Building the Beds

Now that you are aware of all the major elements which combine without tilling to create healthy garden soil, it’s time to build some new garden beds.

My garden is almost entirely planted into raised beds. Raised beds encourage a lot more intensive planting than a typically rowed garden. It is estimated that if you turn your long, singularly planted space into a garden with elevated beds, you will increase the amount by five times

Garden yields. I found a drastic upswing in the quantity of the produce I harvested after I made the switch.

Broad beds minimize the available space for pathways and continuously delineate between paths and garden soil. As a result, gardeners are no longer faced with the soil compaction related annual problems. The soil in the beds of the garden is never strained, and any footstep disturbance is minimised. I have also found that permanent beds provide a more favorable environment for crop rotation and companion planting. When the bed width reaches 4 or 5 feet instead of 1 or 2, it allows for plant diversity.

There is no need to line your beds with a border but the boundaries create a permanent framework. Logistically speaking, when the edges of a garden bed are constructed with higher height, it’s easier to stack on the organic matter, as the edges demarcate a space for your sheet mulch layers.

I constructed my beds using the materials available. Most are lined with old bricks and I built a few with cedar planks as well. Others are elevated just a few inches from the ground, while others are about a foot tall. I saw beds lined with concrete blocks, log bits, long treetop branches, bales of straw, and stone pavers. Actually, you need only a material that can create some sort of line. My first beds were made with materials that could be changed every year, as I considered the renovation of the garden. Enthusiasts of permaculture support beds designed with curved lines, and I’ve noticed that curved borders give me the space needed to maneuver a wheelbarrow across the garden paths.

You can and should employ a technique known as sheet mulching to build your first beds in the garden or to create additional beds. If you’ve ever tried to rip sod to start a new garden area, well, you’ve put too much effort into that. Removing sod is tiresome, and a small portion of your yard can take hours to clear. It also exposes long buried weed seeds to sunlight, and the newly cleared patches of land can be filled with weeds within weeks without regular maintenance.

Instead, I choose to cover new garden spaces with mulch. Sheet mulch is a lot, a lot quicker! If the requisite materials are in close proximity, in the time it would take to rip sod for a singular garden bed a whole garden area can be mulched sheet. The sheet mulch also lays the foundation for rich garden soil with nutrients and microbials.

The lowest layer of a bed should be composed of a dense material with sheet mulch that can block light, usually newspaper or corrugated cardboard. Light blocking is essential to preventing germination of weeds. I spray the sheet with some water every time I lay down the cardboard or newsprint to prevent it from blowing away with the breeze.

I tend to pile the coarsest materials next at this stage, and the materials should be finer in texture at each base. I add a layer of compost at the end, and then the pile is finished off with shredded leaves , grass, or needles of pine — whatever I have at hand. Per layer is sprinkled with water until it is wet. The pile should eventually weigh at least two feet in height — though the pile may exceed 3 or 4 feet.

— gardener possesses his or her own preferred sheet mulching technique. Some swear by Hugelkultur (HOO-gul-culture), a German mulching technique that includes a layer of rotting trees, leaves, or logs at the bottom of the bed. Others see to it that they apply fertilizer. Actually, each layer ‘s order and density can be variable as long as some attention is paid to the ratio of green and brown material. The sheet-mulched beds need a bit of nitrogen to get the microbial activity underway.

The best time of year to create new beds is fall. Microorganisms and earthworms have the ability to move in and facilitate decomposition, and fresh products such as grass clippings and manure would have a chance to mature.

However, I understand that in early spring most of you will turn your attention towards the garden. Fortunately, a garden bed can still be plated on mulch, sometimes on a short notice. A dense compost layer at the top of a sheet-mulched pile is ideal for starting small plants, particularly though more coarse materials have just been laid. If your compost is in shortage, dig compost pockets into the mulched bed and then add your transplants there.