Raised Row Gardening: Incredible Organic Produce with No Tilling and Minimal Weeding

Raised Row Gardening: Incredible Organic Produce with No Tilling and Minimal Weeding

by Jim & Mary Competti


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Easier and Cheaper to Set Up Than Raised Beds!

For homeowners young and old looking for the easiest and most affordable way to grow the most vegetables, the Raised Row method shared in this breakthrough book is the new go-to choice. In the past decade, raised bed gardening has been wildly popular, but it requires buying wood or another material to build the raised beds, which quickly becomes expensive and labor intense. A raised row garden uses just soil and mulch, such as shredded leaves, to create raised growing rows and walking rows. This method is more budget-friendly, natural and just as effective to control weeds and see an impressive harvest your first year. Jim and Mary Competti, founders of the blog Old World Garden Farms, are the leaders of this gardening revolution. They’ve perfected and streamlined their method over several years. They spend only a few minutes per day maintaining a large garden that provides their family with food for the whole year. In this book, they share their secrets so anyone can do it too.

Raised rows utilize straw mulch, compost and cover crops to enrich the soil you have and keep down weeds naturally. This way, no backbreaking overturning of the beds is required, as it is for traditional row gardening. Now, readers can work less and enjoy the fruits of their gardens more!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781624144943
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 02/20/2018
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 192,482
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jim and Mary Competti live on a farm in Ohio and write the popular DIY blog Old World Garden Farms. In 2013 they self-published a book, Growing Simple, chronicling their journey of building their dream country farm without going into debt. They have been featured on Tiny House Blog, The Huffington Post and local media. They live with their children in Ohio.

Read an Excerpt



One of the most common complaints among gardeners young and old is the amount of labor and time required to build and maintain a productive vegetable garden. In a traditional garden setup, that workload starts with the tilling chores of spring. And that, of course, can only occur if the soil is dry enough to work. Next come the constant, laborious chores of weeding, hoeing, raking and re-tilling rows over and over.

It's a vicious cycle of endless work that can turn the most enthusiastic gardener into a defeated soul. For many, by mid-summer, the garden has become a weedy, tangled, overrun mixture of vegetables and marauding insects that have combined to form a backyard eyesore, and a disheartened gardener.

And that is exactly where we were some seven-plus years ago. Defeated. We loved the concept of growing our own food and providing fresh, organic vegetables to our kids. But with two active careers, and four growing children with a full slate of activities, we were hard pressed to devote the time and energy required to maintain a traditional garden. There had to be a better way that could work for our busy lives and us.

Up to that point, we had relied solely on the knowledge gleaned from traditional, mainstream, backyard vegetable gardening methods. Gardening knowledge that had been passed down from our parents and their parents.

We both came from families that loved to garden. We have incredibly fond memories of the amazing vegetables those gardens of yesteryear produced. There was nothing better as a child than biting into a just-picked, crisp cucumber, or sinking your teeth into the soft, juicy skin of a vine-ripened tomato. And who can forget sitting on the back porch snapping green beans and husking fresh sweet corn with Grandma, anticipating that wondrous homegrown feast that would be enjoyed by the whole family later that evening.

Those were the memories that drove us to want those same fresh, healthy and delicious vegetables for our own family. But sadly, it is also where the love affair of the past came to a screeching halt!

Unfortunately, those vegetable gardens of our parents required hours of hard labor to maintain. Those wondrous memories mentioned above were also filled with some not-so-fond memories of slogging through just-tilled mud and filling bucket after bucket with weeds. Adding to the agony, we knew we would be re-drafted a few days later to repeat the same miserable tasks all over again.

It was those haunting memories that left us searching for how to grow our own food without re-living that horrifying portion of our childhood. One thing was for sure. A traditional garden created by plowing, tilling, raking, hoeing and retilling soil throughout the entire growing season was not going to be the answer for us. Let's look at the different types of garden setups to better understand the differences.


In a traditional plowed / tilled garden, it all starts with breaking up the soil. This can take multiple hours and several passes with a plow, tiller or a combination of both to prepare the space for planting. Whether you own or rent, it also requires a sizeable financial investment in the required equipment, such as a tractor, plow and rototiller, along with the fuel needed to power them.

Traditional gardening is also extremely weather dependent. One must wait until the soil has properly dried out to plow and till. If not, the soil can quickly become clumped and unworkable, leaving a garden space that is less than ideal for planting.

To make it even more difficult, the tilling process must be completed several times to break up the soil enough for planting. And in a traditional garden setup, of course, this work must take place at the beginning of EVERY single year!


Raised beds utilize man-made or natural materials to create an elevated growing space in which plants are grown. Although raised beds have many advantages over a traditional tilled garden, they can certainly be quite time-consuming and costly to create and maintain.

First, there is the wood, stone, metal or plastic required to build the permanent borders. It can be quite expensive to purchase, and can take a lot of time to construct and fill with soil. Depending on the materials chosen, those "permanent borders" also may need to be replaced every so often, adding to the cost of the raised bed system.

The soil in a raised bed must be replaced or amended annually with compost and/or fertilizers to keep its strength and vitality. This can be difficult depending on the style of bed created. If soil is to be turned over, or amendments need to be added, the border material can get in the way, making it difficult to work with a shovel.


Raised rows utilize many of the concepts and advantages of raised beds, without the hassle and expense of building borders. Instead of outlining each planting area with expensive materials, the soil in a Raised Row Garden slightly tapers down to form a natural, earthen edge on each side of the growing row.

This natural sloping edge does more than just save on the cost of materials and labor needed to form bed space. As you will see later, it also helps immensely with the ease of long-term maintenance and productivity.

The soil in a Raised Row Garden never needs to be replaced. It can be easily amended to not only maintain its fertility, but also to improve upon it with each subsequent growing season. The borderless nature of the Raised Row Garden also makes it easy to incorporate all types of organic and sustainable materials back into the soil, including compost, natural fertilizers and, most importantly, cover crops.

All of these factors combine to truly make the Raised Row Garden method the most economical and productive choice for home produce gardening.


Somewhere along the line, plowing, tilling and "working" the soil became the accepted norm for how to create a backyard garden. Whether it was the mechanized ease of breaking up hard ground, or the seemingly perfect tidy path of crumbled earth left behind the wake of a rototiller's tracks, tilling and repeatedly digging up the soil was thought to be the way to start and maintain a vegetable garden.

Unfortunately, the entire process of "working the soil" time and time again creates more expense and effort for the gardener, and less than ideal growing conditions for the soil.

Why Tilling Is Not the Answer

Over time, a garden's soil structure and fertility can be damaged and depleted by the constant act of plowing, tilling and digging. Soil, in its natural, undisturbed state, contains a vital network of organic and life-giving materials and organisms. This includes everything from layers of humus, to beneficial compounds and minerals, worms, insects and microorganisms. The soil's structure also contains naturally occurring air pockets that stand ready to deliver needed oxygen below to a plant's root system.

Every time soil is tilled, this entire network is compromised. As the beneficial compounds and microorganisms are brought to the surface, they dry out and die from the exposure. Air pockets are eliminated, replaced and filled in by the crushed grains of the tilled soil. Tilling simply destroys the natural harmony of soil, all the while contributing to an explosion of weeds, one of the biggest problems all gardeners face.

It is ironic that although many use a rototiller to turn under existing weeds to both prepare and maintain a garden, this can actually exasperate the problem by creating more weeds than were present before.

Thousands upon thousands of perennial and annual weed seeds are spread by wind, birds and other wildlife. These seeds lay on the surface of the soil, waiting to find an opportunity to grow. Tilling provides them that opportunity and then some. Every time a garden is tilled, weed seeds at the surface are incorporated into the soil below, giving them the perfect growing medium for germination and survival. With each successive tilling, more and more weeds find the perfect home to wreak havoc upon your garden.


So, what really was the best way for us to garden? We looked at nearly every viable option we could find, including raised bed, square foot gardening, hydroponic, the double-dig French method, bio-intensive gardening, container gardening and everything in between.

All of them had built-in advantages over traditional gardening methods in some way, shape or form. Yet, all had obvious drawbacks as well. Whether it was the cost of start-up, expensive tools or the time and labor involved to maintain the garden, none of the prior methods mentioned were going to create the kind of garden we dreamed of, wanted and needed.

What was that dream garden? A garden that would use natural, organic, sustainable materials and methods to produce safe, healthy and abundant food, all while requiring little investment in the tools, labor and time needed to maintain it to fit our busy lifestyle.

So, doing what humans have been doing for thousands of years, we looked to create a better way.

We took the best of the best of gardening methods, added in a multitude of our own soil-building, time-saving and inexpensive ideas and came up with a more efficient and effective way to garden. The Raised Row Gardening system was born.

The Raised Row approach puts an emphasis on disturbing the soil less, while concentrating efforts and resources in only the specific areas where plants will be grown. This, in turn, lessens the workload and expense to the gardener.

By utilizing a combination of mulch, compost and cover crops, and pinpointing their use, the Raised Row Gardening method increases and maintains the soil's fertility naturally and sustainably. In addition, with its constant mulching, it virtually eliminates weeds, and creates a garden that is productive and incredibly easy to maintain.



At its very core, a Raised Row Garden is pure simplicity. The Raised Row Gardening method uses organic and sustainable practices to power a highly productive, low maintenance garden. As you will see in the coming chapters, it is not only simple to create, it's also simple to plant, and even easier to maintain.

More than anything else, the Raised Row method allows you to maximize yields while minimizing resources needed to grow your own food and the daily, weekly and annual maintenance chores. It also makes for an extremely neat and tidy garden space that is sure to be the envy of your friends, neighbors and fellow gardeners.

As with all gardens, the first year of setting up your Raised Row Garden will certainly be the most labor-intensive. However, the effort involved still pales in comparison to the workload, cost and potential downfalls of setting up the initial year using other popular gardening methods. In fact, once the first year is completed, the Raised Row Garden becomes increasingly easier to maintain with each successive season.


Selecting the Location

Location, location, location! As with all gardens, finding the best and most suitable location for your Raised Row Garden will have a tremendous impact on its overall success. Avoid planting gardens in areas with too much shade, on steep slopes or in low-lying areas. Here are the keys when choosing the location for your Raised Row Garden.


A potential garden space that receives a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight is ideal. Vegetable plants, just like many plants in nature, rely heavily on the process of photosynthesis to absorb the energy needed for strong growth and production. Too much shade leads to underdeveloped plants with significantly lower harvest yields.

In addition, sunlight helps to dry off plant foliage from rainfall and early morning dew, which is crucial in helping to prevent fungus, mildew and other moisture-related diseases.

That same sunlight also works to keep the soil from becoming too saturated after periods of heavy or extended rain. Although water is vital to a plant's survival, too much moisture at or below the surface of the soil can suffocate a plant's root system. When soil becomes waterlogged for extended periods of time, it forms a barrier around roots. This barrier keeps roots from being able to breath, depriving them of the oxygen needed for growth, and, ultimately, their survival.

To determine where the best and most available sunlight will be in your yard, spend a few days watching and documenting the sun's pattern. This will help you establish what spaces might work, and which need to be eliminated.

As you watch the sun's arc, take into consideration trees, buildings, fences and any potential obstructions that might keep plants from receiving the necessary amount of sunlight for good growth now and in the future. Consider all possibilities. If it's early spring, think about trees that might not yet have developed their full leaf canopy, which could later block sunlight. Consider the future growth of those trees, which may present a problem eventually.

Also consider what type of sunlight your garden will receive each day. At the end of the day, all sunlight is not equal when it comes to its effect on the growth and productivity of vegetable plants.

Choosing a garden site that receives six to eight hours of early morning to early afternoon sunlight is a much better choice than selecting one that receives only the hot, burning rays of mid-afternoon sunlight. Morning sunlight on a garden not only helps to dry off plants from overnight dew, keeping mildew and other disease at bay, but also it is less stressful to a vegetable plant's development. Scorching hot, midday and late-afternoon sunlight can cause extreme stress to plants, especially if it is the only sunlight they receive.

Avoiding Steep Slopes and Low-Lying Areas

By far, the best possible location to choose for your garden is a flat, level surface that is easily accessible. However, that is not always an option depending on the space you have available. Slight slopes with a drop of 3 feet (1 meter) or less for every 20 feet (6 meters) will work without much issue, but avoid areas with steeper slopes.

Steep slopes make it hard to have a consistent moisture level for your vegetable plants. With steep grades, rain and hand watering easily run off and away from root zones. This leads to little water for the plants at the top of the slope, and excessive moisture for those at the bottom.

Low-lying areas, on the other hand, become a major collection point for rainfall and runoff. As mentioned above, this can result in root suffocation, poor growth and, ultimately, plant failure.

This entire process of selecting the best location is vital to gardening success, and yet it is so often overlooked when initially determining the location of all types of gardens. But with a Raised Row Garden, that importance is heightened.

A Raised Row Garden, like fine wine, only gets better with time. Each successive year the soil becomes more enriched and productive. At the same time, garden issues such as weeds and pests, and the time and resources spent dealing with them, continue to decrease. Having to move your garden and start over in a few years because of a poor initial choice means losing those powerful advantages.

Soil Condition–One Thing You Don't Have to Worry About

The current fertility and vitality of the soil is not a make or break factor when choosing a location for your Raised Row Garden.

A Raised Row Garden, whether created from a previous garden space or built from scratch in a brand-new location, is built on top of the existing surface. Even if the existing soil below is rocky, clay-filled or sandy, the raised rows that will be built on top of the existing soil will provide plenty of nutrients for your plants to thrive.

Over time, that rich soil will also work its way into the soil surface directly below, creating an even better garden in the years to come.

With that said, if you do happen to be fortunate enough to have rich and fertile soil already in place, it can certainly be used in the initial process of building your first set of growing rows.

Choosing the Size of the Garden

Now that we know where to plant, you need to determine how small or big your garden should be. The size of a garden depends greatly upon two factors: the amount of food you want to grow and the space you have available to grow it.

The good news is that the Raised Row Garden system is perfect for either situation. Whether growing large quantities of food to feed an entire family or just a few basic vegetables, the Raised Row Garden can work with a single growing row, or 50 or more.


Excerpted from "Raised Row Gardening"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jim and Mary Competti.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 11

Chapter 1 The Garden that Started a Raised Row Craze 15

Chapter 2 Creating Your Very First Raised Row Garden 23

Chapter 3 The Importance of Planning Before Planting 37

Chapter 4 Planting Your First Raised Row Garden in Spring 47

Chapter 5 Mulching in the Garden 71

Chapter 6 Maintaining the Raised Row Garden in Summer 85

Chapter 7 Compost and Composting: Creating Black Gold to Power the Raised Row Garden 115

Chapter 8 The Raised Row Garden in Fall 131

Chapter 9 Putting the Raised Row Garden to Bed in Winter 145

Chapter 10 Raised Row Gardening Year Two and Beyond 165

Acknowledgements 180

About the Authors 182

Index 183

Customer Reviews