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Permanent beds (was key line plow)
That is a quality equipment and cropping system you've
put together, Hugh.
You also bring to light minor details that may go un-noticed. The
boundary and edge effect -- sod strips for traction and animal fodder,
habitat for worms, edge effect between narrow strips of cropland
and vegetation -- brings in multiple aspects of ecology, energy
dynamics, biology, and permaculture.
My notes about tilling "edge to edge" was a simple statement
of fact for the equipment I have on hand, which I think is
a 44" tiller and a small Kubota tractor. The tiller extends
out behind the tires.
Where roto-tilling is the only equipment option, it is important
to use cover crops with deep and extensive rooting action --
such as rye -- as a cover crop in rotation to help alleviate the
intense soil disturbance from roto-tillers. Putting land into a
forage based rotation... in soil-building sod species like grasses
and forage legumes... is another way to offset tillage effect.
Two years out of seven in permanent cover is a good practice.
Organic mulches strategically applied following soil preparation
and planting operations can help re-establish fungal foodwebs
and provide food and shelter for both soil microbes and
Three farms I've visited using the permanent bed approach.
Eric Kindberg in Bass, AR, in the 1980s and early 90s. Used
the Keyline Chisel Plow on a multi-purpose toolbar, featuring
permanent ~3-foot wide raised beds with wheel tracks. These
wheel tracks were not planted to sod, but the fields were
intensively cover cropped.
NaturFarm in Lompoc, CA in 1980s and 90s. These were
80-inch wide permanent beds on the flat, slightly raised by
action of tractors tires only. This was a fully integrated Nature
Farming system that used a spading machine, EM bokashi style
compost, Activated-EM injected into irrigation water, with
vegetable blocks as alleyways of cropland interspersed
between broad strips of insectary habitat. In California
agriculture where complete field tillage is very common, these
permanent wide beds were certainly unique.
Ed and Ginger Kolgelschatz at Shinbone Valley Farm in Georgia.
Spading machine that fits inside wheel tracks, same as how
Hugh Lovel described. Major equipment investment that
includes purchase of new Kubota tractor to match Falc spader.
One of the most precise set of beds on intensive market
gardening scale (limited land, on slope) that I've seen. Pathways
are managed as hard packed soil. BD compost in ~6-8-foot
diameter hog-wire wire cages with straw as insulation
tucked around perimeter; worms thrown in after peak heating
as a co-composting method.
In fact, ATTRA has a print publication that features notes and
photos of the complete bed making, cover cropping, spading
system at Shinbone Valley Farm... also with a description of
bermudagrass control using a vertical edger to cut stolons
and a wheel hoe to cut rhizomes. (Available on request,
sent by surface mail to U.S. locations).
It would be nice to compile more of these farm profiles
with photos and notes; soon a manual of organic farming
Dripping Springs Farm in Huntsville, AR, combines
spading with mulching. They like wheat hay mulch.
This is wheat that is mowed and baled prior to maturity,
not wheat straw. They had been using permanent no-till
mulched beds for years at a time, mimicing Emilia Hazelip's
system. But a tractor and spading machine became so
appealing for efficient land preparation (and because weeds
invade long-term no-till beds) they are now preparing soil
with a spader, then coming back with thick mulches. They
typically mulch the beds first, then set out transplants through
the mulch... Chadwick style. Hay bales are purchased on
Potomac Vegetable Farm in Virginia grows rye for the
purpose of rye hay mulch. They keep a square baler on
hand to put up hundreds of bales of mulch needed for
tomatoes, pepper, and so forth. Soil is spader prepared,
followed by planting and mulching.
Allan, you've seen my farm and Steve I believe may have seen some slides of
it. I think it is a BIG mistake to use a five foot wide tiller or a tractor
that rips up the soil behind the tractor wheels. There are several reasons
why I farm in beds with permanent sod (walking and driving strips) in
For several years I used a subsoiler, a spring tooth harrow (chisel) with
the outer feet removed and a 40 inch tiller. That was lots of work changing
implements and making numerous passes over the beds. Then I got a 40 inch
wide spading machine that did the work of all three implements and did it
better. I'd buy another spader any day, but I'd keep it small enough to
spade only the bed between the tire tracks and never the sod strips.
For starters let's talk about ether or organizational energy, or if you
prefer, orgone accumulation. Bare soil gives off energy. A vegetative cover
draws it in. If you looked at nighttime in
frared you would see the freshly
tilled surfaces give off more energy than the sod strips. You simply lose
more energy if you cultivate everything. Plus organization arises at
boundaries. The boundaries created with a bed/path system are far, far
greater than a clean cultivated field with vegetation only at the outer
boundaries. Cultivating the beds works air into the soil and this stimulates
the grasses and clovers growing in the paths. Mowing the paths feeds the
beds and keeps earthworm populations high. In fact, if you clean cultivate
you tend to kill a lot more earthworms as they have nowhere to go to hide
and recuperate like they do when they can hide out in permanent tunnels in
the paths and you simply don't dig up as many of them in the first place.
In wet weather cultivation is MUCH easier. There is little compaction in the
paths the tractor rides down, and the beds, which are never driven on, are
NEVER compacted. Thus they
drain quite well. In 1989 we had at least a
shower on every day from the beginning of June to the end of August. In June
we got 24 inches, in July 18 inches and in August 22 inches. I would wait
until the afternoon after the previous day's shower and cultivate and plant
corn, beans, squash, etc. just before that afternoon's rain and I had the
most productive market garden up till that time. I kept my planting schedule
up despite all the rain and planted nearly every week, never had puddles in
my fields, etc.
On picking days out in the rain with rubber boots I walked on vegetative
paths and never came in with mud on my boots. It was difficult keeping up
with mowing the paths, but with a rear bagging mower and feeding the
clippings to the cow there was a good incentive to do an hour or so's mowing
every day. But basically I could market garden without mud no matter the
rain. And when things are dry the paths conserved moisture and kept
and garden cooler because a lot of the sunshine was absorbed and not
Then there is erosion. When I came to it my farm was ruined by erosion. I
had to fix all the deep gullies and shallow soils. And old, dying apple tree
was two feet higher than the surrounding slope and had the only decent
topsoil around it. I've had floods where the creek got out and swept across
my beds. I caught as much soil as I lost, which hadn't been the case with
previous floods which had cut the deep gullies originally. There's no doubt
that after years of beds and paths I've gained topsoil and the low spots
have filled in. After a 4 or 5 inch rain the creek water is turbulent, but
not muddy. Dust undoubtedly filters out of the sky but it no longer goes
down the creek. I've reversed erosion.
Beds and paths lowered my need for compost. I figured I had pound for pound
as much earthworm flesh on my farm as I had cow flesh, and the e
were far less trouble while the cow compost went a lot farther. I companion
cropped soybeans down the middles of my corn beds so the earthworms would
have a more balanced diet. Good heavens the vegetation was heavy and corn
became my best soil building crop! Of course picking and driving a wheel
barrow along the grassy strips was the most convenient things about it, but
I think the fertility issues and moisture management were the most
I've known three other market gardeners who farmed like this with beds and
paths. Both figured they had invented this method, and they had. They just
weren't the only ones. I originally copied my bed and path system from one
of them (John Gallerie, who was more like Bruce Blevins as he worked a good
sized garden with only hand tools) and adapted it to tractors and
implements. (I'm with Bruce on the idea of keeping a tractor out of the
garden, though for me that means keepi
ng it on the paths. Anyway I couldn't
keep up with 6 acres of hand cultivated beds.) All of us swear by it and
would never go back to clean cultivation. But few if any other farmers seem
to pick up on it. Of course, with many clean cultivation was good enough for
their pappy and their grandpappy so its good enough for them, by cracky! New
fangled idears are just a flash in the pan, here today gone tomorrow--or so
they think. Ah, well. I would never advise clean cultivation if there is any
alternative available. The advantages are too good. There's not much more I
can say. I show people and talk about the advantages and mostly it seems to
go in one ear and out the other. They have this picture of clean cultivated
fields and they go out and buy machinery and implements that bring on loss
of energy, fertility, erosion, compaction, mud, kill earthworms, etc. just
the same as if they had never seen my 40 wide spader and light tractor,
ickup truck (which also straddles the beds when hauling lime or
compost) and lawnmower friendly beds. So it goes.
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