BED BASICS

RAISED BEDS are generally used to prevent crop damage from unusually heavy rain.   Furrows allow surface water to drain off while the raised portion prevents water from standing in the crop area.  Surface or subsurface drainage should also be used.   Beds dry quicker and offer moisture and temperature control to improve plant establishment and growth.  The illustration below offers terminology and dimensions associated with beds.

BED HEIGHT is determined by the amount of protection needed.  The natural permeability and surface drainage of the soil are most important considerations.   Note that smaller fields are easier to drain and beds should run parallel with low areas in larger fields.

Since BED WIDTH is not critical to function, this is usually coordinated with existing equipment or planting systems.  Tractor tread width is the primary factor.  The number of ROWS PER BED is a second consideration.  In some cases, tractor tires can straddle two beds.

FURROW WIDTH offers contrasting benefits.  Narrower furrows maximize bed top width and offer guidance control to center mulch layers, planters, cultivators, etc. on the bed.   Wider furrows are easier to walk in and allow the use of wider mulch over the bed.

Plastic mulch can be used with beds, and in many cases it is preferable.  Drip irrigation (or other kinds) is also very adaptable to beds.  Since the sides of beds dry fastest, shallow-rooted crops planted near the side need mulch, irrigation or both to prevent excessive drying - particularly on full-season crops in late summer when rain is more likely to be inadequate.

Initial bed preparation can be done whenever the soil is in condition to till.   Most northern soils should be bedded in the fall for early-planted crops - these beds can be cultivated and reshaped in the spring with finishing bed shapers.  Beds for late-planted crops can be made in the spring after first preparing land with conventional equipment.  Consider that fall bedding can also reduce tillage time and/or field traffic in the spring.  Avoid working soil too wet in the spring if the soild tends to form clods.  The expense to attempt to reduce the potential yield loss from working the soil too wet may be considerable.

Nearly any crop can benefit from raised beds.

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