Where to Plant – On the Ridges (traditional) or At the Base of the Ridges?

Q.  In the photo albums (MittleiderMethodGardening@yahoogroups.com), I see pictures of Jim Kennard’s Hogle Zoo gardens.  It appears that he plants his crops in the rows instead of on top of the mounded part of the row.  Is this due to the automated watering process or is there a secret I’m not aware of?    My grannie traught me to mound the row, plant on the top of it and water in the ditch between the rows.  Have I got it all wrong?

A.  Planting on the ridges has its origins in farmers’ attempts to keep plants from drowning.  In high-rainfall areas – especially in clay soil, because it is very slow to drain – unless you raise the level of the soil where the plant sits, the roots will suffocate for lack of oxygen after hard or long rains.  This continues to be the preferred method of planting “field” crops to this day, and is probably the most practical way to do it with mechanized equipment. 

Problems associated with planting on the ridges include: 1) the difficulty of getting and keeping fertilizers near the plant roots, 2) fertilizing the entire garden, instead of just the vegetable plants, 3) losing much of the fertilizers due to the runoff and leaching of excess water 4) watering the plant adequately if there is no rain, 5) weeding every inch of the garden, because the weeds get watered and fertilized right along with the vegetables, and 6) avoiding losing the ridges (and the crop) to heavy rains when the plants are small.

If your plants are on the top of ridges, watering requires much more water even than if everything were flat, because you have to provide sufficient water, deep enough, to thoroughly soak the entire ridge.  Flood irrigating in this way is not at all conserving of a precious water resource.

The benefits from planting in level ridged beds, and putting the plants at the base of the ridges instead of at the top include:
1)  Using less than 1/2 the water, since you only water 18″ not 5′.
2)  Using less than 1/2 the fertilizer, by not fertilizing the aisles.
3)  Less weeding, since aisles are neither watered nor fed, and so are dry and inhospitable to weeds’ growth.  Also, close-planted plants shade weeds out in the beds.
4)  Planting 2 rows of most crops close together allows bush beans, peas, etc., to support themselves by leaning on their neighbors.
5)  Allows for easy automation of watering, to greatly reduce labor and increase watering efficiency.
6)  Ease of caring for and harvesting your crops, with wide, dry aisles.

In high-rainfall areas you do need to remember to open the ends of your beds during heavy rains, so the water drains out.  Othwise your plants may drown.