Raised beds are a popular way to grow vegetables in home gardens and for good reason. They warm up earlier in spring extending the growing season, drain well, and allow you to control the soil. These advantages make it easier to grow crops like tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and melons which benefit from the warm loose soil. Read on to discover the best vegetables to grow in raised beds.
Why garden in raised beds
As noted above, there are a lot of advantages to growing food in raised beds. I’ve been a raised bed gardener for over fifteen years and the main reason is because they require far less work than my former in-ground garden. It didn’t take me long to realize that my raised beds also help me grow crops that used to struggle when I planted them in my native clay soil. Here are seven awesome reasons to garden in raised beds:
- The soil warms up early in spring.
- Raised beds drain-well.
- They’re ideal for sites where the existing soil is poor, rocky, or contaminated.
- Deep, loose soil makes it easier to grow root crops like carrots.
- You can plant intensively in raised beds, maximizing the harvest.
- Raised beds typically have fewer weeds.
- Elevated beds look tidy, which is an advantage if you’re growing food in a front yard.
To read more about the many benefits of gardening in raised beds be sure to check out this detailed article by Tara.
Selecting the best vegetables to grow in raised beds
As I flip through a stack of seed catalogs in winter or wander down the aisles of my local garden centre in spring trying to decide what to grow I keep a few things in mind:
- Grow what you like to eat – When deciding what vegetables to grow, consider which ones you like to eat! It sounds simple but ideally you should grow your favorite crops, leaving space for one or two new-to-you vegetables or varieties each season.
- Length of your growing season – It’s essential that you select vegetables that have time to mature during the length of your growing season. This is where raised beds come in handy! I live in a northern climate with a fairly short growing season. This can make it difficult to mature long season, heat-loving vegetables like melons and hot peppers. Raised beds have the advantage of warming up earlier in spring extending my growing season and helping these warm season vegetables get off to a strong start. Not sure how to find out the length of your growing season? Check out this handy calculator from our friends at The National Gardening Association.
The 10 best vegetables to grow in raised beds
While it’s true that any vegetable can be grown in a raised bed, there are certain crops that are easier to grow or benefit from the advantages that raised beds offer. Here are the 10 best vegetables to grow in raised beds:
Bush beans are one of the best vegetables to grow in raised beds because they’re quick, easy, and compact. Most varieties begin to crop a mere 50 to 55 days from seeding. Bush beans are a warm season vegetable and can’t be planted until after the last spring frost.
If planted in cold, wet soil you may find the seeds rot instead of germinate. The early warm up and well-draining soil in raised beds helps bush beans get off to a healthy start. To ensure a long season of tender pods I sow more seeds every 3 weeks from late spring through mid-summer.
Pole beans are another option for home gardeners, but bush beans are easier to grow in raised beds as they don’t require support. Pole beans can grow six to nine feet tall and should be grown up bean towers, bamboo posts, or netting. One of my favorite ways to grow pole beans in my raised bed garden is to use sturdy four by eight foot wire trellises at the back of my beds or make pole bean tunnels between the raised beds. Check out this article for details on how I made my bean tunnels.
Sweet and Hot Peppers
There are dozens of types of peppers to grow in a home garden with fruits in a diverse range of colors, sizes, and shapes. Sweet peppers have little to no heat while hot peppers can be mildly to extremely hot. Sweet and hot pepper plants thrive in warm, well-draining soil. I used to struggle to grow peppers in my zone 5 garden until I switched from in-ground plantings to raised beds. This was a game-changer! Why? The soil in my raised beds warms up far quicker in late spring than my in-ground garden beds. The plants adapted better after transplanting and responded with quick, vigorous growth. This is why peppers are among the best vegetables to grow in raised beds.
Another reason raised beds are tops when growing peppers is that they prefer light, well-draining soil. That doesn’t mean they want to be grown in dry soil, they don’t! Peppers need regular watering, but don’t want to be sitting in saturated soil. Growing them in raised beds and mulching with straw or shredded leaves encourages healthy growth and plenty of peppers.
Tomato plants love warm soil and planting in raised beds, particularly in cooler regions can give you a head start on the growing season. In my former in-ground garden I couldn’t transplant tomatoes until mid-June as the soil was too wet and cold. With raised beds I now set out my tomatoes in late May.
The deep, loose soil in my raised beds also lets me plant tomato seedlings deeply. This promotes the development of adventitious roots along the portion of the stem buried under the soil. A larger, more robust root system improves the ability of the plant to take up water and nutrients.
One final notes about growing tomatoes in raised beds: there are determinate and indeterminate types of tomatoes. Determinate varieties, also called bush tomatoes, typically grow three to four feet tall. Indeterminate varieties, or vining tomatoes can grow seven or more feet tall. I grow both types but it’s more challenging to care for indeterminate tomatoes in raised beds as they need strong stakes or supports. You also have to tie the new growth of indeterminate tomatoes to the stakes weekly. Determinate varieties are shorter and require less fussing. I support determinate tomatoes with heavy duty tomato cages. Trailing varieties of tomatoes like Terenzo and Tumbling Tom are perfect for planting at the edge of a raised bed.
Cucumbers are another warm season vegetable sensitive to cold soil and air temperatures. The early soil warming of raised beds is beneficial to when planting tender cucumber seeds or seedlings. There are two main types of cucumbers: bush and vining. Bush cucumbers grow just a couple of feet long and grow well in containers or raised beds. I support the bush cucumber plant on tomato cages but they can also be allowed to tumble over the sides of a raised bed.
Vining cucumbers can also be grown in raised beds but I plant them at the base of a trellis like an A-frame trellis. This keeps the vigorous plants from taking over the entire raised bed. Trellised plants also have fewer issues with insects and diseases and the fruits are easier to spot.
Carrots, as well as other long-rooted vegetables like daikon radishes and parsnips are well suited to the deep, loose soil in raised beds. In beds shorter than 8 inches, stick to carrot types with compact roots like Chantenay, baby, and Parisian which has rounded roots. If your raised beds are deeper than 12 inches, you can grow long carrots like Imperator varieties. Carrots also prefer growing in stone-free soil. When grown in gardens with a lot of rocks or pebbles carrot roots can fork. Planting them in raised beds where you control the soil means carrots can grow long and straight.
Melons like honeydew, watermelons, and muskmelons are a summer treat! For many years I tried to grow melons in my vegetable garden but only had tiny fruits by the time autumn frost killed the vines. Now my muskmelon harvest begins in mid-summer and continues for almost two months! I also harvest dozens of watermelons and cantaloupe in late summer. I haven’t moved south of the border but instead grow melons in my raised beds.
Raised beds and melons go well together for several reasons: 1) Warm spring soil encourages the small seedlings to push out plenty of early growth so they can size up as quickly and begin to flower. 2) The loose, non-compacted soil in raised beds promote healthy root growth. 3) Raised beds drain well which means spring showers don’t oversaturate the soil – melons don’t want to be sitting in wet soil. The downside to growing melons in raised beds is that the plants are typically vining and take up a lot of room. I plant them at the sides of my beds so they can trail over the side or grow them up an A-frame trellis.
Eggplant is a tomato and pepper relative which also flourishes in the summer heat. If planted when the soil is cold and wet, the seedlings sulk. When I grew eggplant in my former in-ground garden I had to wait a couple of weeks after the last frost for the soil to warm up or I had to pre-warm the soil by laying black plastic sheeting on top of the soil surface for 10-14 days prior to planting. With raised beds, I no longer have to fuss with pre-warming my soil to make sure my eggplant transplants get off to a good start. The soil warms early and the water from frequent spring rains drains away quickly. I support raised bed eggplants with tomato cages.
Sweet potato plants need a long warm growing season to yield a crop of good-sized tubers. I’ve had excellent luck planting short season varieties in my raised beds. I plant the slips in late spring, about a week after the last frost date. Soon the vigorous plants fill their section of the garden bed. They don’t grow well in dense or rocky soils, but thrive in the warm, well-draining soils of my raised beds. Before the first fall frost we cut back the plants and dig the tubers – what a treat! We also graze on the leaves during the summer, not taking too many as we don’t want to impact tuber development. The tender leaves are excellent stir-fried or steamed.
I sow seeds for my favourite salad greens like leaf lettuce and spinach in my raised beds as soon as the ground has thawed in early spring. These fast-growing greens love rich soil and raised beds make it easy to add compost or aged manure directly to the portion of the bed where they will be planted. It’s also easy to sow a pinch of seeds or tuck seedlings along the edges of beds so they don’t take up much space. Quick growing greens like arugula and leaf lettuce are also perfect for interplanting between slower growing crops (like tomatoes and peppers) at the beginning of the season.
Onions do not like growing in compacted soil. Raised beds provide the loose, well-draining growing medium they prefer making onions one of the best vegetables to grow in raised beds. Before planting onions in early spring I enrich the soil with an inch or two of compost. I then plant the onion sets or seedlings 6 inches apart. Raised beds provide soil that drains freely after a rain or watering which encourages healthy onion plants and large bulbs.
Other vegetables to consider growing in raised beds include ground cherries, tomatillos, potatoes, and squash.
For further reading on raised beds, be sure to visit these articles:
- Galvanized raised beds: DIY and no-build options for home gardens
- 4 by 8 foot raised bed vegetable garden layout options
- The best soil for a raised bed
- The best materials for raised garden beds
- Raised bed designs
Did this list of the best vegetables to grow in raised beds help you decide what to plant in your garden?
I would love to know more about how you start melons early here in Nova Scotia, Niki. I am in Halifax and the night temps seem so very low until at least June. Do you use a hoop tunnel or something like that or do you find the melons do OK? How early so you plant out?
Niki Jabbour says
Hey Dylan, I start my watermelon, muskmelon and cantaloupe seeds indoors about 4-5 weeks before the last expected frost date – around the 1st of May. I then harden them off around June 1st and move them to the garden 5-6 days later. This is why I wrote my latest book, Growing Under Cover – the annoying late frost warnings and cool evening temps. I use row covers (floated on mini hoop tunnels) or mini tunnels covered wth poly for the first 2 weeks or so (lift the ends in the day to vent). This gives the melons a great start.