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As with anything that hangs around long enough, there has become many different types of gardens for growing your food. Each type comes with its own set of benefits and a few cons. Deciding which type is right for you is up to you. No one system is perfect for everyone no matter what the creators say. I’ll outline the primary ones in the spotlight now.
The traditional in ground garden. This one is the one we are probably the most familiar with. Plots of ground tilled up into beautiful soft fluffy dirt every year and planted nicely, long evenly spaced rows. You fertilize in the fall and till everything in the spring, mulching after planting.
The advantage of a traditional garden is it is easy to till. Installing a fence to keep rabbits, chickens, and other animals out is much simpler. If you have a single row, walk behind plow or seeder, the traditional garden is much easier to use it in. You can also use bigger equipment, like a skid steer or small tractor to help in working the soil and fertilizing, as opposed to hand tools.
The downside of a traditional garden is it can take up a lot of space. Even with heavy mulching, there is quit a bit of weeding that must happen throughout the year, especially as the small seedlings work to establish themselves.
Back to Eden utilizes raised beds and a no till strategy. The basic concept is to disturb the soil as little as possible, using layers and digging only what is needed to plant. The layers start with a base blocker, such as newspaper or cardboard. Then the sponge layer, consisting of decomposing leaves, sticks, and such. This is basically to help hold water without drenching the soil. The third layer is the soil. I use some stockpiled soil and half composted manure. The final layer is the mulch, about 4-6 inches deep. Every fall, you fill the beds back up with compost, right on top the old mulch, then add mulch again.
The advantage of this is there is very little weeding all year long. Tilling/working the soil is nonexistent. Planting is easy, you move the mulch a bit and dig a small hole for the plant. The soil doesn’t really compact as you don’t walk on the raised bed soil, so it stays nice and soft.
The disadvantage is for this system to work, you need to be able to mulch it deep every fall and have access to compost to refill the beds as they settle. It is also quit a bit more difficult to keep critters out of the raised beds. Beds also need to be about 12 inches deep to accommodate the layers.
Square foot gardening is another popular strategy now. Like the back to Eden in the raised beds, but the square foot gardening does not have mulch typically. The concept of the square foot gardening is to plant in rich soil, with dense populations, continually throughout the growing season. There is an entire book to this method you can buy on amazon, called The Square Foot Gardening Method.
The advantage to this system is you can grow a lot of food in a very small amount of space. Weeding is very limited as the planted chokes the weeds out before they get ahold. There is no tilling or mulching.
The disadvantage is you must have the exact soil mix for it to work properly. You also must remove the grids every year to refill the beds with seed free compost. This is also harder to keep critters out of.
So, what do I use in my gardens? A mixture of all three! I like the traditional garden for my long rows of beans, carrots, peas, broccoli and such. However, I take the dense planting method from square foot gardening and plant close together. I also mulch deep like in the back to Eden method. I do still till the traditional garden.
I also have expanded using raised beds around the yard and main garden. In this past year I used primarily the Back to Eden method for their creation and planting. This year with the new beds, I’m filling them with the Back to Eden method, but planting more in a square foot gardening strategy. I filled with compost but did not mulch this fall due to my free ranging chickens would have just moved the mulch and dug in the beds. Come spring I will mulch, plant and cage each bed to keep the chickens out.