There are three basic methods for growing vegetables, and some will be more suited to your particular ground conditions than others. This section outlines the pros and cons of the various methods, in an honest way, and it is up to you to decide which one is best for you.
GROWING VEGETABLES AT GROUND LEVEL IN ROWS.
This is the traditional method for growing vegetables and it is still the best for most people in most situations. The vegetable seeds, seedlings or plants are set out in long rows with enough space between the rows to weed using a hoe.
The advantages are:-
The individual plants have enough space to reach their full potential size, without having to compete with their neighbouring plants for adequate supplies of nutrients or moisture in dry periods.
The plants are easier to weed using a hoe. You can do your weeding standing up, and not have to bend down or kneel, which is back breaking at the best of times.
The individual plants are easier to inspect to see that they are growing properly and check for any pests or diseases.
The individual plants are easier to treat for any pests or diseases.
There is not so much cover for slugs and snails to hide.
Using cloches is straightforward with no wasted cloche area. Holding down the cloche against the wind with lengths of timber or stones is easy. Cloches are particularly useful in the North of the UK to extend the growing season and grow tender plants such as courgettes, squashes or sweet corn.
It is easier to apply a mulch.
It is easier to apply fertiliser during the growing period.
The individual plants are easy to check for harvesting. It is most unlikely that the plants will reach maturity all at once and you want to be able to harvest the plants when they are at their peak of perfection.
The drawbacks are:-
There is some compaction of the soil between the rows of plants, as you have to walk over the soil to use the hoe. As this does not directly affect the plants, it is not a problem.
Well, there are very few drawbacks. That is why this is the most popular cultivation method.
GROWING VEGETABLES IN BLOCKS AT GROUND LEVEL.
This is a method of growing vegetables closely together in small blocks about 1.5 m across, with larger access paths, either trodden earth or boards, or even permanent construction. It may be suitable if you wish to grow baby size vegetables or have a very small area available for cultivation. It has many more problems and drawbacks than advantages.
The advantages are:-
It is possible to stand or kneel at either side of the block and reach over half the width of the block.
The individual seeds, seedlings or plants are spaced more closely together, as there is no need to hoe to kill the weeds.
The plants will naturally stay small, as they have to compete for the available water and nutrients. This is a suitable method if you wish to grow baby size vegetables.
It is suited to growing vegetables in a limited space, such as in a back yard or very small garden.
The drawbacks are:-
You have to stand or get down and kneel to weed using your hands or a trowel. This has to be the worst job in the garden. It is not usually possible to use a hoe.
It is more difficult to even see the weeds, let alone remove them.
It is difficult to inspect between individual plants to check for the presence of pests and diseases lurking below the leaves.
Pests and diseases spread more easily between plants.
Pests and diseases are more difficult to treat between the close plants.
It is difficult to apply fertilisers during the growing period without damaging the foliage.
It is more difficult to apply a mulch, without damaging the plants.
It is difficult to use cloches or to anchor them against the wind.
It is difficult to get water to the base of the plants which is where it is really needed.
Too much of the total area of the plot, is wasted in areas for paths, leaving too little of the area actually available for growing crops.
GROWING VEGETABLES IN RAISED BEDS.
This is a variation on the previous section of growing vegetables in blocks, where the growing area is artificially raised above the natural ground level.
Sadly, some presenters in gardening programs suggest that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, while ignoring the many drawbacks.
The advantages and drawbacks of growing vegetables in blocks, have already been detailed above. To that must be added the following:-
It can be a valuable method for growing vegetables in specific circumstances.
The advantages of growing vegetables in raised beds are:-
If you are constructing a growing area over a tarmac, concrete or paved area, and do not want to rip up the ground, then it is probably the only solution. It is really like creating a much bigger tub or plant pot for growing vegetables.
If someone is physically disabled and unable to bend down, it may enable them to continue growing vegetables.
If someone is confined to a wheelchair, the construction of very high raised beds, may enable them to grow vegetables. There are even special gardening tools available to cater for many disabilities.
If the ground is very boggy, it may avoid the waterlogged conditions. An Engineer, would suggest a much cheaper and easier solution of first improving the drainage. An alternative way is to use the so called “lazy bed” system, that has been practiced for hundreds of years by the vegetable growers in the boggiest and wettest parts of Scotland and Ireland.
The drawbacks of growing vegetables in raised beds are:-
The drawbacks already discussed in the section above dealing with growing vegetables in blocks.
The considerable cost of the treated timber to construct them. It has to be treated timber to resist the rotting effect of the earth inside them. The cost just for the timber to construct a 1.5 m X 4 m X 30 cm high raised bed is £55. You must also consider the time required to construct the raised beds. Remember that the sides of the raised bed will need to be more than 8 cm above the finished ground level inside the bed. This will help to prevent too much spillage when digging the bed or adding manure or compost.
The cost of the earth infilling to the raised bed. Even allowing for using the topsoil from the surrounding soil, more will be required.
The ongoing cost and time of maintenance to the raised bed. If you do not use timber, fully treated against rot, you will be lucky to get 5 years from your raised bed.
The difficulty of eradicating perennial weeds from the sides of the bed and the surrounding paths.
The extra watering required, particularly in droughts. The roots of the plants will be further away from the natural water table and will dry out much faster. This may be a particular problem in the South East of the UK.
The difficulty of digging the beds over the Winter, perched up on top of the bed.
Having used both raised beds and the traditional method of growing the vegetables in rows at ground level, the traditional method wins hands down. If you do not believe me, have a look around any group of allotments and see how the really experienced plotters nearly always use the method of growing vegetables in rows at ground level. They produce the largest crops of tasty fruit and vegetables with the least cost and effort.