What is a raised bed?

A raised bed is exactly what it sounds like – a place for plants that is higher than the surrounding ground. There are a number of advantages to raised beds.

First, when plants are grown on a higher level, it is easier for the gardener to reach them. Raised beds reduce the need for bending, squatting, or kneeling.

Second, raised beds are established by building up instead of digging down. This is generally an easier way of replacing a section of lawn.

Third, by working up from ground level, raised beds build soil. Healthy soil helps plants grow quickly.

Fourth, ground-level beds are tempting to walk on, but raised beds aren’t. Resisting the urge to walk on a planting bed helps avoid soil compaction, which is bad for soil quality.

The easiest way to establish a raised bed is to place a frame in the desired location, and fill it with store-bought soil. Frames can be bought at a gardening store, or built at home from scrap wood. Be sure to use wood that is not treated with chemicals, as the chemicals can leach into the soil and harm plants.

The next post will look at a special type of raised bed that supercharges soil and reduces work throughout the gardening season.

What is a raised bed?

Where does food come from?

We all have to eat. Some people, however, believe that the production of food is unsightly, and should take place far away.

Perhaps this is part of why food in America travels an average of 1,500 miles from where it is produced to where it is eaten. It is also why a woman in Michigan was threatened with jail time for growing vegetables in her yard.

While centralized food production does allow for economies of scale, transportation is expensive, and fruits and vegetables lose a lot of their flavor and nutrition during the journey. By growing edible plants at home, we can enjoy better-quality food while paying less than we would at the supermarket.

Growing food at home also gives us an opportunity to limit how much pesticide is on our produce, to enjoy the health benefits associated with gardening, and to teach children about healthy eating.

It’s also popular in Madison – many people have fruit trees or vegetable gardens in their yards, or are raising chickens as a source of eggs. Those who’d like to help provide local food for others can apply to plant an Edible Landscape on city-owned land. And those who don’t have a yard of their own can obtain a community garden plot, though currently all 61 of Madison’s community gardens have waiting lists!

The next few posts on That Blog will look at different strategies for producing food in our own yards.

Where does food come from?

Where does rain come from?

Rain occurs when water vapor in the air condenses and falls back to earth.

But how does that water vapor get in the air in the first place? Half of it gets there by evaporating directly from bodies of water, like lakes and rivers.

The other half is put there by trees. This is because trees act like giant upside-down funnels. First, they absorb water from the soil with their roots. This water is then transported up through the tree to its leaves. From there, the water evaporates out of the leaves and into the air, as part of the process of photosynthesis.

This means that areas with lots of trees have more water vapor in the air than areas with few trees. When there’s more water vapor, rain is more likely to occur. Thus, trees affect precipitation patterns as well as temperatures.

Amazingly, this explains why rainforests are so rainy!

Where does rain come from?

Where does yard waste go?

In the past, yard waste went to landfills, just like other types of waste produced around the home. In 1993, Wisconsin passed a law making it illegal to dispose of yard waste in landfills.

Unlike some other types of household waste, yard waste is organic: that is, it is biodegradable. However, waste does not decompose in landfills. This is because in landfills, waste is packed in tightly, preventing air from circulating. Without air, the organisms that normally would break down the waste are unable to survive and do their jobs.

Some organisms can survive these conditions. Though these organisms are able to break down waste, they do so through a process that produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Sending organic waste to a place where it either does not decompose, or decomposes in a way that contributes to climate change, is not a good practice. In addition, before the 1993 law went into effect, up to 20% of the landfill-bound waste stream was organic yard waste. That just takes up a lot of space!

A better way to deal with yard waste is to let it decompose in a way that produces healthy soil, instead of greenhouse gases. Currently, Madison collects yard waste and takes it to be composted centrally. This collection process, however, comes with its own harms. First, yard waste awaiting collection sits on or near the street, where nutrients can leak out of it and pollute our lakes. Second, collection is done using large trucks, which burn fossil fuels and make a lot of noise.

The need for collection of yard waste can be reduced if homeowners compost their own waste in a corner of their yard. In addition, yard waste itself can be reduced by eliminating unnecessary cutting of plants.

Where does yard waste go?

What does pruning do to a tree?

Trees need their leaves in order to produce energy through photosynthesis. In order to produce energy most efficiently, they make intelligent decisions about where to place their leaves.

Sometimes, a person believes that a tree’s branch is in an unintelligent place, and responds by cutting the branch off, a practice generally known as pruning. This leads to three negative effects.

First, the tree loses some of its energy-producing capacity, which negatively affects its ability to support itself and remain healthy.

Second, a tree normally responds to the sudden loss of a branch that was productively photosynthesizing by growing a new branch in the same place. This allows the tree to continue taking advantage of the patch of sunlight it had found. However, the regrowth typically leads to a recurrence of whatever perceived problem led the person to cut off the branch in the first place. In addition, these secondary branches are always weaker than the original branch they are replacing. Thus, pruning tends to lead to a reappearance of the original problem, plus additional problems.

Finally, pruning – especially of large branches – leaves trees with open wounds that take a long time to heal. This makes the tree vulnerable to infection, creating even more opportunity for new problems that harm and weaken the tree.

Pruning rarely solves any problems with trees, and often causes additional problems. Training is a more effective way of dealing with branches in undesirable places – as is understanding that trees have spent millions of years learning how to grow, and our perception of what is an undesirable location for a branch may simply be misguided.

What does pruning do to a tree?