Posts Tagged ‘Open Raised Beds’

Prepping Open Raised Beds for Winter

Friday, December 1st, 2017
Open Raised Garden Bed

Open Raised Garden Bed

We’re taking advantage of good weather to get a lot of garden beds prepared for winter.  We’re loosening them up with a broadfork, pulling out most of the weeds, shaping them up neatly, and covering them with a thick layer of leaves.

Raked Smooth, Ready for Winter

Raked Smooth, Ready for Winter

I don’t use cover crops to protect the beds through the winter.  Cover crops are a good approach, as garden soil should not be left uncovered and bare, but I have an abundance of leaves, and covering the garden with them is a lot easier than planting another crop.   A bed all raked smooth as this one is will be ready to plant in the spring.  All we’ll have to do is rake back the leaves, which we can leave in the paths to break down and also act as a weed mulch.

Left – Done, Right – Not Done

Left – Done, Right – Not Done

Note the bed on the right, the one with the bucket.  It needs to be worked up, weeded, and re-shaped.

All Forked Up

All Forked Up

Here’s that bed after I worked it up with a broadfork and removed the weeds.

Shaped Up Bed

Shaped Up Bed

Here’s the same bed after it’s been shaped up and smoothed out using a five-tined cultivating hoe, an antique tool, that in my opinion should be made again, as it is so useful.

Tools

Tools

These are the four tools I use to work and shape my beds: a scoop shovel, a five-tined cultivating hoe, a broadfork, and a steel rake.

I maintain a large garden and the raised bed approach we use is working.  Our soil continues to improve and maintenance is in many ways a lot easier than it would be with a rototiller or any other more conventional approach.  From a sustainability aspect, using low technology and minimal outside inputs, I’m pretty sure this method ranks at or near the top of all home gardening systems.

Open Raised Bed Garden

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
South Garden Area

South Garden Area

I advocate the use of open raised beds for home gardening.  I’ve been working with open beds for over 30 years.  There are lots of advantages over both conventional planting in rows, and also over assembled, boxed in beds.  I’ve got two plots with open beds.  The area I call the south beds is a very geometric layout of 18 beds, each about 5 feet wide by 20 feet long.

North Garden Area

North Garden Area

The north bed area is a lot more haphazard.  It borders on a weedy, woody area “where the wild things are”.  Most of the beds in the north area are 10 feet long and five feet wide.  I thought an interesting post for July might be to show what’s going on in each of the beds.

Coles, Sweet Potatoes, Empty Garlic Bed

Coles, Sweet Potatoes, Empty Garlic Bed

The bed in the foreground has cabbages, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbages, Pac Choi, fennel, nasturtiums and some volunteer mustard.   The next bed with the black plastic has sweet potatoes.  The third bed is where I just harvested garlic.  It still has a few lettuces in it.  I’ll harvest those, level off the bed and plant a fall crop of beets and carrots. Open beds make succession planting easy.

Potatoes, More Potatoes, Rhubarb and Raspberries

Potatoes, More Potatoes, Rhubarb and Raspberries

Next we have two beds of potatoes and a more perennial bed of rhubarb and raspberries.  I’ll probably relocate the rhubarb and raspberries this fall.  They’ve been in that spot since 2004.  It’s time for a change.

Peas, Onions, Strawberries

Peas, Onions, Strawberries

The trellised bed has peas, which are just about finished producing.  I’ll rip all the structure out and plant a fall crop of green beans and other greens in that bed.  In front of that are red and yellow storage onions.  The closest bed is a three year old bed of strawberries, from which any baby  plants will be used to start a bed this fall or early next spring.  I recently bought that green wheeled cart with a tractor seat.  I’m liking it and using it a lot.

Strawberries, More Strawberries, Squash and Cukes

Strawberries, More Strawberries, Squash and Cukes

Here are two beds of strawberries, new this year, and a bed of squash and cucumbers.  The big hubbard and kuri squash are sprawling on the ground.  The smaller squash and cukes are trellised.

Coles, Herbs, Zukes and Melons

Coles, Herbs, Zukes and Melons

The furthest bed is zucchini, and melons, along with some mustard and cilantro that I’m letting go to seed, a rather unkempt but very productive herb bed, and a bed of coles – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Tomatoes and Two Beds of Corn

Tomatoes and Two Beds of Corn

Lastly on the south side are tomatoes and two beds of corn.  I have to fence the corn in, otherwise the thunderstorm winds easily topple the stalks over.

Potatoes, Shallots

Potatoes, Shallots

The far more shaggy north garden area contains my compost pile. It’s barely visible, but capped by two buckets in the upper left side.  In front of that is a bed of potatoes.  Directly in front is a half bed of shallots and I’ve got a couple blackberry starts doing pretty well in front of those.  I’ve got a huge crop of girasole (Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke, Helianthus tuberosus,) growing in several areas on the north side.  We don’t use them as much as we should.  Once you’ve got them, they are here to stay.

Candy Onions

Candy Onions

Behind the shallots I’ve got a bed of candy onions, bordering next to the wild lands.  Fortunately, the critters, so far, don’t seem to have a penchant for onions.

Asparagus, Peppers, Tomatoes, Okra and Leeks, Comfrey

Asparagus, Peppers, Tomatoes, Okra and Leeks, Comfrey

Rounding out the garden tour is more girasole.  Next to that, okra and leeks (which are past due for transplanting to a larger space).  Behind the leeks is a bed of comfrey, which is spreading well outside its borders, but I’m encouraging it, as it is a miraculous plant that I’m using a lot as a mulch and compost.  Next to this are beds of peppers and eggplants and more trellised tomatoes.  And finally on the left, our almost 30 year old bed of asparagus.

Open beds offer more flexibility than other systems.  They are relatively easy to maintain, and they truly do produce a heck of a lot of food in a pretty small area.

 

Garlic Planting in Open Raised Beds

Saturday, October 31st, 2015
Garlic

Garlic

Our target for planting garlic is the end of October. We hit it this year and I’m always happier when the cloves are set for their winter sprouting. Yesterday, I planted 76 saved seeds and added 38 new seeds, Lorz Italian, a softneck variety we purchased last week from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, our neighbors across the aisle at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka.

Open Raised Bed

Open Raised Bed

I had a bed nearly ready to go. Potatoes had been harvested from it, earlier.  It was clean and shaped.  Neither garlic nor any other onions had been planted there for a long time.

Tools for Making Ridges

Tools for Making Ridges

I used these tools to make three tall ridges in the bed. I softened the soil with my old five-tined cultivating hoe. I made deep troughs and tamped the soil with an old square hoe, which I’m guessing was originally sold as a cement hoe. And I used a steel rake to make everything smooth.

Bed Ridged for Garlic Planting

Bed Ridged for Garlic Planting

After I ridged up the bed, I planted the garlic. It likes to grow up high on the top of the ridge and I can use the rest of the bed, the slopes and the trough bottoms, to plant lettuces and other greens in the spring.

Garlic Seed Covered with Straw

Garlic Seed Covered with Straw

The garlic was planted along the ridges, six inches apart. I put the softneck seed in the middle row. After the cloves were planted I covered the bed using two small straw bales, fluffed up to be as loose as possible.

We can report excellent results with this method. Every year we supply ourselves with a lot of garlic. The softneck variety are supposed to be better keepers than the hardnecks which we’ve grown for many years, so we’ll see if we can develop a good Wisconsin strain from our southern bred seed.

Hilling Potatoes in Open Raised Beds

Monday, June 22nd, 2015
King Harry Potato Blossoms

King Harry Potato Blossoms

Most years I grow 2 beds of potatoes.  This year, as part of my way bigger than needed garden, I’m growing three beds.  They’re planted more intensively than I’d like.  That’s because I got carried away with my seed potato purchase from Wood Prairie Farm, an organic supplier from Maine.  I’ve been meaning to buy from Wood Prairie for many years.  Jim Gerritsen, the owner, is an associate of mine in the Direct Gardening Association and I’ve always wanted to trial his potatoes.

Bed of King Harry Potatoes

Bed of King Harry Potatoes

When I placed the order, I bought more than I should have.  I was able to give some away, but I just didn’t want the seed to go to waste, so I planted more per bed, and three beds instead of two.

Bed of Dark Red Norland Potatoes

Bed of Dark Red Norland Potatoes

I have not checked underground yet, but the plants above are the most vigorous and healthy potatoes I’ve ever grown.  If the tuber yields match the plants, I’ll be very happy.

Bed of Cranberry Red, Onaway, and Caribe Potatoes

Bed of Cranberry Red, Onaway, and Caribe Potatoes

My intensive planting left no soil for hilling around the plants, and I know that without some good hilling, I could not expect a good yield.  I had no empty beds from which to steal some dirt, and my normal source of extra soil, the compost area, has been planted in squashes and melons.

The solution I used was to cut the paths around the beds deeper and use that dirt for hilling soil.  At first I thought it would be an impossible task to break up the hard packed clay in the paths, but I figured out a way to do it without killing myself with hard labor.

Using a Fork to Break Open the Clay Paths

Using a Fork to Break Open the Clay Paths

As with many problems, the right tools make the solution easy.  To initially break the clay I used a small fork made by Treadlite Broadforks.  Normally, I like to use this as a weeding tool for deep rooted large roots like burdock.  It proved perfect for this job, breaking the hard clay down about three inches.

Antique Five-Tine Cultivating Hoe in Clay Clods

Antique Five-Tine Cultivating Hoe in Clay Clods

To break up the clay clods, I used my old five tined cultivating hoe.   This is a magical tool.  Aside from its blades being the inspiration for our CobraHead tools, this tool rips hard soil and pulverizes clay clods.

This Tool is a Hand Powered Roto-tiller

This Tool is a Hand Powered Roto-tiller

It’s like a small powered roto-tiller, only better.  It is essential for my approach to raised beds and I would be lost without it.

Flat Bottomed Scoop or Grain Shovel

Flat Bottomed Scoop or Grain Shovel

A scoop (grain) shovel works better than smaller shovels for shoveling up dirt from the paths and smoothing the path at the same time.

Grain Scoop in Wheelbarrow

Grain Scoop in Wheelbarrow

I didn’t have enough dirt from the paths directly adjacent to the beds, so I cut soil out of paths elsewhere in the garden.  To move the soil I used a a single tire wheelbarrow.  Two wheeled carts will not work in my narrow paths.  I used a large grain scoop to dump the soil around the stems.  It worked very well, allowing me to make a nice deep cone of soil around each plant.

Hilled, Intensively Planted Potatoes in an Open Raised Bed

Hilled, Intensively Planted Potatoes in an Open Raised Bed

So now I have well hilled plants.  The harvest will tell if I got away with my intensive planting.

Dark Red Norland Potato Blossoms

Dark Red Norland Potato Blossoms

Interplanting Trellised Peas in Open Raised Beds

Sunday, April 5th, 2015
Open Raised Bed

Open Raised Bed

Open raised beds lend themselves well to home vegetable growing. A trellised pea planting demonstrates their versatility.

I try to cover my beds with leaves in the fall. The leaves protect the beds during the hard freeze, slow down weed production, and make it easier to get into the garden early in the spring. This picture shows the leaves raked off and any weeds that did sneak through pulled out. I use the leftover leaves as mulch in the paths or I just sweep them into an adjacent bed as I open up the garden. I don’t work the leaves directly into the bed soil. That’s too much work and I think would probably make the soil too acidic as opposed to just letting the leaves break down in the paths.

T-Post Trellis for Peas

T-Post Trellis for Peas

I’ve added about 20 gallons of compost to my 20 foot long bed. I’ve scraped up some soil from the adjacent paths and raked and smoothed up the bed to give it some height. The trellis system uses T-posts spaced 3 feet apart and 21” between the rows. The trellis lattice is two foot wide fencing cut to 60″ lengths, laced crosswise between the posts with jute. The T-posts are 90” long with about 70” above ground.

Peas Interplanted with Greens in Open Raised Bed

Peas Interplanted with Greens in Open Raised Bed

Here is the bed with the trellising in place and completely planted. Peas are planted on 2” centers along both sides of the fencing. In between each trellis of peas I’ve planted two rows of greens of various types including collards, spinach, lettuces, radishes and chard. The outside slopes are planted with a dense seeding of cilantro and mustard from saved seed. At both ends of the bed I’ve laid down about a 4” wide strip of marigold seed, saved from last year’s flowers.

I interplant peas like this each year, but this is my most ambitious and structured planting so far.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy with the results.

Advantages of Open Raised Beds

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Open Raised Beds

As I work on putting my garden to bed for the winter I’m realizing how much I like working with open raised beds.  I’ve been working with them for nearly thirty years.  Soon after starting my Wisconsin garden in 1986, I knew that, for me at least, maintaining a relatively large garden did not require power equipment and I gave away my rototiller.   All the work in my raised bed garden is done with hand tools.

I’ve become an advocate for growing food intensively in open raised beds.  It’s a great way to grow a lot of food without a lot of outside inputs.   Open raised beds have been around about as long as people have been growing food, but the method I’ve developed and refined over the years is based mostly on the well-known book HOW TO GROW MORE VEGETABLES  by John Jeavons.  The book was my rudimentary instructor, but I’ve modified things to suit my garden and what works well for me.

North Beds

The overview of the system is that instead of planting crops in rows, the garden is composed of beds of loose soil.  The gardener only walks in the paths surrounding the beds, thus soil compaction is nearly eliminated.  The beds are seeded or planted so that as the crops mature they cover the bed with leaf growth which helps suppress weeds.  Plants spaced in a pattern covering the entire width of the beds yield far larger harvests per area than possible by traditional planting in rows.

As I prepared the beds for winter this year several things that make this system work so well became very apparent.  Because I’m constantly adding organic matter, because I never walk on the beds, and because I’m constantly rotating different crops though the beds, my once impossibly hard clay soil is continually getting softer.  Much of the garden has achieved a friability that I could only have dreamed of just a few years ago.

I use my old five-tined cultivating hoe to occasionally rip the paths loose and put the rich soil back into the beds.  The paths build up as the beds flatten out so I have to put that build-up back into the beds every second or third year.  I did a major path clean up this year and moved a lot soil back into the beds.

What I find quite interesting is that the paths, for all their dense clay texture, seem to hold more worms per cubic area of soil than the beds.  Clay is not the enemy a lot of gardeners make it out to be.

16 Inches of Super Soft Soil

In the bed pictured above, you can see a yardstick that I easily shoved 16 inches down into the soil.  Unlike row gardening, the soil in these beds never gets walked on or driven over with a tiller or tractor, so with the continual addition of compost and leaf mold, coupled with the effect of rotating different crops though the beds, the soil gets softer and softer.

Raised Beds Can Help Weed Control

Raised beds can be quite easy to weed  The paths can be scalped clean with a scuffle hoe and the weeds in the beds can often be scalped off or pulled out using a stand up tool (we find our CobraHead Long Handle does a good job, here), and in the beds the soil is often so soft that weeds can be removed by hand with no tools at all.

Keeping the paths weed free also helps confine weedy areas to a manageable situation.  I do not have the time I wish I had to garden, so at least if an area gets out of control, it is confined and corralled by cleanly weeded paths.  This is especially important in areas where I have perennial plants, herbs, and strawberries in particular.  The weeding in these beds sometimes gets away from me, and occasionally the only logical option to get them back in shape is to rip them out totally and replant, which I have to do for strawberries, every third year anyway.

South Beds with Leaves

 

North Beds with Leaves

I try to get the beds completely covered with leaves every fall.  An alternative to this would be to use cover crops, but leaf cover is proving to be very effective and I think a lot easier than maintaining cover crops.  In spring I just rake the leaves into the aisles where they act as a weed suppressing mulch and eventually break down into leaf mold.

I’m just about done with the garden until spring.  I still have some leeks and Brussels sprouts  being protected by a cover of leaves.  They will need to get harvested soon, and there are some carrots and beets and a few edible greens under the hoop tunnel.  I’ll work at getting a few more leaves into the beds, but mostly the garden is finished and the work is under control.  Now I can start planning for next year.