A New
Minibeds-On-Plastic Garden
In Rhode Island

Dateline: 6 March 2017

Everett Littlefield
Photo Link
(Be sure to click the link and read about Everett)

Block Island is a 9.7-square-mile speck of land situated 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, USA.  Everett Littlefield's family line goes back several generations on the island. As I understand it, his ancestors once owned a sizable portion of the place. 

I had the pleasure of reading Everett's memoir, Block Island Turkey and Toby Roe?, about growing up on Block Island in the 1940s and 1950s (you can read about it Here, and you can buy a copy Here). The book paints a picture of agrarian life and some remarkably dangerous boyhood adventures. The one that I remember most clearly is the time he got hit in the head with a hatchet, and it stuck.

These days, Everett's island has changed a lot. It's less agrarian and more commercial. It's a place where people with a lot of money go to vacation. Or they buy up the land on the island at high prices and build deluxe homes. 

I like to go to the Block Island real estate listings and look at them. Most single family homes on a small lot sell for around a million dollars. But I found This Fixer Upper on 1.1 acres for only $675,000 (I would, of course, have to make sure there is a big enough spot on that hill to land my helicopter).

I think it's safe to say that Everett is an anachronism on the new Block Island. He still raises chickens and turkeys and hogs to feed himself and his family, just like in the old days—and he has a serious garden.

When I revealed my Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening idea to the world a couple months ago, Everett liked the idea. And he is laying out a big Minibeds-on-Plastic garden as you can see in this picture...

Here's another picture, with the minibed frames in place...

The picture is a little blurry because it came small to my e-mail and I enlarged it. But you can see that Everett has made a lot of progress, and he is doing an exceptionally nice job with this new gardening infrastructure project. Here's one of the minibeds...

One of the things Everett has done a little differently from me is to not cut all 4 sides of the plastic inside the minibeds. By leaving one side uncut, he has a flap that can be folded out of the way when growing, or placed down over the bed when he's not growing something in it. 

I'm delighted that Everett has a vision for this new Minibeds-on-Plastic gardening idea. It's encouraging to me because I know Everett has been a serious gardener for a lot of years. 

Everett  knows that the idea is in the experimental stage, but he's still willing to give it a try, on a big scale. I appreciate that. And so there are now TWO Minibeds-on-Plastic experimental gardens in place as we head into the 2017 gardening season.

Click Here to go to the Minibeds-on-Plastic Web Site.


  1. Do you or Everett have any expectation about soil temps under that plastic during the summer, especially in the high tunnel? I ask that because I do know that soil biota has difficulty surviving in high temps and that the network of biota and fungi extends beyond the planter boxes to create a symbiotic network that has the potential to be damaged by high heat. I would love to hear about the long-term productivity of the space where this technique is used. Because, there is the danger of simply creating an inert growing medium that you have to supplement in order for it to grow plants in the long term. I have no idea if what I'm saying is actually applicable here, but it is something to watch to see if your organic matter increases "outside" of the planter boxes underneath the plastic ... unless amended. What are your thoughts, Herrick?


  2. Hi Dan, Herrick had asked me about this before and because the sides of the high tunnel are rolled up all summer, and we have a pretty constant wind out here, witness our five offshore windmills, I haven't found any productivity problems with the black plastic covering all of the ground inside the tunnel footprint. My set up for the last two years were raised beds covered in plastic as well as the walkways, aka Herrick gardens. I am an unabashedly and unrepentant idea thief and I STEAL ALL HIS AS FAST AS HE PUTS THEM UP! Stay tuned to Upland for updates!

  3. Thanks for the note, Everett. Is it a bad assumption that you'll be adding organic matter to the entire footprint at some point? I know your total plan wasn't disclosed in Herrick's blog post, but I am curious how you'll build soil in this method. Love to hear about your plan so I can learn from it as well. I have a 72' X 30' high tunnel and your learnings will be valuable to me.

  4. Hi Dan,
    I don't know about in the high tunnel but in my situation I'm sure the temperature under the plastic will at times get high enough that it isn't conducive to optimum biological activity. I'm not worried about that because the plants should, in many instances, grow beyond the bounds of the bed and shade the ground. Soil biology will repopulate under the plastic as the temperature drops, as long as it is moist, and it is always nicely moist under the plastic.

    I do discuss fertility under the plastic in the report. I expand on Tom Doyle's remarkable claim that fertilization was never needed, and why he said that. He did not fertilize under his large sheets of plastic and claimed that he had better crops every year. More important to the plants in his mind was the development of a vast laybrinth of undisturbed air pockets in the soil. Cover the soil with plastic and you get more air in the soil? Well, that was his claim and I've come to believe there is science to support his claim—to some degree.

    Nevertheless, I am concerned about organic matter in the soil (even though Tom Doyle wasn't). My solution to adding organic matter is to not deep till the soil, thus leaving the roots of previous crops in the ground. And I will be planting cover crops to add more root mass, which will also be left in the soil as food for the biology. There is far more mass to roots than most people realize (rye, for example, has an astounding mass of roots), and the roots will extend well beyond the confines of the minibeds. Also, I will be mulching many of the beds with shredded leaves, which will provide steady fodder for earthworms. They come to the surface, feed on the leaves, and take bits underground. I don't think the worms will stay only within the footprint of the beds, though they will stay close. And, finally, I plan to lift the frames in the spring and toss a few handfuls of shredded leaves under the edges of the plastic, probably with some kelp meal (which I tend to use a lot of). When the soil temperature is right, the worms and other biology can feed on the organic topdressing.

    Those are some of my thoughts at this time. No till, cover crops for root mass, and organic top dressing are part of my Minibeds-on-Plastic experiment. This comes after a couple of years using black plastic elsewhere in my garden with great success. The proof will be in the health and productivity of the minibeds.

  5. First off Herrick ,thanks for the forum here! I'll try not to get too verbose as you know I can be.Dan, I have three huge compost piles working all the time. We use a CAT Skid Steer to move it all around and turn it occasionally. All Summer we collect all the grass clippings from my property as well as all from the local Recreation field which has two soccer, one Baseball and one softball field included. No one else wants the clippings so I run my Bobcat propane fired zero turn lawn mower/bagger to pick it all up. It goes in the working pile along with all the previous fall and winter butchering, blood guts bones and all from turkeys, chickens, a few duck and Geese and all the manure they produced while still alive. We also have a deer eradication/control program here on BI to limit the size of the herd. a conservation group pays any hunter that will take them and USE the meat, a $150 fee/bounty on them. My son Kirk is an avid hunter and takes about 50 of them a year. So after all that butchering, all the offal goes into that pile. Three years later the compost is sifted through a 1/2" grid of extruded sheet steel and then it goes in all the gardens. Although with the HT, it will be brought in in a wheelbarrow or dug into and deposited in the mini beds. Not enough to fill them, and then take my time over the winter turning over, or at least cracking the surface of the dirt in each bed. Will also be doing Herrick trick with all the shredded leaves I can collect from the neighborhood maple trees. I have the distinct feeling that getting access to those leaves and all the grass may soon come to an end when the rest of the folks discover they need them also because of the need to feed their families. I also add a good dose of Azomite to all my gardens every2-3 years. Guess that is it and again Herrick, "My mouth runneth over" as usual.

    Just started 18 various tomato seeds this morning. Happy planting all and don't let the bugs get the best of you!!!

  6. Everett—

    That's an offal comment!

    I'm surprised you don't get some seaweed into the pile too.

    There are no limits on comments here. The more the better. But I often don't reply to every comment like I should. :-(

    1. I saw what you did there! And yes I've been doing the seaweed thing since I was a kid with my Dad and grandparents. We usually take the dump truck down to the beach after a good NE storm. The the skid steer goes along on the trailer and we fill up the truck with the weed. It takes a good two years for a full load to disappear into the dirt

  7. Excellent info, gentlemen. This is what I was wondering. It sounds as if you have your bases covered on all fronts for soil regeneration. I'm especially supportive of cover crop use for a host of reasons. Diversity of plants mean a diversity of roots which, in turn, means a diversity of root exudates and therefore, a diversity of soil biota. This means more plant-available nutrients for your desired crop. Stellar work, men.

    1. Dan,

      The Minibeds-on-Plastic is a compromise. Natural mulch and live roots throughout the whole area of the garden would be the ideal for soil biota. But successfully growing food, without spending an inordinate amount of time on the task, is my main objective. I am looking at easy manageability. Small beds give that. The plastic keeps unwanted plants (always a problem for me) to a radical minimum. It's an artificial cover on the soil, with interspersed islands of diverse plant roots and resulting soil biology. I shouldn't have to water the beds because the roots can get adequate subsoil (capillary) moisture from under the sea of plastic mulch (and there will be no weed competition for the moisture). So that's another manageability plus.