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.
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.
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 !!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.