You can follow organic gardening practices with or without raised beds. The advantages of raised beds are well worth the extra effort, especially in wet and/or cool springs. The biggest advantages are that they are better drained, better aerated, and warm up more quickly in the spring. If you have a wet and/or cool spring, like we have this year, the raised beds are very nice. Once formed, they also make planting, weeding and harvesting just a little easier.
When you think “raised beds” you might think in terms of building frames and bringing in extra soil. That is one option, but you can easily have raised beds without sideboards, simply by using the soil you have on the site. Whether to bring in extra top soil is usually determined by the depth of the top soil you have in place. With topsoil that is 12-18 deep, you can build 12-15 inch raised beds easily without bringing in soil.
I advise building raised beds in the process of double-digging the garden. I have shown many times, how double-digging jump starts the soil to becoming biologically active and healthy. There is no room for details here, but see Jeavons, “How to Grow More Vegetables” for details on double-digging.
Steve Moore, at University of North Carolina, described another value of double-digging where he compared old-style practices and double-dug beds, where he was teaching in South Africa. In the test with spinach, a heat wave occurred soon after establishment. In the old-style (conventional) plots, 99 percent of the plants died. In the double-dug plots, 1 percent of the plants died. Plants respond accordingly to the environment that is provided.
The 15- inch raised beds shown above were established in September and seeded with a cover crop of Austrian winter peas and oats. In reality, you can double-dig and build raised beds anytime of the year. Be sure moisture content is adequate, but not too wet, if you try to do it in mid-summer.
The GROW BIOINTENSIVE® approach of John Jeavons, which includes double-digging, is not something new. It is used around the world. The Manor House Agriculture Center in Kenya has graduated 400 trainers over the past 25 years, and the practices are being used by millions around the world. This is a significant movement. The World Bank, UN-FAO, and others have recently stated that small-scale farming may hold the solution to the world hunger problem. It is also true, that our continued conventional path is damaging to the environment and not sustainable.
Each of us has the ability to be part of the solution to the world hunger challenges in the world today. We just need to start! If it is a question about how to get started with growing a few vegetables, I am always available to help.