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Raised bed gardening is undoubtedly more expensive than planting straight in the ground. But those who use them cite enhanced yields, and easier maintenance as compelling reasons to take the time to build them.
A raised bed may be elevated anywhere from 6" to 24" up from the ground. They are generally enclosed with wood, metal, or plastic enclosures, though some people use old tires, or other recycled containers.
They warm up more quickly in the spring, because they are off the ground. But they also can cool down more quickly in the fall, and may be more prone to early freezing of the soil, unless you enclose them in black material that soaks up the daytime heat.
Raised beds may also evaporate moisture more quickly until they are covered in vegetation, so some additional compensation may be needed to keep moisture levels adequate in the beds.
The advantage to raised beds is that you can control the soil composition more accurately. This alone may account for most of the reports of enhanced yields, since they are a popular option in areas with poor soils.
When building raised beds, it is best to put a barrier down before building the beds.
They can provide easier access for people who are gardening with physical challenges, since they require less bending. Some people build them with a wide edge, so they can sit or kneel on the edge to work.
Raised beds can be built around the edge of a yard, or in the center. If you can only access them from one side, it is best not to build them any wider than 24 inches. If you can access them on both sides, then the maximum width should be 4 ft. Less if you have short arms or a bad back.
They can be a great option for people who want to use them as part of their landscaping, to keep a nice looking yard.