Use raised beds to grow veg­eta­bles

Westside Eagle-Observer - - FARM AND HOME - LYNN ATKINS latkins@nwadg.com

The best way to grow veg­eta­bles in north­west Arkansas is to put in raised beds, mas­ter gar­dener Tony LiCausi said. Two years ago, he put in his own raised beds in a back­yard filled with flow­ers, rose bushes and ter­races.

The soil, he ex­plained, isn’t deep enough with­out the beds. The cheap­est way to build them is prob­a­bly to use 2 by 12s. Some peo­ple use 2 by 10s, but the ex­tra two inches gives the gar­den lip to help hold the soil in place. Beds can be made out of cin­derblocks, man­u­fac­tured stone, read stone or even hay bales. Don’t use wood that’s been chem­i­cally treated, like rail­road ties.

Even be­fore you build your beds, look at the ground to see what is al­ready grow­ing there, he ad­vised. If you have Ber­muda grass, you need to kill it be­fore you build your beds. Un­wanted Ber­muda can be tough to kill, he warned. It might take a year to pre­pare your yard for a gar­den bed, he said.

The beds can be four feet wide if you can work from both sides. They can be lined with gar­den­ing fab­ric or, if you’re fight­ing to keep out Ber­muda grass, line them with cor­ru­gated card­board. Some peo­ple use heavy black plas­tic to line their beds, but LiCausi prefers a fab­ric that will let wa­ter es­cape.

Next comes the soil. “You want a good sandy loam,” he said. Mix the loam half and half with com­post. Most peo­ple will prob­a­bly pur­chase both loam and com­post and will need at least a pick­up­truck load of each. Once his soil is in place, LiCausi cov­ers it with a quar­ter inch layer of corn­meal which is a nat­u­ral fungi­cide. Fi­nally, a quar­ter inch layer of vol­canic sand is added.

Win­ter is the time to build up soil, he said. He has his own com­post piles and adds com­post in the win­ter. Oth­ers might buy com­posted ma­nure. He also plants a cover crop, usu­ally some­thing like rye or oats, and works it into the soil in the spring. That adds ni­tro­gen to the soil, he said. He only tills lightly be­cause, if undis­turbed, macro-or­gan­isms like worms or grubs will aer­ate the soil bet­ter than a tiller.

The best way to wa­ter your veg­etable beds is drip ir­ri­ga­tion, LiCausi said, ex­plain­ing that it’s not as dif­fi­cult to set up a sys­tem as peo­ple be­lieve. Adding wa­ter at soil level means the leaves don’t get splashed and plants re­spond well.

LiCausi also has a fence around his gar­den. The fence keeps the deer out, but noth­ing will keep out a rac­coon, he said. He bat­tles the rac­coons by sprin­kling al­most ripe fruit with Cayenne pep­per.

LiCausi’s gar­den is or­ganic and he only adds spe­cific fer­til­iz­ers where they are needed. For ex­am­ple, he knows grow­ing onions re­quires ex­tra ni­tro­gen. He also uses an or­ganic fer­til­izer on toma­toes.

His plants are always mulched, usu­ally with straw. Mulch keeps weeds out and mois­ture in. Shred­ded leaves can be used, but they must be shred­ded. Whole leaves mat and hold wa­ter, form­ing a breed­ing ground for in­sects. Straw and shred­ded leaves will nat­u­rally de­com­pose.

Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista

A small green­house lets Tony LiCausi get a head­start on the sea­son for both his flow­ers and his veg­eta­bles.

Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista

Mas­ter gar­dener Tony LiCausi grows veg­eta­bles in his raised beds which over­look the Dog­wood Golf Course in Bella Vista.

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