Garden Smarter, Not Harder

Heirloom Gardener’s Editor-in-Chief, Hank Will, experiments with raised bed gardening to help ease his aching back.

  • Raised beds are helpful for aging gardeners and anyone with poor or polluted soil.
    Photo by Joanna Voigt
  • Raised beds can be filled with compost and rich soil then maintained without constant bending over — a real perk for gardeners with sore backs, aching knees, or painful arthritis.
    Photo by Joanna Voigt
  • Heirloom's Editor-in-Chief, Hank Will, built raised beds to help ease his aching back.
    Photo by Joanna Voigt

When I started gardening nearly 60 years ago, we tilled the soil, amended it with compost, planted, and irrigated with a sprinkler when necessary. At that time, we were more concerned with wind protection than water conservation. After I read articles in Rodale’s (now defunct) Organic Gardening and Farming, I added heavy mulch and soon discovered that I didn’t need to weed, till, and water as much. At the time, I was adamantly against raised beds because, by golly, those plants needed their roots in the native terra firma, or so I thought. Chalk it up to youthful hubris — or perhaps simple naiveté. Either way, my mind was pried open by life, and now I look forward to each growing season as an opportunity to experiment.

When starting out, choosing the “best” growing strategy can be daunting, particularly with so many passionate voices explaining how to do it their way — the “best” way! Whether it’s no-till, low-till, raised bed, you name it, one thing is certain: There is no one way.

Last year, as I tended my traditional garden and nursed my sore back, I decided to build some raised beds — tall ones at that — and fill them with hay and composted sheep manure. And that’s just what I did. Much to my surprise, the garlic I planted is thriving! So are the greens, radishes, and potatoes. This might be my most enjoyable and productive season yet.

If you’ve experienced any “eureka” moments that made your gardening experience more enjoyable or productive, I’d love to hear about them. Please send me an email at and we may compile a few letters into a short piece for a future issue of the magazine.



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