20 January 2015

Raised Beds

Late Spring garden beds
Many years ago, when I was first learning about organic gardening and self-sufficiency, I discovered a book by John Seymour, titled, The Self-Sufficient Gardener. This book was a goldmine of information and practical advice on everything from garden layout and preparing garden beds to a comprehensive guide to fruits and vegetables, and everything in between. I learned how to create a double dug, raised bed and prepared my first raised bed garden, using his book as a guide. I am, 34 years later, still using his book as a reference, (but not for making compost). He later wrote another book on the subject, The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it, which covers in more detail what he discussed in the first book, but then expands into the broader subject of a self-sufficient life. It is a wonderful book. I have checked it out of the library so many times that I sometimes forget I don't own it! It is on my wish list, and one day I will find a copy on Amazon at the right price, and it will be mine!

I started out using John Seymour's technique for making raised beds, but over the years my husband and I have developed our own technique, one suited to our climate and environmental issues.We have 3 foot wide beds, that vary in length from 15 to 25 feet long. The beds are deep dug and loamy with 25 years of compost. Many years ago my husband decided to dig out the pathways, turn that soil out the beds and fill the pathways 18 inches deep with wood mulch. The wood mulch keeps us from having to weed the paths, but it also composts over time and after 3 years is turned onto the beds as compost and we repeat the process. We also have a large compost pile where we compost leaves, lawn trimmings, and kitchen waste. It gives us ample compost to top dress our beds at the beginning of each planting season, (which is for us 3-4 times a year).  My husband always jokes that we grow as much dirt as we do food... it is really not too far from the truth.

Early Fall. The Beets are ready for harvest.
Our raise beds feed us 365 days a year. They are practically weed  free, well perennial weeds anyway... we started with hard red clay, that swamped in the rain and turned to bricks in the summer sun. Today you can bury a pitch fork to the hilt just by dropping it in the soil. It is dark, loamy, fertile soil almost 2 feet down, full of earth worms, and a healthy network of mycelium to break down organic matter and detoxify the soil. If we continue to care for it, rotate crops to prevent disease, and let the whole garden go fallow for a year every seen years, then it will continue to feed us for the rest of our lives.

Do you use raised beds? If not, what kind of garden do you have? I am always interested in hearing how other people do things... why don't you leave me a comment and tell me about your garden?

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