Are you hooked on raised beds for gardening or the more traditional field garden plot? I would be very unhappy if I had to garden without utilizing both.
I've written before in posts that when we moved to this piece of property about 15 years ago, the area to the south of the house was the best place to establish our vegetable garden. It was also covered almost completely with several inches of gravel. We scraped off the gravel but knew the soil underneath wouldn't be much good for growing anything except possibly weeds for a long while.
Our solution was to build several raised beds on the area, fill them with a mixture of purchased black dirt and various other additions. Each year after that we added more beds until we ended up with the present total of twenty-six 4' x 8' raised beds.
As soon as I got the raised beds up and going and growing some basic crops for us, I knew that there were certain plants that just naturally do much better (and are easier to plant and care for) in the traditional field garden plot. We hadn't been here for more than a couple of years when we plowed up the sod of an area approximately 35' x 45' and started working on enriching that soil for additional garden space.
Three years ago we also added another gardening area in which to plant primarily vining crops. Last year we grew a couple different cover crops on the spot and then turned them in to help enrich the soil.
So just what makes the raised beds so desirable? I'll tackle that first.
I find it much easier to keep the soil loose and friable in the raised beds. That just naturally makes them better for growing any crop that requires a loose soil for roots that need to go deep (our beds have all been double-dug . . . and then some) and for space for the veggie itself to grow without having to fight through more compacted soil.
The raised beds lend themselves to planting intensively. (Something like square foot gardening, but even better I think.)
I plant many of the veggies in the beds in 4' long rows with the rows spaced only 6" apart. (If you do the math, in a bed that I plant to carrots that gives me sixty feet of carrots in a 4' x 8' space.) The leaves of the veggies cover the whole bed so that very few weeds have a chance to grow. I can get a tremendous amount of harvest from a single 4' x 8' bed.
With the raised beds I also have the capability of placing cold frames on top of the beds in the spring and fall. Besides the cold frames, we've made shade cloth covers for the raised beds and I use these in the hot, sunny summer time to keep crops that prefer cooler weather happier and producing better. (Lettuces, radishes and spinach especially appreciate the shade covers.)
The biggest disadvantage of the raised beds (and it's not a biggie for me) is that they dry out faster than the field garden plots. Even though I consider the soil in the beds very good, we need to get it to a point where it holds moisture a little better. (More humus, more humus, more humus!) Of course, this could also be called an advantage, too, because the beds dry out in the spring much sooner than the field gardens and I can plant in them all the earlier without having to deal with wet, cooler soil.
Okay, what do I plant in the raised beds? Here goes:
Because of our very short growing season cherry tomatoes go into a raised bed. I have to protect tomatoes both in the spring and then late fall. I put my started cherry tomatoes in a raised bed covered with a cold frame. The cold frame comes off usually about the first of July and then goes back on as soon as night time temps in the fall get in the 40s. (I've tried full-sized tomatoes with this method in raised beds but in the fall just when they are starting to ripen, they are too big for the cold frames to cover and protect them. I've experimented with various methods out in the field garden . . . so far unsuccessfully.)
Carrots, radishes, miscellaneous salad greens, turnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga, beets, lettuce and onions all get planted very intensively in raised beds.
Swiss chard and spinach I still plant a little more closely than most people would (so that their leaves touch on all sides) but space my 4' rows about 8-10" apart in those beds.
Slicing cucumbers go into a raised bed because they need the cold frames on them spring and fall. I form a raised mound down the center 8' length of a bed and plant seeds thinning to about 5 or 6 plants. The vines completely fill the bed and give me all the slicing cucs we can eat or give away plus extras that get fed to the poultry.
Our comfrey plants take up one permanent raised bed. I put them in a bed because if they aren't contained, they will take over northeastern Minnesota.
I know I could probably just as easily plant our bush zucchini in the field garden but I've become accustomed to putting two hills (spaced evenly in one 4' x 8' bed) in a raised bed. One zucchini plant would truly be enough but we always worry about not having a spare if something would happen to the one, don't we? Once they get growing, they fill the whole bed.
My sweet red and green peppers go into a bed because they, too, require the cold frames on them spring and fall. Pepper plants like to be touching their neighbors so I put eleven plants in a raised bed.
One raised bed is devoted to herbs. It's closer to the house than the herbs would be in the field garden so I put them there for convenience's sake.
Unless I've forgotten something, I think that covers everything I plant in the raised beds. We have enough of them so we usually randomly use two or three beds each year as compost makers. Not only does it improve the soil in those beds but gives us containers within the 7' high fence in which to process our kitchen garbage where no wild animals can get to it.
Lastly, we have enough raised beds that I can easily rotate crops from bed to bed each year so that it's actually several years before one crop is grown in the same raised bed and soil.
Next installment: What I prefer to grow in the field gardens.
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