||Gardening with raised beds is so much more productive than single row gardening, takes up far less space, and requires so much less labour, that there is simply no contest. Single row gardening is copied from large scale farming and cultivation by tractor drawn equipment - and raised beds do not require cultivation. Bingo. No contest on this count alone.|
Raised beds also allow you to grow 4 times as much produce as single row gardening in the same space. Which means 4 times less cultivation, weeding, irrigation, fertilisation, soil improvement - and all the labour and costs these things entail. We now have a fourfold bingo! And as if all this were not enough, raised beds have many additional benefits:
Raised beds warm up earlier in Spring, and also early in the day, so much so that they can be seeded or planted as much as a month earlier than in flat ground in the same area.
- they warm up earlier in Spring
- they remain un-compacted
- they eliminate tilling
- they allow much denser planting
- they substantially reduce the need for weeding
Since raised beds are never walked upon, the soil never becomes compacted, and always remains in excellent tilth (nicely and finely 'crumbly') - ideal for sprouting seeds, growing roots, availability of nutrients, and for water and air penetration.
Raised beds eliminate the need for cultivation (hoeing hardened and compacted soil) - and the need for tilling in Spring and Fall.
Raised beds allow much denser planting, saving much space, and substantially increase the yield per cultivated area as compared to row crops.
Denser crops also shade the ground between them, which discourages weeds, and reduces evaporation of moisture as well.
Fortunately, making raised beds is also a one-time thing, and needs to be done only once. To begin, mark out your gardens in 3.5 or 4 Foot wide beds, with 18" paths in between. Use little stakes and string, to keep the beds from slowly getting narrower or wider. These beds can be as long as you wish. I had mine laid out in a pattern of two sections, each 50 feet long, with a wide central path down the middle of my 100 x 100 Feet garden. Since I am fairly short - only 5-6 all in all - I also found it much easier to reach into the middle of the 3.5 Foot wide beds than the 4 Foot wide ones. Still, I found the 4 Foot wide beds just right for the cucumber beds.
Once you have done the garden lay out, just shovel a few inches of soil from what will be the paths onto the beds - and there are your raised beds. If you wish, you can also use 2 inch cedar planking, held by stout stakes inside the bed, as the 'walls' of your raised beds, but this is really not necessary.If necessary, add top soil from elsewhere, or brought in, to reach the desired hight. For a very attractive garden, or if you need more soil for your raised beds, you can also take another 2 to 3 inches of soil from your paths and replace it with fir bark mulch (never cedar bark mulch; cedar contains an antibiotic which will leach into your garden, and strongly hinders plant growth). And once you have established your raised beds, you need not ever do it again, unless you want to change the basic layout of your garden.
To return briefly to the problem of hardpan and situations of less than the minimum of 18" inches deep loam. If you have at least 10" deep loam, you can let Nature take care of the hardpan problem. Just punch some holes through the hardpan for basic drainage, as described earlier, and then let Nature solve the problem of the hardpan. And she will. The penetration of hardy roots into the hardpan during the season, and their decay in fall, will slowly break up the hardpan and transform it, albeit somewhat slowly, into rich loam. Every year you can expect the layer of hardpan to become less by one-half to 1 inch.
There is only one slight disadvantage of raised beds. In places which have only a thin layer of soil over bedrock and much direct exposure to the sun, raised beds dry out faster than flat ground beds. In this case, filling the paths to the top level of the raised beds with fir bark mulch (never cedar bark mulch), or anything else which retains moisture well, will go a long way to solve this problem.
Altogether, raised beds offer ideal growing conditions, are so much more productive, and require so much less labour, that there is simply no comparison with single row gardening. And we'll reduce the labour even more, and quite a lot, as we go along. Next though, we'll get into balancing the soil.
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