An Overview of Minibed Gardening
This is a single tomato plant in a high-culture minibed. The plant has no weed competition. It has lots of root space
and a reservoir of captured subsoil moisture all around. This is a manageable and satisfying way of gardening.
Minibed Gardening is a simple, comprehensive, integrated system for serious, organic-minded home gardeners who are looking for a more manageable, productive and satisfying gardening experience.
The Minibed Gardening system is synergistic—the system as a whole produces benefits that are greater than the simple sum of its parts. Here are 16 highlights of the Minibed Gardening system in it's current design...
78% of the Minibed Garden never needs weeding because it is covered with one large sheet of polyethylene plastic, which serves as a mulch.
With 78% of the Minibed Garden covered, there is 78% less evaporation of capillary subsoil moisture. This captured moisture serves as a reservoir to supply steady and sufficient water to Minibed plantings. The need for artificial watering is largely eliminated, particularly in regions with abundant subsoil moisture (which would be most of the U.S east of the Mississippi). Except in a severe drought, the soil under the plastic is always moist.
The covered surface of the garden (78%) prevents excessive rain infiltration. This translates to a moderation of extremes, such as the garden being too wet to work in after heavy rains. A Minibed garden is never too wet to walk in, and the Minibeds dry out quickly after a soaking rain saturates them. Also, worm holes are not plugged by hard rains. As a result, here is plenty or aeration in the covered soil And the soil under the plastic cover never crusts over.
When thick, UV-resistant polyethylene plastic is used as a mulch, the plastic can be left in place for a number of years. It is not taken up every year and thrown away. This equates to more responsible use of polyethylene as a mulch.
78% of the Minibed Garden benefits from the long-known but little-understood "cover-the-earth" soil fertility phenomenon. This was noted in the popular 1876 book, "Farming With Green Manures on Plumgrove Farm," and more recently discussed in Will Bonsall's "Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening."
A Minibed Garden does not require annual rototilling, or digging. It is a minimal-till system. Minibeds are periodically aerated by "soil-cracking" with a 4-prong digging fork. Surface cultivation is restricted to minimal surface cultivation with simple hand tools. Minimal tillage results in improved soil structure and better aeration of the soil.
Air in the soil is essential to healthy soil and productive plantings. While it would seem that covering the soil with a plastic mulch will exclude air from the soil, there is compelling evidence to suggest that just the opposite is true.
Minibed gardening utilizes organic mulches in the Minibeds and under the plastic around the perimeter of the Minibeds. "Undercover" mulching (which is not practical in other plastic-mulch applications) serves to moderate temperatures under the plastic and feed the soil biology well beyond the confines of each Minibed.
Regular cover crop rotations in the Minibeds are an important part of this gardening system. Cover crops are grown primarily for their below-ground root biomass. Living roots in the soil benefit the soil biology, and after a cover crop is removed, dead root mass in the soil feeds the soil organisms, Cover crops are NOT tilled under in the Minibed Gardening System. All top growth is cut off and used either to mulch around Minibed plantings, or as "undercover" mulch around the Minibeds.
Minibed gardening techniques are mindful and respectful of the microherd, which is the diverse web of life in the soil. A healthy and active microherd fosters the growth of healthy, disease-resistant, and productive plants. Minimal tillage, adequate moisture, cover cropping and organic mulching all contribute to the health of the microherd.
Fertility is maintained in Minibeds by providing an optimal environment for the microherd and by periodically feeding the soil biology with small amounts of affordable, high-quality organic amendments.
Minibeds are sized (typically at 30" x 30") for easy manageability and high culture. High culture means focused attention and optimum care in the beds. Each Minibed can be prepared for planting, then planted, and cared for in a matter of minutes. The work is pleasant and satisfying.
Minibeds are flat-earth beds, not wood-sided beds filled with soil. They do not have the disadvantages of soil-filled raised beds. The Minibed frames serve two important functions. First, they hold the plastic mulch from blowing up in a wind. Second, the frames can easily accommodate numerous garden "appliances," such as hooped cloches or insect screening (the covering can be tucked under the frames to secure it), trellis strings, cat-excluding wire mesh, etc.
Minibeds are sized and spaced in the garden so that they are surrounded by a sufficient mulched (and weed-free) area. The crop roots have adequate room to range, and adequate captured subsoil moisture to draw from.
Minibeds are relatively small (and manageable), but high culture in the Minibeds translates to satisfying yields. 18 pounds of carrots, and 23 pounds of onions from single Minibeds are examples of what high culture in small spaces can produce. This aspect of Minibed gardening is a focus of continuing experimentation. But there is no doubt that Minibeds can be surprisingly productive.
Maximum yield from Minibeds is achieved by "perpetual harvesting" techniques. That is to say, by diligent picking of fruits (i.e., cucumbers and summer squashes) before they become so large that the plant considers it's seed-producing mission accomplished, and starts to decline. Minibed harvests can be significantly prolonged this way, and it is much easier to keep the fruits picked from smaller beds.
If Minibed gardening sounds like something you'd like to know more about, CLICK HERE to learn about the 2019 Minibed Gardening Trilogy Report.