Square Foot Vs In-Ground

Portland, OR

Hello, I am new to this forum and to gardening. I have worked the last 2 seasons on small vegetable farms in Idaho and Connecticut and am now trying to grow vegetables in my personal garden in Portland, OR. Gardening is quite a bit different than farming, and Portland is certainly a lot different than Connecticut or Idaho. My first question in starting my garden is whether to use raised beds with a square foot gardening method or in-ground "raised beds" with fluffed up soil but no border and planted with more traditional spacings. I have already read quite a few posts here and elsewhere on the subject and here are the pros and cons as I see them:

Expensive-Lumber, fertilizer and soil mix
Drainage- Beds placed on top of clay soil can drain quickly and plants can dry out quickly (Drainage could be a pro for Oregon though)
Yeild?- I have read that though SFG lets you plant more plants in less space, the yields on things like tomatoes and peppers can be severely limited.
Nutrition- linked to yield and costs above, it seems that one would have to constantly add nutrition to what is essentially a container garden.

Easy to maintain- less bending, less weeds
High yields- for most crops
No tilling- soil builds health more quickly
Virgin soil- importing soil means you don't have to make due with what you have
Soil temp- beds warm up faster in Spring

In-Ground "raised beds"

More work- turning soil, bending over, weeding
Native soil- you can only amend so much each year
Low yield per sqft
Soil temp- spring planting can be later than raised beds

Less expensive
Native Soil-if your native soil is good this is not a con, and mycorrhizae and beneficial microbes may be already established
I know it- this is basically how we grew on the farms I worked on, so its something I'm more comfortable with (that said I always like to learn new things)

I'm sure I'm missing some in each category, but this is what I have picked up so far. So if you have somethings to add and would like to weigh in on what you do and why, I would certainly appreciate it as I have already missed most the spring plantings, and summer is coming on fast.

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Hi there! Just a little note on "In-Ground raised beds". You really aren't limited as to how much you can amend. You can add TONS of compost, both *IN* the existing soil (if you feel like tilling), and *ON* top of the existing soil. If you want to raise the bed higher than originally planned, just apply more compost. =)

There's also another couple of options of 'raised' types of beds. Lasagna beds are one, and Hugelkultur is another. You can read about Hugelkultur beds here: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/1215822/

I hope this is of some help to you! =)

Greenfield, OH(Zone 6a)

I do raised beds and your typical flat row garden. I've done the "in-ground raised beds" in the past but our late hot and dry weather made it hard to keep irrigated because the water would run off, even with mulch.
Using constructed raised beds allowed me to have a "raised bed" but to maintain a flat top with wood side to allow the irrigation to stay where I put it.
Of course a drip irrigation system would help but I practice a more self sustaining garden and use collected rain water to irrigate.
The wooden sides of the raised beds help to keep the mulch from blowing off too, and this helps to maintain the nutriants of the soil. I also like that I can start gardening earlier in the season because the beds are not water-logged after the the winter thaw.
I would encourage you to try both systems on a small scale and see which one you prefer. You may end up preferring SFG over in-ground or vice-versa. The bottom line is to enjoy gardening and not make it a chore.
Good Luck!

Thumbnail by yardener Thumbnail by yardener
Tonto Basin, AZ

Maintining soile moisture - very difficult here - is so much easier with the wood sided raised beds that I don;t see ever going back to rows.

This message was edited Mar 22, 2012 2:22 PM

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

ParmaJon - until I moved to North Carolina I had always planted directly into the ground, but the hard red clay here means I must have raised beds.

If you have friable soil with what's called "good tilth" I would suggest growing directly in the ground, it's the easiest and cheapest route to use.

Plantersville, TX(Zone 9a)

For some veggies like tomatoe, or Okra, or corn, you have to plant in the ground because the roots are long, or big, like the tap root of the Okra which could be 2 feet deep. Other veggies will do well in raised beds like lettace, .

Tonto Basin, AZ

Quote from behillman :
For some veggies like tomatoe, or Okra, or corn, you have to plant in the ground because the roots are long, or big, like the tap root of the Okra which could be 2 feet deep. Other veggies will do well in raised beds like lettace, .

In our case, the raised beds sit on the same soil that's in the beds. Doesn't bother our okra or tomatoes, so I think it's a function of what's under the raised bed. Probably a different story where the raised bed sits on clay or hardpan.

This message was edited Mar 22, 2012 7:55 PM

Lake Charles, LA(Zone 9a)

i am an old school gardener, and i researched SFG. unless you're compact in your yard, i dont really see the point.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

My perspective is that SFG and the way most people used raised beds are just two points on a spectrum. Both of them usually emphasize rich deep soil, intensive planting (closely spaced plants without gaps between rows), and successive planting so the soil always stays busy.

But you can pick and choose any of those techniques that suit your land, budget and energy level without having to adopt the SFG "grid" or the RG "walls"! Or succession planting may be too complicated for the first years, but you might build up to it as you learn the timing of different varieties in your new region.

I think that the "French Intensive" style incorporates most of the techniques of both SFG and RBs ... it just allows long rows instead of small square matrices, and it doesn't necessarily raise the soil up above grade with walls. Like "raised beds at ground level" or "SFG in rows".

If you discard the faddish names, there are just "techniques", and you can decide which techniques to use a little, or a lot.

SFG and many RBs go pretty far in the direction of amending or enriching soil a lot, and deeply. They start by assuring good drainage and aeration, then assure plenty of organic matter and sufficient minerals. Let's call that "rich soil".

Extra-rich, extra-deep soil also tends to be used only in very small plots because it's expensive and laborious, but any smart farmer who can afford that much compost will make deep, rich soil! It might be too expensive to turn whole acres over 18 or 24 inches deep, but if they can get tillage radish roots and worms to do it for them, they do.

You can make rich, deep soil either "at grade" or "raised". Even if you pile the soil up above grade for bend-over convenience or to improve drainage on top of impermeable soil, you don't really need the walls of a "raised bed". You can just pile the soil deeper where the plants are and/or dig it away deeper from the walkways. Water will evaporate faster, and you might want to shape the raised part to have rim, to help rainfall stay where the plants are. If water is plentiful, you can flood the walkways and not worry!

Someone trying to grow the semi-aquatic "Water Spinach" (Ipomoea aquatica) in a dry climate deliberately planted it in a sunken area several inches below the grade of the rest of that bed. The idea was water the bed uniformly, but give the Water Spinach wtter feet than other crops.

Even farming in a big poorly-draining field, you can increase drainage and soil depth without "raising" the soil. Instead you lower the water table by running drainage pipes several feet deep and slantwise down and accross an existing slope. That lowers the water table, increasing the root depth. Maybe that can be called impr5oving thee soil "below grade".

I do it on a tiny scale by digging drainage trenches below the "floors" of my rikased beds. I hope that, over time, the trenches will keep the clay under the RBs more aertated, so that worms and roots can gradually brak ikt up and enrich it without my having to use a pick and mattock and buy cubic yards of compost.

Intensive planting jams the crop plants as close together N-S as E-W. The intent is for the crops to shade out the weeds.

That eliminates the wide unplanted spaces between rows that many farms use, I guess so the plants have access to more soil that isn't very rich. Also, rainfall between the farm rows probably gets used by the plants. And I gather that people, tractors and weeding gadgets need to open walkways to get at the rows. Obviously I know very little about farming!

It seems to me that an RB or one of Mel's squares is like the planted part of one row in a farm, just wider. The walkway around the RB or the wooden board around an SFG square is like the unplanted space between farm rows.

Succession cropping requies planning ahead, so it's mostly beyond me. But if you have a crop in mind that will mature before fall frosts, and a spring crop has been harvested, and you plant a second crop in the same space, you've added this technique to your system.

- - -
This has gotten very long-winded, but I mainly wanted to say that gardening styles don't need to be "this system" or "that system". Combine the most relevant techniques from every system, leave out the ones you don't care for and name it after yourself! If the combintion doesn't work well, the plants will let you know and you can adjust it.

Trying it one way that sounds interesting, learning, and adapting is my favorite "system".

- If you have a strong back and lots of compost, double-dig a small or large area and enrich it. Rich soil is good!

- If you have LOTS of compost but don't like sweating, layer it on top of the ground (and maybe wait a few years for the best results if your soil started out really crummy). The main work then is deciding whether tyo call it "Lasagna Garening" or "sheet composting". Easy is good.

- If you like the look, or have poorly draining bad soil, and a limited budget for compost and amendments, prop up some paving stones or build pretty wooden walls, and pile your small amount of precious soil inside a raised bed. Any soil is better than no soil!

- If your soil isn't very rich yet, you might not be able to plant very intensively. But try thininng one area less than another, and gradually work your way into the densest planting your soil will support. Expeimenting is good.

Real, hard-core succession planting might require a lot of knowledge and planning, but if you think of some Fall crop you might like, or pick up some cover crop seed, that's a first step. Or Mel might give detailed instuctions for this-then-that-then-the other thing.

It's all good.

This message was edited Apr 11, 2012 7:56 PM

Tonto Basin, AZ

NIce discussion, Rick.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Combine the most relevant techniques from every system, leave out the ones you don't care for and name it after yourself!

Mine is called: "Making it up as I go along!" This approach has worked for several decades! LOL

Lake Charles, LA(Zone 9a)

i still call mine "Oops i did it again".

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> "Making it up as I go along!"
>> "Oops i did it again".

Wisdom and honesty BOTH in one thread! This IS a keeper.

Tell the truth, I mostly do things because they feel right to me, not because I have detailed notes showing which way worked better.

I do tend to notice and change something after total failure, and I repeat anything that I THINK caused dramtic success. But do I usually guess right about WHICH factor caused the problem or the success? Probably not.

I'm thinking about starting a thread next winterr when there's lots of downtime, something like "did you learn your methods from parents & neighbors, out of books and forums, or by re-inventing agriculture from the gorund up?

Sometimes I think that learning from someone who has grown in you region for years would be a shortcut to effcient techniques, and sometimes I think it would be way to inherit someone else's stubburnly cherished mistakes.

I'm sure I'll still be refining my methods and learning right up until they plant me deep and compost me. I hope so!
I also hope that, On The Other Side, there are online forums where we can discuss differtent met6hods for pushing up the daisies.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Rick -

I also hope that, On The Other Side, there are online forums where we can discuss differtent met6hods for pushing up the daisies.

At my age, perhaps I should get a head start and learn HOW to grow daisies while I'm still alive and kicking! (I grow very few flowers)

I like you new thread idea.

Palmerton, PA(Zone 6a)

It is VERY nice to read all of your post and problems solved however, there are very few posters here that have close to any of the climate or grounds like the others, looks to be a big problem.

Our ground for example in the Blue Mountains of Pa. range so different even from the next property let alone range over. That all went into why I bought this property It was part of a corn field and trees only across the front that came down when power was put in. I saw the earth that looked good for gardens and a nice view so I though this is my "Dreams End"!

The property next door to this field has rocks that can be removed in layers great "quarry area" for them to use for walls as you go down the road etc. The next range you wouldn't like for any gardening at all because they have no soil visible just a flaking off of the 1" thick rocks that you end up with almost mica that you can't bring any of their "look like rock pieces" home to use in the pond area small waterfalls because after 1 winter it is a pile of half dollar size pieces.

We have soil on this mountain with almost all the rocks the same size as your open hand in layers when we opened the electric power wire trench that required to be 5 ft deep it looked like a wall without cement and a lot of picking when you try gardening cause they keep pushing up every year and every shovel full has at least 2-3 rocks that I always wheeled to the front gutter with a 7 degree slope.

All that time the only thing that saved our garden was the "compost pile" that all the leaves from the woods and our neighbors went into a pile 4 ft deep (surrounded by fence to help stop the rabbits) to rot down by spring then we turned it under and covered with black paper or shingles that held the secret not to let the sun on the earth to dry it out with only holes for individual plants.. All that after doing the gardens for the first 10 years without any water became lawn since that was 250 ft behind the house and taps and too far to drag the hose in years like these without a lot of rain. .

So after getting this old with the knees not what they were.... I'll continue to read what may help but my growing tomato plants on the window sills will probably go into those containers I gathered last year I figured it was better, everything from 5 gal water jugs cut off to salad buckets from the deli store etc. I have them ready.

I hope to get a huge scoop of "clean out' they sell at the local garden store that they get from the mushroom houses in Pa. . I'm NOT positive what exactly that I'll doctor it up with MAYBE COW PATTIES would help?? that I could put into water to mix ?? OR just some bags of dirt OR time release food pellets??? Any experience of any of these before??

All needed for .. my 5 mystery varieties of tomato seed packets , now plants from Walmart with the only yellow seeds I could find in it instead of an on the internet buy.. ..We will still have the chance of frost till the end of May here. . So our growing season requires large plants by then if you want to see product by winter...... Even harder would be to pay over $5.59 for each of the plants at the stores ready to put out here!

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