Why You Should Grow Garlic On Raised Beds
Using raised beds for growing vegetables has been around for thousands of years. People learned early on, that by building up the soil into mounds or beds, they could improve the growth of their crops.
Today, this tradition of growing garlic on raised beds is being continued by farmers and gardeners all over the world. It is also being "relearned" by many growers that lost the knowledge regarding the benefits of raised bed farming or gardening.
Making Raised Beds
Raised beds do not have to be complicated and can be made simply by moving soil from the foot paths onto the main growing area. This can be done using rakes, hoes or shovels to shape the soil into the beds. Once the soil has been moved into the bed areas, it can be flattened using a rake. For larger growers, there are bed shapers that can be pulled by a tractor to make the beds more easily.
It is best to plant garlic on beds 4 to 6 inches high, which, is enough to help the soil warm up quickly in spring and allows good drainage when conditions are wet. There are some gardeners who use beds as high as 36 inches that are built using materials such as wood for sides. These very high beds are only appropriate in regions that have mild winters because very cold temperatures can cause deep freezing of the soil and winter kill of the cloves.
A common range for raised beds are between 30" and 40", although, some growers use beds that are either smaller or larger. How wide a grower makes the beds will depend on a number of factors such as the equipment they use, how many rows will be planted on each bed and how far the grower is will to reach when doing tasks like weeding. Typically two rows of garlic planted 12" apart works well on a 30" bed and three rows of garlic planted 12" apart works well on a 40" bed.
A number of years ago when I first started growing vegetables on a large scale, a good friend of mine suggested that I start growing all my crops on raised beds.
He is a smart guy and his explanation seemed to make sense. He said it would warm up the soil earlier in spring, help with drainage issues, would improve the soil structure and would allow me to apply less manure or compost on my fields.
So I took his advice and starting growing my garlic and other vegetables on raised beds. The difference was actually quite amazing and I noticed the following things:
(1) My crops came up faster in spring
(2) When it rained heavily I didn't worry about the plants drowning
(3) Weeding was easier because the soil was looser
(4) The plants looked extremely vigorous and healthy.
I also noticed that the biggest difference could be seen in my root crops like garlic, onions and carrots. This eventually allowed me to focus on growing mostly garlic, which would have been impossible without changing to raised beds.
Where did it go?
This was all great and I was happy that I made the change to raised bed farming, but I wondered why on earth I had never been taught this valuable method of growing. I called up my 80-year-old grandfather and asked him if he had ever seen anyone using raised beds or mounds for growing vegetables.
Surprisingly he said yes, of course. His parents and grandparents used to grow all their garden vegetables on long raised beds when he was growing up and that the vegetables all grew wonderfully.
Naturally, I asked him why the heck everyone stopped using this technique to grow things (especially because of our clay soils). He said that as soon as they starting making gas rototillers, the raised beds kind of disappeared. It was easier to plant the vegetables in long single rows with wide spacing so that you could rototill between the row. That meant that you need wide, flat garden areas where raised beds didn't work well.
Obviously using the tiller made things a lot easier in terms of weeding, but getting rid of the raised beds ended up hurting the health of the garden over the long term.
My grandfather said that all that heavy rototilling (50 years+) ended up hurting the soil, making it worse and worse over time. The more you tilled, the harder the soil got, which meant you had to till more to loosen up the soil again (a bad cycle).
This meant that the tilling became harder every year and the vegetables seemed to continuously get weaker - to the point where taking care of the garden became too much to maintain.
Today most people know that excessive tillage hurts the soil and its hard to find someone that hasn't heard of using raised beds for growing garlic. Many growers have already been using them for many years and would gladly attest to their value.
There are also many books out there that are written solely on the topic of raised bed gardening and it's almost impossible to find a general gardening book that doesn't have a chapter dedicated to the technique.
Ironically, something "new" is often just something "old" that was rediscovered. I'm thankful it didn't take me long to "discover" this remarkably helpful method that grows garlic so well.
About the Author: John Cote and operates John Boy Farms with his family who have been farming the same land for over 140 years. As an agronomist and experienced farmer, he helps others learn how to grow garlic successfully. He has written many articles and is the author of The Master Guide to Growing Big Garlic.
If you have experience or some thoughts about planting garlic, Leave a Comment Below! We'd love to hear what you think!