Beds on bricks and other folk tales – Raised beds, Part 1: Principles

Our first attempt at growing veg directly in the soil of our new home was not as successful as we would have liked. On the other hand, let me just say right up front, I wish we could make our entire smallholding raised beds. They work that much better. It has been quite a journey, but we have refined the ideas each season, each year, and so far, it just works better and better. Its not just about putting the soil in a box and then planting though. Just like planting in a pot and expecting something to grow happily, preparing a raised bed is about adding the right stuff – but not as difficult as one may think. As mentioned before, our objectives with our farming was to try use natural, organically grown as far as possible. Where organically grown is not possible, material should be something that will not cause damage to the environment. Salvageable, recyclable is also important.

The following principles are explored in this series on raised beds. As they are quite common principles, I will not exhaust the explanation, rather outline our interpretation and application:

Raised beds

Our research showed raised beds supposedly drain better, allows the planting mix to be contained within a particular area, provides access to beneficial bugs and the like from below, and the height makes the vegetables more easily accessible – a boon to those with bad backs! Raised beds are typically enclosed by wood planks, brick walls, and even hay/straw bales making up the sides and a soil mixture as filling.

Square foot/meter gardening

In summary, it combines the planting of compatible vegetable types, in densities according to plant size, arranged in blocks of roughly one square foot or 30 square centimeters. Nine of these blocks fit into one square meter. This method apparently maximises the use of space while inter-planting.

Vertical gardening

Where a vegetable plant vines or prefers to climb, provision is made for the plant to climb, taking up less valuable ground space. Typical candidates would be peas, pole beans, and the curcurbit family (squash/pumpkin/cucumber/melon/etc.). Other methods of vertical farming can include planting suitable vegetables in planters arranged vertically.

Companion Planting

In a nutshell, the principle proposes that certain plants provide protection to others, aid in the growth of others, and/or use nutrients in different proportion to each other thereby making it effective to plant the varieties in close proximity to each other. E.g. the stronger scents of basil, onions and garlic make them good companions for some other plants that are easy targets for bugs by masking their scents. Other plants, such as sunflowers, attract bugs away from others by providing a deterrent.

To be continued in Part 2…: Raised beds – Straw/hay bale beds


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