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Newbie Ready to Dive In

 
                                        
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Hello.  My name is Melissa.  I live in western Pennsylvania on 10 acres.  I am building 80 raised beds 4'10'' X 10ft.  When the snow melts, I am ready to work harder than I ever have in my life because I need to raise food for my family.  I bought a greenhouse and am assembling it now.  I have a huge barn but not sure what to do with it.  I have started lots of vegetable seeds indoors.  I just can't wait until the snow melts.  I have ordered chix from a hatchery and have built some small chicken coops.  I need to figure out the fencing though (dogs).   Also I have a friend who is coming to my farm to work to help me get it up and running.  I hope to make friends in the permaculture world and would love to hear any advice. 
 
                              
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Awesome!  Are you sure you need to build raised beds though?  You can't plant in the ground?
 
                                        
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I'm building raised beds because my soil is almost purely clay.  I have alot of boards and things to build them with for free and I have a 50ft silo with tons of 18 year old sileage that has turned into dirt.  I plan on filling the beds with a mixture of this old sileage, topsoil and compost. 
 
maikeru sumi-e
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melissa2012 wrote:
I'm building raised beds because my soil is almost purely clay.  I have alot of boards and things to build them with for free and I have a 50ft silo with tons of 18 year old sileage that has turned into dirt.  I plan on filling the beds with a mixture of this old sileage, topsoil and compost. 


Clay soil is much better than sandy soil, IMO, and with a little love will produce some of the richest soil. But what it needs most of all is a heavy input of organic matter to break it up, aerate it, and allow water to trickle through and be held. You can also plant into the organic matter piled on top, similar to lasagna gardening. You may want to take a look at the planting into straw bales thread on the page.

Raised beds require a bit of work. (My main garden is one.) btw, it's great you have so much silage. Make me jealous.
 
                              
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Building 40 raised beds out of wood seems like a lot of work for not much future.  The wood is going to rot very quickly.  If the wood doesn't rot very quickly then it's got more chemicals in it then I would feel comfortable having around my food crops.  If you're intent on raised beds then maybe just create them without the sides, it seems like you have the room.  Clay isn't that horrible.  Like maikeru above said, pile the organic matter on (and on and on).  I love preparing soil with lasagna gardening.  If you don't know much about it, check it out.  That silage is a boooooooon!
 
maikeru sumi-e
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I think other advantages of planting in the ground are allowing the plants to explore more soil volume, encourage native fertility through earthworms and local microbes, and more seamless integration into landscape and cover crop opportunities. I'm thinking of working my backyard into a forest garden and I'm ruling out raised beds this time. I built one already. Was a lot of work. I realize much of it superfluous. Just pile stuff. Pile it and they will come (the earthworms).
 
                                        
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Oh dear.  Is there some kind of way to build non toxic raised beds?  I just like sitting beside my raised beds that i have now and weeding them.  Is there some kind of nontoxic paint?  Now I have to rethink my whole plan.  LOL.  I guess I could expect that, being a newbie.     
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
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With 10 acres and serious family food to grow I would consider a two prong approach of raised beds (even if they are just raised mounds of organic matter on your clay) and a food forest garden. 

The food forest garden (FFG) is more about permanent perennial food growing, which is a much more efficient use of your time, energy and money. 
Watching the video series of 'A Farm for the Future' on youtube is a good place to start.

 
Tyler Ludens
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You might want to look at "How to Grow More Vegetables" by John Jeavons in which he describes a method of growing vegetables in raised beds without wood sides.  You might also want to look at hugelkultur as a way to build raised beds without sides. 

 
Brenda Groth
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well I'm not a naysayer I say GO FOR IT !

when I was younger, before our housefire I had a huge raise bed garden area and a greenhouse..and it was all beautifully mulched and planted to food forests with peach, apple, plum and cherry trees as the understory canopy and lots of berries and herbaceous perennials..i totally loved it..the entire thing was fenced in and I had 3 gates into the mess.

the mulch in the PATHS was aspen chips and one year I was so blessed with tons of morel mushrooms growing right in my paths !! how special it was..

then we had our housefire and I lost the entire thing..except the lumber for the raised beds and the greenhouse..tried moving the trees but only one survived.

starting over with a "FEW" raised beds done hugel style, but mostly just edged beds ..but I honestly LOVED my raised beds..they were the bomb !!
 
maikeru sumi-e
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melissa2012 wrote:
Oh dear.  Is there some kind of way to build non toxic raised beds?  I just like sitting beside my raised beds that i have now and weeding them.  Is there some kind of nontoxic paint?  Now I have to rethink my whole plan.  LOL.  I guess I could expect that, being a newbie.     


I should've brought it up and others have mentioned it now, but hugelkultur beds are great. In essence, they're piles of twigs, branches, tree trunks or waste wood covered by dirt. These are easier to build and maintain than regular raised beds, IMO. You allow them to slowly decompose, and this improves the soil and supplies nutrients and water to the plants gradually. I think these are particularly useful in desert climes or where it's too rocky or sandy. You don't need to start over. There are advantages to raised beds with drainage and aeration. With clay, though, I think you have a real opportunity there in the native soil. I used to think clay was crap. It's not. I did some work with my clay in the raised bed, indoors in pots, etc. enough to find out it's very fertile with the right treatment. I found building my raised bed garden was a lot of work for a single person. I can't imagine building more than a few of them even for a summer. I had many sleepless nights from muscle aches. Now I prefer hugelkultur beds over conventional raised beds. I don't like digging or disturbing the soil too much if it already has some fertility and soil life.

I've watched the backyard and the places of greatest natural fertility are where the earthworms gather under the maple leaves and weeds, year in, year out, where the soil is rich and black and naturally crumbly. It's light and fluffy like a sponge. Whatever grows in it, grows as wild and big as the weeds. It's good soil. Thus I believe cultivating native fertility is the key.
 
ronie dee
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black locust won't rot for many years if you have it. Other woods will last a long time as well.

What seeds are you planting this early? It is too early for me to plant any of the annuals that i'll be growing.

Squash has lots of protein and produces a lot of food for little work. Southeastern Farmer sent me some amazing seeds last year and I really enjoyed the produce from them. Georgia Candy is the best squash i have ever tried and can eat it immature all summer as well as let some go in the fall to make winter squash. (Thank-you Southeastern Farmer.)

The Seminole Squash seeds that he sent were the same way - eat green all summer and then makes many winter squash in the fall.  I was the only one that got into the Seminole, but i thought they tasted a lot like eggs and ate them all summer.. They are not as good as a winter squash, but amazing long storage without any refrigeration and a comfort to have around for emergency food. 

Everyone loved the Georgia Candy and it lasts months without refrigeration for a winter treat.

Look into cold frames to extend your growing season. Many greens grow best in cool to cold weather and provide many needed nutrients for your family long after the outdoor garden has died off for the season - and also early in the spring before the outdoor garden can grow.
 
                              
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Cinder blocks are good for raised beds.. but you say you already have the wood.  Well... epoxy paint is nontoxic.  It's what people use when building aquariums out of wood.  I bet that would keep any toxic chemicals from going into the soil, probably make the wood last longer as well.  I also think hugelbeds are the way to go for long term raised bed type action.  From what Ive they don't perform very well for the first year.
 
                                        
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Thanks for all of your advice.  I watched the "Farm for the Future" video.   It looks good to me, except it seems like it will be a long time until I can get trees growing.  The seeds I'm growing this early are many lettuces and a bit of everything.  I want to put my seedlings into the green house as soon as possible.  It is 54 degrees where I live in PA.  I plan on getting that epoxy paint for the raised beds.  I guess I planted the seeds a bit early but I cant wait anymore.
 
                              
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melissa2012 wrote: I guess I planted the seeds a bit early but I cant wait anymore.


lol welcome to my world
 
Ran Prieur
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Location: Spokane and near Diamond Lake, WA
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Another reason you might want raised beds: many plants like well-drained soil, so if your garden gets soggy, raised beds will give them some room to keep their roots from getting soaked. If the improved soil ends up being like a pit in the clay, instead of a mound over the clay, then it could turn into a pond.

Check out Carol Deppe's new book The Resilient Gardener. It's loaded with good info, and she recommends making raised beds without wooden sides. If you do use wood, I don't think any wood has built-in chemicals that will poison food crops. But I wouldn't use treated lumber or railroad ties.
 
                              
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Ran Prieur wrote:
Another reason you might want raised beds: many plants like well-drained soil, so if your garden gets soggy, raised beds will give them some room to keep their roots from getting soaked. If the improved soil ends up being like a pit in the clay, instead of a mound over the clay, then it could turn into a pond.


Completely didn't think of that reason for building raised beds.  Where I am we usually have the opposite problems.. not enough water and things dry out to fast in raised beds.
 
                                        
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Yes my water table is very high and when I made a garden on level ground, it turned into a swamp. 
 
                                        
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thanks for advice everyone. 
 
Pat Black
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Location: Northern New Mexico, USA
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Raised beds sound good, and you can just slope the sides rather than using vertical boards.

I am curious how you chose the length of your beds. Instead of 80 beds 10 feet long, why not 16 beds 50 feet long, or 8 beds 100 feet long?

Also on the width, 58" wide might be a little wide for hand weeding. Sitting in your aisle, how far is it comfortable for you to reach? 2x your reach might be good.

 
maikeru sumi-e
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melissa2012 wrote:
Yes my water table is very high and when I made a garden on level ground, it turned into a swamp. 


Then raised beds might be in your future, given that consideration.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I know I'm always linking to this video, but here it is again; a raised bed garden for wet climates:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugFd1JdFaE0
 
T. Joy
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Thanks Ludi! I haven't seen that before and really enjoyed watching it.
 
John Polk
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Wood sides for raised beds:

Woods like cedar or redwood will last many years.  Woods like pine, if untreated, will begin rotting within a few years.  A safe, non-toxic way to treat wood is to coat them with raw linseed oil.  Boiled linseed oil will last much longer, but you need to determine if the brand is just boiled, or boiled with chemicals.  Most boiled oil nowadays has added chemicals, so if you cannot find the "pure" variety, just stick with the raw linseed oil.  If you dilute the first coat 50-50 with pure turpentine, it will penetrate much deeper into the wood.  A coat (or two) of undiluted after the first is dried should give you longer protection.

 
                                        
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thanks everyone for the advice.  I watched the video about fukuoka inspired garden.
 
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