RAISED BED GARDENING
RAISED BEDS are ideal for pocket sized gardens with increased yields and no farm equipment needed. This method has been practiced for centuries as 'intensive gardening'.
Basic method: Double Digging, Composting, Mulching, Companion Planting...
When separating the garden from the paths lest water is wasted, soil compaction does not happen and less fertilizer is needed. Also water drains faster, beds warm quickly & remain well aerated. Generally the beds are only 3-5 feet wide so that the gardener can reach all areas from any side to weed, water, fertilize, plant & harvest. Staked crops,e.g. tomatoes, may benefit from 2 ft wide & as long as space permits or the gardeners desire.
Build yourself a box-shaped vessel with 2x6's or 2x8's; logs and stones also work. If the area is full of weeds, mow and then cover with a black tarp for a few weeks to kill the weeds. I suggest digging down as far as you can; even a few inches will help. However the recommended method is Double Digging (although the primary method, may not work for extremely rocky soils).
Dig a trench 12' deep and length of garden; set soil in wheelbarrow or to the side and loosen soil at bottom of trench to at least 12". This is the time to add fresh manure, hay, straw, compost etc. & then proceed to add the top 12" from the next row. When you get to last row add the soil from first trench. Let rest or you can add compost or manure and add "store bought" topsoil. There are many ways to add nutrients as you work the soil.
Before planting, add nutrients to the top 2" (just as Mother Nature does). Add nutrients and soil to raise the bed at least 8-12" After adding nutrients it is best to let the beds settle before planting.
The ideal location would receive morning & early afternoon sun & afternoon shade, Slope gently to the southeast, south or east. Do not place raised beds over large roots of trees, as the trees will steal the moisture & nutrients.
Mulch 2-3" after planting around base of plant & in spaces between plants for WEED-FREE gardening. Some folks use WEED MATTING and poke a hole where plant will go in. Weed matting does not feed the soil, as good organic mulch will. Ruth Stock originated the year round (8-12') mulched, no work garden...since 1943 she used the method with great success. She has several books in print.
For the new gardener it may be easier to make a lot of little beds & plant one crop in each until you are ready for companion planting, succession planting & the like. Rotate your beds each season. Follow heavy feeders with legumes. Follow root crops with something like tomatoes. Follow tomatoes with leafy greens.
Only sprawling veggies like squashes, pumpkins, melons need 3 feet between each plant. In raised beds you can plant within 12" of each other. Just don't let leaves overlap. Touching okay, overlapping no!
Contact your local County Extension; they have lots of free info and pictures too! Also check out Organic Gardening Magazine . Check out Seeds of Change for heirloom seeds ; also Seed Savers at (563) 382-5990.
OSU Raised Bed Gardening
MU Raised Bed Gardening
The Garden Helper
Virginia Cooperative Extension PDF
University of FL Raised Beds
Note: A search for "raised bed garden how to" will produce many more links. ~WWD