Answer: I know that Michigan State University offers gardening classes: Contact Master Gardener Volunteer Program, 28115 Meadowbrook Rd, Novi, MI 48377-3128, Phone: 248-347-0269 for a list of classes near you. Community colleges also offer gardening classes so check with one near you.
As for building a new garden bed, we can start you in the right direction. The first step in establishing a bed or border is deciding where it should be located. How much sun does the site receive? Ideal areas for vegetables, fruits and many flowering plants will receive 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. A good number of perennials, ground covers and shrubs can tolerate or even prefer partially shaded conditions. Few plants, however, perform well in heavy shade. It usually makes sense to select plants that have light requirements similar to those your site offers.
Another factor to consider is drainage. Does water puddle in this spot for long periods after a rainfall? This may indicate compacted soils, a hardpan layer, or a site with a high water table. Since most plants require good drainage, these areas could be physically amended, avoided or in the case of soggy soils, planted with species adapted to moist conditions.
Is the site especially sandy or gravelly? Water drains too fast in sandy soils and plants may be susceptible to drought. Additions of organic matter will increase the amount of water the soil holds. Otherwise, seek out plant species that tolerate dry soils. Soil nutrient testing is an easy and efficient way to determine the pH and nutrient levels of a garden soil. Soil tests are inexpensive and recommendations are made for the amounts of limestone and fertilizer to apply if necessary. The pH of the soil is very important as it affects the availability of all plant nutrients. Adjusting the pH and nutrient levels before planting ensures a healthier more productive garden.
In areas where the soil is very compacted, fine-textured and heavy, or where an underlying hardpan layer exists, double digging can be performed. Double digging loosens the soil to two spade depths. It is hard work but yields impressive results. To double dig a bed, start at one end and dig a one-foot wide trench to the depth of your spade or shovel. Place the topsoil in a wheelbarrow. Next, using a garden fork, loosen the subsoil to the depth of the tines. Limestone can be worked into the subsoil when loosening it if the pH is low. Repeat this procedure with the next one-foot strip placing the topsoil into the first trench. Continue until the end of the bed is reached using the soil stored in the wheelbarrow to fill the last trench.
To finish the double dug bed, top with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter and work it into the top six inches or so of soil. A mixture of organic materials is best. For example, one inch of a high nutrient manure and two inches of low nutrient leaf compost or peat moss. The goal is to incorporate adequate amounts of organic matter but not to boost the nutrients to excessive levels. The incorporation of organic matter is a key step. Organic matter will improve the soil structure creating a more porous rooting medium that will drain well and be permeable to air yet hold moisture and nutrients. Organic matter also provides food and energy to beneficial soil inhabitants like earthworms, moderates soil temperatures and releases nutrients as it decays. Level the soil and plant your plants. Don't forget to water them!
Best wishes with your new garden beds!
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