Raised Beds in Organic Farming

 Raised fields: long term labour requirements are low; harvests are bountiful; production is sustainable; technology can be managed by families using available tools. C Erickson, UPA. 


Organic Agriculture 
Traditional agriculture is in a crisis worldwide. The Green Revolution is not ecologically sound, economically viable, socially responsible nor Biblically based. It makes farmers depend on, and economic slaves to, agribusiness, agrochemical and multinational corporations. The World Trade Organisation, USAID, government departments of agriculture and most government universities are pawns of these same corporations [funding and exports]. 12 common food crops were washed, peeled and cored and found to contain: 12 carcinogens, 17 neurotoxins, 11 endocrine disruptors. To learn the real dangers of agrochemicals [especially to children] go to: www.ourstolenfuture.comwww.ewg.org www.worldwildlife.org . There is a worldwide movement to: buy fresh, buy local, buy organic. All gardeners and farmers were organic until the use of chemicals in WW II [to kill people then, insects now]. No one has the moral right, and should not have the legal right, to poison our air, soil or water. “Organic gardening and farming is more than avoiding chemicals. The organic method requires a change of attitude and a different thought process.” [H Garrett, DMN, www.dirtdoctor.com ].

Raised Beds 
They have been used in Asia [Indonesia, China, Vietnam, PNG], Latin America [Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Belize] for centuries and in Europe [France] and USA [FL, MI, WI]. I saw a few while living in Guatemala. They were abandoned with the introduction of chemicals but there is a worldwide movement back to using them. 80,000 km² are being restored in Peru/Bolivia. The ‘Green Revolution’, which attempted to impose inappropriate crops and techniques in the Andes [and many other areas of the world-KH], has been a miserable failure. I. Garaycochea and J. Palao refer to the remains of twisted windmills, cracked irrigation canals and rusted out tractors littering the rural countryside in Bolivia as the ‘archaeology of development.’ It is ironic that the groups promoting the Green Revolution had to destroy ancient agriculture fields, to introduce inappropriate technology and capital-intensive farming agriculture. The prehispanic raised fields are classified on government maps ‘for wildlife use only.’ It is a good thing that those ancient farmers didn’t have access to those maps. Raised fields: long term labour requirements are low; harvests are bountiful; production is sustainable; technology can be managed by families using available tools.” C Erickson, UPA. They work. After about three years of experience, production can double or triple and the labour is reduced by half compared to traditional gardening. Organic farming will have the same yields, after three years of transition, but increases profits considerable due to reduced inputs.

People who have a limited amount of land and must produce as much food as possible, should use biointensive, double dug, permanent raised beds. What makes the bed rise is that double digging incorporates air into the soil and organic matter is added.

Raised beds:

  1. Increases water infiltration.
  2. Increases aeration.
  3. Raises soil temperature in spring.
  4. Loose soil for root penetration
  5. Can double yields.
  6. Ideal home for worms and microlife, etc.
  7. Increased drainage in wet soils.
  8. No soil compaction.
  9. Reduces cost..
  10. Saves 15% to 20% of seed, fertiliser, labour, etc.

Organic Matter
The secret to soil health and increased yields and profits is the organic matter in the soil. It can be increased by inter-cropping a food crop with a green manure crop; using some beds for green manure crops and others for food; planting cover crops during the winter; bringing organic matter from the outside: sawdust, food waste, manure, leaves, grass, etc.

Vegetable Garden 
It takes very little land, using double dug raised beds, to produce all the vegetables a family can eat. If land is available, fruits, grains, nuts, etc. can be produced.

Forage Garden 
Many families can produce meat using small animals such as rabbits, hens, chickens, quail, ducks, etc. Forages and grains can be raised. Use pens over the beds for grazing or use cut and carry.

No-Till Raised Beds 
If you prefer not to double dig or have more land than is practical to double dig, use organic, no-till, permanent raised beds. Use hand labour with hand tools and electric/gas powered tools.

In Honduras, farmers are farming up to ten acres, organically, using no-till, with hand tools only. Much of the corn in IA is grown no-till. One third of the farmers in Argentina no longer plow. The results come quickly: reduced cost, richer soils, higher yields, reduced inputs and increased income.

Farmers in Brazil, who are the most experienced no-till farmers in the world, are farming thousands of acres, practicing the following five principles.

  1. Maximize organic matter production. Not less than 5%.
  2. Keep the soil covered at all times. Use a crop residue, green manure, cover crops, mulch, etc.
  3. Use zero tillage. “The worst thing that can ever happen to a soil is the use of a rototiller.” USDA ag extension service agent. Ditto: moldboard plow, disk, lister, oneway, cultivator, etc. Tillage is destructive to soil.
  4. Maintain biological diversity. Use many different legume/non-legume, green-manure/cover crops.
  5. Feed plants through the mulch. Spread organic fertilisers, minerals, etc. on top of the mulch. Roland Bunch, COSECHA

Natural Farming 
A proven method of no-till farming is known as Natural Farming as perfected by M. Fukuoka in Japan. Others are using it in many countries. Yields are equal to or greater than conventional farming. Inputs are extremely low to almost zero. Seed balls are used for planting.

“Make your way carefully through these fields. Dragonflies and moths fly up. Honeybees buzz. Part the leaves and you will see insects, spiders, frogs, lizards and many other small animals bustling about in the cool shade. Moles and earthworms burrow beneath the surface. This is a balanced rice field ecosystem. Insect and plant communities maintain a stable relationship here. It is not uncommon for a plant disease to sweep through this area of Japan, leaving the crops in my fields unaffected.

Now look over at the neighbour’s field. The weeds have all been wiped out by herbicides and cultivation. The soil animals and insects have been exterminated by poison. The soil has been burned clean of organic matter and micro organisms by chemical fertilisers. These rice fields, which have been farmed continuously for 1500 years, have now been laid waste by the exploitive farming practices of a single generation. One Straw Revolution, M Fukuoka

Four Principles

  1. No Cultivation: For centuries farmers have assumed that the plow is essential for growing crops. However, non-cultivation is fundamental to natural farming. The earth cultivates itself naturally by means of the penetration of plant roots and the activity of micro-organisms, small animals and earthworms.
  2. No Chemical fertiliser: People interfere with nature, and try as they may, they cannot heal the resulting wounds.
  3. No Weeding by tillage or herbicides: Weeds play their part in building soil fertility and in balancing the biological community. Weeds should be controlled, not eliminated.
  4. No Dependence on Chemicals: From the time that weak plants developed as a result of such unnatural practices as plowing and fertilising, disease and insect imbalance became a great problem. Nature, left alone, is in perfect balance.

Mini-Farm 
Mark off the beds and follow the principles as above. Experiment with various crops and practices for your conditions.

Mini-Ranch 
Mark off the beds and follow the principles as above. Grow grains, annual forages/grasses and permanent grasses.

Raised Bed Agriculture, Gardens/Minifarms Network, minifarms@aol.com