This is part one of our four-part series on how to plant a simple garden using raised row beds. You can see all four parts here ; Growing Simple With Raised Rows
GROWING SIMPLE – The Raised Row Garden (part 1)
Our raised row garden is the centerpiece of our farm – producing all of the fresh garden produce we use through the spring, summer and fall. It also provides all of the fresh ingredients for canning our pasta sauce, salsa, hot pepper mustard, green beans and more to fill our pantry for winter.
You might think we spend hours each day working in the garden, and weeks getting everything planted and harvested – but quite honestly, we don’t.
Truth be told – on average, we spend less than 10 minutes a day working in the garden throughout the entire season, with rarely the need to weed anything, and keeping watering to a minimum. Our garden is not massive by any standards. It measures only 40′ x 60′ from end to end – and over 60% of that space is in the rows between the plants. And yet, we routinely pick over 2000+ pounds of fresh tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, peas, green beans, lettuce and more with the simplest of gardening methods.
For us – vegetable gardening is all about simplicity. It’s about maximizing our yields while minimizing our work load – all with an eye on the garden looking as good to the eye as the vegetables will on our plates. Our way of gardening is not based on some great scientific breakthrough – it comes simply from experience. It’s simple, quick, easy on the back and the environment. But the real beauty of it, is that it can work in a garden of any size – as small as a single raised row 18″ wide and 3′ long, or in one much bigger than ours. If you have always wanted to plant a garden – but think its too much work – give this a try! It’s economical, it’s sustainable – and adaptable to almost any situation.
So, what will we need? And what are raised row gardens?
Let me start by telling you what you won’t need for a great raised row garden: You won’t need an expensive tiller. You won’t need to buy costly boards, planks or stone for edging and making raised beds. You certainly won’t need much time – about 10 minutes a day or less. But most importantly, you won’t need a lot of space.
In fact a simple 10′ x 15′ area, with very minimal work and cost – can be grown into a garden that will keep your family in fresh peppers, tomatoes and salads all spring, summer and fall – with plenty left over for canning. As we will show you throughout this 4 part series – with a little straw or shredded leaves and a little top soil, you can start a raised row garden in an hour or two.
Our raised row beds are 18″ wide and are about 6″ high in the center, with a gradual taper on the edges. The length of the rows is determined by available space, our’s happen to be 20′ each. We have found that the 18″ width seems to be optimal for root structure development – allowing them to become deep and strong – while still conserving the overall space of the garden. This allows us to concentrate all of our compost and soil building efforts in that 18″ wide space of the row, not wasting them all over the garden. Why till in and use up valuable compost or topsoil in the rows you walk – when you can put it exactly where it’s needed by the plants! Even our fall and winter cover crops are only planted in the 18″ wide raised rows – not the entire garden – allowing for maximum replenishment of the garden while conserving our cover crop seed.
Our raised rows are very similar to raised beds – with a few minor cost saving changes. One, we do not use any edging, boards, stone, etc. to keep our beds in place. Not that it’s inherently bad to do so – it just adds cost and maintenance issues that are not needed. For us – going to the expense of building raised beds was a huge obstacle. We have over 30 rows that are each 18″ wide x 20′ long – and to come up with stone, wood or some other material to box them all would be a huge waste of valuable time and resources. Secondly – our raised row beds use utilize a base of shredded straw or leaves under the mound of dirt – which provides tremendous advantages for the growing plants. Last – we use a mulching of straw, compost and or shredded leaves on top of the raised rows during the season to make weeds almost non-existent.
Our raised rows allow us to stay off and away from the roots of our plants. When you compact the area around a plant with big soil-clogging foot prints and heavy foot traffic – it really does make it harder for the plant to grow bigger roots. Less roots = less ways for the plant to soak up the valuable water and nutrients from the soil that benefit the plant. If you leave the area around a plant undisturbed and free of compaction – it makes for much healthier plants.The most important thing in the garden in the structure and health of your soil. Watering, weeds, harvesting and plant choices all play second fiddle to that single important thing – your soil!
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Jim and Mary