Gardening experts would readily agree, I’m sure, but just how convenient, labor-saving and plant-enhancing they can be was ground into us this year.
Plants in established beds thrived, despite unintended neglect. My husband, Kevin, and I were happily surprised by how manageable, weed-free and productive these plantings were as opposed to their brethren on flat ground.
Heat and drought-loving peppers that should’ve been yellowed and impotent after this unusually wet summer were instead loaded with thick-walled bells, vibrant sweet marconis, superheated jalapeños and nearly-black poblanos. Just 20 plants yielded bushels of red, yellow, orange and green fruit.
Evidently, the two-foot-deep bed kept them well-drained with warm feet.
Nearby, slow-growing celeriac and spottily germinated carrots sport lush tops and swollen roots. The few stray weeds that tried to compete were easily plucked from the loose soil with my uncompromised left hand.
In a third bed, zucchini and crookneck squash, equally free of nutrient thieves, weathered the annual powdery mildew assault, yielding their final progeny just days ago.
In contrast, we had to slash through a jungle of cucumbers and butter cup squash that took advantage of their freedom, weaving themselves new abodes among neighboring grape vines and sunflowers. We discovered fully formed squash and slicing cukes dangling high above the ground on borrowed trellises. The unruly offspring also tried to smother neighboring patches of parsley, basil and cilantro.
Granted, these cucurbits are naturally prone to roam, but a raised bed might have given us a fighting chance at keeping them in check.
These landscaping wonders might also have boosted our yield of black garbanzo beans. The short, ferny plants were laden with fuzzy, two-seeded pods, but many succumbed to mildew and rot from lack of airflow and proximity to the ground.
I am eager to give them another chance next year in an elevated berth.
The most recent bonus came this week, when I realized I had failed to plant garlic by my self-imposed Oct. 1 deadline. As daylight waned, I scurried to break apart bulbs stored days before I broke my wrist and Kevin dashed out to prep the designated area.
He handily removed a volunteer potato that had made its home mid-bed between the rhubarb and the asparagus, unearthing a bucketful of spuds highlighted by two monster mutants. One weighed in at 2.4 pounds; the larger at 3.2.
We marveled for a beat, then returned to task. Within 15 minutes, I had spaced out 102 of our largest cloves and pressed them into the soft, fluffy dirt.
No strenuous spading. No time-consuming tilling. No heavy hoeing.
Raised beds are a beautiful thing.