Preparing a Raised Row Garden

Have you ever started a project with plans of doing it a certain way only to end up changing it up and making it into a huge project that made you wonder what in the heck you were thinking? Well, over the weekend we had one of those projects.

Last year I decided I wanted to make raised beds in the garden. With the size of our garden, it’s impossible to keep up with the weeding and upkeep of it so I figured having raised beds would make things a lot easier. The problem I ran in to was the expense of it. Buying the wood or other material to make the boxes, and then buying dirt to fill them just wasn’t in the budget. Even if we did have the money to do it, I still would have had a hard time spending money on that because one of the biggest reasons we’re raising a garden is to cut back on our food expense.

So instead, I made raised rows out of the soil already in the garden, added in some compost, and mulched with straw. It worked great but I’ve really wanted to get the rows built up more. My plan was to add layers of organic material to build up the rows each year, but it sure has been slow going. At the end of the season last year, I was hoping to add a nice thick layer of organic material over each row but I couldn’t find enough to cover it all and I never got my garden cleaned up as planned. So this year our plan was to add a layer of compost over the top of the straw mulch that was left over from last year, plant the vegetables, and add another layer of straw for mulch.


We started out by getting a couple tractor scoops of compost and dumping them over the fence into the garden. Then we covered each row, one shovel full at a time, with a layer of compost about 3 or 4 inches thick. It was slow going and more work than we planned. As we were working we noticed that some of the compost still had a slight poop smell to it so we wondered if it had actually composted long enough. I was afraid it might be too rich to plant in yet, so I told Michael that I wished there was a way we could get a large load of top soil and add a layer over the compost. That way if the compost is too rich yet, the top soil would mellow it out. He said he could get some from another area, but we’d have to take a section of the fence down so he could drive the tractor in to place it because moving it by shovel full was way too much work. I agreed, so he took a section down and went out by the alfalfa patch to get the soil. He scraped the top layer off to the side in hopes of avoiding a lot of weed seeds and got the nice, dark soil underneath and added piles on top of the compost we spread.


We discovered the soil was full of earthworms, which was an added bonus. Miley had fun playing with them while we worked. I’m sure there had to be hundreds of them in all those scoops; I sure hope they stay around!


Soon we had the rows covered and the soil spread evenly over them.


Just when we thought we were finished, I had another idea. There are low spots in each end of our garden, where we don’t have any raised rows, which flood whenever we get a lot of rain. I got to thinking; it would be nice to build up those areas too. So I asked Michael if he’d mind continuing to haul compost and dirt into each of those areas. He sighed and said he’d suppose he would even though it was a lot of work and I was being such a slave driver and all that… you know all the things husbands say when their wives have huge projects for them. But I know secretly he loved every minute of it because anything that involves the tractor and dirt brings out the kid in him. 🙂

So we started on the other sections by laying down the compost…


and adding more soil over the top. We built up these areas more than we did the rows; it’s probably around 6 to 10 inches higher now.


In the picture above, you’ll notice that I have cardboard laid down with straw bales on top. I was planning on making a raised bed out of straw bales and filling them with compost and soil to plant potatoes in. Last year the potatoes grew really well but they got flooded from all the rain we had and most rotted. So I planned on experimenting by growing them in a raised bed. I was going to try planting vegetables on the straw bales too. I decided against doing that because we need a lot more bales than we have to finish the raised bed, plus we need more for mulching and animal bedding. I figured the cost of buying enough bales for all that and decided it would be cheaper to just build up the area with compost and soil like we did the rest of the garden. So that’s what we did. I am very curious to see what it’s like to grow vegetables in hay bales, so I may take a couple bales to experiment with and try planting a few things in them later.


Now it’s all ready to be planted and mulched… which means there’s still plenty of work to be done. Hopefully our garden won’t flood anymore, it will be easier to care for, and the quality of the soil improves. I guess we’ll see how it goes.


6 thoughts on “Preparing a Raised Row Garden

  1. Pingback: WORLD ORGANIC NEWS | Preparing a Raised Row Garden | Humble Little Homestead

  2. Karen Squires

    It looks great, Shelly! I’m just drooling at all that lovely soil just waiting to nourish some seedlings-:)

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    1. humblelittlehomestead Post author

      Thank you! Straw keeps the weeds down if you get a really thick layer down. I had trouble with weeds around the edges of my beds last year so I put a layer of shredded paper down and straw on top of that. I just don’t recommend putting the paper close to the vegetables because it gets hard and compacts down and the vegetables don’t grow so well. Yes, the fencing is made from pallets. It works really well, the only problem we’ve is it’s starting to lean in spots so we need to put in more fence posts, but that’s an easy fix. We also cut up pallets and laid the wood pieces down in the walkways.

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