What information can you give me on permanent raised bed systems?

S.H.MarylandAnswer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on permanent raised bed systems.Permanent raised bed systems are designed to simultaneously maintain or improve crop yields while stabilizing or enhancing soil health. Information and research on these types of systems has been conducted throughout the world, especially in Australia. For example, the following link from southern Australia shows how permanent raised beds are created and managed: http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/dpi/vro/vrosite.nsf/pages/soil_mgmt_raised_beds. Most of the more localized resources that I am familiar with are coming out of Virginia Tech and Cornell. Dr. Ron Morse, Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech, has been involved in promoting and refining reduced-tillage systems, which he refers to as controlled-traffic permanent-zone systems. According to Dr. Morse, there are five major components that make up an ideal permanent raised bed system:1. Grow high-biomass (3 or more tons dry residues/acre) cover crops, at least once per year.2. Limit or reduce tillage events to three or less operations per year.3. Divide available crop land into convenient workable field plots (1/4 to ? acre/plot) and use highly diverse cover crop-cash crop rotations. 4. Establish controlled-traffic permanent zones throughout the field plots, creating alternating zones across the entire plot.5. Purchase and/or build cost-effective equipment to reduce labor costs and optimize yield and profits.Dr. Morse worked frequently with Mark Schonbeck, Organic Research Specialist with the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. Together, Dr. Morse and Schonbeck wrote several publications based on their research with permanent raised bed systems. Some of their publications focus on growing high-biomass cover crops as well as the use of various equipment and implements. They have written a publication titled “Reduced Tillage and Cover Cropping Systems for Organic Vegetable Production.” Cornell University is also involved in extensive research on permanent bed systems. Much of their work is available on their reduced tillage web site along with a listing of additional resources: http://www.hort.cornell.edu/reducedtillage/index.htm. Particularly, you may want to look in to a project that was completed in 2009 titled “Comparison of Different Permanent Bed Systems for Production of Organic Vegetables. This project was headed by Anu Rangarajan, Cornell Department of Horticulture, and was funded through SARE (www.sare.org). Here is a list of farms that utilizes (utilized) permanent raised bed systems (1): Potomac Vegetable Farm (www.potomacvegetablefarms.com) in Virginia grows rye for the purpose of rye hay mulch. They keep a square baler on hand to put up hundreds of bales of mulch needed for tomatoes, pepper, and so forth. Soil is spader prepared, followed by planting and mulching.Eric Kindberg in Bass, AR, in the 1980s and early 90s. Used the Keyline Chisel Plow on a multi-purpose toolbar, featuring permanent ~3-foot wide raised beds with wheel tracks. These wheel tracks were not planted to sod, but the fields were intensively cover cropped. NaturFarm in Lompoc, CA in 1980s and 90s. These were 80-inch wide permanent beds on the flat, slightly raised by action of tractors tires only. This was a fully integrated Nature Farming system that used a spading machine, EM bokashi style compost, Activated-EM injected into irrigation water, with vegetable blocks as alleyways of cropland interspersed between broad strips of insectary habitat. In California agriculture where complete field tillage is very common, these permanent wide beds were certainly unique. Ed and Ginger Kolgelschatz at Shinbone Valley Farm in Georgia, use a spading machine that fits inside wheel tracks. Pathways are managed as hard packed soil. Dripping Springs Farm in Huntsville, AR, combines spading with mulching. They like wheat hay mulch. This is wheat that is mowed and baled prior to maturity, not wheat straw. They had been using permanent no-till mulched beds for years at a time, mimicking Emilia Hazelip’s system. But a tractor and spading machine became so appealing for efficient land preparation (and because weeds invade long-term no-till beds) they are now preparing soil with a spader, then coming back with thick mulches. They typically mulch the beds first, and then set out transplants through the mulch.References1. Diver, Steve. 2003. Permanent Beds. Biodynamic Food and Farming discussion Group. Retrieved June 17, 2010. (http://lists.envirolink.org/mailman/listinfo/bdnow).