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Beds versus boxes, and lessons learned

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Beds versus boxes, and lessons learned

Post  ander217 on 6/2/2010, 8:16 am

We are now swinging toward summer with our garden experiment and I wanted to give a report on our "row versus bed versus box" garden.

The row garden growing in the very rich soil is doing great, but it also sustained the worst vole damage. We lost about a third of our potatoes to them. The onions look great and are making large bulbs. We have very little weeding to do in the rice hull/grass clipping-enhanced soil and the soil is so friable we have no need to till it.

The SFG box garden is giving mixed results. Cabbage, sunflowers, and tomatoes are looking great, onions, eggplants, and peppers are terrible, kohlrabis are being overshadowed by cabbage, and squash, pole beans, melons, baby pumpkins, basil, and cucumbers are okay. We can tell to the inch where we started a different batch of Mel's Mix in the boxes - the later batch didn't have as many different compost varieties and apparently they were all low in nutrients because we finally had to mix up a batch of fish emulsion and dose the plants with nitrogen because the plants were yellowing and becoming stunted. I think we also didn't water the boxes enough. We've learned they require much more water than the beds.

The beds, by far, are looking the best of all. We mixed in plenty of compost and manure before planting them in SFG style. I purchased a catnip plant and divided it among the beds and boxes. The plant in the beds has grown huge and lush while the ones in the boxes (with the second batch of mix) turned red and just sat there. After the fish emulsion feeding they are beginning to green up again. I planted a few English peas in the beds, and then made a second planting in the boxes (we lost half of those to the voles). The pea leaves in the beds are much greener and the plants are taller, (more nitrogen from the manure) but the surviving peas in the boxes with the first batch of mix look okay. They are just now beginning to bloom. I'll be interested to see how the harvest compares since peas don't need extra nitrogen.

I think the bottom line is, the boxes are fine if you get a good mix to begin with and give plenty of water. If you don't, your plants will definitely suffer for it. Since we already have good soil to begin with in much of the garden, developed over many years, beds are making more sense for us except in the area over a former gravel drive. Boxes are the only way to get things to grow there. There is a little weeding to do in the beds, but there is extra watering to do in the boxes and the mix is expensive, so I can't really recommend one way over the other in our situation.

Dear Husband has already decreed that once the potatoes and onions are harvested he is turning the row-side of the garden into more SFG beds, and will be topping them with six inches of rice hulls and grass clippings to overwinter. We also plan to make more boxes to go around the inside of the fence on the rocky side of the garden so we can incorporate a four-year rotation for our tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. But we will be very picky next time about the compost that goes into our mix, (I'm trying to make my own, but we'll need a lot), and we'll give more water to the boxes than the beds.
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Re: Beds versus boxes, and lessons learned

Post  PeggyC on 6/2/2010, 8:31 am

Very interesting! Thank you for your input! I like experiments!!
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Re: Beds versus boxes, and lessons learned

Post  milaneyjane on 6/2/2010, 10:56 am

Great post! When you say beds, what do you mean exactly. Any pictures. Also, what is rice hull? Keep us updated, this is really interesting.
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Beds versus boxes

Post  ander217 on 6/2/2010, 2:54 pm

What I refer to as beds are 4' x 10' sections of dirt we have sectioned off in the ground and surrounded with wooden 4" x 4" posts. (The untreated posts are used as spacers between pallets on river barges and are thrown away with the pallets after unloading. We know a young man who picks up the rejects at the barge company and sells them for $1 apiece, delivered.) We dug organic matter and compost into the soil, then made 12" grids in the dirt before planting them. We placed straw between the beds for walkways - not a good idea if you have voles. Mel's first book on SFG used this method, although we didn't mix the same soil formula that he advocated as we already had good garden soil in most of our garden area.

Boxes are the typical SFG boxes - we have one that is 4' x 4' x 1', and four that are 1' x 8' x 8". We stapled weed barrier on the bottoms and filled them with Mel's Mix. If you look at my photo you will see our 4 x 4' box, and you can see one of the beds just behind it.

Rice hulls are the protective outer covering of rice grains that are milled off before the rice is cleaned and polished. They are very light - think of a tiny corn shuck or husk the size of a rice grain. We live near a grain elevator which mills rice in the fall. They have tons of rice hulls that are left over after the process, and they just pile them up in a corner of a field where they break down over several years' time into very crumbly organic matter. The elevator manager is happy to give those hulls to any who want them, and they will send their loader down to load them onto pickup trucks free of charge, or if you want a small amount, they will fill garbage bags for you. When we wanted to extend the size of our garden two years ago my husband dumped three pickup loads of rice hulls right on top of bermuda grass, about ten inches deep. Then he saved grass clippings from a few lawn mowings and added on top, mixed it together, and he covered the whole thing with black plastic to kill the bermuda grass, and let it cook for a year. Last year we cut holes in the plastic and set out tomato and pepper plants. They were the best tomatoes we ever raised. This year we removed the plastic, pulled a hoe through the loose, powdery mix, and planted potato and onion sets. They are growing very well, with only a weed here and there. We plan to turn that area into beds after this growing season and add more rice hulls and grass clippings as needed to keep the soil friable enough to plant without tilling.

With a free source of rice hulls, the SFG beds are working better for us except in those areas of our garden that are over an old gravel roadbed. There we intend to keep using the SFG boxes.

If we hadn't already had our good soil established, or if we didn't have access to a large source of organic matter, I think the boxes would be the best way to go. As it is, a combination of both are working very well for us.

We are definitely leaving the row-style garden out next year. Although everything grew beautifully in it with little labor, it really is a waste of space. (Just as Mel said.)
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Re: Beds versus boxes, and lessons learned

Post  milaneyjane on 6/3/2010, 4:20 pm

Ok, I want to live next to the grain elevator!!! What an awesome free find!
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Re: Beds versus boxes, and lessons learned

Post  camprn on 6/3/2010, 7:58 pm

Great posts Ander thanks!
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