This is Part 2 of 3! See bottom of post for links to parts 1 and 3.
Raised beds are quite en vogue, especially if you’ve got a blank canvas to start from. There are people who will tell you this is the best option, and they definitely do seem to have more potential “pros” in their favour than the other two options, but it is really all about what works for you and how much effort and money you want to put into your garden.
There are a lot of options for raised beds. You can do waist-high garden beds, which will be easiest on your back (depending how large/deep these are, they may be more similar to a pot than a garden bed), or shorter ones built into the ground. You can see mine are built into the ground, surrounded by my dumb lawn, which I sort of hate because somehow the grass has crept itself into the beds and grows just brilliantly in the rich soil that I amend every year with copious amounts of compost and/or manure.
This may shock some people but last year was the first year I ever used a chemical fertilizer (Miracle Gro) in my raised beds, because I wanted to see if it made a difference. (Previously I had only just mixed in a ton of manure at the beginning of the summer and let ‘er rip.) I was actually QUITE surprised that it didn’t seem to make a noticeable difference, so this year I’m not going to bother with the Miracle Gro unless it looks like the plants need a boost. I’ve already worked in about 80 lbs of rabbit manure and hay this year, and also have a source for chicken manure if I need it. (Post on free fertilizer options coming soon!)
I know you’re not supposed to crowd plants, especially tomatoes, but I am notorious for crowding up to 15 tomato plants into 40 square feet of raised bed (and every second year these also compete with dozens of cousin sunberry plants that keep popping up; will write about this in another post) and have had no major issues. The raised bed soil does seem to dry out faster than in-ground soil, but it also heats up faster. I think that elevating the tomatoes helps them get a bit more air circulation which is maybe why it’s not the end of the world that I crowd them? Also having the plants close together makes it easy to cover them when they get threatened by fall frost.
Pros of Raised Beds: Can grow a lot in a compact space, soil is warmer than the ground, can use high volume fertilizers like compost, good control over soil quality, can be designed to eliminate bending, easy to cover in fall, usually less weedy than ground level gardens, well drained
Cons of Raised Beds: Soil dries out faster than ground, plants will have to be covered in fall, soil will cool off faster in fall, may get weedy, plants may require pruning
As always, I’m not being comprehensive, so if you want to read more on the subject, here are a couple other posts regarding the advantages and disadvantages of raised beds (in comparison to in-ground gardens).