A garden planting bed is the home to your vegetables, herbs, and flowers. You want a planting bed in which plants will thrive and you want a planting bed that is easy to make and easy to maintain.
Making a new garden planting bed should be a one-time investment in sweat equity.
Once a new bed is made, if you feed the soil–which in turn will feed your plants, the new bed in short order will become an established bed that will be productive for many years.
Your labor to get the bed established will pay harvest dividends for years to come.
10-step plan to make a new garden planting bed:
1. Measure the area you have available to plant a garden. Use graph paper to conceptualize your garden beds before you make them.
2. Make sure the site you choose for each bed gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. Make sure that building and tree shadows do not fall across the bed. Be sure the bed is not in the path of steady or prevailing winds. Make sure the area is well drained and that water does not stand on the ground after a rain. Locate the bed close to a hose bib or water source. Locate the bed as close to the house or garden shed as possible.
3. A planting bed should be no wider than the reach of your arm to the center of the bed; this will allow you to work the middle of the bed from either side without standing on cultivated soil. If your bed can be worked from only one side, then its width should be the length of your arm from the edge of the bed to the back of the bed. Most beds should not be more than 48 inches (1.2 m) wide.
4. The length of the bed should not be longer than you want to walk from one side of the bed to the other. If the bed is too long it may be difficult to lug tools, soil amendments, and hoses to the other side. Don’t make the bed so long that you are tempted to jump across it. Again you do not want to step into a cultivated bed.
5. Use wooden or metal stakes as corner markers of the bed. Drive a stake into each corner. Tie garden twine to each stake and check to make sure that each corner is squared.
6. Leave room for a path all around the outside of the planting bed. If you are using a wheelbarrow or garden cart, a path about 72 inches (1.8 m) wide should be wide enough to maneuver the cart. Make the path a least wide enough for you to turn around in comfortably and to set down a basket at harvest time. The path can be scraped bare soil, grass, groundcover bark, stepping stones, or wooden planks. A garden planting bed should be easy to work in all weathers; make sure the path material is suitable for all weathers.
7. A planting bed can be a ground level bed, a mounded bed, or a raised bed. The soil in a mounded or raised bed will warm more quickly in spring and will be well drained. A mounded or raised bed should be at least 4 to 6 inches higher than the surrounding ground. You will need to move garden soil from the paths into the beds or bring soil and planting mix to the raised or mounded bed.
8. If the ground has never been used as a planting bed before, clear away all sod and grass, weeds, rocks and stones. Make sure there are no hidden utility lines beneath the bed.
9. Turn the soil to a depth of a shovel blade—12 inches—and remove any pebbles or rock and old roots. If the soil is heavy with clay, you may want to double-dig the bed to a depth of 24 inches—two shovel blades deep. Pulverize dirt clods, add the compost or planting mix, and rake the bed smooth.
10. Once the planting bed is established you will never deep dig or step into the bed again.You will simply add aged compost and planting amendments across the top of the bed to feed the soil. A good plan is to feed the soil at least twice a year by adding 2 to 3 inches of organic planting mix or a combination of aged steer manure and aged compost.