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Backwood Basics: A Conversation with Mark Schultz about Raised Beds and Container Gardening

Mark Schultz sounds genuinely excited as he lists the benefits of planting in containers and raised beds: "You have complete control over the soil; it's easy to water--if a container is self-watering it uses 20% of the water of a conventional garden; pest control is easier; there's no weeding or tilling; it's easier to maintain; and it's attractive. It allows anyone with a level surface and sun to have a garden--urban gardener, patio, driveway, sidewalk, even a rooftop!"

Mark is one of the presenters at this year's Back to Basics conference, sponsored by Happy Dancing Turtle and held at Pine River-Backus School on Saturday January 27th. His workshop is called Raised Bed and Self-Watering Container Gardening.

Mark Schultz is an inventor, businessman, writer, innovator, former Peace Corps volunteer, and longtime gardener. Mark and his wife Peggy own Backwood Basics in Bemidji. One of his recent inventions is a system to water potted plants, called the Garden Stream. It consists of a mini-float valve in a chamber connected to a container with a hose. "You can retrofit Earth Boxes or make your own using 5-gallon buckets, using the insert we came up with. It allows you to walk away from your garden for the entire growing season if you want to...[because] you have a reliable water supply."

The Garden Stream isn't on the market yet, but Mark plans to eventually sell them nationwide on his website. He'll have some for sale at the Backwood Basics booth at Back to Basics.

Certain plants do better in containers; others do better in raised beds. "It's such a good relationship because plants like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil, herbs--those plants do really well in containers. And then the other advantage of containers: you can move them. We have 2 hoop houses (actually it's my own design--we designed 12 x 24' hoop houses), and we grow all our heat loving crops in the hoop houses. They grow really well in containers.

Plants, like all the root crops--the carrots, onions, beets--all of that, we put in our raised beds along with the other plants that take up a lot of space. The squash and Swiss chard; those types of things do better in raised beds so it's a great relationship where you can do both."

How raised should a raised bed be? "Some people think a raised bed should be high because then it allows you to put your garden up at a more comfortable height. Ours are only 8", which means you still have to bend over to work on them; but we have a ledge around the top of you can actually sit on them, put your beverage appropriate for the time of day on them. In a 4 x 8' bed, an 8" deep bed, is 21 cubic feet of material. If you think you need a bed deeper than that you'd better think about it because that's 8/10 of a cubic yard of material--so they hold a lot!"

Listen to the complete interview with Mark Schultz, Maggie Montgomery, and Katie Carter below. Mark explains how his garden runs on leaves, how he invented a composter turned by a windshield wiper motor, how to use air pruning to keep container plants from becoming root bound, how he first learned about raised beds as a Peace Corps volunteer and decided to design his own out of strips of corrugated roofing material, and more.

Then check out Mark's website and blog, the Backwood Basics Facebook page, and the Back to Basics conference, coming up on January 27th in Pine River. Full day conference registration, including lunch, is $30. Students and seniors are $25.

Maggie is a rural public radio guru; someone who can get you through both minor jams and near catastrophes and still come out ahead of the game. She pens our grants, reports to the Board of Directors and helps guide our station into the dawn of a new era. Maggie is a locavore to the max (as evidenced on Wednesday mornings), brings in months’ worth of kale each fall, has heat on in her office 12 months a year, and drinks coffee out of a plastic 1987 KAXE mug every day. Doting parents and grandparents, she and her husband Dennis live in the asphalt jungle of East Nary.