Fundamentals of Mechanized Raised-Bed Vegetable Farming
by Herman Beck-Chenoweth
Mechanized Raised Bed Farming is a great way to produce a large amount of food in a smaller foot print area. As many as four in-row rotations may be made each growing year. An example would be planting peas (a legume), harvesting then driving over other crops, dropping the rototiller and tilling the pea area for a new crop such as lettuce. After the lettuce is harvested the area is tilled once again and planted in green beans (a legume). At the end of green bean harvest the area is re-tilled once again and a frost hardy variety such as kale is planted. At the time kale is planted crimson clover is planted between the rows. It germinates but does not out-grow the kale and will provide spring growth to till in and improve fertility for new crops. Of course, this basic strategy and crops must be modified to fit your needs in your climate. Using composted chicken manure as fertilizer and mulch makes this a very profitable per-acre crop. Here are some basic details. If we get enough requests (reply to this article) I'll further expand the topic with additional photos.
1. Tractor mounted rototiller required, 65" - 75" width (wide enough to cover tractor tire marks
and make a completely tilled continuous field). Once the entire field is tilled we raise the tiller (or
remove it) and drive over the area leaving "raised beds". The tractor tire compaction creates walkways.
Be sure inside tread width is set the same front and rear. A tractor like Massey-Ferguson with the
power treadwidth adjustment is handy.
2. Clear area between tires (side to side) determines bed width. I like 48" beds.
3. This system enables the farmer to till crops out after reaching maturity and new crops to be
planted in the same place. In southern Ohio we get up to four rotations per growing season.
4. We rotate between legumes and non-legumes to maintain fertility. For example, we start with
peas, rotate to lettuce, then to royal burgundy beans, then close the season by growing oriental salad
5. Tiller must be able to be raised high enough to clear growing crops.
6. All long season crops (like tomatoes and peppers) or tall crops (like corn or okra) are grown
in blocks away from the rotationally planted crops. Tall crops will block your ability to do the in-row
7. We break new ground the year before by plowing and disking, then rototilling the field every
14 days to sprout and re-sprout weed seeds. This starts us with an easier work load the next year.
Saves a lot of nasty hoeing.
8. We spread composted poultry manure as early as possible and disc in. Our layer house manure
is composted by mixing in hardwood shavings 50-50 with hen manure. We mix it as we clean out the
hen house. One bucket load of manure, one bucket load of shavings. We fill our pto driven spreader,
then lightly hose down the mix. We drive to our composting area, park the spreader and turn on the
pto. When the pile reaches the rotor height we slowly drive forward to create a 4' high, 100' long
windrow. The spreader mixes the mass to the right consistency. We do not turn the pile, ever.
9. We map out the field and spread from 1"-3" of manure depending on the crops we intend to
plant. Heavy feeders like corn or cabbage get the heaviest coating. This gets us off to a quick start.
10. We use a Garden Way seeder to get straight rows and good germination.
11. Heavy mulch really retains the moisture and keeps cultivating chores to a minimum. We prefer
hardwood shavings (no weed seeds!), but sometimes produce a special pseudo "straw" by cutting grass
hay, letting it dry thoroughly (rain and dried out is o.k.) and raking 2-3 times to shake out the weed
seeds. Of course, straw is better than our "pseudo hay", but if you don't have shavings or straw, it
works next best. Do not mulch corn, cultivate it.
12. Since you can harvest with this method as late as early December in many climates begin seeding
your cover crop as soon as you are done with any given area. We use dutch crimson and white clovers. .
Photos © Herman Beck-Chenoweth
"Practical Research for Shrewd Farmers"
RESILIENCE RESEARCH FARM
Hartshorn Missouri 65479
Herman Beck-Chenoweth, Director
(573) 858-3244 www.ResilienceOnLine.org
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