Sometimes I feel like I need to be in a support group. You know, one called Row Croppers Unite, or something like that. I can see myself standing up and introducing myself,
"Hello, I'm Susie, and I don't have a raised bed."
And then everyone will come and hug me and tell me it's ok and that admitting this is the first step.
Would you join me if I started that support group? Cuz I'm here for ya.
Anyway, for real though, I don't do raised beds people. I don't. Did you know that you don't have to have raised beds either?
One of the reasons I called this blog Our Simple Farm is because I tire of seeing the work and effort and money that people put into their homestead because so and so said it would be best to do it a certain way. My mantra, as you see at the top of this page is "With a keeping it simple twist" because I don't do it like everyone else. I don't feel the need to Keep up with the Homesteading Joneses or pour money into this homestead when our whole purpose is to save a little money.
So basically, the only reason I would say yes to raised beds is if you can't physically bend down or kneel. Hey, at the rate I'm going with old basketball injuries, I'm heading there, but until then, I'll enjoy my row crops. Also, if you live in town and have limited space, raised beds are a good option. But, even then they aren't really needed.
Now, don't get me wrong, if you have the extra cash and can pour money into raised beds, go for it. Or if you live in a neighborhood that only allows raised beds, this article isn't for you. Also, if you are so against tilling that it's like a religion to you, then you might want to read an article supporting your belief, not this one. So don't get in a tizzy over this post(I already got a bad comment about the terrible affects of tilling) and just move on with your day.
But if you feel you think you need raised beds to make everything look good and you hear all of the benefits for the soil and less weeding and so on and so on, yet can't seem to justify the cost, this article is for you.
If you've ever heard of Eliot Coleman, you might know that he doesn't do raised beds either. And he is the master of masters of organic gardening. I have learned so much from his book, The Organic Grower, and encourage you to pick one up soon!
We have sandy loam soil. Yes, that is awesome, I know. Some aren't blessed with sandy loam and have hard clay to deal with. Now they say that raised beds aerate the soil and that is true. My soil is already aerated with sand which is one of the reasons Eliott Coleman says there is no reason to have raised beds if you have my kind of soil. For those who have clay soil, you still don't need a typical raised bed, but you do need to lift that soil up a bit.
My row crops of zuccini and yellow summer squash.
Did you know you can do this without spending a dime? When I lived in southern Indiana, we had heavier soil. So, I double dug up my beds to lift and aerate the soil. If you don't know what double digging is, go HERE and watch my video. Basically double digging is using a shovel and digging up a small ditch about a foot deep and 2-4 feet wide, and as you work backwards, you fill in the ditch as you go. You also need a pitchfork to aerate the soil and you will need manure and/or compost.
When you are done, you will have a semi raised bed and you can amend it as needed or layer mulch, etc. to it.
So, you might be thinking you're not down with double digging and that's ok too! You don't have too double dig if you have clay soil. You can simply add your fertilizer, manure, compost and/or soil ammendments to the soil, then till it up. I recommend adding manure with old hay and some sand to it to lighten it up a bit. To keep the weeds down, add straw or mulch in between the rows. If you don't like the idea of tilling every year, then add your composted manure and other amendments in the fall, then when spring comes, use a pitchfork to gently mix it in the top few inches. You still might need to lift the soil so a good tool to have for this is called a broadfork.
My garden is pretty big. I like to put up a lot of produce for the winter months. We're talking two 50ft x 200ft rows approximately. I would love to see my husband's face if I told him I'd like to put it all in raised beds. Not only would he see dollar signs going in the trash, he would think about how much he would miss getting on the tractor and tilling it up in the spring and fall.
My bean patch with kale in the background. This is a little more than a fourth of our garden.
I have a confession to make though. Another reason I don't do raised beds is because I like to spend a lot of time in my garden. I like to hand weed, I like to use my wheelhoe in between beds, I like to work in my garden. If I had a low maintenance garden, what would I do? Sit there and watch the tomatoes grow? I don't think I expressed how much I love using my wheelhoe. In fact, my son and I both like to use it to work the back of our arms. It's awesome!
My son is smoothing out the soil and getting rid of any weeds that have grown since tilling to get it ready for planting.
There are alot of people shooting for a low maintenance/no maintenance garden. If you are like me, I think I would go nuts if I had nothing to do in my garden. Granted, I do some mulching with my potatoes, but I really like to see those neat, weedless rows in between after I just got done wheelhoeing. I like to see a lettuce bed after I hand weeded it or used my collinear hoe(one Eliot Coleman designed for tight spaces).
I like the fact that my garden keeps me in shape, gives me much needed sunshine and gives me a feeling of satisfaction because I didn't spend a dime on it other than the seeds and a couple of tools. And if a crop fails me, I know that all I lost was a few bucks for the seed.
And because I can amend my soil with much needed manure, I can grow pretty much grow anything with great results. Sure I have my flops here and there, but there's no pressure because one flop or two isn't costing me much.
So yeah, I think raised beds are overrated. They are pretty to look at, but so is 8 rows of sweet corn that you just hoed and side dressed with composted manure. You can get a semi-raised bed without spending a dime with double digging, or stick with a well amended tilled garden and get pretty much the same results with a bit more weeding. But either way, you don't need to put a whole lot of money into it.
Instead of having a Row Croppers Unite club, maybe I should just have The Garden Addict club instead or I Love Tilling and I'm not Ashamed club. What do you think?