Category Archives: raised bed gardens

Planting Garlic Between a House and Farm Place

Due to changes in our work lives and a desire to steward a larger piece of land, we will be shifting at the end of this month. However, garlic is meant to be planted around the end of last month. What to do?

Garlic is the only crop that we sell regularly, and when you grow the World’s Best Garlic, it is worth the time and effort. Over the weekend we hurriedly got somewhere over 400 garlic in the ground at the new property. This is how we did it.

We had to transport some of our 3 cubic metres of compost

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We selected a bit of flat land for our market garden.

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We did not have time to convert the paddock into a garden, so we brought in cardboard to kill the grass and topsoil to quickly build a raised bed.

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We have had great success growing garlic on top of sand by using 80 mm of topsoil.

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One key to growing great garlic is to use plenty of great compost. I pull a deep furrow with a hoe and then fill it with compost.

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Meanwhile…

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Nek minit.

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We plant the garlic at 100 mm centres.

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Everyone gets involved.

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After two afternoons of work.

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Peace, Estwing

Successive Planting: Summer/Autumn Transition

One way we are able to produce large amounts of healthy food on a small amount of land is our approach to bio-intensive annual gardening. A combination of 80 mm (2.5 inches) of topsoil and copious amounts of high quality compost have allowed us to grow large, healthy and abundant vegetables.

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Another way that we achieve high yields is by successive planting. In other words, as soon as one crop comes out another goes in. For example, after harvesting broad beans last spring I immediately planted pumpkins in mounds of compost.

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Both of these strategies rely on abundant, high quality compost in order to replenish soil fertility to make up for the food removed. We use a hot composting system called the Berkeley Method that ‘disappears’ meat and roadkill in a matter of weeks.

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 Sometimes we use our lawn clippings in our compost, and sometimes we use them for mulch.

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This week I have taken out some tomato plants that were in the ground since the 21st of September – 6 and 1/2 months – and replaced them with broccoli.

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 You will notice there are still some capsicum (bell peppers) in the ground, and I even left two of the eight tomato plants rooted as they were still producing. I simply laid them on the ground on top of dried grass mulch.

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 Each broccoli seedling is planted with a large dollop of compost.

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 The tomato ties – old bed sheets torn into strips – are collected and stored for next year.

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And my helper and I carry on with the next chore.

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Peace, Estwing

No-Dig (Part 3): Ground Preparation

In the first post of this No-Dig series I described how decompressing the soil with a garden fork is the first step of the process. While that’s true, there are some ways to prepare the site even before forking it over. Currently we are “tractoring” ducks…

…and chooks in areas where we plan to install beds. The fowl eat the grass and fertilize the future garden bed. Because we have two particularly aggressive grasses and other invasive weeds, it is important for us to knock them back before putting in new beds.

After the birds have done their job, the former lawn looks something like this. (Note the banana peels. We get “baking bananas” for $2 a box from a local veggie shop. We eat some and feed some to the ladies.)
But you may not have birds or even want them. Or maybe your municipality is even silly enough to outlaw them. Other techniques I’ve used include covering the ground with black plastic for extended periods of time (1 month to 4 months). Because plastic is UV sensitive, I extend its useful lifetime by covering the plastic with weeds. This serves multiple purposes. Along with making the poly sheets last longer, it is a way to dry out the weeds for later use as mulch and it looks much more attractive than a sheet of plastic laying in the yard.
And finally, to continue the local, abundant and free theme from the two previous posts, we happen to have heaps of roofing iron on our section. We use it to knock back aggressive grasses and weeds before bed building. Just make sure you weigh it down to protect against gusting winds.


Referring back to the first post in this series once again, the bed that I built on the solstice started out looking like this.


The iron had been there for about 3 months and the pile of topsoil on top of the Pink Batts plastic had been there for about a month. Although you can see a little bit of cacuya grass between them, I pulled that foliage off before placing an extra thick layer of newspapers there.
And in no time 100 garlic were in the ground.
An easy no-dig installation should be part of an easy, low-maintenance/high-productivity management system. And the key to that, in my decade plus of experience, is managing weeds. Two important parts of easy weed management are never stepping in the beds (see #1 in this series) and building in low maintenance edges (see #1 in this series).
I have run many workshops in 3 different countries on low-maintenance/high-productivity organic management. If you would like to host one in your area, please contact us. If you are a publisher, this management system is waiting for a book deal.
It is a great time to be building beds in both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. Get on to it!

Peace, Estwing

No Dig (Part 2): Pocket Garden

This is a technique I developed a few years ago that is fast, inexpensive and attractive. The materials you need are: wet newspapers, a trowel, a bucket of compost, an empty bucket, seedlings, and a bale of hay/straw.
Step 1: Lay out newspaper on the lawn as explained in the previous post, and cut a capital H in the wet newspaper with the trowel.
Or a capital I if you prefer.
Step 2: Fold back the paper like opening French doors.
And dig out the sod and soil to the volume of a 1 litre/quart yogurt container. Carefully put the soil into the empty bucket so as not to allow weed seeds in the soil on top of the newspaper.

Step 3: Fill the 1 litre/quart hole with compost.
Step 4: Plant the seedling, water thoroughly, and fold back the newspaper.
Step 5: Mulch with hay or straw.
* Note that we don’t buy in hay or straw because we use tall grasses that we cut with a scythe and harvest with a rake. I have used wood chips as a mulch on one job, but that was only as a very low-budget approach in that particular case.
With a stack of newspapers and a few bales of hay/straw you could convert an entire lawn to garden in a weekend.

Peace, Estwing

No-Dig Garden Beds (Part 1)

I’m told that in the land of the long white cloud (Aotearoa/NZ) garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest. Fair enough. That’s more or less what we’ve done for the past two years. But last week I managed to land right on the 21st. It was a beautiful day and I spent a couple of hours building a new garden bed, taking pictures, planting garlic and missing an afternoon meeting that slipped my mind. Oops.

Even though it is the middle of winter here and the middle of summer in the northern hemisphere, it is still a fine time to put in a garden bed. On my farm in New Hampshire, I remained seeding fall greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard) through the second week in August. If you have a small garden and want to expand it, or you want to start a garden on your lawn, here are a few things I’ve learned over the last 12 years of building beds.
* Please note that we use a number of techniques to prepare the plot before putting in a new bed, but those are not required. It is quick and easy to go from lawn to garden in one afternoon. I’ll explain those prep techniques in another post.
Step 1: Decompress the soil. Assuming you’re converting lawn to garden, the soil will inevitably be compacted by years of foot traffic, mowing, etc. Use a strong (thick tines) garden fork and plunge it into the soil on an angle about like this.
Push down on the handle so that the soil is just “fluffed” a little bit as such.
Work backwards so you don’t compress an area you’ve already decompressed.
Step 2: Sheet mulch. We use newspapers (no glossy inserts), cardboard and scraps of unpainted and untreated plasterboard/drywall (Gib/Sheet Rock). It is handy to have wet newspapers, especially on windy days. You can put a stack of newspapers into a wheel barrow and run a hose over them, or…just leave them outside for a few weeks like we do.
Lay out the newspapers 3 to 6 sheets thick with generous overlap (50 to 100 mm) between each sheet. Don’t be stingy with these. In our present world old newspapers are abundant.
Here I am building the new bed adjacent to an existing bed. Edges tend to be high maintenance areas, so I design to minimize them.

Because we have some very aggressive grasses that tend to invade our beds, I “reinforce” the edge with a bit of plasterboard.
Step 3: Deciding on siding. Almost anything can be used as sides for a raised bed. You don’t even need sides at all. But many people prefer them. I like to use whatever is local, abundant and/or free. In the past I’ve used bricks, blocks, scrap wood, stone, and beams from a barn that was torn down. At present we are using a combination of concrete edging we got on Trade Me and concrete fence posts we got for free at the transfer station. I would recommend against using treated wood, but I’ve seen plenty of people do it.
Step 4: Fill ‘er up! Many people like to use a “lasagna method.” There are lots of recipes you can find by Googling. I prefer to use whatever is local, abundant and/or free. We make lots of our own compost that we use generously. But in this case we had some leftover topsoil that was just sitting in a pile conveniently next to where I decided to build this bed.
We also happened to have plenty of sheep manure that we bartered for French doors that we did not need.
I raked the soil and manure flat in the bed. Please note that I usually make beds no wider than 1.2 meters so that I can reach halfway into them from each side without ever stepping in the bed. This is crucial in low maintenance garden management. Never step in the beds!
But in this case where the bed is wider than 1.2 meters, I placed bricks as stepping stones for access to the middle of the bed.

Step 5: Plant. Depending on what techniques you use, you can direct seed or transplant into the bed straight away. Here I planted seed garlic just wider than a stirrup hoe, which is my main weed management tool.

Over time the grass under the bed will rot down into a “green manure.” The worms will happily munch away and stir it up, and the roots of your vegetable plants will thrive in the loose, fertile soils.
Other options: In the next post I’ll explain another technique that is even faster and cheaper.
Peace, and get planting, Estwing