Gardening Articles: Care :: Soil, Water, & Fertilizer
Planting Root Crops
by National Gardening Association Editors
With the planning and soil preparation taken care of, you're ready to decide whether to plant in raised beds or trenches, and whether to use wide or single rows.
Easy Raised Beds
The simplest raised beds are nothing more than well-worked garden soil raked into a mound. They're easy to make, even in the smallest garden, and they enhance vegetable growth.
Raised beds work because they make an ideal growing environment. Here's how:
The soil in a raised bed has room on the sides to give with little or no resistance as the roots grow, even if it's hard-packed or wet. Roots develop easily, which makes them healthy, well-formed and better tasting.
You can plant much earlier in the spring on raised beds because the soil warms up and dries out in the bed before it does in the rest of the garden. If you make some raised beds in the fall, you can plant on them very early the next spring. This way, you may be harvesting baby beets and carrots almost before your neighbors have planted a single seed.
If your garden stays waterlogged for a long time after each rain, raised beds solve that problem. On level beds, standing water cuts off the oxygen supply to the roots, and the weight of the water packs the soil so tightly it stifles root growth. On raised beds, water runs off and into the walkways in between. The soil in the bed dries out quicker, and the water seeps gradually back into the soil from the sides.
The added height makes the soil deep and loose, so you can grow longer carrots and parsnips than is possible on a level bed. In making raised beds, you place some of the valuable topsoil from the walkways onto them. This increases the total amount of topsoil on the seedbed.
Wide-row growing makes sense on raised beds to make the most efficient use of all that growing space. If you're going to do the work making them, you might as well make it worthwhile by getting as much food from them as you can.
Raised beds are convenient and attractive. Your crops are 10 to 12 inches closer to your hands, saving you some bending and kneeling. It's easier to keep children and pets from walking on the garden soil and packing it down or stepping on plants, because they can easily tell the walkways from the seedbeds.
Last, but not least, raised beds give your whole garden a neat, well-tended look that is very pleasing to the eye.
Raised beds are as easy as one-two-three! Once you have the soil well-tilled or spaded to a depth of six to eight inches, you can probably make a raised bed in less time than it takes to read this page. Here's how:
Determine the width and length of the bed and the walkways, using stakes for guidelines. The dimensions will depend on whether you plant in wide or narrow rows.
Use a hoe to pull the loosely tilled soil from the walkways up onto the bed until it's four to eight inches higher than the walkway.
Rake the top of the bed smooth, leveling the surface as you go. You're all set to plant.
You fertilize, plant, thin and harvest in the same ways on raised beds as on level ground. You can add fertilizer to the whole plot before you make the beds -- the fertilized soil will end up on the beds anyway. You can also mulch between the beds to prevent weeds and keep the soil moist.
There's no need to brace the sides of beds six to 10 inches high unless you have the materials handy. For taller beds, railroad ties or planks give a neater appearance.
Raised beds work in almost every kind of soil, in just about any part of the country and with all of your garden vegetables. They dry out faster than normal beds, however, so raised beds aren't recommended for very dry areas or sandy soils.
You don't have to turn your whole garden into raised beds, but try growing a few root crops on some this year and you'll be convinced -- raised beds make sense!