Too Much

Over the last 24 hours I’ve been thinking a lot about the advantages of raised bed gardening and no-till agriculture.  Those advantages include less soil compaction and less damage to beneficial organisms that live in the soil.

We only have a few raised beds.  That may change.

We only have a few raised beds. That may change.

Chemical-free weed control is very difficult without tillage, so it’s particularly hard to farm organically without tilling.  For me it’s also just been hard to wrap my head around a completely new way of doing things.  I learned gardening as a child and we always plowed the garden and laid out straight rows.  We have lots of room here so we had no reason to conserve space.  So I’ve just kept on tilling and setting out rows of seeds or plants in the freshly tilled soil.

Less damage from erosion is another advantage of raised beds and no-till.

Yesterday it rained 2 inches between midnight and mid-morning, leaving one end of our brassicas garden looking like this.

It looked at lot worse to me than this makes it appear.

It looked at lot worse to me than this makes it appear.

Once the ground was saturated the alleys between the rows acted liked ditches, channeling the water to the end of the rows, where it backed up then flowed over the rows downhill in the other direction, washing up plants and sweeping topsoil from the garden.

The garden I’d freshly tilled for corn and okra was even worse, but I didn’t take any pictures of it.  The rain had washed a big gully right down the middle of it.

In the pea garden the rows were flattened and many of the pea seeds are now laying on the top of the ground.  When it dries up some I’ll figure out if it’s necessary to replant it.

This sort of thing happens every few years.  Sometimes the damage is much worse than this.  A heavy rain on freshly tilled soil on sloping land can wash away crops and topsoil.  Sometimes entire gardens or fields can be wiped out.

I did not anticipate the end of the row washout in the brassicas garden and I could’ve done some things to prepare for it, possibly preventing any damage.

I did anticipate potential problems in the corn garden, however, and I took steps to prevent any erosion. Obviously those steps weren’t good enough.  I see now that I need to dig a drainage ditch there and I’ll do that once it dries out.

The good news is that in the places where there was no damage all this rain (followed, we expect, by a few warm sunshiney days) should cause the gardens to thrive.  Unfortunately, however, yesterday was further proof that it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.

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11 comments on “Too Much

  1. shoreacres says:

    Well. This helps to explain some of the ditches I see around bigger fields now. When I grew up in Iowa, I really don’t think there was as much attention to drainage. I can remember flooded fields quite often, even when there hadn’t been the sort of rain to raise rivers.

    Fingers crossed here for sunny and warm. I hope the damage is less than you imagine.

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    • Bill says:

      It looked a lot better today than I did while I was watching what seemed like rivers flowing across the gardens. Not too much damage. The field that was hurt the most hasn’t been planted yet and now I see where it needs work, possibly preventing damage to a crop the next time.

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  2. valbjerke says:

    I’ve used raised bed/no till gardening for years – most of my beds are about three feet in depth though. Very east to work with the veggies and pull the odd weed at that height. The only thing I grow ‘ground level’ is potatoes – my ducks take care of the slugs – and any weeds that pop up (mostly lambs quarters) I give to the pigs. Win win.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve been pleased with our raised bed experiments. As long as I’m careful to keep them watered they do great. More productive than the plants in the row gardens and hardly any problem with weeds. I plan to keep adding more but on the scale I doubt I’ll ever be able to rely entirely on raised beds (although I know there are people who do).

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  3. El Guapo says:

    So what are the disadvantages of raised beds? Are weeds a big issue with that method?

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  4. JenL says:

    I understand the frustration, though we only got 1 3/4″ rain in that storm. I kept looking outside thinking “My poor seeds and seedlings!” Like you said, it has happened before. I have to say overall I am thankful for the rain – for we have had a few opposite years – but grieve a few losses. We will replant as needed. Enjoy these next few drying days.

    I am also learning to work with raised beds. More info on your experiences?

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    • Bill says:

      Danville got 1.6 inches but our gage was right on 2. I shouldn’t sound ungrateful for the rain. It was needed and will do it’s magic. The timing was good for me too. Looking at it today the damage wasn’t severe and nothing that a little time replanting won’t fix.

      My experience with raised beds has been positive, but limited. We have those shown in the picture (the cardboard is because I’ll soon be deeply mulching around the beds) as well as another set of beds for herbs. I try to use the square-foot gardening method in the beds (I recommend you google that term if it’s new to you). It’s possible to produce a lot of veggies in quite a small area. Of course the soil in a raised bed will dry out faster so it’s necessary to water them more often than ground-level gardens.

      I use our raised beds as part of our normal rotation. Right now they have lettuce mixes in them and this summer I’ll plant sweet potatoes in them.

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  5. Bill, raised beds or no raised beds. That is the question. On the scale that you grow things raised beds would be much more work. All work done to raised beds have to be done with hand tools. I’ve found that some things do well in raised bed square foot gardening but others not so much. I have both in my gardens. Things like watermelons, squash, pumpkins, sweet corn, and even, in my humble opinion, tomatoes are better grown in conventional row crop gardening. Smaller stuff like lettuce, radishes, onions, carrots, cabbages, etc. are better for raised bed square foot gardens. I’m even experimenting with five gallon bucket growing this year. The advantage to raised bed and bucket growing is that specially mixed soil made for growing plants can be used to improve harvests. This is especially advantageous for places where soil is less than favorable for plant growth.

    Sorry to hear about your garden issues with rain. Prayerfully, that’s the last for this year. Have the best day that you can in the garden.

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