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gardening: the value of raised beds

paul wheaton
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Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
    ∞

And when I say "raised beds", I mean raised a good two feet.

I thought this was really common knowledge, but I've run into some folks that have had gardens for years and they are still tending to a ground level garden.

I think the list of benefits is quite long and I cannot think of a downside.

Bennies include (but are not limited to):

Extended growing season

Never have to dig again (cuz you don't walk on your beds, you don't compact the soil)

Build long term soil structure

Concentrate your nutrients to the plant space instead of the paths

Better to get just the right amount of watering

Easier to harvest

.... my reason for posting this is mostly a rant. I've run into people that have tried to tell me how foolish a raised bed is because ... get this ... you cannot run a rototiller on it. Wow - gardening for the sake of using a $1500 piece of a equipment.


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fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
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  16

one of the downsides I see would be startup cost in terms of both time and money. I can go to my back yard, dig a hole and plant some seeds pretty quick and cheap (seed + a few small tools).

a raised bed requires planning, buying all the material, assembling, buying more soil, etc. you're looking at a much more significant investment in planning and time.


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paul wheaton
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Joined: Dec 14, 1998
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What's back there now? Lawn? An existing garden where you have already tilled the soil?

fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
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  16

in my yard - it is indeed lawn. but if i woke up saturday and said "I think I'll make a garden today", I could do it and have it done by the end of the day.

I have no idea how hard or how long it would take to build raised beds. it just seems to me it would take longer and cost more.

am i wrong?
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
    ∞

So, you have eight hours, right?

And since your seeds don't have a chance in lawn, you will want to do something about that grass, right?

What are you gonna do about that grass? Are you gonna dig it? With a shovel?

Let us suppose you have a patch of dirt that is 20 feet by 20 feet that you have decided is to be your new garden. Most folks "double dig" - dig by hand to a depth of two shovefuls. Assuming that this is what you are gonna do, please allow me to propose something that would be less effort and have you end up with raised beds.

Dig less than half.

And for what you do dig pile it up on the part you don't dig.

More specifically, in this 20x20 space, map out three beds that are four feet wide and 20 feet long with 4 foot wide paths between them. This fits exactly into 20x20.

So out of 400 square feet, you will have 240 square feet of raised bed garden and 160 square feet of path. Dig down on the path for one foot and toss that on top of the raised beds. Since most soil is a few inches of top soil on top of several feet of subsoil, you will be concentrating your topsoil where your garden will be. So what you plant will have more of the good stuff!

Since you dug down a foot, that was 160 cubic feet of soil that you will spread over 240 square feet of area. My math says that that works out to 8 inches deep. So it looks like your raised beds are now 20 inches taller than the paths.

The grass you covered will now die over the next month. Plant your seeds in all that soft stuff at the top. By the time the roots get to the dead grass, all of that dead grass will be new plant food and will provide lots of space for the roots to find their way through.

So, fred, you asked "am I wrong?" - well .... are you?



fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
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  16

Where do these 'raised beds' come from? I'm envisioning basically a box on legs made out of lumber. Now, me not being very handy, it would take me weeks to build these. I'd probably build them out of the wrong material and in a year or two they'd fall apart, and I'm back at ground zero (pun intended).

Can i buy pre-made raised beds - and how much do they cost?
Paul Yule
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Joined: May 12, 2008
Posts: 229
I think your vision of a "bed" may be a little imaginative. My understanding is that it's just where you plant the seeds at. In this case he takes the soil that he's dug and places it to the side of where he just dug at. This raises the soil next to the area he's digging with his recently placed soil. The area he just laid new grass has basically double layers of top soil. Since it's top soil on top of top soil. He then plants the seeds in the higher ground instead of the lower ground once the weeds are gone.
paul wheaton
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Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
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Fred,

Just heap the dirt.

If you want something purty - then sure, there are all sorts of things you can use as a border. I like rocks.

fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
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Joined: Oct 02, 2003
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  16

ah... i see my confusion then.

The other issue that i see is what happens when it rains? the dug out troughs would quickly become cesspools of muck, gunk and crud.

wouldn't it?
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 60781
    
  65

Raised beds make a lot of sense for my area -- I have one in which we planted shade/privacy trees rather than for gardening.

I live on a plateau that is basically a limestone block that was forced up along the Balcones fault. You dig down a few inches and you hit limestone. Lots and lots of limestone. If I were to try to plant directly, I generally need a pick-ax rather than a shovel.

At some point I plan to create some raised beds to grow tomatoes and chiles (and perhaps tomatillos). Right now, I do it (somewhat successfully) in large planters.


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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
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  65

P.S. One cool part of the limestone fault is that there are usually lots of marine fossils in it from when Texas was underwater. So the limestone in my yard, the limestone that my walks are built from, and even the limestone blocks used to facade the house are chock full of fossils. How cool is that!
paul wheaton
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Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
    ∞

fred rosenberger wrote:ah... i see my confusion then.

The other issue that i see is what happens when it rains? the dug out troughs would quickly become cesspools of muck, gunk and crud.

wouldn't it?


It depends.

Won't you have the same cesspools of muck, gunk and crud with whatever method you were going to use before?

paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
    ∞

Bear Bibeault wrote:Raised beds make a lot of sense for my area -- I have one in which we planted shade/privacy trees rather than for gardening.

I live on a plateau that is basically a limestone block that was forced up along the Balcones fault. You dig down a few inches and you hit limestone. Lots and lots of limestone. If I were to try to plant directly, I generally need a pick-ax rather than a shovel.

At some point I plan to create some raised beds to grow tomatoes and chiles (and perhaps tomatillos). Right now, I do it (somewhat successfully) in large planters.


Like one big solid chunk of limestone?

Pat Farrell
Rancher

Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4646
    
    5

fred rosenberger wrote:Where do these 'raised beds' come from? I'm envisioning basically a box on legs made out of lumber.

No, the term really means lay some railroad ties, or other walls on the dirt. Put more topsoil in the box.
Typically, they are raised only a few inches from the natural dirt level.
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
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  65

paul wheaton wrote:Like one big solid chunk of limestone?

Yup. Here's a terrain view of the plateau. Pretty much a block of limestone pushed up from below.
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
    ∞

Pat Farrell wrote:
fred rosenberger wrote:Where do these 'raised beds' come from? I'm envisioning basically a box on legs made out of lumber.

No, the term really means lay some railroad ties, or other walls on the dirt. Put more topsoil in the box.
Typically, they are raised only a few inches from the natural dirt level.


Don't use railroad ties. Think about it: what do they do to the wood to get it to last sooooo long? The toxic gick is something you don't want anywhere near your food.



paul wheaton
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Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
    ∞

Bear Bibeault wrote:
paul wheaton wrote:Like one big solid chunk of limestone?

Yup. Here's a terrain view of the plateau. Pretty much a block of limestone pushed up from below.


When the time comes to buy a dumptruck load or two of topsoil, take a look at the ground it comes from and make sure it has LOTS of weeds. That is a good sign of healthy soil. Stuff without weeds means something is really wrong and will make your growies sad. Some places try to sell "topsoil" which is subsoil mixed with "compost". And their idea of compost is how to sucker dopes into buying industrial waste. Even if it is "proper compost" - nearly all of that is tainted to some degree with clopyralid (an herbicide with a half life of 11 years).


Pat Farrell
Rancher

Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4646
    
    5

paul wheaton wrote:Don't use railroad ties. .... The toxic gick

Yeah, the wood won't even burn.

Obviously, for the same reason, you don't want pressure treated wood designed for decks. You want regular wood that rots. Probably immoral to use redwood for this.
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20494
    ∞

I would generally avoid wood unless you really know your wood and your horticulture.

A lot of people use cedar. It is loaded with a lot of natural herbicides (and other issues) which is why most stuff won't grow under it. Most conifers have similar problems until they are already rotted to the point that they aren't of much use as a border.

Rocks are best.

If you are going to use wood, black locust would be best. It won't decompose because it is 4% natural fungicide by weight. You would think that this would make it a poor choice because it would be all toxic and nasty to the plants - but it is so freakishly dense and has such a strong cell structure, the toxic gick in it stays really well bound and unavailable. Interesting stuff.

 
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