The Deep Bed Method of Planting

Posted in Gardening.

There are about as many planting techniques as there are plants. Most organic growers have their favorite variations on ways of planting that they learned or picked up along the way. Which of the hundreds if not thousands of techniques should you use?

The deep bed method and the high wall method are two different names for the same way of planting, which is one of my favorites. The deep bed method was created in the 1930s and 1940s and was popular during World War II when people grew backyard gardens called Victory Gardens. Victory gardens were created by people who believed that urban gardens could contribute to the war effort by making up for food shortages and releasing food supplies for shipment to our troops -and they did.

A lady in England-her name escapes me at the moment-and actually took credit for the term and wrote a book on the subject, which was in my library for several years, but has managed to grow its own feet and walk off the shelves.

The deep bed method creates a bed for the plants that is about three and half feet wide, about 18 to 24 inches deep, and as long as you want to make it. You may have seen strawberries growing in high-tech looking beds. Backyard growers don't need to be nearly as scientific as commercial strawberry farmers, however, and I'll bet you won't be using the chemicals that industrial growers use either.

The high wall or deep bed method is a good technique for several reasons. One, you will never be walking directly on your planted beds, but walking in the rows instead. Why is that a plus? You never want to pack down the soil too tightly, as plants and their roots require oxygen. Two, the deep bed method allows for deep root growth, in part because of the way you will prepare your soil. Give me a minute and I'll get to that. Three, it allows for easy maintenance from each side of the row so you can tend to your plants' needs. You can get at them more easily for weeding, organic fertilizing and bug removal.

My personal belief-and this is only me, folks-is that the more room, the more care and the more love you give to your plants, the more you will get back in the form of abundant crops.

Preparing Deep Beds

Let's say you have an area that is about 20 feet by 20 feet. This area will give you about six and half rows that will be 20 feet long and about three and half feet wide.

You will need to wet the ground for three or four days allow water to stand for one, before you turn it, so that it becomes soft enough to work easily. Remove all weeds before you create each bed. Roto-till your soil or turn by hand with a shovel, pitch fork and spade. If you don't know what these tools are, you need to go to a nursery or fly out and see me. Turn your soil to a depth of about 18-24 inches. Turn the soil once to loosen it up and a second time after you add mulch and composted materials. This is vitally important: Add good, well-composted materials such as last year's horse manure and other organic fertilizers to the soils. Why? One, you need to feed Mother Earth; two, your plants are going to most likely need it for proper growth; and three, the soil may very likely be depleted and not contain enough vital life force. Plants require nitrogen, phosphorous, potash and calcium for optimum growth and for the flavor of edible crops.

Please review the section on Soil Composition, as it may be necessary to supplement your soil with additional materials such as sand, sulfur or lime. It's always a good idea to have a soil composition test done to determine what, exactly, your soil needs.

The best product to add to your soil that I have found on the market today is Bumper Crop. Blood, bone, hoof, horn and fish emulsion are also good to add, but you have to be careful not to add too much at one time or you can burn your plants with too hot a fertilizer. Too much too fast, as in most things, is not a good idea. When in doubt read the package instructions or talk with your nursery person. These components, along with your composted materials and lots of love, will give your plants everything they require. After you have added your mulch, compost and fertilizer, turn the soil one more time.

Once again, here is the sequence of steps for preparing your deep beds:

Water the area completely. Allow to stand for a day
Remove all weeds by hand or machine
Roto-till, Add soil amendments and till a second time
Digging out the Beds

Okay, let's dig out the beds. This is easily done by digging walkways or paths between what will become your planting beds. You are making deep beds by tossing the soil (from the walkways) onto the beds to build them up to a height of about 36 inches. No one is going to measure them, so relax. Please try to make this fun! And if by chance, it is not, find another hobby. As I have always said, "If it ain't fun, I ain't going." It's fairly easy to keep a straight line going just by drawing some string from end to end. Once you have dug out the walkways and the dirt is mounded, grab a rake and level the bed. In other words, the dirt stays where you just piled it! And there you have it, a nicely prepared deep bed, ready for planting.

Here's a little known trick: Dig your soil a little extra deep to start with and throw in some not-so-completely decomposed material from the compost bin. Why? Because by next year when turn the soil again, it will be right where you left it, decomposed and ready to go to work for you. Plus you will have more room in the compost bin to make additional compost for the following year.

Ready to Plant Some Seeds?

Great, here we go. I love this part, because we put seeds in the ground and whoo, they actually turn into things to eat. What a miracle and what could be more fun?

The seed packets tell how deep to plant the seeds, and how far apart. This varies a lot, depending on the kinds of seeds you are planting. So, folks, planting instructions for the seeds you buy are right there on the packets. Please read the instruction before using. Personally, I like close plantings, because I like to get as many crops from my planted area as I can.

If you seed directly into the soil (after all signs of frost have passed), you must keep your seeds moist for as many days as they take to sprout and beyond, so they don't dry out and die. How much water? Just enough to keep the poor little things moist but not soaked.

Alternatively, if you use plant starts from the nursery, they usually will not be organic. Just clean the soil away from the roots and start them in their new home ORGANICALY. Water once a day for a few days and then decrease, unless you live in a valley like mine, where it is so hot and so dry, that even well-established plants have to be watered daily during the summer.

One can add additional fertilizers to the soil to speed up growth cycle or increase the abundance of the harvest. Just be careful to take it slowly. Over fertilizing is sure to burn up your plants. If you want to experiment, do it outside of the garden plot-set up a few boxed plants to try new things with. I used to do this and experiment with combinations of chicken manure, pig droppings, fish guts and water. I grew a 300-pound pumpkin once. So what? It wasn't good for anything except the record books. You may have seen it in magazines back in the 1970s.

I hope this helps to answer your questions about getting started planting.

Jay North is an organic farming, gardening, landscaping consultant that specializes in edible landscaping and organic farm production, he is one of the countries leading experts and industry originators. Jay can be contacted through is web site

The proceeding article is an excerpt from Jay North’s book. Getting Started in Organic Gardening for Fun and Profit.

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