TOPIC 4: Bed styles and planting techniques

TOPIC 4: Bed styles and planting techniques

In this topic you get more information about different bed styles and how they can support gardening with f.e. less precipitation.

Deeper planting: the more roots a plant develops the better it can take up water and nutrients. One technique is to plant them deeper. This works for example well with all plants that can grow roots from there stem, e.g. peppers and tomatoes

Direct seeding instead of planting potted plants is not an option for all plants and in all climates. Wherever possible plants that grow in the same place from the very beginning build a deeper root system, better take up water and nutrients and are better adapted to where they grow.

Intercropping means the planting of different plant species in one bed. Different species need different nutrients. It is useful to plant plants with deep and shallow root systems together. Deep rooting plants can tap nutrients from different layers of the soil, are more tolerant to drought and can also create shade for other plants. Different forms of plants – slim and tall ones together with more bushy ones – use the space on your bed better when planted together. Undersawing is especially used to cover the soil with living mulch.And then there is a whole science of how plants support each other, how certain plants like onions keep away pests like the carrot fly, how they exudate substances through their roots and communicate with each other. Intercropping can be a mixture of vegetable plants or herbs. It can also mean to plant flowers or other beneficial plants among your vegetables.

Green manure is the growing of plants during times we do not grow vegetables in our beds. Green manure plants cover the soil and protect from erosion. They take up nutrients that are mobilised during autumn and winter and protect from nutrient leaching. Their roots aerate the soil and can use nutrients from deeper layers. Once the green manure plants are cut and dug back into the soil they make those nutrients available for our vegetables. Some green manure plants – in cooperation with bacteria – even fix nitrogen from the air and make it available.

Raised beds help you to start earlier in the planting season as they warm up earlier in spring. At the same time they need a high amount of material for construction and need more water as they dry quicker than beds in the soil due to their exposure and their expanded surface. A special form of raised beds are mound beds which at least need less construction material and increase the planting surface. Through the right placing of plants you can cover their different needs of water and exposure to the sun.

Ridge cultivation establishes a special micro climate. Water can seep away in the valleys and moves up again in the centre of the ridges. As the surface of the ridges is constantly worked the porous surface reduces evaporation.

Crater beds are a bed form derived from permaculture. They are made of a conical pit surrounded by a ridge. Different plants are planted on the different levels inside the crater depending on how much water they need and whether more or less exposure to the sun is good for the plant. The crater bed collects the water inside, protects plants from wind and creates a warmer microclimate during cold times and cools through evaporation during hot times.

A special form of intercropping are forest gardens and other agroforestry systems. In forest gardens the garden becomes a more 3-dimensional system than in classical vegetable gardens. Fruit trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are planted together. The amount of trees and shrubs as well as the distance between them depends on the size of land as well as on the goals you have in your garden. Originally deriving from tropical regions, they have to be adapted to local conditions concerning the light available and the choice of plants. While forest gardens are more suitable for smaller areas, alley cropping – the planting of trees or shrubs and vegetables in alternating rows – can also be implemented in large fields. Diverse agroforestry systems help to bind CO2 in the trees, and also fix carbon in the soil. Trees break the wind and also foster infiltration of heavy rains as soil stays more moist and rainfall is slowed down. Prevention of soil erosion through wind and water is a positive effect too. As agroforestry systems are quite complex it is advisable to get further information and make a detailed plan.

Sources and further information

Bachmann, Christoph; Bührer, Eva; Forster, Kurt: Permakultur – Grundlagen und Praxisbeispiele für nachhaltiges Gärtnern, Haupt 2017, Bern

Gampe, Jonas: Letzter Ausweg:Permakultur, Löwenzahn 2021, Innsbruck

Schleep, Leon, Market Gardening & Agroforst, Löwenzahn 2022, Innsbruck

University of Weihenstephan: Garten-Klima: Gemüsebau: accessed in June 2023

NABU, ein Kraterbeet für den Klimagarten accessed in June 2023

NABU, Gärtnern in Zeiten des Klimawandels accessed in June 2023