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***PLEASE NOTE: This is the handout provided to attendees at the 2014 Organic Growers School Spring Conference class The Charisma of Cardboard with Jeff Ashton. While it was intended to be read in conjunction with the speaker’s presentation, we believe it can still be a great resource. Enjoy!***

OGS 2014 The Charisma of Cardboard

This handout has provided you with specific formulas and information that will be shown in the PowerPoint. The goal is to make sure you don’t need to take notes and are comfortably able to absorb a fast-paced review of gardening photos with a lot of information to go with the photos.


What you should expect during this workshop:

The basic concept of cardboard in the garden is not brain surgery. The first 15 minutes of the presentation will explain the basic concept. The rest of time will be spent discussing home gardening in raised beds utilizing the basic concepts shared early in the presentation. Here is what we will endeavor to show:

  • The least labor-intensive method for establishing growing areas.
  • The ways to maintain zero tolerance for weeds.
  • The easiest way to establish and maintain fertility in your garden’s soil.

DISCLAIMER: This is “the best way” for the presenter. The system has been developed over the last 25+ years and continues to evolve based on the changing needs of the presenter as he grows older and his lifestyle evolves. There are many other folks who garden more effectively than the presenter and they don’t necessarily use raised beds or some of the strategies that you will see today; this is not to diminish their methods of gardening. The presenter’s personal goal in the garden is to make the “work” portion of a home garden (a necessary evil), as easy as possible so more time can be spent enjoying the garden. What you will see today is how he does it, and how other folks are using some of the concepts as well.


The Basic Tenants of the Doctrine of Effective Continual Cultivation of Raised Bed Gardens

  1. The frugality of raised beds. 30% of the amendments spread on a traditional plowed garden is wasted on pathways. In raised beds you can amend beds individually. Keep basic information so you know the beds individually. Do a sketch of your beds and assign each bed a number. Keep a sheet of paper or journal page for each bed that includes the square footage. Each time you amend a bed, write down what you’ve added; sample entries for Bed #3 might be 6/2/05: 200 lbs composted cow manure, or maybe 9/25/03: lime/greensand/rock phosphate, 3” composted leaves. Really motivated gardeners add a list of veggies and varieties planted to this log for purposes of long-term crop rotation and production data; a year end sample entry for Bed #3 might include the progression of crops and amendments thru the year beginning in December: 2012: overwintered arugula, snow pea, two crops buckwheat, 2” each compost and leaf mulch, fall kale.
  2. Don’t sour yourself. You should never labor so hard in the garden that you are unwilling to at least walk through your garden the next day.
  3. Create a habit. Each day, regardless of the weather, you must at least walk through the garden and pick five weeds, if you can find them, as you are passing through.
  4. Be ruthless with non-productive plants. You must consciously develop a ruthless attitude about pulling out plants which aren’t producing well, which you have too many of, or which have passed their prime for eating. Pull out the unproductive plants, replant, side-dress, mulch with compost.
  5. Maintain zero tolerance for stepping on your beds. Use your paths between beds for walking and kneeling. If you find you are stepping across your beds, they have been made too long. The tiniest hairs of roots are the first line of nutrient absorption by plants and they are easily damaged when you compact the soil by stepping on your beds. Instill this zero tolerance ethic in the kids and the family hound.
  6. Nothing MUST be done today (except for tenant #3). There is always tomorrow.
  7. Repeat the mantra “March and July until I die” one hundred times. At the end of this you will always remember to start your seeds in March and July for spring and fall crops. Focus on developing a seed starting system that you can use year after year with the least amount of effort.
  8. Compost, Compost, Compost. High fertility allows for closer spacing between plants. Develop an aggressive composting program. Keep trash bags in your vehicle for spontaneous compost material gathering. Spread compost around plants often. Buy organic compost or composted cow manure cost-effectively in 50# bags and use it if you can’t make enough compost for the size of your garden. Bagged compost is a great investment. If you can’t make or buy enough compost, buy a large bag of organic slow release 4-5-4 fertilizer and keep it in a green plastic trash barrel that has a tight lid. Keep this barrel in the garden where the green color will blend in and it will be close to where you need it.
  9. Bring in micro-organisms to your garden. By introducing high populations of micro-organisms you are able to break down organic matter in beds and compost piles quicker. There are lots of other good reasons for increasing biological activity in the garden. Check out for outstanding information about micro-organisms and products to help you boost that activity in your garden. Also check out Make garden cocktails in an Ortho in-line fertilizer spreader… my recipe is 1 part molasses, one part EM, 1 part fish emulsion, and 1 part liquid seaweed extract. I set the dial to add 6 tablespoons of the brew to siphon as 1 gallon of water passes through. I will empty this on my beds just before a rain a watering so it has the opportunity to saturate the soil evenly and newly activated micro-organisms can get down into the soil.
  10. Practice Close Space Planting. With fertile soil that is continually amended with compost, you can plant significantly closer. See Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening
  11. Practice succession planting. See John Jevins’ How to Grow More Vegetables.
  12. Crop Rotation. Don’t plant the same type of crop in direct succession; don’t plant the same botanical family in the same place in consecutive years. Alternate successions of leaf, root, fruit.
  13. Take advantage of season extension opportunities. It is impossible for any opportunistic soul to discuss raised beds without also talking about season extension… they go together like beans and cornbread, like strawberry and shortcake, like garlic and anything.
  14. Use a soil-less seed starting medium to cover seeded areas. This allows you to provide seeds with a weed-free environment to sprout in and the vermiculite in the medium will show you where you have seeded before the seeds germinate. I keep a bag of seed-starting medium in the same trash can that I keep the bag of fertilizer in (see item #8).
  15. Your loved ones are more important than your garden.


Formula for Establishing a High Performance Organic Raised Bed

Layout a 40”x12’ area on grass or bare dirt using a hose to mark perimeter. Spread half of a coffee can each of greensand, rock phosphate, and lime across the surface inside the hose. (This translates to one coffee can of each amendment for every 100 square feet.) Spread three inches of composted manure over the area. Water well. Spread three inches of composted leaves (if available) across the top of the manure. Water again. Spread one layer of cardboard over the entire area. Water well. Spread a thick layer of straw over the area. Wait four months.

1st spring season bed prep… Pull back the straw in 14” diameter circles 24” apart, exposing the cardboard. Cut through the cardboard. Excavate each hole to the depth of 18” and place soil (along with top layers of manure and composted leaves) in a wheelbarrow. Remove rocks and roots. Add ½ gallon (minimum) compost or commercial composted cow manure to excavated soil and mix. Return mixed soil to the excavated hole. (You have just double dug a one square foot area of your garden with a minimum amount of labor.) Plant in these circles of freshly worked soil. Leave cardboard and straw in untouched portion of the bed to act as a weed-suppressing mulch.

At the end of the first season… Remove plant debris, straw and cardboard, and send to compost. Double dig entire bed. Plant a cover crop to take you through the winter, such as Austrian winter pea. (Pat Battles recommends Ho Lan Dow, from Stokes Seeds because of the superior flavor. Request the organic seed, which they began carrying because of Pat’s tenacious requesting.)

2nd spring season bed prep… Chop cover crop into the bed with a sharp, square shovel. Cover with 2” of compost (or bagged composted cow manure). Water well. Cover with a mulch of straw. Plant at will after two weeks.

Happily ever after… Take soil samples every two years and send to the good folks at Cooperative Extension for analysis. Amend your soil as needed when you get the results. Spread annual topdressing of two inches of compost. Grow buckwheat as a quick-growing cover crop in the summer when the bed is empty. Grow Austrian winter peas as a winter cover crop and add the foliage to salads or make pesto from it. Maintain mulch of straw or composted leaves to keep the weeds at bay.


Establishing a Perpetual Lettuce Bed

  1. Buy three 6-pacs of old-time, open pollinated lettuce, all different varieties.
  2. Plant all 18 plants into an 8 to10 square foot area of raised bed that has been amended and set aside for this project, keeping the varieties separated for your convenience.
  3. As the lettuce matures, harvest the first 3 plants of each variety as it becomes ready and eat it.
  4. Pay close attention to the remaining 9 plants and mark the plant in each variety that is the last to go to seed.
  5. Destroy the six plants that were the quickest to go to seed. By saving the plants that were the slowest to go to seed, you are insuring that the seeds from those plants will produce plants that last longer in the garden before going to seed. You have just selected these plants to be slow-to-bolt.
  6. Allow these three different plants to mature to full seed heads. When the seeds are mature, birds will begin feeding on the seed heads which in turn will spread the seeds everywhere across the bed you have prepared.
  7. Remove weeds that might appear and wait as the lettuce seeds germinate. Thin seedlings in this “seedbed” to 2” apart and transplant into rows or open spaces in other beds when the first true leaves appear.

For Further Information<
How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons. Excellent information about high performance gardening in raised beds.

The 12-Month Gardener (2001), Jeff Ashton, Lark Books. Solid season extension advice for home gardeners in the Carolinas.

Gardening for Profit (1886), Peter Henderson, American Botanist Booksellers. Terrific information by a market gardener who grew food year round in NYC utilizing raised beds and season extension contraptions.

American Gardener’s Calendar (1806), Bernard McMahon. A classic, available as a reprint. Fascinating reading about this Philadelphia seeds-man’s methods of growing all sorts of veggies.

Farmers of Forty Centuries (circa 1900) Written by Dr. H.F. King, head of division of soil management of USDA who traveled extensively in China and wrote about what he saw. King was a keen observer with an open mind. A fascinating classic well worth reading.

Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew. Great info about close planting spaces in raised beds.

Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (any edition) My favorite, is a 1958 edition that I swiped from my fathers bookshelf when I began my search of The Way. I have several other editions… all of which came from used bookstores… and all of them carrying sections with different information… and all of them are excellent. My shower-steam-stained 1958 edition reflects the fact that is was parked on the back of the toilet for the first three years of my Search.

Jenn Cloke

Author: Jenn Cloke

Jenn Cloke, originally from Atlanta, has lived in Western North Carolina for since 2006 and wears her Appalachian mantle proudly. Jenn was the Communications Coordinator for Organic Growers School from 2012 to 2014. She and her family run a small farm at the foot of Cold Mountain.

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