The benefits of organic gardening in raised beds are several. The soil warms earlier in the spring, allowing for earlier planting. Raised beds also have better drainage, especially if your normal soil is clay. You can plant more intensively, as you don’t need a path to walk between each row of plants. The beds are designed so you can reach the center of each bed from the edge. Our beds are 4 1/2 feet wide. Consequently, there is not as much space that needs weeding. When the plants are close to maturity, they will shade the ground, discouraging weeds.
In our garden, we have several raised beds, but then a larger area is tilled and planted on flat ground.
Flat ground will need to be tilled which can be done with a tiller. This is an investment, but it saves alot of time on a large area. A 20 x 20 area could be turned over with a garden fork and alot of ambition. Flat ground normally has more square feet that need to be weeded. If you plant beans, carrots, etc. in single rows, you can easily use a hoe to stay ahead of small weeds. If you get behind, and the weeds get large, you will be able to till down some of the paths, but close to the plants, you will have to hand weed.
In the flat section of our garden, I use alot of leaf mulch so there are very few weeds. I have done this for years and I love it. I generally grow the larger vegetable plants in the flat garden; tomatoes, squash, melons, potatoes, corn, etc. Peppers and green beans work nicely in either the flat garden or the raised beds. In the raised beds, I grow all the greens, radishes, onions, leeks, and usually the fall crop of green beans. I can grow alot more per square foot in the raised beds. Because I plant closer, all the weeding is done by hand. But since the beds are raised, it is not nearly as hard on the back. We have enclosed our raised beds with wood, so I can sit on the edge of the bed while I weed, or harvest, or plant. I still use the leaf mulch on the raised beds, so they do not get overrun with weeds very often. When a crop is finished, I use the garden fork to stir up the soil, get rid of the last few weeds and ready it for planting again.
In the flat garden, when an heirloom crop is finished, I till that particular area and either plant another crop, or some green manure crop. I never want to leave the ground bare.
Next, I’ll tell you how to build raised beds for your heirloom vegetables.