Permament beds in the rain

Last Thursday’s 24-hour heavy rain (over 5″ for us) was a valuable test of our insistence on no-till, permanent bed growing even in the big field. Everything was truly soggy that day and the next, but we were still able to move around, harvest, and do what we needed to do. I talked to several folks at market who really couldn’t even get into their fields before market, or who made an unholy mess of mud trying.

Here’s what our field looked like during Friday morning’s harvest in a cold, steady rain:
The soil’s muddy, sure, but the permanent aisles left in grass mean that we can still walk and haul carts around without getting stuck. Spongy grass is much more forgiving than raw mud. Below, if you look closely, you can see a deep bootprint in an aisle between two narrow beds. Even where grass isn’t present in an aisle, keeping the bed and aisle locations permanent means that such footprints never compress the soil in a growing area, so it really doesn’t matter if we do make a mess walking in wet conditions. The soil on other side of that print will stay looser and healthier.
Finally, in the photo below you can see the benefit of any raised bed. These two former bean beds were sown in oats, and you can see the water collecting in the deeper aisle-channel between the beds. Without the raised structure and permanent grassy aisles, this water would be flowing across the field, likely eroding some soil, and certainly working to drown and/or damage whatever was planted there. The raised beds help keep the top of the root zone out of any water, allowing plants to survive even heavy rains.

So directly after 5″ of rain, while it was still raining the next morning, we were able to do our full market harvest with very little trouble from mud or soil conditions. I think that’s well worth the extra work it takes to maintain this system.

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