Hard times coming......Raised garden beds?

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by r.h. in okla., Nov 25, 2003.

  1. Okay just in case hard times is coming our way, growing our own food would seem like the best way to feed ourselves. But if we don't have any money to buy gasoline (if there will still be any gas to buy) to use our tillers and we don't have draft horses, should we use raised bed gardening techniques? Should we build raised beds using railroad ties approximately 2'w X 2'high X ?'long. Would these be much easier to till up by hand tools and better able to keep weed free? Your advice is much appreciated. Thankyou.
  2. Sedition

    Sedition Well-Known Member

    May 30, 2003
    You need a hand-plow (sometimes called wheel-plow).


    Raised beds are a great way to grow crops. I incorporate “deep beds” directly into my garden by double-digging with a spade and mounding the dirt between beds up. John Seymour in “The Self-Sufficient Gardener” went into this method in-depth, and it avoids the cost of permanent raised beds. It is more work intensive though.

    Only problem with railroad ties (besides cost) is that they’ve been treated with petroleum to prevent rot. You’ll be growing your veggies in a superfund site. Wet some dirt that has been sitting near a railroad tie, and squeeze the water out into a clear cup. The surface will have that shiny oil-slick like you see at the gas station – yummy!

    If your back isn’t as strong as mine, a hand-plow is the next best bet. You can push these yourself, or do like an Amish family over near Corydon I saw once. They’d harnessed one of these plows to a whether. He seemed pretty content with it, except when they tried to line him up for another pass. Then he snorted some, but didn’t act ancy. Also the biggest dang whether I’d ever seen. They said he was seven years old.

  3. Alice In TX/MO

    Alice In TX/MO More dharma, less drama. Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    Texas Coastal Bend/S. Missouri
    With "Lasagne Gardening" you need no plow at all.

    Layer from the surface of the ground UP. Start with a thick layer of newspapers, then layers of compost, manure, leaves, old hay, whatever you have. You can go as high as you want, keeping in mind that it will settle some.

    If you want a border, you can use hay bales.

    I would go one bale high, three bales long, two bales wide.

    Barring war on our territory, I don't believe in that "hard times coming" stuff.
  4. Ray_Scheel

    Ray_Scheel Well-Known Member

    Feb 24, 2003
    Dittoing the ixnay on the RR ties and the lassagna gardening style of no-till. No need to plow what you don't compact with foot and equipment traffic, and you avoid dumping amendments into diry where there are no plant feeder roots.

    I use a congolmeration of intensive gardening ideas, the plant spacings and trellising strategies of Square foot Gardening (book by Mel bartholemew) and am leaning more towards the sort of lasagna-style bed preparation presented by Lee Reich in Weedless Gardening - he doesn't even border his beds officially, just piles up organic matter on teh cardboard in the shape he wants the bed, and mulches around that to keep weeds away from the good stuff.
  5. FrankTheTank

    FrankTheTank Well-Known Member

    Aug 26, 2003
    You could also asked the wonderful people of @ forums.gardenweb.com They seem to have all those pesky gardening details for the doomsday survivalist...jk...couldn't you use bricks or cement blocks??? The guy that lives behind me has raised gardens using cinder blocks painted white--must be atleast 4.5 feet off the ground...i wish i could post pics...
  6. Elizabeth

    Elizabeth Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jun 4, 2002
    West Central Minnesota
    Or you could put your chickens to work for you as little mini-tillers. I build 4'x8' garden beds and 4'x8' chicken tractors. Wherever I want a new bed I first place a chicken tractor for a few weeks/months. I use a deep litter system in these tractors rather than moving them daily. I simply add whatever organic material I have on hand (grass clippings, leaves, stable bedding, food scraps, etc) every couple of days and let the chickens have at it. When the litter has built up to 10-12" deep I move the tractor to a new spot and build a frame around the tilled area. When I want to plant I just make a hole in the litter, toss in a scoop of potting soil, dirt, finished compost, or whatever and plant right in that. I have virtually no weeds, use little or no fertilizer, the mulch holds water like crazy, and I get bumper crops of whatever I plant. It isn't necessary to build frames, either, but I like to do so and have free lumber- if I had to buy the lumber I probably would not bother with the frames.
  7. diane greene

    diane greene Well-Known Member

    May 12, 2002
    Yes, you will poison your soil and food if you use railroad ties - which will make your "hardtimes" a real bummer.

    As a resident of the Catskill Mountains, where the number one crop is rocks - I
    use this plentiful and free resource to hold up my raised vegetable beds. Works great.
    I am a gardener by trade and have never needed a tiller. I tell people I use a raised bed system, although the beds do not have to look raised. Just keep piling on the chopped leaves and organic matter and within a short time you will have a great growing medium. Think of forests - all they eat are decaying leaves and wood.
  8. kathy H

    kathy H kathyh

    Dec 9, 2002
    The easyest way is to use cider blocks[ or cut logs if money is tight] to make beds then pile layers of organic matter over it and plant. In the fall plant cover crops [ vetch, annual rye ] and then just turn it over lightly in spring[ the deep roots do the tilling]. or just pile leaves on bed in winter and just pull back leaves and plant in spring. After building your soil for a couple years you dont even need to till as long as you keep it covered with something in winter so soil dosnt get compacted.
  9. MaKettle

    MaKettle Well-Known Member

    Oct 1, 2003
    The part of Ok I am familiar with is hot and dry. Raised beds heat up earlier and are a good idea if the soil does not drain well. They usually need more water than than "normal" garden beds. You may need to think more aboout water conservation techniques. For that, the lasagna garden is good. You can outline the bed with wood or whatever is handy if desired to help keep the much in place and remind people not to walk in it, or just keep piling mulch on and keep the bed outline in your head.
  10. Okay, ditto on the railroad ties and if we are in hard times ditto on the square bales. Cinder blocks sounds like a good ideal and would probably last indefinite or at least till my life is over with. The hand plow sounds like a good ideal as long as I keep adding lots of mulch and fertilizer, shouldn't have to turn the soil to deep. I believe this is what I will start working forward too and use it even if hard times don't come. My troybuilt is just about worn out and right now I don't have the money to replace it with another troybuilt. So it might be a good ideal to spend what money I have on cinder blocks and hand plow instead of a new tiller. Thanks everyone!
  11. Shrek

    Shrek Singletree Moderator Staff Member Supporter

    Apr 30, 2002
    North Alabama
    20 four by 16 foot SFG beds, 4 tomato rings and 40 pounds of worms to autotill supported my produce sales and put 20 gallons of vegetable mix up for me this last season. I never worked more than 40 hours a week on it. I now have them all covered with leaves as mulch cover and have the worms making poop to mix with yard dirt and layer over the mulch cover in spring. I sold all my tillers and riding mowers last year because I hadnt used them for 3 years. I water with drip irrigation and use a radio flyer wagon to transport the produce to my porch stand.
  12. Georgiaberry

    Georgiaberry Member

    Oct 22, 2003
    SW Arkansas
    We have had problems with cinder blocks around raised beds - fire ants really like to make nests in the holes. Even if they are not filled with dirt - they just fill the holes up all by themselves!

    Now some of you may live in areas that are free of fire ants and if you do, count your blessings!

    Our beds are about 4' wide and about 60' long and maybe a foot high, depending on what we find to build them up. We are landscapers so we have alot of scavenged materials from job sites - old concrete edging, leftover retaining wall blocks, bricks, landscape timbers, whatever will hold up dirt. The beds don't get walked on and we haven't tilled since we put them in - maybe three seasons ago? They are full of worms!

    In the few areas where I still have cinder blocks, some green onions snuck into some of the holes and now are really growing well in there . . .

    re hard times - my garden makes me feel very secure. I don't see the end of civilization any time soon, but winter before last our area got hit by an ice storm that knocked out power for several hundred square miles. Ours was out for 13 days. No gasoline to be had for 60 miles one direction and 45 miles in another. I have never been so thankful for my well and woodstove - and nursing my 6 month old baby. People with central heat, electric cookstoves and city water were freezing and starving and living like animals. And not as good as my animals either! No baby formula or diapers for 20 miles. By the end of that ordeal, I didn't care if the power ever came back on! We were snug, plenty to eat, drew water from the well.

    It is the ability to adapt that we get from our lifestyle. Power on, great. No grocery store, still great. Many think our choices make our life harder. To us, they create a feeling of luxury.
  13. Mike in Pa

    Mike in Pa Well-Known Member

    May 29, 2002
    I think if thingd get so bad that you can't afford gas for a tiller then you'll have a lot worse problems to worry about. Unless you have land so rocky it's not manageable, break the sod a little at a time until you have the size garden you want ... don't need a raised bed... can even start now.
  14. Mike in Ohio

    Mike in Ohio Well-Known Member

    Oct 29, 2002
    If you are in a cold weather area, using pvc pipe over your raised beds to support plastic sheeting works wonders. this year we got suprised by an early frost in september but last year we were still picking tomatoes in NE Ohio at this time. It really does extend the growing season.

  15. Mike in PA, planting directly on the ground is what I have done for years and even using a tiller I still can't keep up with the weeds and I'm going to get too old to keep breaking my back over them. I'm going to make the beds high enough that I can set down on the sides and reach in to pull weeds out and till easily with hand tools. Also in my area we have lots of clay soil. Comes a hard rain and it packs it like cement. If you walk on it it packs like cement. If it don't rain or you don't walk on it, well guess what, it still packs like cement! Building raised beds using cement blocks may seem like a lot of work at first but I think in the long run it maybe the best choice. Except I may still plant my big crops such as corn in large plotts but as for green beans, tomatoes, peppers, etc. they are going into raised beds.
  16. scott

    scott Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2002
    southern ohio
    left over produce .... bad stuff (corn etc.) could be fermented, distilled put in your properly carburated tiller.... wouldn't worry about the federalis knocking at or in your door as they will be a little busy dealing with more pressing issues ....
  17. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

    Dec 9, 2003
    If you have railroad ties, use them!
    Just place a layer of 4mil black plastic between the soil and the ties. This is a good idea with any kind of wood because it will make the wood last longer. I built my boxes 15 years ago of redwood from a deck. Within 2 years, the wood was already being attacked by soil organisms. I raised the boxes to get the wood out of the ground and put the plastic between the box and dirt. I folded the plastic fabric over a 4" roll of plastic lawn edging and screwed the edging to the wood. Now, 11 years later the boxes are still sturdy and look great.
    Don't expect the ties to last this long though.

    The soil will compact on its own if you dont turn it annually. I use a shovel with a long and narrow blade. It takes about 20 minutes to turn a 4'x20' box. If I skip a year, I can't turn it without getting into the box. It still takes only about 20 minutes.

    I think 4' is a little too wide. I can't comfortably reach across and have to work both sides. Stuff in the middle is hard to find when everything has grown. (I do a lot of interplanting)

    My next set of boxes will be a little higher for the reasons you site. I like sitting on the edge as I garden. The narrow 2x material is hard on my boney butt, so my next boxes may be made of cinder block, or ferrocement. I could put a lip on the existing boxes, but my aisles are already minimal and I dont want to lose box area.

    good luck
  18. Thanks gobug, You've given me some more ideals to ponder about. I'm definitly going to make raised boxes of some sort. This fat boy can't hardly bend over anymore. Especially since I've already had back surgery about 13 years ago.
  19. 1farmgirl

    1farmgirl Well-Known Member

    Oct 7, 2002
    This is something I 'discovered' by accident ;) I enclosed my garden with those wire panels 54" by 16' and have began using the square foot method for the most part. I have a pig that I am raising to butcher and he kept getting out of all the other pens to be with my goats. I put him in my garden--this garden had crabgrass like you wouldn't believe in the section I hadn't gotten to yet- and he has made quick work of it. Done a major tilling job. :) I will have to go back over my other beds, but at least I don't have to pull that crabgrass. I also use rice hulls (used in poultry houses for bedding). I can get it around here for 2.50 a pickup load. This is the stuff that has gotten wet and they can't put it in the houses though. It is very light and easy to work with. I used it as mulch and I only had to water my garden one or two times last year. My neighbor watered constantly. On the square foot method, I use scrap metal plates that my husband gets from work and he welds them into the desired size to fit my garden (usually 4' x 8'). It is bordered on two sides with the wire panels and 2 foot wide beds (the other two sides are wire panels and goat pen. You cannot grow anything there for long :D ). This is great to grow tomatoes, beans, cukes, etc. on-1 per foot. Very space saving and makes a beautiful living fence in the summer. I had people walk or drive by and just eyeball my tomatoes! (And yes I did share!)

  20. Zack

    Zack Well-Known Member

    Jun 14, 2003
    Tx / Ms zone 8A
    do you have to add worms every season? is that 40#s per bed or all 20.
    40# sounds like a lot of worms? :eek:
    What is a tomato ring?