Raised beds – four months on

‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons, ‘ the Gryphon remarked: ‘because they lessen from day to day.’

– Lewis Carroll

In April this year, we started our system of raised beds, planting one every month. We figured the first bed would be finished by the time we planted the fifth and last, so it would have a month to lie fallow. But it’s not quite working that way. We’re into the fifth month, and the first one is nowhere near finished. So we’ve decided to give it a month’s break. We have, however, learnt a few things.

Lesson 1: Lessen. You have to realise that no raised bed is large enough to satisfy your greedy gardening soul. We have been cutting down on the variety of vegetables each month, as well as the number of each, and we still have too many. Though that’s partly the fault of the tomatoes. Which brings us to

Lesson 2: Do not plant cherry tomatoes or other indeterminate (large and straggly) tomato varieties in the limited space you have. They will occupy the whole bed, propagate, and deprive all your other plants of sunshine and breathing space. That said, I’m thrilled to see anything growing so happily. To me, tomato weeds are a sign that we’ve arrived. So I just dig them up and move them to a not- raised bed. It’s like shooing a luxuriating dog or kitty off your bed. You feel a bit mean, but sometimes one just has to harden one’s heart.

Lesson 3: Some vegetables last several cycles, so don’t plant them every time. Our first month brinjal, for instance, is still bearing. Greens like palak and methi usually start flowering in about three months, then they are finished unless you want to save a few for seeds. But you won’t be doing this every month. One plant will provide enough seeds for several plantings.

Lesson 4: Throw weeds, yellowed leaves, etc into the next bed. I’ve read and heard that you should return everything to the soil, so no nutrients are lost; but in a small space, this just makes for a mess, and attracts pests. So carry over to the next bed; this one’s turn will come when it’s lying fallow.

Lesson 5: Spray once a week with garlic and chilli spray to keep away undesirable elements. This week, I am also going to add EMs to the spray (see my previous post), which is supposed to improve the soil health as well.

Lesson 6: This is roughly the number of plants a 18′ x 3′ bed can support:

6 potatoes, 4 bush beans, 3 brinjals, 3 lady’s fingers, 6-8 radishes, 3 (disciplined) tomatoes, 6-8 carrots, 6-8 beetroots, 6-8 onions, 8-10 garlics, a 2 x 1 rectangle of palak, and two 1 x 1 squares of methi and dhania. You can substitute the greens with other greens, and the root vegetables with other roots. You can squeeze in a cucumber plant and drape it over the edge of the bed so it only occupies root space. (And you can sneak in some nool kohl and turnips and kale when no one’s looking. And that has been my undoing.)

This is what a full, but not overfull, bed looks like:

Lesson 7: This system will easily feed a family of four non-fussy people. That is, you have to be willing to fill up on spinach when potatoes and beans are in short supply. You’ll likely have surplus greens and tomatoes to share with family and friends, but not much else. So far, I can’t see a way to produce enough from these beds to provide for a wider community, even the Navadarshanam CSA, which is our ultimate goal. For this we will have to gain more expertise, and double the number of beds. Slow and steady.

We do eat well, though. Dinner or lunch is often a one-pot khichadi with whatever vegetables we have – a delicious and satisfying meal and very little work. See rough recipe below with no fancy pics. We learnt this on our gloriuos backpacking days in Kumaon, from the cook- caretaker of the Dhakuri resthouse, on the Pindari trek. Pushkar Singh was his name, though we privately called him Elf Singh, for his shiny, seamed face, wide smile, pointy ears and eternal grey long johns. His homely comfort food and the strong helping hand of Amar Ram, our guide on the trek, literally saved Srini’s life. He probably had quite severe high altitude sickness, though we didn’t know it then. Elf Singh was on the verge of retirement then, and we haven’t kept in touch, but we think of both of them fondly all the time.

To make Pushkar Singh’s one pot khichadi:

Wash a cupful each of rice and mixed dals (tur, moong, urad, channa, horsegram, groundnuts, whatever you have available). Add 6-8 cups water (depending on whether you like it thick or soupy) and soak for an hour. Dump in a pressure cooker, along with 3-4 cups assorted, roughly chopped vegetables and leaves, large chunks of potato, tomatoes, garlic, onions and ginger, salt, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp garam masala, and a good slosh of unrefined oil – til, groundnut or mustard. Pressure cook for 10 mins. Serve hot and enjoy!

So, where was I? Oh yes, raised beds: there’s still a lot to learn. For instance, we haven’t tried succession planting, we don’t know if the orientation of the bed (E-W or N-S) makes a difference. But the journey is fascinating!


4 responses to “Raised beds – four months on

  1. I have recently found plans for a raised bed garden…and can hardly wait for next spring to make them and fill with lovely veg. Your garden looks wonderful!


  2. My husband has lots of things planted in wooden raised beds and flower pots. Turnips, tomatoes, peppers, and lavender thrive in raised beds. I love your brick wall beds!

    Liked by 1 person

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