Introducing...
Minibeds-on-Plastic
(A New Idea For Gardening)

Dateline: 17 January 2017

You can see my Minibeds-on-Plastic experimental garden
 on the left side of this picture.

Minibeds-on-Plastic is a new gardening idea that I developed after experimenting with Thomas E. Doyle's Plant-and-Pick gardening system (which is explained in his little-known booklet, Gardening Without Cultivation).

At first look, it's a simple concept. The two basic components (black plastic for mulch, and small-size garden beds) have proven themselves over the years. But they have never been put together with the logic that you'll find in my Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening system. 

I believe the design of my system will result in a synergism, which is to say, the final outcome will exceed the sum of the parts. With that in mind, I have established a Minibeds-on-Plastic experimental garden for the 2017 growing season.

This is a closer view of the Minibeds-on-Plastic experimental garden
in January of 2017. It will be a few months before the garden season
commences, but I'm ready to go when the weather finally does warm up.

78% of the 24' x 44' experimental garden is covered with a single piece of heavy plastic mulch that will stay in place for years. As a result, no weeding or soil cultivation will be needed in 78% of the garden.

The remaining 22% of the garden is open soil divided into 45 very manageable minibeds. The minibeds will be carefully-tended to create islands of fruit and vegetable abundance.

Based on three years of gardening with Tom Doyle's system, and my own garden experiments, there is no doubt in my mind that my Minibeds-on-Plastic system will be a satisfying success. 

But the experimental garden will serve as a testing ground for different planting schemes in the minibeds. I also intend to track the abundance that can be harvested from each five-square-foot bed (I think it will be surprising). I'll also be experimenting with ways to accessorize the minibed frames. For example, here is a picture of a simple hoop structure on a minibed frame...


Two pvc hoops attached to the frame can be covered with row cover or insect netting. The loose ends of the material are held in place by simply tucking them under the frame all around the perimeter. I have never seen an easier and more secure method for covering a garden bed.

I will be blogging about the experimental garden here, starting as the 2017 growing season gets into full swing. If you sign on to the e-mail list (in the sidebar at right), you won't miss any of my updates.

If you would like to know much more about the intelligent design behind my Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening system, check out the 27-page Minibeds-on-Plastic 2017 Report that I have put together. A pdf download of the report is only $4.99. A free short sample of the report is also available. CLICK HERE for full details.

This is the front cover of the inexpensive, 27-page
report I have put together for those who want
to know more specific details about the
 Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening system.
CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS


31 comments:

  1. indeed making your mark in the agrarian scene.
    Thank you for your commentary. Your blogs and comments are indeed like friends gathered for fellowship.

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  2. Jim,

    Thanks for the comment. I am looking forward to this new gardening adventure like a kid looking forward to a trip to Disneyland. :-)

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  3. Your experiment looks like fun! I can't wait to see how it turns out. Of course, it's only January, so I guess I'll have to wait.

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    1. Hi Melanie,
      I'm pleased to know you will join me on this new gardening journey. January is a slow time for my Planet Whizbang business and the ideal time to get everything (web site, Report, etc.) in place for this project. Spring will be here soon enough, and it's always a busy time in so many ways. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Herrick,

    Also looking forward to your experiment. Not ready to abandon my methods yet but will keep a close eye on your progress.

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    1. Hi vdeal,

      I would never advocate anyone abandon a gardening method that is working to their satisfaction. I'm glad to know you will be keeping an eye on the progress of this experimental garden. It's going to be fun.... I hope. :-)

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  5. What are the dimensions of the minibeds. Why not make them longer and thus use less plastic?

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    1. Hi Terry,

      The minibeds are 30" x 30". They could be bigger. But I don't think they would want to be much bigger, and I'm sure I wouldn't want to use less plastic. There is actually more purpose to the plastic beyond just covering the soil to block weeds. I get into the meat-and-potatoes of this in my Report.

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  6. Hi Herrick, Got my bunker cover in the barn, and have built 12 of the boxes so far! Probably going to need 35-40 of them. Can't wait to get stuff going again.

    Going to lose most of my storage spuds as it never got cold enough down here till just the last week or so! Sigh-- At least the SHTF hasn't happened as yet, but have bad feelings about the economy despite Mr Trumps efforts. Things are falling apart everywhere and I don't see how we avoid it! Oh well as if that wasn't enough, now the astronomers are claiming there are a bunch of Hunks of rock aiming at us from "Out There". If it hits the Atlantic, I'll be under a 400' wall of water! Seeing as the highest point on the Island is 235'. I guess it will be time. to tuck and kiss my posterior goodbye!

    I'm conflicted, optimism abounds as I wait for winter to be over, and despair is just around the corner so to speak waiting to rear his ugly head!. In the meantime, have a great day. I am now going to go back and order the full Pdf. See Ya, EVERETT

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    1. Hi Everett,

      Sorry about the storage spuds. Failures of one sort or another seem par for the course with this life adventure called gardening.

      As for the economy, yes, I think it's not good. And that is part of the reason I garden. I know gardening, as challenging as it is, is a good and positive action in the midst of an uncertain economic future.

      A 400' wall of water! Oh my goodness. That would be epic. My advice..... garden more to keep your mind off such things. :-)

      Thanks for purchasing the Report. You may notice that you are mentioned in there. :-)

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  7. I look forward with great eagerness to see how this madness progresses.

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    1. Thank you, David.

      I am endeavoring to impose order, beauty, and satisfying productivity on the madness that would otherwise prevail in that garden space.

      I have assigned a code number to each bed, in order to identify and record data. But your comment here has brought to mind the idea of naming each of my island minibeds after a Caribbean island.

      Then, I could grow cucumbers in Cuba, corgettes in the Caymans, tomatoes in Trinidad, salad greens in Saint Lucia, and so forth. The whole Caribbean would be mine (so to speak), and I'm sure that would make Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening even funner.

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  8. I'm looking forward to reading more about your system as details come in. I love the uniformity. I can definitely see where distinct, easily managed plots would make it much easier to keep track of production, rotate crops, and measure required inputs such as compost, minerals, or mulch. One of the hardest things for me about record keeping in the garden is accurately assigning production per plant/bed/row/etc. This system already appears far superior in that regard, allowing accurate tracking of just what it takes to grow a crop and what you get in return. Eagerly anticipating the updates.

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    1. Hi Stewart,

      Exactly. You are grasping the vision I have for this idea. And in addition to that, the plastic cover will preserve a reservoir of inground soil moisture for the minibed "island" plantings to draw from. And I'll be incorporating cover crops into the rotations. My objective is to not have any bed unplanted with some sort of crop through the growing season, and over the winter. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I must say it's very orderly and that has a definite pull to my sensibilities. However, there is also another visual tugging. That of long rows of vegetables. Maybe in another life or rather an inherited memory from my ancestors, is the desire to farm.
    I remember some years ago, I was visiting with a friend and discussing gardening. She had grown up in the big city but relocated to the rural towns here as a young adult. She looked at my 70x40 garden and asked why would I "need to grow so much". My brain flashed to her garden, which I had noticed several weeks ago, was just a three 4x4 boxes. And I responded to her with, "this isn't a summer veggie garden, this is food for my family for a year!" She looked at me with astonishment and a great deal of incomprehension. It never occurred to her to grow her own food for a year or that someone she knew would do that in addition to working full time. At least that is what I think she was thinking.
    We've had a relatively snowy winter here. Although we've had a fair amount of rain as well. I am ordering seeds today and next week will begin my planning stage. 'Course, I still have to fell trees and plow the area smooth, but that can't happen until spring. Boy will I be busy. And so happy to be so busy.
    I'm down to four jars of green beans and it pains me. I surely did miss gardening last summer and lived vicariously through your blog. I did buy a 50 pound bag of potatoes last fall and because I no longer have a cold basement (radiant floor)my taters have started to grow. So I have been peeling, slicing and dehydrating potatoes for the last several days. My fingers are quite sore but thank goodness for a mandolin slicer. We are looking forward to homemade scalloped potatoes.
    Oh, I'm babbling. A sure sign I've been at home in my own world for too long!
    Looking forward to you experimentation. Of course, I look at gardening as an experiment regardless. Helps keep me from feeling like a failure when something doesn't work out as hoped.
    Best of luck Mr. Kimball,
    Regards,
    Pam

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    1. Hi Pam,

      It's always good to hear from you. I have never dried potato slices. Will have to give that a try.

      My garden is 70' x 60'. The Minibeds-on-Plastic garden takes up 24' x 44' of the garden (though I may extend it to a larger area to grow just strawberries). I see the experimental garden as a serious "summer kitchen garden," with some excess for preservation. The idea being to produce an abundance of fresh food, primarily for eating every day through the growing season. It is not a survival garden (except, perhaps, for in-season survival), but I do believe it will be more productive than some of the gardens of preppers I've seen on YouTube. It will also be more sustainable than many gardens in that it will require little to no irrigation and fertilization. The no-till aspect, along with cover crop rotations is a big feature of this garden idea.

      I believe the ratio of food production to time (and effort) invested in the garden will be significantly higher with Minibeds-on-Plastic than with other, more conventional gardening practices. This has more appeal to me as I am getting older. I don't have the stamina to take on a large garden with conventional gardening methods, like I once did. My thinking is that small spaces, carefully and intensively managed, will be surprisingly productive and more satisfying than a large garden that I can't care for properly through the whole season.

      Here's wishing you a great year in your garden!

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    2. Well, since we are only a few years apart in age, I must agree with you regarding the work involved in gardening. I no longer possess the stamina I once had for strenuous work. Honestly though, if I had my druthers, I druther shovel animal manure, putter in the garden and haul compost all and any day rather than "work" for someone else. But one has to do what one has to, in order to make a go of it.
      We had 6 or more inches of snow yesterday and I surely do wish I could post a picture here of the astounding beauty that I can see out my window. It captivates me in a most magical way.
      Thanks for replying and my best to The Lovely Marlene.
      Pam

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  10. So only 22% of the space is usable produce? Why waste so much space? Not sure I'm following the logic of taking up a large space in the yard and only using a small part of it? Will get the booklet, perhaps that will explain. I just am limited in space and hate to see most of my space under plastic. If you can explain the logic I would appreciate it.

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    1. That's the #1 question my wife had. The answer is that the plastic covered area is not wasted. Part of the genius of Tom Doyle's "Gardening Without Cultivation" idea (from which this idea is derived) was that he spaced his plantings so capillary soil moisture alone would provide all the moisture the vegetable roots needed. He was doing this long before Steve Solomon discovered for himself, through years of trialing vegetables (for his Territorial seed company), that greater garden success comes, without irrigation, by spacing plants further apart. Steve Solomon explains this very well in his "Gardening When It Counts" book.

      Also, many plantings in the beds will extend well beyond the beds. I'm thinking of bush cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash, bush beans, etc. My experimental garden, with its bare beds and large plastic spaces, will not look so large when the garden is in full swing.

      If you have a limited space and don't want a lot of plastic in your yard, just grow a Mel Bartholomew Square Foot Garden, or something like it. Personally, I'd like to plant more garden than I now have to this Minibeds-on-Plastic idea. Like, for example, my whole front yard. :-) I'd rather have it plastic covered with productive minibeds, than I would have useless lawn that needs to be mowed.

      I do discuss all of this in more detail in the report.

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    2. Herrick,

      I think part of the problem some people may have is due to regional differences in weather and water availability. I live in the mountains of WV and almost never have water issues. In fact I check the US Drought Monitor on a weekly basis and have noted over the last decade or more that I live in one of the few areas of the country that seldom experiences drought - in fact we seldom get even abnormally dry. About the only time I have to irrigate is in the odd dry Aprils we sometimes have. So, for me irrigation is not an issue and the application of plentiful compost, shredded leaves or pine needles on the surface (ala Lee Reich or Charles Dowding) pretty much takes care of the rest of the season. My garden does double duty as fresh eating and winter storage growth so the reduction in growing space would be significant. Just a few thoughts on what others might be thinking. Hope it works out great for you.

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  11. I knew you needed that space for the vining veggies to grow and overflow. but I have a question, how much did all that plastic cost? Wondering if the 'free' vegetables will off-set the cost of the plastic (of course it would over time.) Thanks.

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  12. Hi Joy,

    The cost for a 24' x 50' sheet of the 6mil plastic is $96.68. I am hoping to see it last five years. Time will tell. Beyond that, you bring up a good question...

    I should make it clear that I have never gardened for economic reasons, meaning to save money. Though I'm sure, overall, that I have saved money on the food budget by having a garden (especially when we had three kids to feed), I've always grown a garden more for the quality of life aspects.

    The quality of the food we eat is important to me. When I grow it myself, I know for sure it's safe and wholesome. I don't know for sure that any food I buy from anywhere else is safe and wholesome. And it's fresh. Pick it and eat it within minutes. That's real quality of life right there. Then there is the aesthetic aspect. I just love to grow food. I love the challenge, the exercise, the fresh air and sunshine, and the beauty of a growing a productive garden. I guess you could say it's a hobby for me. I know men who spend a lot of money on things like fishing, hunting trips, golf, cars, etc. etc. I don't do any of those things. I just like to garden. So I'm inclined to spend more money on this hobby than a person who grows food only to save money.

    That said, in a worse case situation, if I ever did need to grow a larger garden for the purpose of saving money, or because of some crisis, I would ramp up the size and production of my garden very quickly. In such a situation I would probably revert to a large, old fashioned row garden on open soil, along the lines of what my family grew when I was a kid. And I would be spending many more hours tending such a garden than I now spend in my garden as it is.

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    1. thank you for replying. we too garden because we like the fresh food, being outside, the exercise, and it allows one to de-stress, think, and learn. I'm surprised (but not really) at the number of people in our town who do not garden and prefer to pick their produce at Walmart. We end up having so many extra vegetables (and I try to preserve--going to have a first time use of a dehydrator this year) we donate to the community food pantry. It just boggles my mind how people do not even attempt to even grow a tomato plant. So, thank you for your answer. Another thought I had is how close that garden is to the road---yikes, handy for thieves.

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  13. I bought your book, and now I'm shopping for plastic. Did you consider going with 10mil plastic? If so, why did you decide to go with 6mil instead?
    Thanks, Tom

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    1. Hi Tom,

      Yes, I did consider it. The plastic that Tom Doyle sold was 10 mil and it supposedly lasted for more than 20 years in his garden. I was going to get 10 mil bunker cover but had trouble finding it in a smaller size at a reasonable price. It appeared to me that most bunker cover plastic is in the 5-6 mil thickness and the Farm Plastic Supply company (link on sidebar) had 6mil uv-resistant bunker plastic at a price I thought was reasonable. So that's how I happened to go with the 6mil thickness. If you find a supplier of the 10mil material bunker plastic, in a 20 to 24 ft. width, and 100 ft or less long, for a reasonable price, please e-mail me with details. It would be nice to put it to a side-by-side longevity test. Herrick@PlanetWhizbang.com

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  14. We have been gardening with 4 ft x 8 ft raised beds for a number of years. I don't even use a tiller anymore. I have tried mulching between the beds to keep the grass down, but it still grows rank due to our wet climate here in the Pacific Northwest. I really get tired of weed wacking between the beds. The plastic seems like a good idea. In your system, is there plastic under the beds or just between them?
    Gordon Adams (Cascadia.farm@Q.com)

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    1. Hi Gordon,
      There is no plastic under the minibeds. The plantings are tapping directly into the earth. In my climate, I want to preserve subsoil moisture with the large plastic sheet. The minibed plantings can then tap into that supply of moisture and not need watering through the growing season.

      But if you are in a climate where you get an overabundance of rain, I believe the large sheet of plastic would moderate the effects of so much rainfall on the soil. Which is to say, it would keep the soil from getting too wet. Too wet can be as bad for a growing plant as too dry.

      I have 30"wide raised beds in a large portion of my garden, with 18" walkways. I have woven ground cover in the walkways. I bought it first to use as occultation covers over the beds, then put it in the walkways. That was my introduction to plastic mulch in the garden, and now I'm a believer. I discuss all of this in my report. But that's the short version.

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  15. I have to disagree on this one. IF his land is sloped and IF his beds are oriented correctly then the moisture content would be moderated. But without both of those being perfect he could instead end up with all the rain, which was formerly spread out under walkways, being drained into the beds. He could end up with numerous times a year of soil that is too wet to plant in.

    I think your system is brilliant for dryer climates or those with periods of drought. But even there, a wet spring could cause even more delayed planting unless the land is properly oriented for drainage of too much rain.

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    1. Hi Terry,

      you might be right. My thinking on this was influenced by a recent Curtis Stone YouTube video titled "How to Use Tarps & Fabrics." Curtis was with a group of people in Selmer, TN, with rain coming down, and he was explaining how a huge sheep of plastic over several garden beds protected the soil from getting saturated, and allowed it to be planted earlier. I even think he mentions the Pacific Northwest and how the plastic can be useful there. Here's the link: Curtis Stone About Tarps In The Garden

      My other train of thought re: plastic over the ground in a rainy climate comes from Tom Doyle's "Planting Without Cultivation" book. He discusses the improved soil structure and greater soil aeration in soil covered with plastic. I discuss this in more detail in my report. Briefly, when a heavy rain falls on the earth, the natural air spaces from worms and such are clogged with silt and have to be reopened.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  16. Herrick, I think this idea has a lot of potential, and I'm eager to see how it unfolds for you this year. My two cents on the plastic:

    https://billboardtarps.com/product-category/billboard-vinyl/billboard-vinyl-9-oz/

    These are 11mil vinyl: black on one side and a design on the other. I've used white ones for years for animal shelters. The sizes aren't square since they were once billboard signs. Most sizes are 10-16' wide and 20-40' long and they are CHEAP. Right now they have a 20'x60' tarp listed for $108. Most 16' wide sizes are in the $30-50 range. Not sure if vinyl has any strikes against it for garden uses, but I've used the same ones outdoors for years with no problems.

    Happy gardening!

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    1. Hi Andrew,
      I REALLY appreciate your comment here. The billboard plastic looks like an excellent source for minibeds-on-plastic gardening. I just went to their web site and ordered. I'm going to blog here about your suggestion. Thanks again!!

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