A friend recently asked for advice regarding how to plow his garden beds. I was a little stunned by the question since plowing isn't ever required at Red Bucket Farm. My friend has a large garden in his urban backyard that he plants in traditional rows, and each spring he needs to cultivate the whole plot before planting.
Here at Red Bucket Farm, we use raised garden beds exclusively. Although the initial investment is more expensive and laborious, it's well worth the effort. Raised beds allow the gardener to create rich, fertile soil that remains loose and easily cultivated by hand. Watering is confined exactly where needed. A properly mulched raised bed rarely requires weeding. And no boots ever touch the soil, completely eliminating soil compaction.
Last weekend we added one new raised bed. First, we built a wood frame and placed it in position. Dimensions for raised beds vary, but we have found that four feet across the bed is maximum width, otherwise it's just too difficult to reach the middle. Three feet across is more comfortable, but standard lumber dimensions makes four feet an economical use of lumber. This bed is 4 x 8. We allow enough space between beds to access with a wheel barrow and mow the lawn.
After the frame is in position, it's time to remove the sod and set it aside on a tarp. Then dig down the depth of one shovel, loosening the soil and set that aside. Replace the pieces of sod at the bottom of the trench, grassy side facing down. Those pieces will decompose naturally, too deep to sprout. The loose soil is placed on top of the torn sod. Next we add various soil enhancements---sifted compost, peat moss, horticultural perlite or vermiculite, sometimes coir, occasionally Turface. The whole blend is mixed together by hand. Voila! Ready for planting.
Each spring we supplement the soil with additional sifted compost. We always use poultry netting (aka chicken wire) around our raised beds to keep out Attila the Bunny, who clearly loves our urban farm.
Even the hillside is terraced into beds. Notice the brick footpaths between the terraces. It's very important to keep big feet out of the beds!
Gardening in raised beds is so efficient that many gardeners discover they can raise as much (or more) food in a small raised bed than in their previous row-style gardening. It's simple to plant intensively in raised beds and less trouble to maintain. Raised beds are also easy to hoop in the spring and fall for extending the seasons. Try it---you won't regret building raised garden beds!