This is a story about an international couple raising and home educating three young boys on a small island in Japan, half living in buses, engaged in organic, self-sufficient farming in the middle of a mountain forest while dealing with climate, cultural, and personal challenges. These pages are about pretty much anything and everything all guided by our family motto, Taking Chances, Making Changes, Being Happy. Thank you very much for joining us on our ongoing crazy adventure.

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Farm beds finished front viewFarm Beds

How does the saying go?....Making your bed and lying in it. What about....Making your bed and growing in it.

Farm beds are essential for successful farming, at least in my opinion. Many people say making beds is not really necessary so basically it depends on what works for you.

A farm bed is a raised area of soil, often used to grow the same thing. Farm beds are also used to separate things which should not be grown together. There are many benefits to using farm beds including, easier access, easier harvesting, better weed control, good drainage, and aesthetics. From straight line beds, to rectangles and squares, to free form designs, the choice is really up to you. Keep experimenting until you find a design that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Farm beds workStraight Line Beds

After moving to Tanegashima island, I began farming. Although I had been gardening for many years, this was the first time to be growing stuff on this much land. I looked around at many other farms on the island and saw that almost all the farmers were using straight line beds. I thought it was a good idea to do the same. We moved to the island just in time to put in cool season veggies and some herbs. I made long straight line beds and put in daikon (white radish) in several beds. A few weeks later, a typhoon came and wiped out almost all of the poor defenseless radish seedlings. And then a week later another typhoon hit the island and finished the job. Well okay, these were typhoons, and I decided I was not totally to blame for this farming fiasco. Still I wondered what went wrong.
Farm beds finished side viewI realized straight line beds were ineffective in a non-mechanized farm. Long narrow beds were tiring to make, difficult to maintain, and relatively impossible to mulch, especially in a rainy and windy climate such as Tanegashima Island. The mulch would easily get washed or blown off. These beds also provided very little wind protection. We get typhoons during the Summer and strong winds throughout the year. Seedlings and delicate veggies get little protection on straight line beds. I began using these beds at the beginning and quickly switched to square and rectangular beds . I do still use straight line beds for root crops such as sweet potatoes, which produce strong vines and leaves, and are able to handle the weather on this island.

The following is the way I used to make conventional straight line beds for those of you who are interested.
Farm plan upper upper prepared and ready for bedsMaking Straight Line Beds

Hey if you own a tractor or a rototiller then this is a relatively easy process. If you are planning to do this with hand tools, prepare yourself for a bit of work. Keep in mind that when you harvest your veggies from straight line beds, the beds are destroyed and need to be built back up again. The main reason why I prefer square and rectangular beds. Although for really strong root veggies like sweet potatoes, straight line beds are still the best choice. The following is the method I used to make these beds.

Begin by tilling the soil to loosen it up and make it easier to "hill up" the beds. The farm in the picture was tilled and is all smoothed out and ready for bed making.
Farm beds using shovel to build bedBuilding Bed Height

Building the height of the bed is probably the most difficult task. Using a shovel, pick up soil from both sides of the center of the bed and deposit it on the top. Doing this keeps things symmetrical which is especially important since the shoveled out areas will become the future drains. No need to worry if things look messy during this phase of bed making. Subsequent steps will make things pretty again.
Farm beds using rake to pack and level bed sidesSmoothing Sides

Use a rake to pack in and smooth out the sides of each bed. This step is really not necessary unless you are in a climate that has a lot of rain. Tanegashima island receives a ton of rain during the Summer monsoon season (tsuyu in Japanese) which typically arrives at the island in June and July. The better the sides of the beds are packed, the less chance the bed will be eroded away once the rains come. This is much less of a problem once you ihave something growing in the beds, since the leaves will channel the rain away from the beds and into the drains.
Farm beds using hoe to pack and level bed topsSmoothing Tops

Use a hoe to pack in and smooth out the tops of each bed. Again, this is the best way to offset erosion from a heavy rain event. The smoothed out tops also make it much easier for sowing seeds or seedings.
Farm beds using rake to pack and level bed sides againSmoothing Sides Again

Use a rake once again to pack in and smooth out the sides from all of the dirt which fell off the top during the previous step. Okay this might seem a bit anal, or maybe a lot, but it worked for me.
Farm beds using rake to smooth path between bedsSmoothing Drains

Use a rake to smooth out the drains which were automatically created when the beds were made. Again, maybe overdoing it a bit, but this reduces the amount of loose dirt in the drains which will impede the flow of excess runoff from the rain. This also makes it easer to walk and makes the farm prettier overall.
Farm plan upper making offset square beds pattern and drainageSquare and Rectangular Beds

These are rarely used by conventional farmers due to the lack of accessibility of tractors and other farm machines. In addition, sowing and harvesting are much more time consuming. These beds are great, however, for the non-mechanized farm. I decided on this type of bed for my farms many years ago. Specifically, I use rectangular beds measuring one meter in width. At the beginning, when I using only hand tools, I preferred beds measuring one meter on each side. After injuring both shoulders, I purchased a rototiller and now my beds are up to 20 meters long, but still only one meter wide. These beds are pretty easy when it comes to sowing, cultivating, and harvesting, and this is a much better way to protect your crops from wind damage.

After the infamous straight line bed (read above) fiasco, I realized a change was needed if I wanted to produce anything in this very difficult climate. Way back in the day, when I was gardening, I was limited by small spaces. I used small rectangular beds and I remember it worked pretty well. I decided to use this approach with the new larger scale farming I was doing. I did a bit of research and found information about "square foot gardening", a term coined by Mel Bartholomew in his 1981 book of the same name. I experimented each season with different designs and eventually realized simple was the best.

With the exception of sweet potatoes (still using straight line beds for those), I am now using all rectangular beds in my farms. The beds are all one meter (about three feet) wide and vary in length from two, to over twenty meters. The great thing about this design is the ease of working on the beds. Working from either side, everything is within a half a meter reach. Easy to sow seeds and seedling, easy to weed and mulch, and easy to harvest. Straight line beds are destroyed once the veggies are harvested while rectangular beds stay the same and only need to be smoothed out the next season.

In addition, rectangular beds provide better wind and erosion protection than straight line beds. They also facilitate "canopy farming", a term I coined after experimenting and realizing some things, like sweet basil, actually grew better all jammed in together.
Farm plan lower tilling the soil and preparing for bedsMaking Square and Rectangular Beds

Begin by tilling the soil. Any larger chunks should be smashed and made small enough to be raked into a small hill with out rolling back to the bottom. Smooth out the area as much as possible and decide the location and size of your beds.
Farm plan lower tilling the soil and preparing for bedsMake an Outline

Next make an outline of the entire farm area by hilling up the perimeter to the same height you plan to make all your beds. Know the outside boundaries of the area you plan to use makes it much easier to measure and make the individual beds.
Farm plan lower making diamond beds pattern and drainageForm the Beds

This was one of the first attempts at square bed farming and it worked out great. The only problem was the beds were made as two meter by two meter squares, too wide to be able to easily reach the middle of the beds. This meant occasionally stepping on the beds....unacceptable. Next season I began using beds that were only one meter wide.
Farm plan upper offset square beds prepared and readyAnother Example

This was one of the craziest designs ever but it worked out pretty well. The square beds were offset to provide better wind protection. The small squares were used for wild turmeric and put there more for aesthetics than anything else. The posts to the side are actually pieces of bamboo, which were growing wild at the farm, used to make a very sturdy trellis over some of the beds for vine veggies. The bamboo was tied with jute.
Free Form Beds

Free Form beds are exactly what they sound form. These beds can be anything you want them to be. Many times a park or other public place will use flowers or bushes to spell out words or to make specific designs. These would be examples of free form beds. Japanese seem to be very fond of doing this.

Making free form beds is very time consuming but a lot of fun nonetheless. Nothing works better to get the attention of the local farming community than free form beds. Yup, expect plenty of questions and comments.

Tanegashima island is home to the Tanegashima Space Center where the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launches their rockets. Many times JAXA and NASA work together on projects. We watched many rocket launches in the first couple of years on the island and it was impressive to say the least. This inspired me to turn our upper farm into a kind of tribute to the two space agencies. I grew carrots on the raised letters and the rocket, the phallic looking section next to the "J" in JAXA and the "N" in NASA.
Farm plan upper upper prepared and ready for bedsBed Preparation

As with straight line beds, and square and rectangular beds, the soil needs to be tilled and smoothed out before beginning.
Farm plan upper upper prepared and ready for bedsGreat Location

This farm was adjacent to one of the busiest roads on the island and got a lot of attention from the locals, in fact, some folks actually took pictures of the design in the top picture.