Choosing how to prepare your garden bed, methods to consider

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

When I was a kid, my mother, like everyone I knew, had a garden.  It wasn’t a hobby as much as just a thing everyone did in the course of existing.  Her parents’ generation had gardens because they wanted to eat.  I love to read about victory gardens.  I remember learning how to identify a garden snake and my mom making us pet them so we wouldn’t be scared.  I also remember the greatest, most amazing tomatoes on Earth.  This is not an exaggeration.  I looked  forward to crusty bread, real mayonnaise and thick sliced tomatoes every summer and would live on that, and only that, for months on end.  I still am happy to eat it twice a day, all season long.  I’m starting to get the tomato sandwich shakes.  I have to go make one…

Okay, I’m back.  I’m typing with one hand and eating with the other.  

Thought I was kidding?

Thought I was kidding?

Where was I?  Oh, yes…

My mom’s prolific, sweet tomatoes were planted in horse manure from our very own manure machines.  (We were locavores and artisan eaters before it was a thing.  It wasn’t a thing because it was normal.)  That disclosure will freak some of you out.  I have a friend who is so scared of pathogens that she ripped out her entire garden when she suspected her compost was not fully composted.  I have no such fear.  I am also fully exposed to every pathogen my horses excrete on a regular basis.  City readers, go ahead and take slow, deep breaths.  You can have a great garden without touching horse manure.  You cannot have a great garden that is sterile.  

But soil bacteria is another post.  Today is about getting you to think about your method.

We have tried so many methods in our garden from our first “do nothing” garden all the way to hauling in semis full of compost and putting it on top of our native soil.  

Every system has the potential to be a success, depending on where you are growing, how well you implement it and some luck.  They can also be an epic failure.  

While you wait for your soil analysis, you can do some research and decide what methods are feasible for you.  Then, when you know the nutrient profile of your soil, you can hone in on the system that will best fit your ground.

Start by answering some questions:

How important are aesthetics?  Symmetry? If the appearance of your garden is important, you may be interested in raised beds or even converting your landscaping to edible production.

Is your native soil poor?  Raised beds or heavy augmentation is worth considering.

Is your soil dark and full of humus?  You lucky dog.  Focus on keeping it that way.

How big is your garden plot?  You may want to plant a cover crop and be prepared to till it under later.  That means obtaining the use of a tiller or plow.

Do you have a lot of time to do this as sustainably as possible?  Restoration agriculture or layered perennials could be your path.

Do you need to raise a lot of food right away?  See what grows best in your area and start scheduling your rotation.

Are you excited to grow super clean food?  Look into companion planting and beneficial insects.

Is your season short?  Be prepared to build a cold frame to grow through the cold.

Is your season long and very sunny?  You’ll need to shade most crops in the middle of summer.

Is your space very limited?  Explore growing in vertical towers, hugelkultur or square foot gardening.

Do you have lots of time and feel bonded with the Earth?  Biodynamic methods are an option.

Can you afford an amazing greenhouse?  Look into Hartley-Botanic ( and then call me to come live in it.  I jest.  No, I’m serious.

And, oh, there are so many more!

How do you feel about tilling?  Do you already have worms?  Does the existing vegetation, like grass, need to be removed or killed?  Are you mechanized or doing it all by hand?  What mulch is available where you live to suppress weeds and regulate moisture?  Do you have help if you get in over your head?  How much do you want/need to grow?  

Our current gardens are a mix of raised beds, raised and augmented rows and various permaculture methods.


Overwhelmed?  Deep breath.  We are going to walk through it.  We didn’t know the answer to a lot of these when we started.  Or when we re-started.  Answer what you can and write it in the front of your garden diary. (Remember that?)

Chew on this

According to the CDC, the leading causes of death in the US are Heart disease (611,105 people) and Cancer (584,881 people)

Suggested watching

This is a great primer on a permaculture method that has become very popular.  It regulates water very effectively and suppresses weeds.  You can watch it here:

Love from the farm

Love from the farm

Happy eating, Katy

One thought on “Choosing how to prepare your garden bed, methods to consider

  1. People with good soil are lucky. My area is clay and needs a ton of work. There are also gophers that live in the area, since they also go in my neighbors yards I doubt they will be easy to get rid of. For those reasons I chose raised beds. They are very easy to work and so far I have had good results.

    Liked by 1 person

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