The Pros and Cons of Intensive Gardening

Intensive Gardening is All the Rage

Intensive gardening is now fully mainstream.

Sure, you may still see the occasional backyard single row garden… but they’re nowhere near as ubiquitous as they used to be.

Most home gardening is now intensive gardening, whether the gardener knows it or not.

The Rise of the Raised Bed

Square foot gardening, container gardening, biointensive gardening — all are methods of packing as much production into as small a space as possible.

What’s the first thing most new gardeners do when they decide to create their very first plot of veggies in the back 40?

Build a raised bed!

Today I’m going to take a look at the pros and cons of intensive gardening.  It may be the dominant method right now… but there are likely as many reasons to skip it as there are to embrace it.

The Pros of Intensive Gardening

More food—less space.  That’s hard to argue with!

With a well-planned intensive garden, you can maximize your yields with minimum materials.  Unlike a single row garden that takes up lots of space, you can plant vegetables tightly in a little square foot garden bed or a horse trough converted into a raised bed.

You can also pack high fertility into a small space by stacking up lots of nutrition rather than trying to spread compost over a large area like you would with a traditional garden.

When you have a small backyard, why would you bother with a great big row garden when you can grow your peppers, sweet corn and bush beans in a lot less space?

Intensive gardening with bush beans

The Authorities on Intensive Gardening

I’ve used varying combinations of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening and John Jeavons’ methods from Grow More Vegetables in my intensive beds and have had quite good success.

There’s an excellent article from Mother Earth News that takes the same tack, explaining the great results that came from the author’s experimentation with combining both popular intensive gardening methods.

More Reasons to Grow Intensive

Another benefit of intensive gardening is that it’s usually based on permanent beds you can protect from compaction easier than you can a big row garden which requires walking between the rows in order to weed, maintain and harvest.

Intensive gardening lets you grow a lot of food in a perfect small space — what’s not to love?

Like many things in life, the initial picture doesn’t give you the whole story.  For example, when I was a teenager I used to have a crush on this really cute redhead, and then later…


Let’s just say I ended up with a better option.  Now it’s time to look at the cons.  (Of intensive gardening, not redheads!)

Read more: Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces

The Cons of Intensive Gardening

We have this idea that raised beds are pretty much the only way to garden at this point.  Yet there are notable benefits to ditching intensive gardening for wider rows and in-ground non-raised plots.

A couple of years ago I grew a good-sized plot of corn that was watered by rainfall.

Traditional rows of grain corn

See that sandy soil?  If I had planted my corn at intensive garden spacing, I would have had to water a few times a week — at least!  I got a nice harvest of grain corn from that widely spaced row garden because of how much room the corn roots had to search out water, even in sand.

Intensive Beds Require Intensive Water

Our first square foot garden beds five years ago needed a lot of water compared to my corn.  The spacing was very tight, as recommended in Mel Bartholomew’s book, so the roots ran out of moisture rapidly.

Water!  Water!  Water!  When it got hot out, we were watering every day… and the plants were still looking thirsty.
The yields on the space were great, though, so I can’t complain too much.

It’s just this: if there was ever a sustained period where the city water shut off or your well quit working, you’d lose all your harvest for that year.  In a widely spaced garden, you’d likely still get some yields just because of the rainfall.

There’s a reason the pioneers didn’t use tight little raised beds for their crops!

Intensive Gardening Uses Permanent Beds

Another “con” of intensive gardening is the method’s use of permanent beds.

I don’t know about you, but I change my gardening arrangements all the time.  I’ve had one area go from a huge patch of wildly seeded anarchy with straw paths to tight little wooden beds to cinder block beds, to rows of double-dug beds and a few perennial beds to its current mixed configuration with row of dwarf apple trees along one edge… all within five years.

If you build perfect little beds and fill them with perfect soil, you’ve made a commitment.

You’ve married the redhead!

More by David the Good: Convert Your Lawn into a Food Forest

The Freedom to “Play the Field”

Intensive gardening in some spaces, row gardens in others, tight plots and spacious expanses of field crops… all have their place.  It’s simply a question of your preferences, your resources and your climate.

I cover various intensive and non-intensive gardening methods in-depth in my new book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening.  Everything from square foot gardening to growing without irrigation is in there, so if you’re trying to pick the perfect gardening method, I highly recommend you pick up a copy and get reading.  It’s only $2.99 for the Kindle version, and $11.99 for the paperback.

Either option is a lot cheaper than making even one raised bed.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Garden NOW!

The Bottom Line on Intensive Gardening

When everyone is doing something, it might be a good time to ask “why?”  Intensive gardening has its appeal but isn’t a perfect method.  My bet is that its evolution is directly linked to our current level of civilization and high energy usage.  If there’s a breakdown in our complex world; wide, single-row gardening is likely to come back with a vengeance as we turn to the heavens for our rainfall, rather than a faucet.

Grain corn grown with rain water

Grown with rainfall, not soaker hoses!

It really is fun to try both methods in the same year as I’ve done.  If you’ve got a wide open patch of lawn, why not put in some widely spaced rows of beans or corn and care for the plot with a wheel hoe?  It’s like going back in time… and the yields may surprise you.

Give it a go with multiple methods and see if you observe the same pros and cons of intensive gardening that I have.

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  • Joseph says:

    Intensive gardening works best with a very high carbon content and active fungi in the soil. With this healthy soil set up, you can grow intensive and not have to water after plants have sprouted up.
    Check out these two video sources to learn best how to do this No till, No water, No Fertilizer method of gardening. I have been doing this for over 5 years and my food has never tasted better.
    Youtube: Gabe Brown building health soil
    http://www.WellFedNeighbor.com/Joseph‘s Page

  • Pamela says:

    I enjoyed reading this perspective. However, I love the raised bed because I can get more heat in my colder Northern area, and I can keep the critters (squirrels out better of a garden box) Still, I appreciate your perspective and will think about this. I am also trying to learn and enjoy wild herbs grown locally also. Herbs are super foods that can sustain us well. Blessings, Pamela

  • Taxdn2poverty says:

    Excellent article, but let me add please that I do raised beds (32 inches) because of a bad knees and it saves me a lot of pain. Also I can wrap uv treated plastic around them in the winter and keep on gardening. I live south of I-10, it might not work so well in Traverse City, Michigan.

  • M says:

    Hugelkultur silly!

    1. krn says:

      I so agree. Hugelkultur even down here I houston works wonders.. and raised beds go down so if you don’t like it you can still redo it again somewhere else following years.

  • Elmer says:

    I would really like to grow with rainfall here in Sacramento county Ca but we don’t get any rain in the summer.

  • Mike Stubbs says:

    David, The only answer I have to your statement about the lack of water is what I have been reading about the Back to Eden (BTE) gardening method. And the appropriate part of that is the deep mulch on top. Not saying that there is never going to be a bit of moisture needed but even people who live in arid regions or regions going through a drought have to use very little supplemental watering. That is of course after a year or two of getting the beds established. Many of them do not used raised beds but some, like myself, who already had a raised bed just incorporate the deep mulch right on it. Every year or so, good soil/compost is added to the top of the old mulch and new mulch is added on top of that.
    I am sure you are aware of that already as I was with this one exception. In my raised beds previously the mulch was not that thick. With BTE they build up to use a real thick – 6 – 12″ – layer of mulch (most try to use woodchips when they are available).

    1. ClaudeA says:

      That Back To Eden Place is not what it may seem to the untrained eyes. That garden is watered by slow run-off water that seeps down from above properties on a barrier of hardpan. That area does not get enough rainfall to account for any but a small fraction of the water required for his plants.

      Honestly. Check it out.

    2. brad says:

      The best wood chips are ‘ramial” the less than 3″ diameter branches. The carbon ration is very different from larger heartwood and encourages varieties of arbuscular mycorrhizae which basically share water, nutrients, carbon, messenger chemicals, and some think evidence of electrical information, like neural pathways.

      To establish arbuscular mycorrhizae the soil should be almost undisturbed – putin plants, if you till do so lightly and not deeply…

  • Tod Dorozio says:

    Thank you for the article and the warning about the current ‘raised beds’ trend! As far as drought or lack of rainfall is concerned I’ve found that chipping my raised beds has really helped. The beds retain their water for much longer and to that end, our three year old little peach tree (that was thoroughly chipped) produced an amazing harvest of succulent peaches last year (check it out: https://youtu.be/F-9nugrUKOw) and I only watered it twice during the entire and incredibly hot growing season! Warm Regards from Willowdale’s Backyard Mini-Farm – Ontario, Tod Dorozio

  • I have never heard of it called intensive garden before, but I agree. So many people are growing so many things in smaller spaces.

    1. ClaudeA says:

      Been gardening with dense plantings in wide rows over 40 years, in nutrient-dense, water-conserving soil I produce. Ben there; done that. Best way to garden!

      1. Awesome! I have been gardening this way for over 30 years, just never called it this before. I like the name.

  • JohnLeePettimore says:

    My experience with raised beds led me to the following conclusions:

    1. Raised beds are good for small scale gardening. This is in line with how Mel Bartholomew describes his method. A 4’x4′ raised bed will produce enough for one person to have a single bowl of vegetables every day. If your intention is to grow large amounts for preservation, the square foot method in raised beds is not so good. See below.
    2. PRO: Raised beds provide well-drained soil. CON: Raised beds provide well-drained soil. I was proud of my raised bed set-up until the first rain. I had access to a large amount of old cow manure from a covered barn. I used it as a large part of my mix in the newly constructed raised beds. During the first rain, I watched black, nutrient rich water flow out of my raised beds, and down my driveway. If I had mixed the manure into the existing soil, the nutrients would have stayed there. Even though I added compost over the years, the soil in my raised beds was eventually washed clean of nutrients, and my plants struggled in it.
    3. Mulching is a necessity, but the soil still dries out VERY quickly anyway. Vermiculite is costly, and the soil mix still dries out easily, necessitating abundant watering. This is not that big a deal with a couple of beds, but is a problem on a larger scale (see #1). In Zone 7, clay soil is a blessing (except when you walk through it) because it holds water so well between rains.
    4. I am transitioning to a traditional garden now. I am using some of the square foot method ideas, but I’m not sure yet how well they will work. Instead of single rows, I have planted 1-foot wide rows (like a single 1-square row in the SQ method), but this has caused a weeding problem in the large scale. You can’t just use a cultivator between “rows” (individual plants) because there isn’t room, and you will dig up the plants. On the small scale of the SQ method, you just pull up all of the weeds by hand. This is too labor-intensive on a larger scale. On my next planting, I will increase the spacing to allow for cultivating between “rows”, but still have a denser planting than 1 row with 3 feet on either side.

    1. ClaudeA says:

      The very first dense garden I planted back in the 70s was covered with corrugated cardboard I took home from the waste box trash at work. Saved lots of our well water and made for weed-free gardening. In Winter the cardboard disintegrated and was part of the soil the next Summer.

  • Laura says:

    Right now half of my garden is raised beds, the other half open garden. I’m in Wisconsin and it has been very rainy. My raised beds drain well and I am harvesting radishes and lettuce with few weeds. The rest of my garden is full of standing water and knee-high weeds. I haven’t even been able to plant the rest of my tomato plants yet.

  • Samia says:

    I simply could not have a garden at all where we live if not for raised beds; they are an absolute necessity. Our water table is high; therefore, raised beds save the day. If I knew from one year to the next how much rain we’d be getting, then in a really dry year, I’d go for trad. widely spaced rows.

    This year, a few weeks ago, it rained almost nonstop – hard – for 5 or 6 days. The area between my raised beds was like a lake, literally. You could have gone in there with a small canoe. But the young seedlings in the raised beds were safe & sound.

    Yes, I have to mulch. We cut our grass anyway, so there is free mulch. Almost every year, I place kitchen slops & a bit of chicken manure & whatnot in the beds and this breaks down to form organic matter in the somewhat sandy soil, as well as adding some nutrients.

    Thank God for raised bed gardening. On a different piece of land, I’d do trad. rows. In any case, I would still have to add some liquid (fish & seaweed) fertilizer as our soil is not rich. True, if our system broke down and I had no fish & seaweed emulsion, I would have to think hard about what to do for fertilizer. Minerals is everything. We do the best that we can.

  • Vickey K says:

    >>if there was ever a sustained period where the city water shut off or your well quit working, you’d lose all your harvest for that year<< Not necessarily. I have 5 rain barrels, and a river at the end of the block.

    1. Samia says:

      Yup! Rain barrels can save the day. Why doesn’t everyone use these, I’d like to know, instead of going for the tap all the time.

      1. Leslie559 says:

        well, the concept of rain barells are good, providing you live in a climate where you get water from the Gods throughout the year. In places where we get rain from maybe late November until February you’ve just spent gads of money on a item that takes up gardening space that will only benefit you for a weeks time after a rain, so in November to February. When you’ve got 100+ degree days for weeks on end and the months before and after are ‘only’ in the mid 90’s rain barrels are really of no great value and traditional rows that require wide spacing and occasional rains are of even less value if you want to grow anything you can eat during those months. Living in the valley of one of the richest areas of farm lands, I can guarantee you that every traditional row farmer is watering on a very regular basis.

        1. Samia says:

          At those temperatures, I would imagine so.

      2. David Goodman (Bioneer Blogger) says:

        I agree – saving water is a must-do. I put aside about 1200 gallons on my old homestead via old hot tubs and rain barrels. That said, I also worked a field without any way to hold water on site and there I used wide spacing and grew during the wetter season.

  • Roy says:

    In our high desert my lot is where it was once a brickyard.
    With the heavy clay I can barely grow grass but weeds love it.
    With maybe 10 inches of rain a year watering is a necessity.
    I do a little gardening in the clay but rely on my 16 inch raised beds.
    Production has been much better than in the plot that was previously there.
    Even the original settlers here couldn’t grow crops without putting in an irrigation system.
    So the need to water the raised beds is not an issue as it is necessary to water anyway.
    Whether raised beds or field rows are better depends on climate, rainfall, ground composition and amount labor you are able to put into it.

    1. Samia says:

      Exactly right. You don’t just garden; you garden a specific piece of land. So, we each have to do what’s right for our own situation, not someone else’s.

      1. David Goodman (Bioneer Blogger) says:


    2. krn says:

      Try hugelkultur or gravel gsrdening and olla irrigation in desert

  • Robert says:

    The reason our ancestors did wide row gardening/cropping was because they needed room to get a horse through and later to get a tractor through. If you are only raising food for your own consumption, you can grow a lot more in a lot less space with a lot less work using a more intensive method. Saying there is a reason why our ancestors grew in wide rows is true. Just not because of water issues. They were farmers not gardeners. They needed large yields for their own animals and to potentially sell. And to get those large yields they needed horses and later tractors to achieve those yields.

    Reminds me of a story. A man’s wife was cooking a ham at Easter in two roasting pans. He asked her why she used 2 pans and she said because that’s the way my mom did it. When they were at his mother-in-laws next time he asked her why she used 2 roasting pans to cook the ham. She replied that that was the way her mother did it. Finally when they were at his wife’s grandmothers house he asked her why she used 2 pans to roast the ham. And that’s when he finally found out the true reason for using two pans. Grandma told him she used 2 pans because the ham was too large for one pan. 2 generations just blindly doing something the way their ancestor had for no good reason.

    It’s good to learn from our ancestors. Their is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from them. But, we have advanced brains for a reason. We should always be learning and looking for the best solutions to our challenges in life.

    1. Samia says:

      You are quite right. Always keep an open mind.

    2. ClaudeA says:

      Ha! Reminds me of a story about a lady who cut the end off a squash before she put it in the pot to cook. One day Hubby asked, “Why do you do that? The pot easily holds the whole squash.”

      “Grandma did it!”

      When they visited her mom, she asked, “Mom, why did grandma cut the end off the squash?”

      “Because the pan she had was too small. It was her only pot.”

      Tradition makes for interesting history. Not for contemporary living. Too bad everyone treats the political circus with outmoded traditional trust that extends to farming and health and gardening and nutrition today!

      Somebody! PLEASE! Break the Mold!

      1. David Goodman (Bioneer Blogger) says:

        The mold has been broken, but the original mold still has much we can apply. Check out Steve Solomon’s “Gardening without Irrigation.” It’s available for free. That changed my mind on row gardening.

  • I have a hardpan problem 8″ down. The only sunny spot for a garden is on a slope. Three years ago year I built a raised Huglkultur bed. Made it 2 concrete blocks high. Watered it twice all season! The wood in the bottom acts like a sponge and soaks up the rain. Bumper crops. Last year I did 2 more Huglekultur beds. Made cart wide paths that act like a swale to catch and soak the rain water into the beds. Lots of mulch. I plan to make 2 more Huglekultur beds this year.
    I am 74 years old, and really like sitting on the edge to plant and harvest! Also not having to bend over. After a lifetime of gardening, I discovered Permaculture and have embraced some if the principles to be able to continue gardening in my older age. I chronicled the garden conversion on a fledging blog. http://www.steps2permaculture.com

  • Bonnie says:

    I like my raised beds. I don’t have a huge yard, but I have enough raised beds where I can swap where I plant. I keep rain barrels so it would be easier for me to water in case there is a water shortage. For a small yard and a full-time worker, raised beds suits me best.

  • Riesah Prock says:

    Like many here, I too had raised beds: French Intensive Gardening. The mounds were 3 feet high with a path between them. At the start I mulched, until I noticed the slugs and the summers in Edmonton, Alberta becoming more humid. In my backyard garden I grew 3 types of potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, beans (3 kinds), salad greens (3 kinds of lettuce, spinach), green onion, and a few other things I cannot recall. I used to collect compost in plastic bags, lay them out between the mounds over winter and in the spring everything had broken down and I just dug holes and poured in the bag contents. Growing things this way, the mounds retained moisture, requiring watering perhaps once a week at most, and weeds were also kept to a minimum. My back never felt as good as in those years and harvest was so easy. Herbs also liked this, as well as asparagus and strawberries.

  • Krista says:

    This is my third year gardening and I have half my small plot in rows. I heard that straw mulch is good for soil as well as keeping weeds at bay so I purchased some from a small organic farm not far from me. However I am getting grass growing from the seed in the straw but its very tender and comes up easily. Much better that the weeds in my rows which is in abundance and killing me every weekend pulling them up. My rows have been drying out quickly so have also just put straw on them as well. Im a newbie so I hope this works. My cucs and beans look 10 times better than last year. The rains last year killed all cucumbers. The rows have helped tremendously and the stems are very thick and strong. I live in Illinois and have 28 heirloom tomato plants, seven varieties, that I grew from seed planted on flat ground and they are doing phenomenal so I dont understand why Laura is having a problem. Maybe next year she should try putting down straw on her tomatos as I did. Seems to be working wonderfully. I love my traditional garden. No raised beds for me. Good luck everyone.

  • MSOMI says:

    The pros are much higher than cons. but flexibility is much needed in gardening

  • JohnLeePettimore says:

    My experience with raised beds has developed the following opinions:


    1. Great for small scale production. If you have just a couple of raised beds (like the Mel Bart 4×4 beds), most of the cons don’t matter so much because your setup is small.

    2. Almost all of the PROs are contingent on No. 1. I say “almost” just in case.


    1. As noted, they require lots of water, even when you use mulch. Light fluffy soil is great, but it also dries out FAST. Clay might make your soil compact (I live in a HIGH CLAY area), but a bit in the mix sure helps hold onto some water.

    2. If you want a large production (for canning, etc.) it sure seemed like MORE work to garden with a raised bed, than to go with a row garden.

    3. MY MAIN PROBLEM – Well-drained raised beds lose LOTS of goodies out the bottom of the beds. When I first set up my raised beds, I had access to a LOT of old, composted cow manure. I made up a great soil mix with it and filled up my beds. I was jazzed about how great it was going to be. Imagine my chagrin when I looked out at my beds during the first rain, and saw black water draining from the the bottom of the beds and running down my driveway.

    I made a stab at applying some of the square-foot concepts to a row garden this last spring, but I had lots of stuff going on, and was unable to properly prep much of an area. The idea was to do “square-foot rows”, or to plant at the same spacing like in SF gardening, but do it in a row one-foot wide. Weeding was an issue, but it worked ok. This coming spring I am going to do it again, but the minimum plant spacing will be wide enough to allow a hoe between all plants. This will work out as three or four rows close together, with larger spaces between. We’ll see how it works.

  • geraldc says:

    Depends on how “raise beds” are defined. My garden of 35+ years is 22 – 100 ft rows are 36 inch apart and have raised beds 12 inch wide 3 inch high and 6 – 70 ft rows same way. All rows have 2 Blue Strip Drip water hoses in place after plants are up. Plant 4 rows red Irish potatoes on 15 Feb every year. Plant all another seeds on Good Friday every year. Raise all my Better Boys, Early Girls and Rutgers tomatoes from seed in my 4 ft x 8 ft seed bed, seed put in 15 Feb each year. Seed bed has screen, glass of house windows covering both sides with water misters on whole bed. About 4 years ago, on warm day I had glass up with no screens on, plants were doing great about 2 inch high. I walked by and seen red birds flying out of seed bed. Those red birds had pull all my tomato plants up, all of them. Another year, when I went down to chicken coop, I seen red birds flying over my Peaches and Cream sweet corn, so went to look. Those birds had pull almost all my 2 to 3 inch high corn up. Have never had this problem before. On all my plants I use 5 – 10 – 15 fertilizer, just like my gradpa told me to do, he fed 680+ cows from his crops every winter for almost 50 years. As for “organic” no such thing can happen if crop is outside. There was a test done on 5 farms in USA 500 miles apart for 3 years. The wind drift averaged 15 miles down wind on each farm and RoundUp Ready weeds were found in each of those 15 miles drifts. Wife and I have been raising day old chicks for over 20 years, about every 4 to 5 years get new chicks, in 2014 our chicks arrived, I put them in coop for baby chicks inside big chicken coop with their feed, water and heat lamp, all were happy. Late evening I decided to take wife to diner, so we were off to diner. Next morning I get up about 7 am each day went down to see how baby chicks were doing. I was shocked, there was 9 baby chicks dead. This has never happened before, 1 maybe 2 in 2 or 3 weeks but not next day. Went to tell wife, she said she remembered seeing county work truck spraying ditches as we were going to diner. Baby chicks were about 250 ft from road with home and garden between. Can not prove the spraying done it but has never happened before. If spray did that then drift got on garden also. Wonder how many “organic” gardens have same wind drift happen not even being seen ?

    1. Calvin Bey says:

      Yes, I suspect you are correct. RoundUp has no place in gardening and /or agriculture. It is the worst thing that has ever happened to our soils, and it is effecting our health, and that of our livestock. And we transporting it to countries and people over the earth. Its terrible. It should be outlawed. Re gardening see my comment below.

    2. David Goodman (Bioneer Blogger) says:

      That’s awful – I feel for you. A friend lost multiple beehives thanks to mosquito spraying. It’s a problem all over.

  • Rob says:

    Am at a loss for words. Have been sitting here on the southwest edge of the Gila in New Mexico for the last sixteen years, minding my own business. In an effort to improve my land, I have been researching through numerous sites, including this one. While I have learned much, I have also learned that the rainwater [23k gal. cap.off of metal roofs]] needs to be filtered; that the alfalfa my 35yr.old horse is eating is loaded with herbicides and his manure will kill my plants; that the concrete roofing tiles that form my raised beds are saturated with flyash and will soon start glowing. Now intensive gardening is under question. I use t-tape drip irrigation tubing for all my planting. This means spacing of either 8″ or 12″. For a 5′ wide bed, I’ll have six rows. This has served me well and will continue to use this method. Rain dependent row cultivation will not work in my situation as rainfall can only be counted on during monsoon season [July,August,September]. Also the reason for the large water storage capacity. Row cropping would limit me to one growing cycle. Intensive gardening coupled with drip irrigation and shade cloth gives me far better utilization of my land. If it’s not broke don’t fix it.

    1. Ginny - in West Australia says:

      Rob, if it works for you don’t change it. There is no one-fits-all style of gardening.

      I am saddened to hear that you have to filter the rain water just to use on the garden. Even worse is the chemicals coming through in the horse manure and the roof tiles. We drink our rain water unfiltered, grow enough oaten hay to feed our own cows which in turn fertilise my garden, and grow enough wheat straw to mulch it to retain moisture. Over the years we have had our produce tested for residues since we do farm conventionally and they have all come back clear. We as farmers are very accountable to the end user of our products so I would definitely find a more reputable source of lucerne hay if possible. I hate to think what it is doing to your poor horse!

    2. David Goodman (Bioneer Blogger) says:

      Definitely go for what works on your land. I have used both intensive and wide spacing, depending on the situation.

  • I have gardened here for 40 years and use a mix of methods as well as change things up as trees grow I like to use wide 4’beds for some crops with grass paths that become beds the following year to allow rotation .I also have some raised beds around the house made with stone and raised beds in the kitchen garden with paths deeply bedded in leaves but no borders on the beds I also grow traditional rows crops that get tilled and hilled then over sown with cover crops . I can’t see being dependant on bringing in mulch or wood chips -I am a fan of cover crops . I do buy sawdust and hay for bedding and feeding my horses and that along with wood ashes from my stove all gets cycled back to the soil as well as some minerals . I save seed and use no purchased sprays -even organic ones. I like to be as independant of the need to buy things as possible. You never know when you will have no money to buy stuff.

  • Calvin Bey says:

    The key to productive, nutrient-dense veggies is get the amount and ratios of the minerals (macros and micros) correct, AND have a biologically active soil (organic matter content of about 5%), and allow no toxins (strong chemical fertilizers and pesticides). ALWAYS keep the soil covered. Do cover crops as much as possible. It can be done with traditional row width systems, but Jeavons approach is more productive. Note the picture of the corn…… bare soil. Not good. With soil cover, and organic matter, the need for water is reduced. Jeavons folks have shown that over and over. Follow the Jeavons approach (not just the spacing concepts) and per unit production will increase AND will use less water. Avoid the square foot gardening approach of using only compost as a soil base, without considering the minerals. Read AcresUSA magazine for much information on this topic. The comparison of methods is only justified if you use the whole systems, and have records of inputs and outputs. Few do.
    Personally, I use raised beds, but not with side boards. They generally are not needed. For sure I would never use the plastic forms or railroad ties. Think energy input and toxicity.

  • Roberto says:

    I have to disagree with the con that intensive gardening requires more water.

    If a small intensive garden is supplemented with rainwater harvested off the roof and and stored for use in a smart designed wicking bed style container system, the con of needing more water is moot. No soaker hoses required!

  • Alex Scharf says:

    What are the dangers of soil contamination from Rotting cardboard ? ( Chemicals used in manufacture???

    ( I have bought many products from you. I would appreciate a reply)

    1. David Goodman (Bioneer Blogger) says:

      I have never heard of any problems; however, that doesn’t mean it’s totally safe.

  • Ginny - in West Australia says:

    Reading the article and then reading all the comments, pro’s and con’s, it comes down to what suits YOU in YOUR situation. There are no right or wrong ways to garden. The important thing is that we all try growing something.

    I have been gardening for many years and having moved to different climates over those years, I’ve found there is no one gardening method that suits all. Raised beds worked well in my wetter climate, intensive planting (shade the ground) in shallow ponds that I could flood once a day worked well in the desert, straw bales, no-dig, square foot, I’ve tried most of them and they all can have a place in anyone’s garden. What works for you may not work for me and vise versa.

    1. David Goodman (Bioneer Blogger) says:

      You are quite right, Ginny!

    2. Ian says:

      Agree. I have also read comments and believe that one size does not fit all. To be truly successful, one has to keenly observe THEIR OWN growing environment and its localized advantages as well its limitations. Any method of water harvesting is a must , regardless of gardening method, for most people and arguably all if looking at the bigger picture.

      I have been reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s “One-Straw Revolution” lately and find inspiration in his experiences. Now that guy destroyed some crops trying to figure out the best method but came up with a winning method for HIS area of growing and fully admits that what works for him (when and where and what he sows and grows) may not necessarily work for others simply because of the different climate zones, growing seasons, crops, soil etc. but that is not the point of the book. It has more to do with growing in accordance to his four principals of natural farming that he has observed and honed over more than 50+ years with the emphasis of growing, planting etc. WITH nature as opposed to creating more work and problems by working against nature’s flow.

      I read in the comments a problem with weeds. Straw, mulch and nitrogen fixing ground cover (ie. no soil tillage) keep coming up as possible solutions worthy of trying.

      My parents and in laws love raised bed bins since it requires less bending over and is easier to control the variables.

      I like whatever grows like crazy and I have had success and failures with both methods. Failures needed more attention to my natural environment and what I was proposing to do.

  • Dina says:

    I do hope and pray for some amazing books to teach me how to grow my own food in Arco Idaho!!! “Greening the desert” does NOT apply here! We do not have a ‘rainy’ season…. we are soooooo low on water, even in good ‘snow pack’ years that people are going without water and that is the sad truth!

    Anybody in the area??? I would LOVE help!

  • Vicky says:

    I had to go with a boxed bed so I could hook chicken wire above and below to keep the ground squirrels and rabbits out so I could get any crop at all.

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