When you look at the area where you're contemplating starting a garden or maybe the place where your garden already exists, what do you see? Rocks? Weeds? Terrible soil? Maybe even NO soil at all?
In permaculture we're all about the soil. Treat the soil right and it'll produce in abundance for you. Treat it poorly (I'm looking at you Big Aggie) and it won't be long before all sorts of problems start to arise. One of the keys to a great harvest begins with the soil. Permaculture devotees try to disturb the soil as little as possible and let nature do what it does best.
Take a look at the forest. Who waters it? Not me. Who feeds it? Not me. Who decides what branches come down or when the leaves should fall? Again, not me. And yet, the forest is a living, breathing, THRIVING entity! Silently and consistently working to make sure it survives. It's forever working to maintain an atmosphere where fungi, bacteria, animals and other plant life coexist in a symbiotic relationship that's beneficial for them all.
That's the way your garden should work and it doesn't have to be a back breaking event either.
If you start crying when you stare at your garden area then it just might be time to reconsider this whole gardening thing. And I'm talking about raised beds.
Raised beds are basically structures built to hold soil (which you "make") that takes all of the negatives of typical vegetable/plant production and does away with them. There's no tilling and very, VERY little weeding. Watering is cut wayyyyyy down as well and you don't have to mess with soil amendments such as fertilizers, minerals, etc.
Let's take a quick look at some of the pros and cons to see what you think about them.
First up: The Pros.
In your raised garden bed you know exactly what type of soil you have because you put it there. You have several options here like buying premixed soil from a local nursery. Local to us is a place called The Dirt Doctors and they sell different types of soil mixes depending on what you're trying to plant/grow. Or, you could do what I did which was to mix my own bed fill by using a mix recipe I got from Mel Bartholomew, over at squarefootgardening.com.
My original design was 4 x4 beds 12 inches tall filled with a mix of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost and 1/3 peat moss. I tossed it all onto a tarp and then pulled the tarp back and forth to mix it. Easy, peasy! Then I covered the bottom of each bed with either garden fabric or newspapers (which we permaculturists prefer) to keep/kill weeds and threw the mix in. Instant garden.
The next great thing about raised beds is weeding is incredibly simple. You see something growing that should be growing and you pull it up. It comes out easily because the soil is fluffy, unlike in most gardens where you're working with the ground and the weeds grow deeply. No special tools are necessary either. Just pull.
Next is the wonderful concept of intensive planting. In a 4 x 4 bed, if you mark it off into one foot squares you can grow 16 different veggies! Tomatoes take up one square, but, 16 carrots can be growing in the next and 9 beans can be in the next.
And harvesting doesn't get much easier either. You can reach the middle of the bed from either side. AND, if you were smart like I wasn't, you'll build you bed on legs or stilts and NEVER have to bend over!! I can't tell you how many times I wish I had done that.
And here's how you fertilize it: When you're done harvesting your veggie you just cut it down at the surface, make a little hole where it used to be and toss in a handful of compost. Sweet! And each fall after the season is over we cover each bed with chopped leaves and grass clippings.
Money and construction. It will cost you some money to initially purchasing the building materials and then the soil mix. And you will have to build it. Unless you can find someone to do it for you then you'll have to be ready to cut wood, fasten it together and attach legs if you want them.
So there you go. Raised beds work wonders. You can have them on top of rocky ground, sandy ground or on top of your driveway. The mix can go into half barrels, planters, tires or even burlap sacks. Give it try and give your back a break!
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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