Posted 27 June 2011, by Tom Carey, Seminole Voice, seminolevoice.com
It’s already the middle of June and we have not received the first of our expected summer rains. On the tail of weeks of dry spring weather, dry sandy soils are turning to dust as temperatures increase. Irrigation and mulch are as much a part of gardening as plants and bugs, but let us delve even deeper into the framework of our garden space.
Raised growing beds entered into our garden vocabulary about the same time as ‘Square Foot Gardening” or “Permaculture”. Taking advantage of a few of these design techniques get the garden growing before planting the first seeds.
The news is full of stories about flooding Mid-Western farm fields. Farmers cannot plow their land to plant their seeds, not to mention the existing crops drowning in flat acreages under tides of saturating storm waters. But in our gardens, we can rise above these concerns by lifting the level of our growing spaces. A raised growing bed both provides drainage from too much rain and it also gives us a depth of soil for increased root growth. By using the paths around the garden space as a drainage swale, flood damage can be diverted.
To lift the terrain of my garden, the first step I use is to deeply rototill the soil, essentially adding air spaces between the strata, substantially increasing the volume of the topography. Using a rake, I pull the center of my 4’-foot wide growing beds toward the edge, creating a lip of soil between the perimeter paths and planting area. A second pass with the rake to pull soil from the paths to the growing bed affirms this gradient difference. The lip between the bed and path holds irrigation water in the growing spaces, but any extreme excess of rain can drain onto the swaled path.
Other methods for creating a raised growing environment involve framing the garden area with lumber or concrete blocks. Lumber choices include standard framing boards, which are termite fodder, cedar or plastic boards for an expensive investment, but not pressure treated wood. A combination of swaled or raised beds and plants in containers provides numerous planting options.
Just be aware that the sand underlying most of Florida’s soils can become compacted, acting as an impervious membrane that retains excess waters, drowning the deep seeking roots. Well worth the effort, double dig the depth of dirt inside a framed garden bed. To augment the soil level, fill the raised enclosure with prodigious quantities of compost and mulch. Ride the rising tides in raised beds for successful gardening!