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PostPosted: Mon Jul 07, 2008 5:26 pm 
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Joined: Wed Apr 30, 2008 4:51 pm
Posts: 404
Location: Alaska
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To get out of Johns post & get a good plan for my situation.
Some may seem like dumb ?s, but to me, "no such thing".

My soil core at garden location: 8" of top soil, 4" layer of clay, 4" of sand, clay, gravel mix, then old river sand & gravel to water table at about 8 feet ( this to as deep as I've excavated at 10 ft).

(1) Will I need a layer of sand under the beds for good drainage? The first 8" has been tilled for 25 years but most of the layer of clay has not been disturbed.

(2) Should I compact the soil, then build the raised beds on top? (the topsoil layer then will be about 6")

(3) is being level (or at least close) important? North to South my garden is close to level but E. to W. I have about a 4 to 6 degree grade.

(4) 8" deep seems to be the standard & I plan several 16 to 20 linear feet boxes, how wide should they be? Is there a minimum width? (12" 18" , 24") (narrow requires less soil)

(5) Do I need to design the beds so I can add to the top, as over time the beds get full? (or do they get emptied & new soil added after x time)?

(6) I read about "place a bale of straw in the bed first then add the soil". WHY? Pros & cons to this method?? (This would make the beds taller & require more material to build but maybe easier to work)
& over time the bail would decompose & shrink (to allow room for added soil). also it dictates bed size(width)

(7) My gardening experience tells me to loosen the soil before planting for better root growth (plow /spade /disc /tilling). How does this system achieve aeration other than earth worms or am I missing something? I understand the earthworm concept, but how many earthworms/cubic ft of soil are needed? (worst case, I can spade the beds or make them rotor-tiller accessible, if AK don't sustain enough worms)

With my experience in Ak, I know I will get "frost heaves", so a little bit of flexibility in the walls is needed. This may dictate using wood or a flexible (sectioned) concrete walls.

I'll be experimenting & try to keep up to date postings & pics.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 11:08 am 
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Joined: Wed Feb 08, 2006 6:02 pm
Posts: 1630
Location: PNW
You don't have to enclose your beds if you don't want to. I've seen several no till gardens that aren't. Some people will dig out pathways, tossing the soil on the beds and then put down a deep mulch in the pathways. When that mulch breaks down, they toss it on the beds and put in fresh mulch. Straw is commonly used here.

I wouldn't think you'd need to put down sand for drainage if it drains fine now.

No need to compact it, IMO.

I like 4' wide beds myself. Less pathways to maintain. I've never had any less than 3', so I can't answer about a minimum width. With the size your plants get, it seems 24" would be the least width so they wouldn't be hanging over the paths.

I've never seen beds designed to add onto, but you could do it just to be sure.

I haven't heard about the straw technique. I wonder what the reasoning is behind it.

I don't know what to tell you if you don't have worms. I've never been without them. If you put a mulch over your garden in the winter, that might help to keep it from compacting as much, but then I don't live in snow country. I'd still think it would be better than bare soil. There are some cover crops that have a deep root system that can break up soil.

Good luck!


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 Post subject: No till
PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 3:31 pm 
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Location: Sunol, CA (9B)
First off you should make sure to add compost to the soil to prevent it from compacting for a few years, then plant it thickly and continuously (put in new plants before old ones are done and plant flowers and small things like radish and spinach around the margins) so that roots are constantly working the soil and keeping it loose. You might want to cover it in the winter to keep snow weight off it too.

I'd second 4' wide. That will allow 2 rows of tomato sized plants, or one row of squash sized plants. I have one that's a 6' square, because I used recycled 6' fence boards, and there's a spot in the middle that I can't reach easily.

As for the slope, I'd build the raised beds parallel to the gradient so they're on the slop in their short dimension rather than their long dimension, and fill so the top is level. That way water won't tend to run down the bed.

You really want the plants to root down below the raised bed so I definitely wouldn't compact that soil, in fact I'd turn in some compost before building the bed over it. I'd also consider removing the clay layer to improve drainage and allow roots of large plants to penetrate below that level. The idea of the raised bed is to increase the soil temperature to get things going faster in spring, improve drainage and to raise them a bit so it's less strain to tend the garden - not that all the roots are in the 'raised' area.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:26 pm 
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Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:35 pm
Posts: 177
Location: NH zone 4/5
Tilt; the lay of your site is pretty level. "if" the lower end does not stay soggy wet, adding sand ot laying drainage tile or building raised beds is a matter of esthetic rather than one of burning need.

That said, I like raised beds due to living in the northeast and using no-till practice. Raised beds warm up faster.

Completness of soil. I would add manure or compost yearly as needed and keep the area under production consistantly and permanently mulched. Your beds will become raised with or without edging over time.

The less you walk on your area under production, and the more you feed it organic material the better it will become.

Time, it takes time. It'll get better each year. Its not like you was giving up on eating any time soon?

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 11:47 pm 
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Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:35 pm
Posts: 177
Location: NH zone 4/5
Its not like I read of much success by people who want to buy their way out of filling a raised bed.

To me it looks like about 2 in 4 were at most neutral feeling about what they got for "soil" or "compost".

1 in 4 were basically happy with their outcome.

An' 1 in 4 were really most unhappt with their outcome.

Your raised bed will fill up with the mulch and yard waste you create--really it will.

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