Making Raised Beds

bdodd444(Z7 No Virginia)April 7, 2005

I just wanted to share my recent experience making raised beds in case anyone is interested. I read in a flower growers book about using a two bottom plow to make raised beds. Last month I plowed two furrows in opposite direction into each other and made a rough raised bed. I let it sit for a month to kill the cover crop. I tried 3 techniques to finish them. Some I put black plastic mulch over. Others I disked, and the last one I tilled lightly with my rototiller.

The results: Even discing lightly knocked them down too much. The soil under the mulch lost all of the clumps and is full or worms, it is very nice. The tilled area came out very well, so now I have nice raised beds sitting up about two feet high, with a nice smooth surface I planted directly with onions and lettuce.

I just wanted to share my experience in case anyone is considering this. The raised beds are 250' long and I left 10 foot rows between them that I currently have in cereal rye. My plan is to intensively grow cover crops in the aisles and put the residue on my beds. We'll see.


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mark_brown(7 NC)

I wish I had enough land to do this. This is advocated by Elliot Coleman. After initial bed formation just keep adding mulch. The only thing that may be needed would be a deep sub soiling and a bed reshaping. It may be better to mulch and handle mulch than to till. Less weeds and better soil.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 6:03AM
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Could you let me know about how you used the "two bottom plow" and tell me what it is exactly? I feel silly sometimes for my obvious lack of knowledge but---the only silly question is one that isn't asked......

I was about to post a question about the best way to make raised beds when I saw your post. I don't own any machinery of my own and have a neighbor who plowed up some pasture for me and just went over the whole thing with the 5' wide tiller on the back of his tractor yesterday. We want to put compost on the whole area and then make into raised beds. Last year we made all of the beds by hand-rather my husband did it- by shoveling all of the tilled dirt out of the aisles and into the beds. This not only took a long time but it took a lot out of my husbands back. We are expanding the garden 3 fold this year and need to figure out a better way.

Can you give any ideas to me on what common tools I could use for this task? The only tools we own are hand tools and a small tiller. I wouldn't mind renting something for a day but there wasn't anything I could find at the rental center that would work for this.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 10:48AM
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In my relatively small garden the "two bottom plow" consists of me & a shovel - lol!!!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 12:36PM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

try looking at this. If the neighbor plowed the pasture did the plow look similar to this?


Here is a link that might be useful: plow

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 6:50PM
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Hi Mark, the plow he used doesn't have the flat area at the bottom of the plow blade. It is sharp and pointed. Other than that difference those pictures are similar to what he has.

Whenever I think of something I would like to do this job I keep picturing in my mind a tool that would work like a snow blower but move dirt instead. Something that wouldn't require a tractor and could be operated by one person. If only I was mechanically inclined I could make something...sigh...

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 10:00PM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

sounds like a chisel plow. Snow blower for dirt, that sounds like fun. Ok for real, one can plow and till and or disc then to shape the beds a grading blade could be used, but it will have to be heavy duty and or weighted down to engage the dirt. a small bull dozer would work well with the blade angled. the 2 bottom plow 'throws' dirt nicely. 200 chineese with rakes and shovels, you may do best by hiring out a excavator with the small bull dozeer. there are raised bed shapers that can be pulled behind the tractor, cost is about 2,000 dollars and needs a 50 hp tractor or better, they can lay black plastic mulch at the same time, you could buy one and hire out the tractor. If you search the web you can find lots of photos of these things, a good welding shop could build you sonething out of an old set of cultivatiors/discs and a 'tool bar'

good luck

the 2 bottom plow will be the easiest to buy or find locally and hire out, you may have to plow and disc and plow again or something like that to get the result you want.


Here is a link that might be useful: chisel plow

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 11:04PM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

look here

Here is a link that might be useful: shaper

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 11:19PM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

one more, this is a nice system

Here is a link that might be useful: williams tool system

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 11:32PM
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jayreynolds(zone 6/7)

I modified my 4 ft rototiller by adding two discs, one on either side, at the rear corners of the tiller. It partially creates furrows as I till, especially in sandy soil. Probably I need more weight to make it work better. Mainly, I create my beds using a rake after doing the tilling at four feet wide, by standing on opposite sides and raking the soil up, then leveling it off on top. I get a bed just wide enough to then run a troybilt horse 20" tiller on top to incorporate manures, compost, etc. The furrows down the sides of the bed are ideal for flood irrigation, which I find better than sprinkler, and I plant the paths with dutch white clover as a cover crop.

I run the beds on 8 ft centers, and can then run a tractor, pickup, or trailer straddling over the beds to apply mulch, compost, etc. which makes those jobs easier.

I once envisoned making the paths much wider(maybe 10-20 ft), as bdodd mentioned in his original post, and growing a cover crop in the space, then using a "crop chopper", which harvests cover crops, chops them, then shoots it out out through a ductwork directly onto the beds, thus mechanizing the process. Here is the machine:

I currently just don't have the space this would require, but when I farmed in the tropics, I grew a cover crop called "guinea grass"(tropical perennial-3ft), which I used this method on, but cut it with a commercial weed eater using a steel blade, then pitchforked the grass onto the beds.

This is a version of intercropping/alley cropping and could be especially useful on sloping land, where the cover crop protects against erosion and even wind, concentrates nutrients for the producing beds, and creates a source of onsite mulch material.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2005 at 9:43AM
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I think the plow he used is very similar to the first picture in the link below-- a moldboard plow. It digs deep and then flips the soil onto itself corkscrew fashion. I wonder if he could just not put it so far down and flip the dirt into beds with it. I worry about the tires compacting the soil as it drives around the beds, though.

I saw a tiny little skidsteer last year at the local Agexpo and thought how that would be great for a number of jobs around here but I just can't justify the expense. They don't have this mini one at the rental center yet...drat.

Mark, thank you for the links. That shaper looks like it would work great. When we get bigger and move the gardens to a larger field I think that would be a perfect tool.

Right now my aisles are 3 and 4' wide and I have the ones from last year layed with newspapers with straw on top. This year I am going to save myself some time and I bought a roll of "contractor paper" at lowes (thick brown paper- no chemicals like in rosin paper) and will roll that out and put straw on top. Once I feel that I have choked out the thisle with the paper/straw I hope to plant some sort of low growing green manure in the aisles that I could then cut and use in the beds.

Here is a link that might be useful: moldboard plow

    Bookmark   April 9, 2005 at 11:04AM
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