|A garden is always 'in progress'|
The beds can be any shape you desire, but it is important to size them so that you can comfortably reach the furthest point without stepping into the bed, usually about 2 1/2-3 feet from each edge. That is a key point with raised beds: stepping in them should always be avoided. The goal is to create loose soil and not compact it down.
Avoid plastic, railroad ties, treated wood and anything that might leach toxic chemicals into your crops. Depending on your choices you may need to make adjustments to your soil. Cement blocks tend to make soil alkaline, pine or cedar might make it acidic.
Choosing the location for raised beds is important, most will need at least 8-10 hours of direct sun per day. However, some crops will tolerate a little shade, so save your sunniest spots for tomatoes, peppers, etc; build beds for things like lettuce and peas in less sunny locations.
Trellis' and any tall crops will usually be placed on the most Northern (or Northeastern) edge of beds, shorter crops on the Southern edges (so taller plants don't block the sun). If you don't have ANY shady areas, you may want to reverse that in order to create shade for lettuce, etc.
If you plan to grow any perennial crops such as herbs or fruits, you may want to provide a separate bed for those items or at least keep them to the edges. And don't forget, many crops can be grown in containers to save ground space.
Beds can be up against buildings, fences or out in the open and to some degree that may dictate their size. Take advantage of fences or anything that can support vining crops, but keep in mind you need to be able to harvest without stepping into the bed, plan accordingly.
|Small boards placed to provide access to (future) pole beans|
It doesn't matter much what the ground is like underneath as long as there's some type of dirt. If it has lots of rocks it's best to remove most of them, some small stones are good for drainage, but it takes millions of years to turn rock to soil, so don't leave too many.
If there is grass growing in your chosen area it's your choice to turn it or not. It will decompose either way, but it will happen faster if you turn it. Keep in mind also, crops such as lettuce or radishes don't need as deep of a bed as, say, tomatoes, so put your digging efforts where they matter most.
The ground doesn't have to be perfectly even because it's going to be covered. Sometimes I only turn scattered shovelfuls throughout the space and chop the clumps good (upside down, to loosen the soil from the roots). At the very least I use the shovel or fork to aerate the soil so that my fresh materials get exposed to the beneficial organisms in the soil; bugs, worms, bacteria and other goodies are little workers that keep dirt healthy and alive.
|New bed filled and soaked|
Once the ground is broken up, I water it very, very thoroughly. Next I lay sheets of newspaper, (nothing glossy). I use 3-5 sheets, making sure to overlap the edges. I wet them down good, either as I go (if it's breezy) or after covering the whole bed. You could also use cardboard or even cloth for this 'barrier' layer. Some people use old carpets for a barrier, but because they are usually treated with toxic materials (stain proofing & flame retardants), I don't use them.
One of the key concepts of organic gardening is that soil must be nurtured and fed regularly throughout the year because it is very much alive. It's cheapest and easiest to use what's available to build your new soil, but because variety is critical you may need to seek outside sources, even spending money, if necessary, because EVERYTHING depends on healthy soil. This is not the place to cut corners or worry too much about saving money. If you only ever add dried leaves to your compost or soil, it will lack important nutrients and your plants will suffer. Add a good balance of organic matter and you will build healthy, loose and fertile soil that will feed your plants continuously.
Just about any organic matter can be added to a compost pile, but only add very dry, preferably crushed or chopped items to your garden beds. NEVER add fresh manure to a garden bed, it MUST be dried or composted. I like to mulch plants with a mix of well crushed and very dry leaves, grass and straw. This continuously feeds and protects the soil without getting matted down which often happens if you use only 1 type of mulch material.
Good choices to add to a bed are leaves, grass, seaweed, peat moss, saw dust, pine needles and coffee grounds. Make sure you don't add too much of any 1 thing and only use materials that have been completely dried. As the dry materials break down they'll turn dark and blackish, then you keep adding more throughout the growing season, along with plenty of compost to feed and bulk up the soil in your raised beds.
|Fencing or shade cloth can easily be added|
In the beds I'm now building, I've added dried Maple and Oak leaves, old grass & weeds, plenty of straw, a little bagged soil and a few bucketfuls of dirt from around the yard. Other additions will be bagged peat moss and manure or compost (whichever is on sale). I also usually add some organic fertilizer, often it's store bought composted & dried chicken poo; smells horrible, but works great! I always soak each addition to get the action started & give it a good stir.
I add a sprinkle of lime dust to my beds, also. It is sold at any garden center or home store; 1 bag will last for years and only cost a couple dollars.
To speed up the decomposition process I use the fork to turn and mix everything once or twice each week and then wet it all down down to encourage worms to the surface because they do wonders to decompose organic matter and increase fertility of soil. It's sort of like speed-composting, so the more you turn, or aerate it, the sooner it will turn to rich soil and be ready for planting. And like a compost pile, keeping it moist, but not soggy is also important.
When I'm starting with new beds I like to allow the beds to 'cook' for at least 6-8 weeks, but if I don't have that much time I simply add more actual (usually store-bought) soil and 'cook' for at least 2-3 weeks. One thing you DON'T want to do is simply fill new beds with 'top soil', bagged or otherwise; it's too heavy and will compact down quickly. Always add plenty of organic matter (leaves, grass, straw, peat, etc) to create loose, fertile soil. (I have even found that some so-called 'potting soils' are even too heavy depending on the brand, so always add organic matter.)
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to spark your imagination as you plan your garden ~
EDIT: Check out the wonderful progress of these beds (along with some before-and-after pictures) and some of the beautiful bounty we are enjoying.
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