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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Raised Bed Gardening
Raised Bed Gardening

Overhead view of raised beds in 2001.

Raised Bed Gardening

by Irving H. Baxter of Potsdam, NY

We gave up on gardening for a while. Like so many other places, our home had only one suitable location for a garden. The other areas on our property didn’t have good sunlight exposure or conflicted with other uses. Nope. It had to be on the south side of the house or nowhere. For a long time it was nowhere, for in addition to ample sunlight and convenient access, the site was blessed by quack grass only a duck would love, more clay than your average ceramics factory and stones that would put any rock quarry to shame.

Being the stubborn sort, I tried it anyway for a few years. Clay soil can be amended; stones can be picked and removed. We added compost and picked rocks until the cows came home and left again, but still the plow wouldn’t cut in, and the tiller bounced off it like a rubber ball on a concrete playground. Carrots had gnarled, twisted roots that were more in the air than in the soil. The tomatoes and other pre-started plants did fairly well, as long as we chiseled out a bucket sized hole and filled it with compost to plant in. Of course, in a wet year, it was like walking a greased slide, and in dry years it was a baked ceramic parking lot. Eventually even my stubbornness had to admit defeat. We smoothed the top as best we could with rakes and bulldozer, leveled the rocks into a semi-smooth surface, and let the quack grass have its way with our lovely southern exposure and hiked to the store for our fresh vegetables.

A few years passed, and I kept looking at that perfect, sunlit garden site and watched the price and quality of fresh veggies skyrocket. I knew there had to be a way. Researched in all the gardening books I could find and skimming through every gardening magazine on the newsstand lead me in only one direction. That soil (to describe it charitably) had to go. My first thought was to have a front end loader and other machines of mass destruction come in and take away the top foot of so-called soil, and replace it with the sandy loam so glowingly described by gardening gurus. Pricing this option yielded a massive case of sticker shock. Removing the old soil(?) could be afforded with difficulty, but replacing it with the perfect topsoil cost a king’s ransom!

My mind whirled (and threatened to turn into butter) as I tried to reduce the cost and still get the job done. Why waste good soil on walkways? I would simply mound the purchased dirt into windrows and plant there. Good idea. Patting myself on the back, I recalculated the cost. Hmmmmmm. Better, but still too hard on the budget. Maybe if I only had the top six inches removed — WAIT! Why have ANY removed? I could kill the quack grass with plastic sheeting and pile the dirt in wide neat rows. Still – the rain will spread it out. The kids and dogs will stomp it flat. Better contain it a bit. Boards along the edges soon became wooden boxes to hold the precious soil tightly in neatly organized containers, container gardening was something there was a multitude of information about.

As is usually the case with me and my bright ideas, I got the cart before the horse. I had found a person who would sell me good topsoil at a substantial discount. Figuring I better hurry before it was gone, I ordered two dump truck loads. Within days, two massive piles of friable, deep black garden soil sat next to the crab grass orchard we were going to make into a showplace. Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked far enough ahead to see the need for materials to build these raised beds from, so we hurriedly started gathering whatever planks and posts I could get my hands on. It was a motley selection, but hammer and saw soon had our first seven beds built. Four feet wide, by eight feet long by one foot deep, each was calculated to hold (for the most part) one kind of vegetable. Seven beds was equal to seven vegetables, with the exception of the lettuce bed that also held radishes, kohlrabi, green onions and other salad ingredients. For obvious reasons, we called that one the salad bed.

The planting part was still in the future as we finished nailing the planks to the 4×4 corner posts, leveled them roughly and passed out shovels to begin moving the multi-ton piles of rich loam into the beds. Although interested and willing helpers during the construction phase, our five sons soon discovered homework that simply had to be done right then, chores that needed to be done just then, and other mandatory reasons they couldn’t help dear old dad in the garden. Being the father of five boys, I had earned a Master’s Degree in Applied Threats & Coercion, and soon put this problem in our past. I considered threats of violence and loss of privileges, but settled on simple old-fashioned bribery. A crisp five-dollar bill to each of them when we were done, and the dirt was flying by sentence end. Cautioning them not to waste the soil, I slid back casually and assumed my rightful role as supervisor, leaning on my shovel to keep it from falling over.

Raised Bed Gardening

Andy helping mix in compost.

Worried that the evil quack grass would grow up through our new soil and take over the beds as well as it had the rest of the garden site, I had lined the bottom of each bed with heavy plastic sheeting to smother it out. In retrospect, I did it wrong. Twelve inches of fresh soil is enough to kill the weeds, and the plastic would have been better used on the sidewalls of the bed. Being raised up into the wind, the beds dried at a rapid pace. When other gardeners were watering weekly, I had to water every other day to maintain adequate moisture levels.

To skip ahead, those first seven beds had a few problems, but were nonetheless the best garden we had grown to date. The tomatoes grew spectacularly and ripened on time. Carrots grew long and straight. The peppers did well after a shaky start, and the other vegetables did well above average. No doubt was left in our minds. This was the ONLY way to garden. Not only was production well beyond expectations, our backs no longer ached for days after working in the garden, nor was there a profusion of weeds everywhere we looked. To fit in all the plants we had, the spacing recommendations on the seed packs were thrown out the windows, and we stuffed plants and seeds in every spare inch. This led to our most dramatic discovery – intensive cultivation, or living mulch as it’s also known. I have now found out that this is a poorly kept secret and has been used for centuries in China and France (and doubtless other places as well). By carpeting the growing space with desired plants, weeds simply cannot compete for food, water and sunlight once the vegetables get a good start. We weed quite a bit the first few weeks to give the seedlings a chance, but hardly any after that. Even here, the raised bed system works with you by allowing the gardener to sit on the edge and pull weeds comfortably, or kneel alongside the bed and using the side to support the body while reaching and yanking the pesky green vermin.

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Spotlight On: Equipment & Facilities

Amber Baker Letter

Hello from Michigan!

Dear Lynn Miller and staff, Hello from Michigan! We have only just started to read your Journal, and have really enjoyed it. First off, thank you for your publication. It is always a special occasion when the journal arrives, my favorite part would have to be when the seasoned farmer imparts some knowledge. Secondly, my dad is trying to figure out how to make a PTO forecart, but we are having difficulty finding information on people who have made their own, or what dimensions to make the cart out of and such.

Delivery Wagon Plans

Delivery Wagon Plans

from issue:

While the low down delivery wagon is an improvement, the objectionable features are increased. But with all those objections the low down wagons increase every year. Their convenience outweighs all other objections. They are handy for country delivery and are fitted up inside to suit either grocers, bakers, butchers or milk delivery, or a combination of the four.

New Buggy Gear Design

New Buggy Gear Design

by:
from issue:

As long back as most of us can remember, the plain people were using buggies for transportation. Buggy frames were mounted atop wood wheels that turned on large solid steel axles. Today, more new technology is available for buggies. Torsion axles, fiberglass and steel wheels, hydraulic disc brakes, LED lights, and sealed batteries — the list could continue.

John Deere No 12A Combine

John Deere No. 12-A Straight-Through Combine

from issue:

It is only natural for the owner of a new combine to want to try his machine as early as possible. This results in most new combines being started in the field before the crop is ready for combining. As soon as a binder is seen in the neighbor’s field, the urge to start becomes uncontrollable. When grain is ready for binding, it is not ready for straight combining.

Barn Raising

Barn Raising

by:
from issue:

Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

Shoeing Stocks

An article from the out-of-print Winter 1982 Issue of SFJ.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 3

by:
from issue:

In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.

Timber Wagon

Timber Wagon: The ÖSTERBY SMEDJA SV5 Forwarder

New equipment for draft horse use in silviculture (growing trees) is commercialized in Sweden at present by five companies, mainly specialized in forwarders and logging arches. This equipment is primarily adapted to the needs of forest enterprises in Scandinavia. Thus the forwarders are designed for short and small wood, for loading via hydraulic crane or an electric winch, or for manual loading without tools. This equipment is also adapted to the local topographical conditions. The rocky forests require strong off-road capabilities.

Homemade Cheese Press

Homemade Cheese Press

by:
from issue:

On the Gies farmstead we occasionally wallow in goat milk. From it we make our own butter, yogurt and cheese as well as drink some. This has prompted me to build a little cheese press to help with the extra milk. The press is made from inexpensive 1/2 inch thick plastic cutting boards used for the top and bottom plates and pressure disks, white pvc pipe, and a plastic floor drain cap.

John Deere Corn Binder

John Deere Corn Binder

from issue:

The John Deere Corn Binder is set up as illustrated in the following pages. The darkened portions of the progressive illustrations show clearly the parts to be assembled and attached in proper order. Where the instructions or the connecting points are numbered, follow closely the order in which they are numbered and lettered. Arrows are also used to point out important adjustments or parts that need special attention in setting up.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 1

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 1

by:
from issue:

For the last ten years, I have made hay mostly with a single horse. This has not necessarily been out of choice, as at one time I had hoped to be farming on a larger scale with more horses. Anyway, it does little good to dwell on ‘what if ’. The reality is that I am able to make hay, and through making and modifying machinery, I probably have a better understanding of hay making and the mechanics of draught.

Permanent Corncribs

A short piece on the construction of corncribs.

New Horse-drawn Side Delivery Rakes from Europe

New Horse-drawn Side Delivery Rakes from Europe

In Northern Italy the two agricultural machinery manufacturers MAINARDI A. s.r.l. and REPOSSI Macchine Agricole s.r.l. produce a vast range of haying equipment with pto and hydraulic drive, also hay rakes with mechanical drive by the rear wheels. The majority of the sold machines of this type are currently used with small tractors and motor cultivators. The technology of these rakes is based on implements which were developed in the 1940s, when animal traction still played an important role in Italy’s agriculture.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Cultivating Questions The Cost of Working Horses

Cultivating Questions: The Cost of Working Horses

Thanks to the many resources available in the new millennium, it is relatively easy for new and transitioning farmers to learn the business of small-scale organic vegetable production. Economic models of horse-powered market gardens, however, are still few and far between. To fill that information hole, I asked three experienced farmers to join me in tracking work horse hours, expenses and labor over a two-year period and to share the results in the Small Farmer’s Journal.

Homemade Beet Grinder

Homemade Beet Grinder

by:
from issue:

This is my small beet grinder I built about 6 years ago. It has done nearly daily duty for that time. The beet fodder is added to my goat and rabbit rations which are largely homemade. Adding the pulp to the grain rations has aided me in having goat milk throughout the winter months. My beets are the Colossal Red Mangels. Many grow up to 2 feet long. I cut off enough for a day’s feed and grind it up each morning. Beets oxidize like cut apples. Fresh is best!

Fjordworks Plowing the Market Garden

Fjordworks: Plowing the Market Garden Part 1

In a horse-powered market garden in the 1- to 10-acre range the moldboard plow can still serve us very well as one valuable component within a whole tool kit of tillage methods. In the market garden the plow is used principally to turn in crop residue or cover crops with the intention of preparing the ground to sow new seeds. In these instances, the plow is often the most effective tool the horse-powered farmer has on hand for beginning the process of creating a fine seed bed.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

by:
from issue:

The first step was to decide on an appropriate chassis, or “running gear.” Eventually I chose to go with the real deal, a wooden-wheeled gear with leaf springs rather than pneumatic tires. Wooden wheels last forever with care and are functional and look the part. I bought an antique delivery wagon that had been left outdoors as an ornament. I was able to reuse some of the wheels and wooden parts of the running gear.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT