beginners to construct or get the hang of.
That’s not to say that raised beds won’t work in more complex greenhouses – of course they would! With all the accessories and advanced technology these structures will allow, you can really grow practically any way you like.
MAKE RAISED BEDS PART OF YOUR FRAME
Wood is a popular part of greenhouse construction. Not coincidentally, it’s also common in constructed beds. So why not use your savvy to combine the two technologies?
Envision two oblong, rectangular wooden raised beds, made with space between them, and then made into a large hoop house by having hoops braced into their sides – and covering both beds under one roof. In essence, they could actually create the foundation of one of the most simple-to-build greenhouse designs out there.
TURN RAISED BEDS INTO COLD FRAMES
If you don’t want to go whole hog, you can use the same approach above, but instead make your containers a part of a cold frame. Simply brace smaller hoops over either side of your bed, and voila, you have a DIY cold frame.
Taking this a step further, you can either let the bed stand alone, or place these cold frame structures under a larger greenhouse cover. That’s right: you can double-protect your plants from cold by placing this within a greenhouse you have already previously built (or plan to build).
CHOOSE THE RIGHT CROPS
This is important to consider and cannot be emphasized enough: raised beds are really only ideal for certain types of plants. While it’s true that you could potentially grow anything you want in them, it cannot be understated that some will do much better than others.
In fact, raised bed-oriented gardening is often paired with vegetable, herb, and annual flower gardening – though not exclusively. Biointensive gardening and other related techniques tend to almost always apply to these crops as well. The bigger idea to be expressed here however: choose wisely. Think about root depth too. Clearly deep-rooted plants will languish in raised beds, so opt for more shallow-rooted varieties.
Another approach that gets paired often with raised beds is companion planting. Once again, this is something often connected to small space methods (like biointensive agriculture) – and the reason why all of these do well in elevated containers is no coincidence.
If you’re wanting to make the most of companion planting in a tight-knit space, make sure to go for this planting setup. No other medium caters better to the close inter-planting of different species so they benefit each other – and nothing else makes it look better!
STREAMLINE SMALL-SCALE PRODUCTION
Regardless of the above logistics: do you want to grow more food in a smaller space? Do you want to extend your seasons? Do you want to boost profits on a small scale, or even create a beautiful greenhouse growing setup?
If yes to the above questions: consider raised beds.
If you’re a big greenhouse grower, you don’t have to limit yourself to mechanized growing methods; neither do you have to be intimidated bringing greenhouse growing into your small space setup.
References: John Jeavons, “How To Grow More Vegetables.” 2002 Ten Speed Press. – Mel Bartholomew, “Square Foot Gardening.” 1981 Rodale Press.