Raised beds allow for gardening above the level of the surrounding soil; in areas of poorly-drained clay or infertile sandy soils, it is possible to create deep beds filled with fertile, well-drained soil. Elevated above the surrounding ground, they are easier to work without strain; since they aren't walked on, soil compaction is prevented, which in turn allows for significantly more intensive planting than would otherwise be the case. Raised beds can be quite attractive, and make effective gardening available also to wheelchair gardeners.
Mounding the surface is only one way of raised bed gardening, and the easiest. However, other, walled forms of raised beds, also have better drainage than ordinary garden soil, and it may be easier as well as better to build a few, and work the soil under and in the beds intensively. Bricks, concrete blocks, untreated railroad ties, large logs, all make good and attractive raised bed material.
Untreated railroad ties may be used 'as is,' though of course they'll break down quicker than if treated. Such a raised bed is illustrated, i.e. a simple frame constructed from rough-sawn 6x6" hemlock timbers, set on a stony and very heavy clay soil. The soil from inside the frame was removed in small amounts, and mixed by hand with peat moss and compost, to create a very fine, loose, crumbly mixture; rocks were manually removed.
While this takes a significant amount of time and effort, this kind of investment is made only once. The end result, a very well-drained, rich soil that is easily worked and very intensively planted, is still a pleasure to use.
Alternatively, make walls out of concrete panels. Mix 1 part Portland cement with 3 parts pebbles and 3 parts sand; oil forms so the panels pop out. Chicken wire can be used for reinforcement. Cinderblocks also work well, but need to be mortared in place. Hay bales will work, but are even shorter-lived than wood.
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