Think Spring: Four Reasons for Gardening in Raised Beds


Spring is finally here.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing and people everywhere are getting out into their yards.  Whether you have access to acres of rolling green lawn or just a little extra landing area on the wooden fire stair off the back of your apartment, you have the ability to garden.  

Spring’s Here, Sure.  So What Should We Do About It?

Here at moss, we sing songs in praise of our raised bed planters.  For team moss, this is both work and play – creating great raised beds is a  design exercise which then morphs into after work activity of planting, protecting and then eating the literal and metaphorical fruits of our labor.

We’ve rapped about our love of gardens many times in the past, most notably in last year’s round-up post of great how-to-start-your-urban-garden ideas, by extolling the virtues native planing in our sidewalk-side box, and showing which fruit trees are a good fit for the Chicago yard scene.   Today we’re talking raised beds – a great choice for city gardeners for a number of reasons.

At moss HQ we have several raised planting beds, all constructed from re-claimed materials.  We love sourcing from the ReBuilding Exchange in our projects, not only because they find beautiful pieces but because we support their mission of diverting old building components from the landfill. Since repurposing some of the old framing members into new buildings can be difficult (because they don’t fit into modern day joist hangers) we look for alternative uses.  These planter box designs are flexible enough to make a great home for non standard materials so and both the framing members and decking shown below are reclaimed wood. (Note: the snaps below depict last summer’s glory)

Four Reasons for Raised Beds

moss raised bed deckThe Moss HQ side yard makes the most of sun and space with a combination deck and raised bed.

1. Great Soil Quality Control

Raised bed gardening means you don’t have to be limited by the conditions of your existing soil which may have been abused by over-fertilizing grass lovers or even suffer from toxic conditions (we’ve all heard scary stories about lead contamination in urban soil).  Even if your current yard is blessed with an excellent mix of sand and clay, it may simply be very compacted.  Raised beds allow you to start with loose, fertile soil that is ready to make your little plants very happy.

If you do have contamination issues, a raised bed can lift your right above the problem.  According to NYC Landscape Designer, Jonathan Yevin, “Lead only leaches downwards, so as long as your raised bed is 6-8 inches deep—deep enough for most leafy greens, radishes and onions—they should be safe.”  Check out this article for more on dealing with toxic soil.

Since we don’t like nasty chemicals coming in contact with our organic, edible vegetables, or beneficial insects, we like to use the Baccto brand of vegetable specific soil. The soil is nutrient rich and has excellent water holding capacity, which in drought periods is essential for thirsty veggies. There are several local nurseries that stock a variety of container soils. We tend to frequent Gethsemane Gardens and Christy Webber. Both nurseries carry organic soil and their garden guru’s are extremely knowledgeable.


We’ve extended our growing space to the (sunny) sidewalk with this table height bed.

2. Light on the Land (in case you lease)

If you are an apartment dweller, a planter box might be just the thing for your deck or access stair.  If you are blessed with only limited yard space, small raised beds, “wedge” boxes, or planting in large pots or tubs means that your garden can come with you in a move.  Moss makes the most of our long narrow side yard by centering our planting bed in the middle of the sun’s path AND augments that with a street side table height planter out in front of the business.

 raised bed construction

Building the box with re-purposed wood  from the ReBuilding Exchange.

3. Easy and Accessible

Raised beds are particularly good for people with limited mobility – providing easier reach for planting, weeding and harvest than ground level plantings.  Even for those of us in peak gardening condition it can be a pleasure to add a little elevation.

  • Harvesting and even weeding can be a breeze when there’s no back ache involved.  Since you’re usually starting with clean soil, weeds in general are less of an issue anyway – there just aren’t that many of their seeds hiding out in the soil.
  • Also, since raised beds aren’t in as much contact with the thermal mass of the ground, they warm up faster in spring, giving you a jump on the growing season.  They also drain nicely meaning there’s no danger of root rot or excessive mud in a rainy streak.
  • Raised beds also keep veggies safe from leg-lifting dogs (yours or other peoples’) and the cute, yet hungry rabbits who are currently chowing down on our side yard plants.

moss raised bed collage

We can’t wait for this year’s burst of green. 

4. Designs to Suit Every Style 

Even the most basic frame of cedar 2×12 boards can add a design boost to a yard if done right.  Stepping up a notch or two, you can indulge your design sense with arrangements of beds in french formal garden concentric symmetry, avant garde angles, tidy rows in parallel beds or a wild jumble of greens overflowing from mis-matched pots.  We’ve seen raised beds supported with everything from cedar boards, to curving re-used bricks to old bathtubs.  What’s your favorite style?  There’s a raised bed to suit.

Be sure to check back with us this fall and we’ll show you how we extend our veggie growing season using a cold frame box.  The moss team will create several designs, narrow it down to a house winner and take you through a simple step-by-step construction and installation process!

A final note: Your garden doesn’t have to be elevated to be eye-catching (so this is just a general benefit of growing veggies) but one of our favorite things about the sidewalk box is the attention it attracts from neighborhood kids.  Since it’s just steps away from our front door, we overhear a lot of conversations between parents and kids as they walk – talking about where their food comes from and what’s in that box.  We love it!  One little girl refers to Laura as “the Sage Lady” since we offered them their pick of our garden bounty and she found her favorite herb growing there.  This year we plan to add some signage to the box to answer (and inspire) more questions.

The next step is up to you … what will you plant in it your garden this year?