If your soil is heavy and packs down easily, try a raised bed. A raised bed is a mound of prepared soil 6 to 8 inches high. It can be made permanent by edging with wood, stones, logs or bricks. The soil in a raised bed is more porous because no one ever steps into the bed to pack it down. This allows good drainage so that air, water, and fertilizer will penetrate to the roots more easily.
You'll find that your raised bed is more attractive and easier to maintain than conventional row gardens. Cultivating is easy since you'll be able to reach into every corner of your bed and pull young weeds as they appear, and succession planting will eliminate bare spots. When deciding what to plant in your beds, consider companion planting. Companion vegetables and herbs will help control insects and improve the overall health of your garden.
Be sure to rotate the varieties of vegetables you plant in each bed each year. This rotational planting prevents a particular family of vegetables from consuming the same nutrients from the soil year after year and discourages insect pests and pathogens associated with certain vegetables from remaining in the soil over winter and infecting next year's crops.
The best time to begin building a raised bed is in the fall, or even winter if the ground in your area doesn't freeze. When spring arrives you'll be ready for planting.
Creating A Raised Bed
Start by working organic material into your soil. Compost, manure, leaf mold, or other organic material helps provide the soil with essential nutrients and improves drainage. Once you have thoroughly worked your soil, follow these simple steps to create a wide row:
Mark the bed with stakes and string. The ideal width is around three feet, and the length should be 25 feet or less. If you need more space, create more beds.
Use a rake to pull soil from the walkway to the top of the bed. Six inches of height will greatly improve drainage. A height of 18-24 inches will be easier for older gardeners and those with bad backs to work.
Flatten the top with the back of a rake. It's a good idea to slope the sides slightly to prevent erosion.
Dig a trench down each side of the row with a hoe. This keeps the walkway from becoming a stream during rainy weather.
If you want to make your bed permanent, edge with wood, logs, bricks, rocks, or anything else that will keep your soil in place.
Planning something more elaborate? See Marge Talt's Raised Bed Garden.