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I didn't find anything Googling or in my John Seymour books:

Question: Is there any reason not to build super-tall raised beds?

The reason: Having the ground level at chest-height could make tending the plants much much easier on my back. So I'm thinking of raised beds about 5 feet tall.

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.. Cons I can think of: 1. Having that much soil costs a lot. Solution: Fill the first 4 feet with cheap filler soil. 2. Having that much wood for the siding costs a lot. Solution: Use something cheap like plastic or a combination of wood for structure and thin plastic as a moisture barrier. –  themirror May 8 '12 at 0:47
    
That looks like an answer... if you post it as an answer, it would get my +1 –  bstpierre May 8 '12 at 12:28
    
Does hydrostatic pressure en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrostatic_pressure#Hydrostatic_pressure affect raised beds significantly? I'm curious if the weight of soil in a higher bed would increase the outward force at the bottom, and require greater reinforcement, or cause the bottoms of the walls to bow out and rupture. –  Scivitri May 8 '12 at 17:21
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2 Answers

Besides the aforementioned issue of cost, there are a few other items that you might want to consider.

How tall of plants do you plan on growing? Even a 1 or 2 foot tall plant in a raised bed to chest level might cause you problems because you would have to reach up to tend to the plant. Even if you can reach it without a step, it can cause strain on your back to be reaching up all of the time.

Also think about how far out you would have to reach. A shorter bed allows you to grab over a plant, where as a chest high bed would require you to reach in between plants. Unless you have a very narrow bed or large spacing between plants, this could cause problems.

Also think about how you will add soil. Over time your soil will settle so you will most likely need to add more soil. Lifting a bag of soil to chest height is a lot more strain on your back then lifting it into a shorter bed. A related note is how you will till up the dirt. Tall beds will only give you the option to till it by hand with a small hand shovel, where as a shorter bed you could still use other methods.

You will also want to consider how much sun the plants will get. This may or may not be an issue, but depending on your surroundings different height beds will get more or less sun. You might also run into problems with wind. Again this may or may not be an issue, but depending on your surroundings, it could be. Just make sure you take this into account.

Overall I would say, you should consider various levels depending on the height of plants, but the highest I would consider is waist level.

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If you want to grow tomatoes, you'll need a ladder! –  Doresoom May 8 '12 at 14:33
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You mentioned some reasons not to build tall beds in a comment.

I'd encourage you to also seek out info from Sepp Holzer (e.g. the book "Sepp Holzer's Permaculture", though there's a bunch of other stuff on the web, some videos on youtube, etc). He talks about building large hugelkultur mounds (wood buried under soil to create raised beds) for the same reason that you mention: easier to plant, maintain, and harvest. I'm trying his method this year, with a couple of mounds (so far) that are about 3-4' high.

My point in posting this answer is that you can overcome the drawbacks you mentioned in your comment by (1) using wood to fill the first couple of feet of volume and (2) not using any siding, just making mounds. Also by mounding you increase the square footage of planting area available since you can use the slope of the mound for planting.

The only reason beyond yours that I can think of is that many tools are designed with long handles (e.g. hoes) so that you don't have to stoop to use them. You'd have to make your own hoe/weeder to work on high beds.

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As well as wood to avoid the "lots of soil", you could use boxes that are raised up on shelves - ie. like in many greenhouses or window boxes. –  winwaed May 8 '12 at 12:50
    
@winwaed That's container gardening, which is often a somewhat different beast. But then, if you're filling the bottom of a raised bed with a wood frame, that's probably back to container as well... –  Scivitri May 8 '12 at 17:14
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