Chinese Raised Gardens

Oriental raised gardens—an ancient growing method that has a lot in common with some of the Western world's "advanced" techniques—can give you a better harvest than row gardening with less labor.

| March/April 1981

Feeding China's one billion people isn't an easy task, and feeding them well (as participants on MOTHER EARTH NEWS' tour to that country last fall discovered is generally the case) seems little short of a miracle! And even though the nation's current administration deserves much of the credit for this feat, the farming techniques that have enabled land—which has been tilled for thousands of years—to remain productive are, themselves, just short of incredible.

Eighty percent of China's people, using methods developed over centuries, are now involved in the most intensive and efficient agricultural system in the world. Many of the vegetables that these farm workers—and their city cousins, too—consume come from private family plots of raised vegetable beds that are smaller than the space needed to house a Western farmer's tools!

With the exception of areas containing such "water crops" as rice and lotus (which require sunken beds), this intensive gardening technique is used on almost every spare inch of land. Entire fields of raised beds stretch to the horizon. There are tiny strips of cultivated earth beside factory walls, city dwellings, and highway right-of-ways. Some small gardens are even tucked in among the rock monoliths of Kunming's "Stone Forest" national monument. Such "postcard-size" plots play a large part in putting good fresh vegetables on family tables, and often produce enough surplus to earn the gardeners extra income at "free markets."

Backyard Beds

If you think that Chinese intensive gardening—which is designed to get the most benefit out of air, soil, and water with the least amount of work—sounds like an ideal method to use for backyard growing, you're right! Once created, raised beds are permanent. They never become waterlogged, never have to be plowed, will "warm up" earlier than soil tilled in the usual manner and thus allow you to get a head start on spring planting and—when one vegetable is harvested—can be worked and replanted without disturbing the surrounding crops.

Additionally, because you walk on the paths between the beds and never on the planting area itself, the earth doesn't get packed down. Roots won't be damaged and can grow easily, and the beds will stay aerated (which will help nitrogen-fixing bacteria create nutrients from air in the soil).

Raised-bed gardeners never have to worry about accidentally sitting on the plants behind them as they weed or harvest, and—because such folks will have to fertilize and water only the beds themselves, rather than the whole garden area—they'll use less of both of these essential ingredients and eliminate much of the mud that can follow garden chores into the house. As an added bonus, a raised-bed garden can be kept looking wonderfully neat and beautiful with a minimum of effort

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