Posts Tagged ‘raised beds’

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 Fall in Wisconsin

Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Ridged Bed for Garlic Planting

Ridged Bed for Garlic Planting

I try to plant garlic in late October. This year we were a day late and the garlic went into the ground on the first of November. I had previously prepared the bed so all I had to do was soften the soil a little and with a steel rake make three relatively equal ridges running the length of the beds. The garlic was shoved into the top of the ridges until it was just covered. I also scattered a lot of lettuce seeds, salads greens and cilantro along all the slopes and valleys. These will sprout in the spring and fill the bed with greens. Essentially, I’ll get two crops out of one bed.

Garlic Bed Paths Mulched with Leaves

Garlic Bed Paths Mulched with Leaves

After I had the bed planted, I raked in a tarp full of leaves and mulched all the paths around the bed.

Straw Protects the Garlic Through the Winter

Straw Protects the Garlic Through the Winter

I finished the job by scattering a small square bale of straw over the ridges. The straw will protect the garlic from hard freezes.  When all goes well, the garlic will be poking its leaves up as the snow melts. And as I rake back the straw and leaves, we’ll start getting lettuces and greens for early spring salads.

I’ve been using this method for quite a few years. It works very well. Here are earlier references: Garlic 2010    Interplanting Garlic with Greens



Interplanting Garlic with Greens

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Here are two videos about garlic and inter-planting garlic with salad greens.

garlic and cilantro

I plant garlic here in southern Wisconsin in late October.  I plant the cloves along the top of ridges of a raised bed that has been shaped into three ridges (or two troughs).  After I plant the garlic I mulch it deeply with straw.

I plant the garlic on the tops of ridges in my dense clay soil because garlic likes to be well drained. I’m minimizing the chance of the garlic getting water-logged then frozen as it goes through our often very cold winters under its insulating straw blanket.

In spring, I pull back the straw and inter-plant salad greens of all types along the edges of the ridges and in the troughs.  The greens are somewhat protected from the sun by the garlic flags.  The inter-planting gets me two crops out of the bed at the same time.

The first video shows how I use both CobraHead tools to help me remove the matted down straw.  The second video explains the inter-planting process.

Teaching an Old Dog to Teach

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The outdoor season is over for my 2011 Wisconsin garden.  I may do a little more clean up, and possibly drag in a few leaves to cover up some north beds, but the frost has already penetrated deep and there is nothing left to harvest.  There will be no more weeding or working the soil.  All my efforts now are in preparing for next year.

Gardening patterns and habits repeat themselves as you learn what has to be done to ensure a good harvest, but that hardly means every year is the same.  Change is constant and I’m always ready to try something new or modify what may not be working.  Here are a few new things from this year’s gardening adventure:

Cold Frame

I finally built a small cold frame.     I really didn’t put it to the test until this fall, but the results were excellent and it has me keen on trying more season extending structures.  Next year it’s going to be put to work early in the spring.

New bed

After shrinking my garden area for the past several years, I actually carved out a couple small new beds in the compost area.  The bed project was a test to back up my teachings on making the raised bed system I employ and the ease with which these beds can be formed and put to work.  The results were carrots, beets and peppers that I otherwise would not have had.

Planting Boards

I had been using planting boards for years, but my boards were just scraps of plywood I had laying around.  Not quite right, so this year I cut a couple to exactly the right size and I’m really glad I did.  It makes planting and working on my hands and knees much easier.

T-Post Tomato Trelils

I finally built the rock-solid tomato trellis I had envisioned for many years.  It put an end to the wind blowing over the cages and made it easy for me to string the vines up high.

And lastly, I became a teacher this year.

I’ve actually been giving talks about my garden for several years.  I’m a very loose disciple of the garden teacher Alan Chadwick.  What I really embrace is the open raised beds  of his teachings on intensive food production.  In the past  these talks were done gratis, but I’ve secured some paying engagements next year, and I’ve found that I really enjoy sharing my gardening experience with others.

To be a good teacher you have to keep learning.  And to learn you have to try new things.  I was quite happy with several new things I tried this year and I’ll continue to innovate in the garden in 2012.


Garlic Growing Redux

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

I took advantage of a dry day between the rains to get my garlic planted.  I’ve been using a method Geoff taught me years ago that works particularity well with raised beds.  I’ve posted the method several times before, but it’s worth repeating as it works so well.

I form a loose worked-up bed into three ridges (or two troughs) using a steel rake.  This year, before I planted the garlic cloves, I liberally dusted the entire bed with cilantro and anise hyssop seeds that I had saved.  I’m hoping to have an early harvest of cilantro and if the hyssop takes off, I’ll move some of it to other areas of the garden to use as an herb and as a pollinating insect attractor.  I really like anise hyssop, but I never seem to have enough of it, so I’m hoping this will work.

I’ll also seed and transplant spinach, lettuce and other greens into the bed in the spring, after I pull away the straw from the sprouted garlic.  Interplanting the garlic with greens pays off.  I get more production out of the bed and the greens seem to do well in the shade of the garlic flags.

I kneel on a plywood board to keep my knees from damaging the soft edges of the bed.  The garlic is planted  into the top of the ridges.  I push the cloves into the soil until they are just covered.  To plant the garlic neatly, I set down one row of plant markers on six inch centers.  I eyeball the planting for the two rows across from the markers, and the last row is planted alongside each marker.  A yardstick would work just as well, but this is an easy approach to getting the spacing just right.

I covered the bed with two small square bales of straw, using the small CobraHead tool to rip apart the sheaves and to fluff up the straw, thus making it as insulating as possible.  I then raked up and tamped down the straw with a small adjustable aluminum rake so the straw wouldn’t blow away in the gusty winds.  We’re looking forward to another good garlic harvest next July.

If you haven’t planted garlic yet, it’s not too late. You can also plant early in the spring, but your yield will not be as good in terms of bulb size.

Cleaning an Overgrown Garden Bed — Video!

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Noel and I made another video last week demonstrating how he uses a few different tools to help him clean out a totally overgrown, weedy garden bed. As you can see in the video, a few of the beds in the vegetable garden have grown out of control. The daunting task of clearing the beds was made quite a lot easier with the use of proper hand tools.

Using the CobraHead Long Handle as a Scuffle Hoe

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Noel and I decided to seize upon the nice weather we had today and shoot a few short videos in the garden. Here, he’s demonstrating how the CobraHead Long Handle® can be used as a scuffling hoe. Please enjoy!

We plan to post more videos as the summer progresses. Please let us know if there’s something you like to see from us!

Another Battle in the Everlasting War on Weeds

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Four Year Old Strawberry Bed

My garden is an experiment to prove to myself that it’s possible to maintain a large organic vegetable growing area using all hand labor and with a minimum of outside inputs.  Weed control is the toughest part, and not having or taking enough time to do a good job of preventative weeding often leaves me with some labor intensive weeding chores.

This partly weeded bed was planted with strawberries in 2007.  I normally clean out the berry beds and move any young berry plants into a new bed after three years, but that didn’t happen.  As old strawberry beds are the hardest of all to weed, and get my least attention, this four year old bed was mainly a mix of dandelion, quack grass, creeping charlie, and chickweed.  I did unearth a few dozen young berry plants that were saved to be to be transplanted into a new bed.

To make weeding the bed as complete and as painless as possible, I first used the broadfork to break the soil.  It’s much faster and easier than trying to use a garden fork.  It penetrates deeper and moves a lot of soil with each bite.  After loosening the roots with the broadfork, it was down to my hands and knees to pull out the loosened weeds with my CobraHead Weeder.  I occasionally had to use the border fork to extract dandelion taproots that hadn’t been freed by the broadfork.

Ready for Planting

I used the kama to clean the grass edge border.  I re-shaped the flattened bed using a steel rake, my trusty old five-tined cultivating hoe, and a scoop shovel.  This ready to plant bed represents about six hours work and is definitely the physically hardest thing I will have to do in the garden, this year.

Planting Boards for Raised Beds

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I planted a bed of potatoes Sunday, using two new planting boards that I made from a 4′ x 4′ sheet of 1/2″ plywood.  I had been using some old scrap plywood for planting boards, but I decided I would be happier and more efficient with two boards exactly the size I wanted.

I cut a 12″ strip off the 4′ x 4′ sheet so I have a 3′ x 4′ board for using when I’m on top of a bed and I have a 1′ x 4′ sheet to use to kneel against when I’m working along side the beds. I don’t kneel directly on the boards, but I use the Garden Padd kneeler to protect my old knees.  It has become my favorite kneeler.

Using planting boards allows one to sit or kneel atop a raised bed for seeding.  The board spreads the weight out fairly evenly across the bed and keeps one from compacting the soil or gouging it up.  In many cases it’s easier to plant from above than to try to reach in from the sides.  When working from the sides,  the smaller planting board prevents one’s knees from depressing and wrecking the bed edges.

The potato planting worked out most perfectly.  My beds, across the top, are almost exactly 20 feet long and 3 feet wide, so I set up a block grid pattern of 60 – one foot squares, and centered one seed potato in each of the 60 holes that I made.

I used BioMarker plant markers as surveying stakes for laying out the planting pattern, using 21 markers one foot apart along one edge of the bed and four markers at the top end, again, one foot apart.  Then, using a couple yardsticks to add a little precision to the process, I eyeballed the imaginary center of the first three holes, and put a stake into the center to mark them.

I used my CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator to make the holes.  It was easy to dig a 7″ to 9″ hole, much easier than with a trowel or a shovel.  I dug a hole, placed a seed at the bottom and pushed the soil back over the hole.

I alternated rows of seeds cut from some very large russets and red potatoes, which I had bought as organic food potatoes at our food coop in Madison.  I’ve had very good luck for the last several years buying just organic food potatoes, not certified seed potatoes.  As I’m not re-selling these, I can take the chance I won’t have any virus or disease problems and save a lot of money.  Going on four years doing this, I have had no problems, so far.

The process required me to dig three holes, plant three seeds, get off the board and slide it back a foot, plant three more and repeat until I was down to the last two rows.  There, I worked in from the sides of the beds to plant the last six spuds.  The whole planting process took about 45 minutes.  The potatoes are centered perfectly and I plan to mound up the stems as they surface to get a little extra tuber production.  We’ll see how everything turns out, but as far as the planting boards go, I’m totally happy with them.



494 Peas – More or Less

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Here’s me, yesterday, atop a bed, planting peas.  We had a nice little break in the rainy weather, so I took the opportunity to get my peas seeded.  I’m using a large piece of plywood to kneel on.  The plywood disperses my weight and allows me to get right on top of the bed.  It makes the work much easier that trying to reach in from the sides to set the peas in place.

The bed has just over 36″ of flat planting width across the top.  I’m planting the peas 2 inches apart and planting a double row using back to back yardsticks as my guide.  So I end up with a double row of peas with 19 peas in each row.

This year I’m spacing the rows 18 inches apart.  Last year I used a 15″ spacing, which worked out fine, but I think the extra 3″ will allow a little more sun in and give me more room to plant lettuces and salad greens in between the peas.  I did that last year with good success.


Once the peas begin to sprout, I’ll set up trellises using T-posts and 24″ fencing.  Here’s a picture of last year’s peas showing the trellises in place and lettuces around and in between the peas.

I ended up with 13 double rows – roughly 494 peas.  I planted six varieties, various snap and shell peas, capuciner soup peas (our favorite),  and some snow peas.  I’ve got the shorter sugar pea varieties planted in the south end and the tall capuciners and snow peas to the north.  I don’t ever get 100% germination, although the home-saved capuciner peas sprout extremely vigorously, and I normally don’t have to thin the pea seedlings.  This year I’ll be diligent about protecting them from woodchucks and other varmints. I’ve had some issues with critters when I did not get fencing up quickly enough. This year, with luck, we can expect a bountiful harvest not too many weeks away.