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Buiding beds, raised beds and surroundings  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 1362
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Hi, I want to write a blog entry about these structures people build around their vegetable beds. Wither they buy something prefabricated which won't last very long or they use timber or concrete blocks.
In my opinion it is a waste of time and money and makes working with the beds much more cumbersome. The weeds like to grow exactly were these structures are and are difficult to pull out. The structures are in the way when using a hoe, spade or rake. You cannot really incoorperate the soil underneath the bedline. And I think it is a myth that without ever working the soil over you get a friable soil underneath that line (leaving all the stones in). That means ignoring what's there. If you need netting (and something to fix the netting on it is much better to net the whole patch instead of working with nets over single beds). Higher drainage (more water) and higher temperature fluctuations in the bed. You will have to buy all the soil.
However, there are some reasons to build structures:
1.) You can't bend down (but your structure has really to be hip high)
2. ) Your area floods badly
3.) There is no soil but concrete or similar
4.) Agressive tree roots but then you need a suitable weed mat(chickenwire or something)
5.) Contaminated soil

That's what I came up with. I believe that 80% of the people who start vegetable gardening simply buy or build these structures because they saw it in gardening Australia or the neighbour does it and not because of one of the reasons mentioned. Or probably because they don't know how to begin otherwise. Is there anything to add? What are your experiences? Does any market gardener use structures and if for what reason?
 
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Good observations Angelika, One plus is that untreated wood used for beds will harbor fungi and those fungi will not only eat the wood, they will spread hyphae into the soil and thus be available to the plants in that bed, this means less water input and better plant nutrition availability.
Once the wood has been decayed, it becomes part of the garden bed soil (just add a new wood border and the process continues).

In our beds weedy stuff does occasionally show up but it is easy to pull most of the time and that just goes into the compost heaps to decay and provide nourishment for the next planting.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Angelika Maier wrote:And I think it is a myth that without ever working the soil over you get a friable soil underneath that line



I can tell you with 100% certainty that you can just add compost and wood chips (or just wood chips) to the top of your soil and not do anything to incorporate it and create great, productive, friable soil much, much deeper than the original ground level.  I know that because I have been doing it for years.  The places I put chips a couple years ago I can easily step a garden fork into the ground to the handle. Places I haven't gotten to yet you can't get the fork in more than a couple inches by jumping up and down on it.  You can also dig a hole where the chips have been and see good black beautiful well-draining soil. Do the same nearby in an area I haven't put wood chips or compost on and you find hard solid Clay that won't absorb water.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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True with the wood chips however stones do not turn into soil.
BUT: the thread was meant to discuss these structures people put around garden beds., I myself find them rather annoying and unnecessary apart from the ponts mentioned above, but maybe there are people who find advantages to it. The cost alone makes it prohibitive.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2046
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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Terracing. Keeping animals out. Composting in place.
Cold frames.
Raised beds are totally worth it to me,for these resons and some of the ones you mentioned.
Anecdotally,my childhood home  only had a fruitful garden  when we started using raised beds,despite double digging and heavy ammendments before that.
 
Posts: 261
Location: West Midlands UK (zone 8b) Rainfall 26"
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I don't have structures around my beds and while they're not quite a pet hate, I don't see many examples on my allotment site which I think are working well.  I much prefer the way my beds evolve and change shape to what is needed with the soft edge between the bed and path.  The only exception is a couple of places where I have inherited flagged paths, where I have a log laid down to stop the mulch straying onto the flags.  My paths do not have weed membrane down either, and that stuff I do hate.  I see too many plots where someone has set out beds and the paths are too wide (space wasted) or too narrow (how DO they manage to move around comfortably), right angled corners you can't get round with a mower or barrow, beds too long or wide so they get walked on, weed membrane ruckling up, tatty little fences with weeds entwined... and then the plot holder gives up and the weeds take over and it is a right mess full of trip hazards for whoever comes along next and tries to clear up and impose their new ideas on how the plot should be laid out.  My neighbour has so many fences and edges and cages and bed covers I sometimes wonder how there is any room left for plants...
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Hester that was a funny read! Me too I like the sorft edge and raking material around were I need it, if I get wood chips (if) then they are composted after a year and I rake the path onto the bed.
William, composting in place could be an advantage - does this work well for the plants? Normally compost is on top or do you leave the soil on bottom and compost on the top of it? And what are you doing with all the sticks and uncomposted stuff? you could do that without the surroundings and rake all the sticks away. Of course a terrace has to be held in place by something.

 
gardener
Posts: 1264
Location: Middle Tennessee
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I garden in raised beds and I built mine using red cedar. The reason I garden in raised beds is my native soil is heavy clay and drains poorly. I have ponding water in places when it rains, and the puddles can last a week. I find raised beds easy to work in as mine are 4 feet wide, so I never have to reach farther in then two feet, and the surface of the soil in my beds is a foot higher than the ground, so less bending over. My raised beds do drain very well, but are also high in organic matter, some of which has been converted to humus, so while being well draining, it holds a lot of water too. I don't find the structures to be in the way as I don't hoe or spade the soil, in fact I put effort into minimally disturbing the soil. The only time I do use a tool is a shovel to help be get started harvesting potatoes, and even then I don't find the lumber to be in the way. I do use a frost cloth to cover a bed and find it easy to remove and apply working by myself as I'm dealing with a smaller amount of material than say covering a long row. You are right about temperature differences in the beds, as my raised beds do warm sooner in the spring which allows me to get sowing a little earlier compared to using the native ground. My oldest beds are seven years old, and the cedar is holding up well.
 
William Bronson
pollinator
Posts: 2046
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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My best beds are largely compost.
I build a deep enclosure out of something disposable,like pallets,and pile on greens,browns,and our native clay soil.
Sticks and logs go in the bottom layer

Then I plant something like Jerusalem artichokes or torpedo radishes.
A year of these guys and then its ready for more demanding plants like tomatoes.
Anything I add grom that point forward gets broken down quickly, I've even planted rescued tomatoes   into a layer of  autumn leaves with great results.
I had planned on leaving the bed fallow that year, so i piled on the leaves. When I happed upon some free plants, I had no other beds and no time, so I layed them on their sides under the newest layer of leaves, and presto! Huge yeilds.

I will allow my beds to eat their walls(untreated wood).
When i replace them its a good opportunity to change the dimensions.
I use salvaged boards and metal stakes, with few fasteners


One other  thing. If you want hugles in a limited space, walls around the bed let it be higher without the base being wider.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Angelika Maier wrote:True with the wood chips however stones do not turn into soil.
BUT: the thread was meant to discuss these structures people put around garden beds., I myself find them rather annoying and unnecessary apart from the ponts mentioned above, but maybe there are people who find advantages to it. The cost alone makes it prohibitive.



Stones do turn into soil, it just takes a long time  

If you have stones in your soil, I think that is a very good reason to use structures and raised beds.  As James said, heavy clay soil is another good reason to make raised beds.  The structures themselves can be as expensive or as cheap as you would like them to be.  I have made them in the past and always used scrap wood, so mine were free.  I used them because I wanted to have my rows a certain width and it is much easier to keep that width with a structure.  If you want to mow your paths or be able to use a wheelbarrow between them, it's much easier if your raised beds aren't collapsing into the paths.  Many people like the way raised beds look.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 5065
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I didn't mention the reasons we use raised beds and surrounds.
Buzzard's Roost is experiencing a huge issue with voles and moles due to the soil building efforts I've been doing, we have an abundance of worms which attracts the moles and the voles attack our root vegetables and squashes.
By using a raised bed, I can sink hardware cloth down a foot to two feet and attach it to the wood surround of the bed, thus stopping mole traffic, the 8" to 16" height of the bed wall deters the voles from exposing themselves to our dogs.
We also do a lot of Straw Bale garden beds for things like tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, beans, etc.
These work best with an 8" tall border of wood, as the bales decompose the resulting compost becomes a normal raised bed.
We have a lot of these beds within our orchard, between the trees, they prevent us from doing root damage to the fruit trees.

If we were market gardening or didn't intermingle fruit trees and vegetables, we probably wouldn't use wood surrounds, but they are serving our needs quite well at this time.
We do have "open" beds in other areas of the farm and we are getting ready to turn part of the hog area into garden since the soil is now ready for growing vegetables
 
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Hello, I just posted some pics of a raised bed I just built in this thread, and then saw your thread and figured why not put up a link.  https://permies.com/t/64711/attempt-espaliering-eighteen-fruit-nut

They're made of used steel/tin roofing metal, so not necessarily permie'ish.  It is real nice to use a wheeled stool, and roll down the concrete driveway never having to get dirty though.  

 
pollinator
Posts: 2067
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I have used pallets as my surrounding structure. One thing I learned was that if your area dries out for long periods of time, you have to be aware of the effects of your choice in structure. Because I used pallets, there were gaps and exposed soil all up and down the sides of my raised bed, which increased dessication. I solved it by planting groundcovers and alpine strawberries, but it necessitated a lot of watering before they got established to keep in the moisture.

The form I want to try is the one that uses river rock inside a gabion wall structure made of cattle panels. I could see that doing wonders during humid summers with no precipitation, as the gabion raised bed wall would act as an air well, causing moisture to condense onto the cool rocks hidden from the sun.

In terms changes in the surrounding and underlying soil friability, I am with Todd on this one, having experienced it myself. The macrobiota that feed on wood chips make loosen the soil immensely, as do the others that contribute to healthy soil. They range far and wide. I know a gardener with raised beds who dug her paths around them for the topsoil and dropped woodchips for footing in its place. She now digs her paths out annually, and makes a new bed every season. Granted, that's with the assistance of free ramial woodchip donations from urban arborists, but the soil life of the healthy bed converts her paths to soil; her raised beds are effectively soil reactors.

-CK
 
William Bronson
pollinator
Posts: 2046
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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Chris describes problems with beds drying out.
Living in an area that is wet, and due to get wetter, i find a big spongy raised bed means i dont water,even during our hot dry spells.

I havent added plants for soil and water retention, but they do show up!
Creeping Charlie is my favorite, i encourage it by killing competitors like grass. 😁

Just last week i rebuilt a raised bed.
This bed, was around a pear tree,and consisted of 4 scrap peices of pvc wrapped in weed cloth secured with scraps of lumber and screws.
My bootleg air pruning bed.
Ugly as sin, but it worked. The pear tree grew rapidly and well, no root binding occured, we poured grey water into the pipes and bed to encourage deep roots, and I didnt dig much of a hole but did create soil from amendments.
The new version has cinder blocks,placed on their sides.
The roots of the tree and companion plants hold the soil  
quite well.
I would totally plant into the holes im the blocks, but my chooks would just devastate anything i plant there 😞
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
Posts: 1362
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I actually do have raised beds because I don't have soil, but I don't build structures. I do it like the oldrimers, simply raise it. However, when I get hold on it I get woodchips a truckload full and difficult to get the I fill all the pathways up with woodchips to the topwhich of course sinks down after a while. It makes the best soil. At least if you have nothing to start with.  There is a lot of effort money and material going in all these structures, even if you get some for free you still need screws etc.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Angelika Maier wrote:I actually do have raised beds because I don't have soil, but I don't build structures. I do it like the oldrimers, simply raise it. However, when I get hold on it I get woodchips a truckload full and difficult to get the I fill all the pathways up with woodchips to the topwhich of course sinks down after a while. It makes the best soil. At least if you have nothing to start with.  There is a lot of effort money and material going in all these structures, even if you get some for free you still need screws etc.



It seems like you just don't like raised beds with structures around them.  That's fine.  Gardens are beautiful in part because they reflect what the owner likes.  Some people really like the way a garden looks when it is perfectly laid out with everything in nice straight, neat lines.  I like my areas to have a looser structure now, but I used to measure out my garden areas and make them perfectly spaced and aligned.  To each his own.  I think it is an exaggeration to say it's a lot of effort and money.  If you use scrap lumber, you can put the structure together in 10 minutes with 8 screws.  If you use old pallets, you can use the wood and re-use the nails so it's free.  More importantly, people like to build things.  It's fun, it's often re-uses waste items that would be thrown away, and it gives you a feeling of accomplishment.  I love looking at the things I have built and knowing I created it.
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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I agree, Todd. To each their own. I have used pallets before. Most were too damaged to be used for shipping, but with a mallet and some fencing wire, they became a great way to make the most of my limited space. The effect of deep, rich soil and steady sub-irrigation, not to mention lack of compaction, has to be seen to be believed. Not only that, but I was responsible for an explosion in the local worm population. It was a tragedy when it rained and they all sought the pavement.

My ideal structure, though, would have to be freshly pruned or chopped down hardwood limbs or trunks. It's a puzzle to fit them together so that they remain in place, but a little staking and maybe some wire or twine does just fine for reinforcement. And if you inoculate with culinarily desirable mushroom spore, you get the benefits of fungi colonizing your bed and yummy mushrooms.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Chris, that is a great idea for using trees that need to be removed anyway, especially if you don't use them for mushroom logs.
I have one in progress but since I have a brace and bit I set them up so I can drill a hole through the corners and then use a branch that I shave down to fit the drilled hole with the last few inches sunk into the soil to hold the framework in place.

Our beds that are framed, I consider part of our infrastructure and they aren't expensive or time consuming over the years that each one lasts.

Everything on any farm is a matter of choice and I think that if what your doing is working the way you want it to, then it must be good.

Redhawk
 
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