Growing Garlic On Raised Beds March 05, 2015 10:00
Using raised beds for growing vegetables has been around for thousands of years. People learned early on, that by building up the soil into mounds or beds, they could improve the growth of their crops. Today, this tradition of growing garlic and other foods on raised beds is being continued by farmers and gardeners all over the world. It is also being "relearned" by many growers that lost the knowledge of the benefits of raised bed farming or gardening.
About ten years ago when I started growing vegetables on a large scale, a good friend of mine (conveniently an agricultural engineer) suggested that I start growing all my crops on raised beds. He is a smart guy and his explanation seemed to make sense. He said it would warm up the soil earlier in spring, help with drainage issues, would improve the soil structure and would allow me to apply less manure or compost on my fields.
So I took his advice and starting growing my garlic and other vegetables on raised beds. The difference was actually quite amazing. My crops came up faster in spring, when it rained heavily I didn't worry about the plants drowning, weeding was easier because the soil was looser and the plants looked extremely healthy.
I also noticed that the biggest difference could be seen in my root crops like garlic, onions and carrots. This eventually allowed me to focus on growing mostly garlic, which would have been impossible without changing to raised beds.
Where did it go?
This was all great and I was happy that I made the change to raised bed farming, but I wondered why on earth had I never been taught this valuable method of growing. I called up my 80-year-old grandfather (who I took over the farm from) and asked him if he had ever seen anyone using raised beds or mounds for growing vegetables.
Surprisingly he said yes, of course. His parents and grandparents used to grow all their garden vegetables on long raised beds when he was growing up and that the vegetables all grew wonderfully. Naturally, I asked him why the heck everyone stopped using this technique to grow things (especially because of our clay soils). He said that as soon as they starting making gas rototillers, the raised beds kind of disappeared.
It was easier to plant the vegetables in long single rows with wide spacing so that you could rototill between the row. That meant that you need wide, flat garden areas where raised beds didn't work well. Obviously using the tiller made things a lot easier in terms of weeding, but getting rid of the raised beds ended up hurting the health of the garden over the long term.
My grandfather said that all that heavy rototilling (50 years+) ended up hurting the soil, making it worse and worse over time. The more you tilled, the harder the soil got, which meant you had to till more to loosen up the soil again (a bad cycle). This meant that the tilling became harder every year and the vegetables seemed to get continuously weaker - to the point where taking care of the garden became too much to maintain.
Today most people know that excessive tillage hurts the soil and its hard to find someone that hasn't at least heard of raised bed growing, never mind having tried it in one form or another. There are many books out there that are written solely on the topic of raised bed gardening and it's almost impossible to find a general gardening book that doesn't have a chapter dedicated to the technique.
Ironically, often something "new" is really just something "old" that was lost. I'm just thankful it didn't take me long to discover this remarkably helpful "new & old" method that helps our farm so much.