Rise up

I have a confession to make. After extolling the virtues of no-till gardening in my last post, I found myself on Tuesday facing an expanse of garden beds almost indistinguishable from the weeds surrounding them.

Overgrown beds

Last fall. A cover of oats is growing in the bed on the left, "and the green grass grows all around."

The best option would have been to smother the weeds with layers of cardboard, topped by a few inches of compost  and mulch, but I did not have those materials on hand.  So I broke up the sod with the rototiller, thus ensuring the even distribution of quackgrass roots throughout the entire area. I will attempt to control the grass by sowing several rounds of quick-growing cover crops, but it is going to take some time to bring the beds back to productivity.

Tilled and sown with oats

Tilled and sown with oats

I mention this to illustrate a hidden pitfall of what is otherwise a highly recommended gardening practice – making raised beds. Raised beds warm quickly in the spring, provide good drainage, and allow the gardener to build high quality soil without compaction. The beds can be constructed directly on top of existing lawn, and they may be filled with clean compost and soil in places where the underlying soil is questionable. One of the most popular gardening techniques, Square Foot Gardening developed by Mel Bartholomew, adapts perfectly to the confined footprint of raised beds by laying out and planting each square foot individually.

Raised bed construction seems to inspire creative reuse of materials. Here are a few imaginative ones.

Woven willow branches for tall raised beds

Woven willow branches for tall raised beds

Wine bottle wall

Wine bottle wall. The sun warms the bottles, which then discharge warm air into the soil.

Truck farm?

Is this what they mean by "truck farm?"

So, what’s not to love about raised beds? Just this – it can be difficult to keep weeds clear along the inside and outside edges of the beds, especially if the weeds are perennials that propagate via runners. You can see the remains of a raised bed and the infestation of grass around it in the photo at the top of this post. If you decide on raised beds, either plan to keep the paths and area around the beds heavily mulched (wood chips are a good choice for this), or expect a certain amount of maintenance time spent pulling weeds along the inside edge of the bed. Don’t let the grass get ahead of you the way that I did!

PS. Do you have raised beds in your garden, “up-cycled” or otherwise? Post a photo on the facebook page.

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2 Comments on “Rise up”

  1. Kirby Selkirk says:

    raised beds are good for those of us with bad backs, I prefer whisky bottles to wine bottles. whisky is a better pain killer.
    Also unused sheep’s wool makes a good mulch to supress grass.

  2. Ellen Beberman says:

    Well, they would stack better…

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