Raised beds are laid out no wider than four feet and as long as you want them. The purpose of having the width no wider than four feet is so you can reach in either side without stepping in the bed.Not stepping in the bed prevents compacting. Soils that aren’t compacted don’t need to be tilled to let oxygen and water in the dirt. Tilling also kills most of the dirt’s microorganisms that help break down the nutrients for the plants to use. True planting in tilled ground works the first year but it kills future micro bacterial life needed for nutrient breakdown. This is very important for long soil life. If you intend to put in multiple raised beds, remember to leave at least two feet between them so you have a wide enough area to pass through with your garden tools.
Raised beds can be made using any affordable material available. Often they are made from rocks, bricks, logs and most commonly wood planks. Regardless of the material used, raised beds are preferable in most cases because they absorb water rather than let it drain away moister and nutrients. Another advantage of raised beds in the desert is they are built above the slow draining, poor nutrient high alkaline desert soils. Also, edibles can be planted more intensively in raised beds. Just always remember to leave room for proper air flow between plantings to reduce disease risk.
Before filling the raised bed with quality topsoil, always loosen the native ground soil and mix a few inches with some manure or some of your new soil mixture. An example of my home made bed soil is approximate value amounts as follows:
1 bag of forest mulch
3 bags of steer manure
2 shovels of peat moss
2 shovels of perlite
2 shovels of vermiculite
1 twelve ounce cup of blood meal 1 twelve ounce cup of bone meal
1 twelve ounce cup of Epson salt
1 cup of fishing worms from circle K
you read right, worms. In nature worms play an important part of breaking down
soil by eating and excreting carbon such as dried leaves. Some worms are better
than others at this, i.e. (Red wigglers), but all work and don’t stop working.
Free laborers! They till the soil for you, leaving air pockets and worm
casting, (manure) in their place. You could also use store bought, premixed
topsoil and organic compost. Or any of the above you desire. Whatever is
affordable is usually best to use. Heck if price is a concern, you can find
horse boarders on Craig’s list that will give you all the horse manure you
want for free. Just bring a shovel and a bag. Just remember when filling your raised bed
to leave at very least an inch below the top of the bed for next year’s mulch
and to prevent water overflow. I always prefer manure in my soils due to the
unbeatable amount of nitrogen and good living organisms it provides. Remember
to try not to grow on manure without composting it some. When you buy it in the
bag, it usually has been sitting for some time. It’s best when you open a bag
and you see some white silky texture. This is the finished composed manure. I
also use perlite to loosen the soil and vermiculite to help it retain its
moister. Although both of these mined ingredients are pricey, they go a long
way and stay in the soil for years. Take caution not to breathe in either as
they are dusty and may cause health concerns. The soil is the life giving food
for your plants. Always try to improve your soil. The quality of your soil is
the quality of you vegetable plants. The healthier your plants, the healthier
your Veggies and ultimately the healthier you. You really are what you eat in
that very sense.
Natures Raised Bed
Humans throughout the years have created many types of raised beds. Backyard raised beds are basically a garden area with some type of border, filled with soil. What’s not known or at least not thought about much by many gardeners is that Mother Nature has been building her own raised beds for as long as there were trees. In fact, she has this gardening system down pat. Nature has always exhibited its own way to sustain life in many ways and the forests are just one proof. One way nature accomplishes this in forests is through a type of forest rotation. Trees in a forest, like anything else have life cycles. Trees eventually finish their life, die and fall to the ground. Leaves and other debris with the help of wind, tend to pile up and get stuck next to these fall trees. With the help of rain, fungus develops on the tree and decomposition begins. Microorganisms and insects join in on the action and before long the once alive tree turns back into rich compost soil. This soil is in a mound.Where the tree once had fallen, now is mother natures raised bed. Birds and burrowing animals begin to create small caves for air flow, drop animal manure along with digested and undigested seeds. The rain falls again mixing the seed and the trees topsoil. The process begins all over again with new trees and shrubs.
In modern times some gardeners around the planet have tried to replicate natures gardening patterns. One way this was demonstrated is still on the permaculturest Sepp Holzer video, “Terraces and Raised beds”.The German term Hugelkultur or Hugelbeets was used to describe a raised bed filled with wood. In English the German word Hugel means hill and the word beet means bed. In a Hugelkultur bed rotting wood, twigs, branches and even whole trees can be used. Wood that breaks down naturally quicker is preferred but any wood can be used. The wood is then covered up to six feet with dried leafs, manure dirt and more wood in an upside-down V shape. The hugel bed has been created and demonstrated around the world and is document on many videos. To fin examples of Hugelbeds, just search the term Hugelbed on YouTube. These types of garden beds even work well in desert environments like mine, "The Gardening Grandpa". One apparent reason Hugelkultur is so important in dry climates is they have the ability to hold excess water and nutrients for a longer period. Also less water evaporates because it is absorbed in the wood and used by the plants when required. As the beds get older their water retention gets better in the spongy wood texture. One big negative issue with hugelkultur beds is the time needed for the wood decomposition to get started. Usually most woods don’t really start decomposing enough for a year or two. Also new wood tends to first produce fungi and absorb as many nutrients as it can find. One important nutrient that may leave the soil is nitrogen. What seems to happen is the wood leaches the nitrogen in reality the wood captures it. This wood is referred to as nitrogen sink. This process goes on until the microorganisms really start breaking the wood down making the nutrients more available to plant life. I have personally found adding organic material that is high in nitrogen like manures tend to help the breakdown. Once the wood is decomposing faster (Two years), plants will have abundant nutrient and water making this system very valuable. The systems can last more than a decade without and other additives but all will do better with mulch. Because of this close mimic of a natural forest system, Perennials of all kind do well planted in hugelkultur beds.
Gardens appearances are often emphasized by HOA's in certain neighborhoods.Many ordinary homeowners and gardeners alike consider the look of hugelbeds undesirable. Some backyard gardener like the results of these beds but too many neighbors complain. One solution to this undesirable appearance problem is often discussed on talk shows and by podcast host Jack Spirco on his show "The Survival Podcast";( TheSurvivalPodcast.com). He claims some gardeners build their hugelbeds in the ground. This process really changes the meaning of hugelbeets so he started referring to these types of buried hugelbeets as "Woody Beds". This term works well. Woody beds are a name for all types of garden beds with wood in them.These in the ground woody beds are made by digging down and then adding the wood and other ingredients. These beds may raise out of the ground some, just not the six foot towers Hugelkultur offer. Woody beds are groomed and some have borders like regular more traditionally acceptable raise beds. These beds still provide the sustainable function permaculture folk thrive for.