Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Swainway Urban Farm: Growing Carrots, Prepping Raised Beds

Joseph Swain specializing in growing carrots on his Columbus, Ohio farm. His method for prepping his raised beds involve no gasoline and limited elbow grease.

Joseph Swain on his farm

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Joseph Swain transformed his backyard into a 3,000 square foot garden.

Raising Carrots In Raised Beds

Swainway Urban Farm is located just north of downtown Columbus, Ohio. This place specializes in growing a rare gem of summer farmers markets: fresh-from-the-garden carrots.

“If you only have one or two farmers at your market who are selling carrots, you can pull a pretty good penny,” says farmer Joseph Swain, “because people absolutely love fresh garden carrots. They’re simply delicious, and (taste so much better than) a carrot sent from California.”

Of Swain’s 3,000 feet of growing space in his backyard farm, 25 percent is dedicated to growing carrots.

If You Build Them, They Will Grow

The dozen or so raised beds take up the majority of the garden.

He has a long list of reasons why building raised beds for your garden is so beneficial. First of all, you have control over the quality of the soil by adding amendments, compost, and organic material directly to that specific growing area. For the raised beds that house his carrots, he created a potting soil of sorts, which includes peat, perlite, green sand, kelp and general fertilizer.

Raised beds also provide a lush 6-8 inches of growing depth for the plants, which is key for a successful carrot crop. This way the plants can spread their roots farther down before hitting hard pan. As a result, you can plant your crops closer together because the roots then aren’t expanding horizontally.

He hopes to be selling his first batch of carrots by the middle of June. He’ll then plant two new rows of carrots every two weeks, so he should be well-stocked for the rest of the summer market season.

raised beds

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Raised beds allow for the roots of the plants to grow down before they hit hard pan. They also allow the farmer to build up a very specific area of soil with compost and fertilizers.

Gardening Like Your Grandparents

“If I was to come out here and grab my tools and start prepping this bed, I’d probably be done by the time you got your tiller out, filled it with gas, and finally got it running after messing with pulling on it for five minutes,” says Joseph Swain, an urban farmer who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

“This goes back generations. These are tools our grandparents used to garden with.”

  • Step 1: The digging fork has four, four-inch tines. Cram it down into the ground and pop the soil loose.
  • Step 2: The Garden Claw has four, six-inch tines that are bent and angled. Churn the soil with with this tool to break up the large clumps.
  • Step 3: The Garden Wiesel has a number of two-inch tines on a roller. Run it over the soil to create an even yet loose soil bed.

Swain makes a point to mention that during this process, he is only disturbing the top few inches of soil. “There are different things going on in your soil at two inches than at six inches, so we really want to keep those areas doing what they’re doing.”

After cultivating the beds, Swain then scatter plants his seeds and runs the Garden Wiesel over the bed again to tuck them into the loose soil. He then covers the beds with some straw to help the beds retain moisture, but not too much straw that it suffocates the seeds.

  • Gardening With Joseph Swain

    Image 1 of 3

    Joseph Swain uses three tools to prep the beds in his garden. The first is a digging fork. He removes the leaf cover he placed on the bed in the winter and then pops the soil loose. His goal is to simply aerate the soil. He is careful to not dig the fork too deep in order to maintain the integrity of the various layers of soil.

  • gardening with Joseph Swain

    Image 2 of 3

    After popping the soil loose with the fork, Joseph Swain then churns the soil with his Garden Claw. He advises all the gardeners out there to not jam the tool too far into the ground. Simply churn the top layer to avoid disrupting the various layers of soil below.

  • gardening with Joseph Swain

    Image 3 of 3

    The final step in preparing the beds is to rake them with a Garden Wiesel. After this, he can scatter plant he seeds and then rake the beds again. He disperses the seeds in the loose soil.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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  • Kansas Gardener

    How much perilite is too much? I dont have alot of soil to work with. I know that I could just go buy some, but…I have a raised bed made of scrap wood. I want to fill it 12 inches deep by 6 ft long. I have a 4 x 4 compost pile, full of last years clippings. I use grass clipping and uneaten fresh fruits and veggies. I also shred my junk mail for the pile.
    so, I have all that compost and 20 lbs of perilite. I have 25 lbs of potting soil and 7 lbs of seed starting mix.
    I also have 15 lbs of dolomite limestone and about 25 gallons of coffee grounds. I have 25 lbs of gypsum as well.
    Am I going to kill my carrots and poison myself too ? Without suggestions I will dump it all in and mix it up. Maybe lots and lots of newspaper rolled into balls about the size of tennis balls to help with moisture and air. I would love to hear your thoughts !

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