Dry - Warm - Cool - Pest-free - Productive - Practical ... All Are Possible
YOU CAN'T TILL MUD!
It rains when it will. A late freeze takes you by surprise. It's too hot, too soon. Bugs descend. What can you do? A raised bed environment gives the gardener control. Each container can be managed differently to create a variety-specific climate.
KEEPING IT DRY
For planting ...
Here in the southeast, in Zone 6b, our late winters are typically rainy. The optimal date for potato- and pea-planting in our area is March 15th, but the soil is almost always too wet. Lettuce and spinach seeds need to go in early to make before the temperature skyrockets. Many years, we couldn't get the seeds and sets in the ground until the first of May. We'd stand back and profess optimism, but ...
The raised beds changed everything.
The beds are designed with hoops made of EMT (electrical metal conduit). We covered the designated beds in January with black plastic, and on St. Patrick's Day, though it had been raining for weeks, we had dry soil. (We used the Quick Hoops Low Tunnel Bender, designed by Eliot Coleman, and the snap clamps for 1/2" EMT, all available from Johnny's Selected Seeds.)
We planted, watered and mulched with a light layer of straw. We exchanged the black plastic for clear greenhouse film, in the daytime closing or leaving the ends open depending on the temperature and cloud cover. (We can have frost in late April.) We blanketed the young plants with leaves to add more protection. It worked! In contrast to other years, by May 1 the peas were blooming, the potatoes were growing vigorously, and we'd already prepared several salads from the greens bed!
For harvest ...
We well remember our last year of in-ground garlic growing for market. We'd planted fifty pounds of sets the fall before and were really excited by the healthy growth we achieved through the spring. Then, as the outer leaves began to yellow and we were counting down to harvest, we had a monsoon. It wouldn't quit raining. We harvested in mud up to our ankles. Of course, the crop was damaged. So, so disappointing.
That same year, we planted three hundred pounds of seed potatoes. They too grew beautifully even in our clay soil. That same rainy month ruined them. We realized maybe 20% of our crop, after discarding the rotted ones. All the wasted work of cultivation, organic pest control and to-no-avail harvest was heartbreaking. It did us in, and that year was our last growing for market.
We ceased large-scale production, but we couldn't give up gardening. Again, raised beds to the rescue!
Garlic requires a dry spell at the end of its growing cycle (to encourage curing), and so, a few weeks before digging, we covered the garlic bed with clear plastic using the Snap Clamps again, leaving the ends completely open. Underneath the temperature rose only a few degrees. Ill-timed rain was thus shed – though the corn and okra loved it! We covered the potato beds as well, once the vines had died away. The conditions in the raised bed, regardless of the weather, were perfect for a very satisfying harvest.
Check out our gallery of raised bed garden successes.
NEXT: KEEPING IT WARM
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