Gardening seems so simple. Dig up ground, plant a seed, grow food or flowers. Unfortunately, it can actually be quite confusing, especially if you’ve never started a seed in your life. When you’re first starting to plan your garden, before you decide what to plant even, you’ll need to figure out which type you want to plant. There are three common types that you can choose from; in ground, raised bed and square foot. Chances are good that one of these three will be the one that puts food on your table. Each one has its own benefits, but at the same time, each one has its own downfalls. To figure out which one will work best for you and your family, you’ll need to do a bit of research.
Planting a garden is a wonderful way to get access to your own fresh fruits and veggies and is an amazing way to get kids involved in the process of how we get our food. It teaches life skills for self-reliance, science and even math. If your kids, like my daughter, are visual learners, planting a garden can really help drive home those lessons that they may be having a hard time grasping. Aside from that, having your own garden is the only way that you can control where the produce your family eats comes from. For some, that won’t be a huge deal but for people like me, it is. When we discovered that I am sensitive to a lot of the chemicals that are around me, it become a priority. Most commercial gardening practices use toxic pest control methods as well as chemical fertilizers so by growing your own food, you can eliminate those chemicals on your dinner table.
Common Types of Gardens
The type of garden that works best for you and your family will depend on several factors. First, how much space you have to plant. Second, how much rain your area gets and finally, how much money and work you want to put into getting your garden started. Each garden type will have different costs, space and water needed so you’ll need to do your research. If the three most common types of gardens don’t work for your home, you could always just plant a kitchen container garden and call it good. Obviously you won’t get vegetables and things for your family to eat, but sometimes starting small like with your cooking herbs is best.
Benefits of an in ground garden
In ground gardening is the oldest and most common method of gardening. Clear a patch and plant seeds. In ground gardens have a lot of different benefits for a beginner gardener. They are inexpensive to start, have minimal start up supply costs, typically require less water, are less permanent, and usually give you more space for larger plants. The crop choice is endless when you have space and depth. In ground gardens are inexpensive to start up since you are using the existing soil and there are no building materials needed. If the area is layered with grass, removal of the grass and ground tilling are all that’s needed. You can do that with either a ground tiller or a shovel if you don’t have a tiller and your back can handle the work. The seeds can then be placed in the ground although I do recommend that you start your seeds inside rather than just planting them. Once your seeds are in the ground, you can add an organic potting mix to give your soil the minerals and nutrients that it needs to grow healthy plants.
Watering is often a problem for many areas and if you live in a dry area, it will be an extra concern for your in ground garden. Depending on Mother Nature to water your crops can be a gamble so you’ll need to make sure you have a back up. With that said, by having a garden directly in the ground you have less run off and rain tends to saturate deeper in the soil. This might sound like a bad thing, but what it really means is that there is more space below the ground for water to go with out flooding your plants for when your area is hit with heavy rain. If you do need irrigation, having a garden right on the ground helps illuminate the need for pumps to get the water up over the side.
A lot of plants need large amounts of space to grow. Corn requires a large group to produce ears properly, squash and melons can over take a small garden very quickly. By having a garden in the ground you can make your plot larger to accommodate the plants or you can plant these on the edges so they can grow over the sides. This means that you can plant more of what you want instead of being restricted by the size of your plot. This might not seem important now but when you’ve planted oregano and it has taken over your garden, you’ll wish you had paid attention to it.
Benefits of a raised bed garden
Raised bed gardens are simply a container for growing that is elevated off the ground. This can be a simple wooden frame resting on the ground or an elaborate waist height box. I have seen people use old bathtubs for raised gardens as well as other reclaimed items. If it holds dirt and has drainage (or you can create drainage) you can plant in it. A few of the reasons to plant a raised garden might be poor soil, physical limitations, weed and pest control, and an extended growing season.
When you plant a raised bed you have to fill the container with soil that is nutrient rich so that your plants will grow. If the soil around you isn’t quite what you’re looking for, you can add mulch, compost, manure or fertilizer. You can even add a regular potting soil to the mix if you want. You can add sand or vermiculite for drainage if needed. These options are not available in an in ground garden. The down side of soil customization is that all costs money. Over time you can create soil with composting but to fill a garden would take quite some time. Because of that, you usually have to buy not only the items to create your raised beds, but also the items you need to make the soil what you want it to be.
For people with physical limitations that are unable to get on the ground or constantly bend over, a raised bed garden at waist height may be the only way they can physically garden. A popular trend in some nursing homes is raised beds; this allows the residents the therapeutic task of raising a garden. Not to mention putting some fresh produce in the kitchen. It can also be a great way for kids to help. If they’re the type that doesn’t want to dig in the ground, a raised bed offers an alternative to that. They’ll still get dirty but they won’t be digging where they don’t want to be.
A raised bed garden can easily be built with existing weed and pests taken in to consideration. If you have a heavy weed population you can layer weed block under your dirt using either a commercial weed barrier or layers of cardboard. The idea is to stop weeds from coming up thru the dirt so in theory, anything that is solid will work as a weed block. If you have a large population of moles/gophers you can add a barrier of fine wire mesh under the dirt. This can be problematic for large root veggies though but adding more soil depth can solve this problem. If bunnies or deer were a problem adding a fence or cover over your garden might be a solution.
If you live in an area that has a short growing season, extending it with raised beds is as easy as adding a raised cover of clear thick plastic. This will create a green house effect and keep the frost off the plants. If you have a high raised garden, a few bale of straw to provide insulation below the dirt will help keep it from freezing. This can be used both at the start of the season as well as at the end of the season if needed.
Benefits of square foot gardening
Square foot gardening is largely a spin off of raised beds in that it is simply planting in square foot sections of small beds. If you want to be able to walk around the inside of your garden, a square foot garden isn’t for you. The basic idea is you can reach all plants from the outside of the garden so they are planted back to back. Your beds may be 2’x 6’ or 3’ x 3’. Basically you build and plant multiple small gardens. Many of the benefits are the same as raised gardening, however there are a few benefits raised bed does not have. Square foot gardening uses companion planting methods as well as allowing for the ability to customize soil for a small group of plants.
Companion planting is an age-old method of planting that uses the understanding that all plants have “friends.” In other words, it is planted in a way that each plants aids in the growth of other other plants around it. Carrots and lettuce grow best together. Beets like to grow around onions and garlic. The combination of corn, squash and beans was used by Native Americans and is commonly referred to as “the three sisters.” Large farmers often use a different version of this method. You will see a farmer plant corn in his field one year and beans the next. The reason is that the corn provides the soil with nutrients that helps the beans grow and the beans do the same for the corn.
All plants have individual soil requirements so square foot gardening gives you the chance to adjust the soil that is needed for each plant individually. You can increase the acid levels for acid loving plants or decrease it for base loving plants. This is the only method that gives you that freedom so if having that ability is one that you’re looking for, a square foot garden is probably best for you.
Gardening as a whole can be more than just food on your table. It is actually quite rewarding when you take the time to learn and how to tend your plants. It sounds crazy, but they will need love, tenderness and care the same way a small child does. Once you’ve figured out which garden type is right for you, you’re well on your way to having fresh veggies on your table!