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Creating New Beds for a Market Garden  RSS feed

 
Jerry Ward
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Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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I am in S.E. Michigan and want to create a Market Garden.  I have 10 acres total but want to only start with a 1/4-1/2 acre.  I've tried a bit of digging and run into a lot of roots.  What is the recommended process to create new garden beds from an area that has some grass and some brushy growth?  Do I need to just rent a roto-tiller and go at it?  Or maybe some landscape timbers to create a raised bed of 3"?

Thanks,
Jerry
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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What is the perceived benefit of using "beds" in a market garden? I don't know any market gardeners in my area that plant into beds.

Last I checked the railroad ties to build 1/2 acre of raised beds would cost over $10,000.  And would you want your family, friends, and beloved customers to be eating the effluent of railroad posts?
 
Jerry Ward
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Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
What is the perceived benefit of using "beds" in a market garden? I don't know any market gardeners in my area that plant into beds.



I get above all the roots.
 
stephen lowe
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what's your time frame? presumably at this point you wont be planning to produce until next season? why not just go about collecting up all the organic matter you can find and super deeply mulch the area you want to cultivate lasagna style over the fall/winter? If you want to constrain it to 'beds' maybe use timbers form your property to form the borders?  I have to agree with Joseph that the prospect of purchasing materials, including soil?, for beds will make your market garden not profitable for at least a couple seasons so I would think you need to start looking at ways to make your ground usable. 2' of mulch through a SE Michigan fall/winter sounds like some good topsoil to me.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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If you are going to till anyway, you might consider renting a piece of equipment that's big enough to easily handle small trees and their roots. Perhaps a 55 HP tractor with matching tiller.
 
Su Ba
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My first thought.....what sort of roots are we looking at? Are they too big for a tractor pulled plow to handle? If I were in your situation, I'd look around to see if there was a farmer close enough who could come plow an acre for me. I did that when I started a garden when I lived in New Jersey. The farmer brought in a small tractor and plowed that acre in no time flat. And threw a chain around an old tree stump and pulled it out. If you bring a farmer in to look, he could tell you if a plow could handle the job or else tell you what else to do.

While some here might object to the idea of initially plowing the land, I don't see it to be much different than the initial land contouring that permaculturists do with bulldozers and excavators. Once you land is plowed  and put into a condition you can start with, then you could develop a permie method to eliminate the need for future plowing.

If you want to do it low tech, a heavy duty rototiller can handle roots up to 1/2". Busting sod or pasture grass will take several passes and is best done when the soil is moist but not muddy. Decades ago I used a Troybilt Horse to till a field of grass. I had mowed the grass short before tilling. I recall it took four or more times over that field to get the tiller down 4-5 inches. It was work and time consuming, and I learned that I should have brought in a plow! But for a small plot, a plow isn't feasible.

For an even smaller garden bed, one could use a mattock. Hard hand labor, but it will cut through the roots and open to soil. I've done that too, and it's work. I still use a mattock to this day. It's handy for the right sort of job. But I wouldn't want to do 1/4 acre at a time. I'll grab the mattock if I need to open a new bed that's 3' by 20'.

I have a few low raised beds (3" to 5" sides) built atop pahoehoe lava. I used homegrown young tree trunks for the sides. So they cost me my labor, time, a chainsaw, and an ATV to haul them out of the woods. If I had had to buy lumber to make the beds, it surely wouldn't have made economic sense. The raised beds are a pain in the neck compared to the field beds. They dry out fast, and the sides constantly trip me. I've been working to gradually built up the soil in that area so that I can remove the logs completely some day. Raised beds may be nice for small gardens or in special locations, but I don't like them in my production gardens.

Ps- don't forget that it takes A LOT of soil to fill even a low raised bed.
 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 194
Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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Well, I do have a Ford 2N tractor, it just doesn't run at the moment

Maybe I look around for a single bottom plow.
 
Marco Banks
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I really like the work that Richard Perkins has done to document the permaculture farms he's created in Sweden.  If you're not familiar with his work, check him out on YouTube.  His climate would be harsher than yours, yet he's very profitable and effective using permaculture principles in that northern ecosystem.

https://www.youtube.com/user/mrintegralpermanence/videos

Raised beds help the soil warm up sooner in the spring (which I would imagine would be important to you in Michigan) and extend the growing season a week or two in the fall.  But to create wooden raised bed frames on the scale you are speaking of would require thousands of dollars.  So do what Richard and many others do --- just mound the beds up 6 inches or so, and then don't step on them.  geoff lawton does this.  Most large-scale organic farms are doing this -- mounding their beds up but not using wood or anything else to build the sides.  If the beds are no wider than 4 feet, you can easily reach from the sides and never step on the bed itself.

Further, you can build your beds on contour so they also function as swales.  You can't do that very easily with wooden raised beds.  If you want to add height to the bed, you dig the soil up from the pathways and toss that up on to the bed.  Using wood chips in the pathways between the beds will keep things from getting to muddy and will build beautiful carbon rich soil that can be shoved on top of the beds next spring.  Year after year, you'll find your beds slowly getting taller and the soil consistently getting better.

I suppose that you could run a tractor with a ripper through your soil and yank those roots loose.  But if they aren't bothering anything, just leave them in the ground to rot.  Long term, you'll want to go no-till. 

In my biosphere, I avoid raised beds because they dry out quicker, and water is at a premium.  I do a variety of sunken beds, raking back the mulch and planting the beds a bit lower than the soil surrounding them. 

Ultimately, whatever you do, the goal is to build soil year after year: mulch, compost, multiple cover crops throughout the entire growing season, chop and drop, nitrogen fixers, etc.  Keep every last scrap of carbon on site -- every leaf, every root, every coffee ground, every stick, stem and stalk,   Just adding biomass to the top of your beds year after year will raise them.  By avoiding stepping or driving on them, the worms and the normal freeze/frost cycle will decompact the soil.

Best of luck.
 
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