Many will claim that the most efficient way to grow a wide variety of crops is the French Intensive Raised Bed method, above all the French! Originally it was developed for the narrow back yard gardens in Paris, France in the early 1900’s, where working class people had little time and space. FIG is a very detail oriented method, wherein much more time is spent gardening than conventional methods, but the fruits of one’s labor; increased productivity and aesthetically beautiful arrangements, are very much satisfying to the patient gardener.
Creating the Raised Beds
Raised beds form the basis of this method. Preparation of the bed is naturally the most time consuming and labor intensive task. Raised beds typically 5 feet wide and 12 or more feet long with about 3 feet between beds are a characteristic of FIG. The bed has to be narrow enough for one to reach over to the center from either side, without of course stepping onto the bed! Plan and mark such beds out in your garden keeping in mind space in between for walking, wheelbarrows, irrigation etc.
The actual work begins now when you start digging up the ground. Double digging to create the raised beds is another feature of FIG method. It helps increase soil drainage and aeration. Double digging is basically shoveling off the top layer with a spade to form a trench in your marked bed layout and then digging the under layer with a fork. Moreover, a layer of fertilizer (horse manure) is added to the top-soil before digging to at least 12 inches deep, setting aside the dug soil for later use. Once you remove the top-soil, remove another 12 inches off the lower-soil and keep the dug soil aside. The excavated soil can be mixed with compost or other types of rich soil (in case your soil isn’t too good) and filled back into the same trench or another trench. Add compost to the bottom of the trench followed by a layer of dug soil and repeat till there are even layers of soil and compost (typically 3 with soil the top-most layer). Voila! You have a raised bed with better drainage than before while also increasing the surface area for plants to grow! Not only this, you will be able to pull out weeds very easily as their roots won’t have a good grip on the soil. Utmost care must be taken to not compress the bed by stepping on it as it would drastically decrease the functionality of the bed.
Once established, these raised beds do not require much maintenance! When not in use, add compost to the top and fluff up the top soil with a fork.
Planting and Watering
Optimal spacing is encouraged while planting and so is companion planting because it gets the most out of the close proximity of the plants in the bed. As with all types of gardens watering is essential. It is quite mandatory that FIG beds be watered intensely so that water penetrates deep into the bed.
Up to 4 times the produce per acre and ½ the water usage than conventional methods, this method has been claimed to achieve! Why don’t you try it and see yourself?