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How to make raised beds by hand?

 
Posts: 42
Location: Rome, Italy
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Hi guys,
did anyone create raised beds by hands? I mean many, not just a couple. I'm in the sad situation without a tractor, and in this area nobody uses raised beds...so no accessory for a tractor to make raised beds.

Thanks,
Fabio
 
pollinator
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Hi Fabio,

There are so many styles of things that people call "raised beds." What style are you thinking of?

For instance, Charles Dowding's no-dig raised beds in the UK have no sides and are just long-rounded mounds. They're not very high and they're easy to make.

Then there's always Toby Hemenway's bulletproof sheet mulching if you have a copy of Gaia's Garden around. That is "lasagna-style" and takes a little longer. Not usually thought of as a raised bed, but that's actually what you get.

I've made some pretty tall raised beds (~40cms) with wooden sides. I used raw untreated pine fresh from the sawmill and they have lasted surprisingly long. Some of the wooden stakes are just now rotting after over 4 years but most are still fine. They were a lot of work to build initially.

Other people use corrugated for siding, bricks, railroad ties, wattle, I've seen just about everything. Sides take a while to build. If you have good stake- or fencepole-driving equipment (I didn't), they can be much easier.

How many m2 of raised beds do you want to build?
 
pollinator
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I have made raised beds both with no sides and with sides.

For no sides beds I laid them out 4 feet wide by 25 feet long with walkways in between. I put down wood chips in the walkways and deeply mulched the beds. The key thing here is not to walk on the beds. Over time the beds become higher than the walkways as the mulch and compost that you add to the beds breaks down. They were a little hard for me to keep clearly differentiated between walkway and bed and thus helpers often accidentally walked in beds when fallow.

For beds with sides I like 2x12 untreated yellow pine. It lasts quite a few years in my temperate climate with hot humid summers and cold winters. Plus, yellow pine is nowhere nearly so expensive as cedar. I like these and intend to build more, moving away from sideless raised beds. Helpers and dogs don't trample through the beds so they have avoided accidental compaction. I also like not having to bend so far for planting and harvest (I am not a youngster anymore).
 
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Starting with a double-wide row of straw bales is a quick, easy way to start raised bed without sides.  Dump on coffee grounds and compost, pee on them, and plant in pocket made from compost are good ways to use them the first season before they have even broken down much.
 
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Dave de Basque wrote:There are so many styles of things that people call "raised beds." What style are you thinking of?



Exactly.

In fact, in the latest Mother Earth News there was an article where somebody used a bunch of old, discarded bathtubs.  I thought that was a pretty clever repurpose.  
 
Fabio Rinaldi
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I meant obviously "raised"! Sorry.

Raised beds: i use to make the vegetable garden on a surface of 1500/2000 square meters. I'm interested in the Jadam Organic Farming and they suggest raised beds to avoid soil compaction. Considering the surface is large i cannot use "side panels" on the raised beds...but i was looking for a method to move rationally the soil. I was thinking to create a wood structure with wheels, filling this structure by hand with soil and then move it forward, filling newly with soil and moving it newly. What do you think?

Thanks,
Fabio
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One can avoid soil compaction by making the beds narrow enough not to ever need to step on them.  The way I figured the width of my beds was by deciding on where one side of the bed would be, crouching on that side and placing a rock at a comfortable distance in front of me, then going around to the other side and seeing how far away I could crouch while still being able to comfortably reach the rock.  My beds are "raised" only because the soil in the beds is fluffier than the mulch in the paths, not because they have constructed sides.  The sides are just gently sloping soil.

I move soil in 5 gallon buckets.  I've use these same buckets to move literally tons of rocks, also.

 
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We tilled our garden area initially to establish it.  Then we marked out the paths and shoveled the loose dirt out of the paths and onto the beds.  That lowered the paths more than it raised the beds but in the end it created the same effect.
 
pollinator
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These work great for narrow beds if you have access to a tiller that they can attach to.

https://bcsamerica.com/product/hiller-furrower
 
Fabio Rinaldi
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Hi permies earthlings!
Thanks for all the good suggestions. I generally create rows every 60cm, but considering the fact I'd like to raise beds I need more space. This means to re-think the irrigation system, because the water taps are every 60cm. It was a very hard work but...things change.

I believe i need a BCS....and i will keep you updated.

Thanks,
Fabio
 
pollinator
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Sounds good, Fabio.

Just a few things I noticed perusing this thread. The use of railroad ties was suggested. Although you have indicated that for your purposes, you will have too much perimeter to enclose your beds, I have to stress that the creosote used in railway applications has pretty much rendered all rail lines and properties the toxic equivalent of superfund sites.

My understanding is that if rail companies want to remove used ties from their property, they have to pay for hazardous waste disposal. In addition, there are apparently recent guidelines that indicate that breathing, skin, and eye protection are to be worn by workers handling anything that exposes them to creosote, with special procedures if it makes direct bodily contact.

People are always trying to take useful goods out of the waste stream, for which they should be applauded. It is necessary to excercise caution and rational thought, however, when trying to use toxic items like creosoted railway ties or tires. What's the point in going to all the trouble of ensuring a food system free of the problems of conventionally produced food if you're going to literally surround your beds in toxicity anyways?

As to avoiding compaction, I agree with limiting the width of the beds such that the centre of each bed can be reached from either side of the row. I also like dedicated paths between rows, such that I don't need to step into beds. I like digging them down, at least for the added topsoil, but also because I tend to go deeper, and to partially fill the resultant trenches with wood chips.

I find that a thick, deep woodchip path acts as a moisture battery, in the way that the buried wood component of hugelkultur does, and so also becomes a soil life bioreactor. The paths host all sorts of soil life, and tend to host fungi very well. All of this means that, while it might be necessary to dig out the paths adjacent to the beds every season or two, they essentially produce soil for you over that time, and all that need happen to continue the process is to keep the wood chips topped up and humid enough to nurture the soil microbiome.

So you get better drainage and moisture regulation, and a system of pathways around your beds that actively produce soil for you every season or two, all the while nurturing the soil microbiome to help make growing food easier. I don't see a downside if you have the requisite biomass. Really, anything like woodchips will do, the only caveat being that the less dense the pieces, and the more easily they are broken down, the more often the paths will need to be dug. So if hardwood chips last two years, I would expect softwood chips to last maybe a year. If you filled your paths with slash and topped them up, I couldn't really say, but the presence of ramial wood would increase decompositon.

But let us know how you decide to proceed. Keep us posted, and good luck.

-CK
 
Fabio Rinaldi
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Chris Kott wrote:Sounds good, Fabio.

Just a few things I noticed perusing this thread. The use of railroad ties was suggested. (...) What's the point in going to all the trouble of ensuring a food system free of the problems of conventionally produced food if you're going to literally surround your beds in toxicity anyways?



Hi Chris, thanks for your time answering me. Got it, here in Italy many years ago railroad switched from wood ties to concrete ties. Many people grabbed them and used in many ways, like the top of their fireplace.


Chris Kott wrote:As to avoiding compaction, I agree with limiting the width of the beds such that the centre of each bed can be reached from either side of the row.(...) So if hardwood chips last two years, I would expect softwood chips to last maybe a year. If you filled your paths with slash and topped them up, I couldn't really say, but the presence of ramial wood would increase decompositon.

But let us know how you decide to proceed. Keep us posted, and good luck.

-CK



I believe i'll plant some future biomass between the rows, like the rye, or hairy vetch. But i must make some tests, because i don't know how much is functional working with the grass under the feet!

How does a raised bed last in your vegetable gardens, permies? Because also if the ground won't compact in a raised bed like in a common culture cycle i believe will compact with the rain/sun cycle, creating a some sort of crust on the top..and I suppose will be hard to plant future crops. Isn't better to re-create raised beds after every crop cycle?

Thanks you all, this is the only place I've found in the web with so much humans who are helping me to solve my answers!

Ciao from a very windy Italy,
Fabio
 
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I've used the same raised beds for a decade. They're a little long, so the wood sides bow out a little over time.

The soil/amendments flow into the ground over time, but just returning the biomass keeps it topped up.
Compaction hasn't been a problem - constant mulch and biology.

You may be certain you want raised beds, but I only recently discovered sunken beds/raised path (on contour) and it makes so much sense systemically (captures path erosion, selfwatering, captures mulch, captures run-off, improves rain infiltration to subsoil).
 
Fabio Rinaldi
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Hello Jondo,
thanks for the suggestion. I will read about. You spoke about of selfwatering and captures run-off....I believe these beds can capture run-off, but if you have a big amount of water. If you use the classic drip tape..how can it captures run-offs?

Thanks,
Fabio
 
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Location: Monticelli Di Esperia (FR), Italia
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Ciao Fabio,

I made 10 raised beds last year. 1m by 10m
I used rock sourced from a local marble quarry for the sides which are about 30cm high.

As far as success, they are not so different than the plantings on level ground except they seemed to keep the cinghiale away. Maybe because of the height.

James

 
Fabio Rinaldi
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James Mariorenzi wrote:Ciao Fabio,

I made 10 raised beds last year. 1m by 10m
I used rock sourced from a local marble quarry for the sides which are about 30cm high.

As far as success, they are not so different than the plantings on level ground except they seemed to keep the cinghiale away. Maybe because of the height.

James



Ciao James,
Thanks for sharing. Aren't you worried about the safety with the rocks and the little paths? Great idea to keep away boars!!

Grazie,
Fabio
 
James Mariorenzi
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So far no safety concerns.
I only use the raised beds during the cold months. Salads, broccoletti, fave, cold weather crops.
I use sunken beds during warmer, drier months to help with water retention. In the summer, I don't have to worry about the boars as they go to the mountains for the season.
 
Fabio Rinaldi
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James Mariorenzi wrote:So far no safety concerns.
I only use the raised beds during the cold months. Salads, broccoletti, fave, cold weather crops.
I use sunken beds during warmer, drier months to help with water retention. In the summer, I don't have to worry about the boars as they go to the mountains for the season.



Thanks, i will read further about these sunken beds.
 
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