Preliminary Steps – Lesson I (Using Jim Kennard’s 2009 Alabama garden as a model)
1. Determine how much space you want, then how much you HAVE that receives all-day sunshine. We wanted 30 beds, but only have a 35′ X 58′ sunny space, so that is our limiting factor.
2. Measure and stake the outline of your garden, keeping in mind the space required for rows and aisles (18″ or 4′-wide beds & 3′ to 3 ½’ aisles). We chose 4′ beds with 39″ aisles, in order to get 16 beds in that space.
We have only 2 ½’ end aisles, but we have 30′ of grass beyond that on one end and sidewalk on the other. And outside aisles are nothing on the East (a wall), and a hillside on the West, which we will keep mowed short.
3. Clean the garden area and remove everything, down to the bare ground. Two types of lawn covered our back yard, so we began by using an 8 HP Troybilt and tilling the top 2″ of soil thoroughly. We then raked up and removed all grass, including roots, rhizomes, and runners.
4. Level the garden area as much as possible. Remove hills and valleys, and till high sections, using a long board to drag soil from high areas to lower areas.
Beyond general shaping, don’t worry too much about making the whole garden area level. It’s just the soil-beds themselves that must be level.
5. Measure, stake, and apply strings to soil-beds. Make sure you run your beds in the direction that is the most nearly level, and plan on having the water source on the high end of the beds.
Use 18″ 2 X 2 stakes and drive them at least 6″ into the ground. Use heavy nylon string, tying the ends before connecting to the posts.
Tie one end to the post and do not tie the opposite end, but pull it tight, loop it around once, then lift the string over itself. It will hold, and will be much quicker to remove when you need to till or weed, etc.