Planting on raised beds

by James Kamuye Kataru

Farming is a very exciting and fulfilling venture. Watching planted seeds break the ground, sprout into young crops, and grow into vibrant plants is awe inspiring. This creates a special attachment between a farmer and their crops – a bond that’s nurtured with love and tender care, then rewarded by a bumper harvest. Proper farming practices enhance the farmer-to-crop relationship with timely weeding, proper fertilizer application, pest and disease control measures which guarantee a healthy crop. 

Such are the feelings of Tumaini Youth group of Kiminini area, Transzoia County, whose 25 members were trained on Raised Planting Beds as a farming practice that can improve their yield. While following Kenyan government and World Health Organization rules and regulations on fighting Covid-19, group members were enthused after discovering that raised beds are not just heaps of soil like they’ve always known and done, but a beautiful combination of organic matter that’s covered by the soil, improving its texture, structure, moisture content and fertility.The youth also learned that raised planting beds increase plant population and yields. Raised beds also reduce soil compaction and improve soil quality, protecting plants during times of excess rainfall.

After watching the SAWBO videos on Survival Gardening: Raised Planting Beds, the following procedure was followed by the youth to prepare a demonstration plot from where they’ll carry the knowledge to their family farms.

Land preparation

After ploughing the farm clean and removing all weeds;

  • Use ropes and pegs to measure a 1-meter length planting bed and mark out half-a-meter wide walking path between the beds.
  • Use hoes/jembes to double dig the planting bed area to about 2 feet deep and loosen the soil as you heap it on one side.

Then comes the interesting part the youth group confessed they hadn’t seen their families practice.

  • Dig a center trench that is 50 cm wide and 20 cm deep.
  • In the trench, put banana leaves, maize stalks, or other green or dried farm residue.
  • Place 20 cm of vegetation in the trench and then water it. On most farms, use what remained of the previous harvest, including banana fiber, bean stalks, and other dry matter if you can’t access enough green vegetation.
  • Use a watering can to water the vegetation layer.
  • Add 5 cm of animal manure on top of the vegetation and sprinkle water again. Put as much dried animal manure as possible. But if you are using fresh manure, mix it with the vegetation.
  • Cover the center trench with soil heaped on the planting area. Pull extra soil from the sides of the planting bed, leaving a foot path on both sides of the planting bed which will elevate the bed 35-40 cm above the foot path.
  • The irregular tops of the planting beds can be smoothed using a rake, piece of wood, or hands to prepare a level raised bed surface for placement of drip irrigation lines.
  • A thin layer of dry manure from chicken, goats, rabbits and other farm animals is then added to the top of the planting beds prior to planting to increase fertility.`

At this point a farmer can transplant two rows of crop on each raised bed to optimize production. The beds can be hand-watered using water cans if drip irrigation is not available or used where farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture. After three years of planting, raised beds can be rejuvenated or moved half a meter to the left or right, converting the old foot path to your new compost trench.

Farmers Conclusion

Most farmers heard of techniques like creating trenches and filling them with dried or green matter, adding manure, sprinkling with water, before finally covering them with soil to raise planting beds for the first time.

They agreed that this is the best way to increase soil fertility, soil moisture content, organic matter and soil nutrient level which increase crop production. In essence, the SAWBO video revealed a lot of new practices using locally available materials farmers could easily get on their farms that would greatly increase the quality of their planting soil.

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