Ask Burton: Q: I have planted vegetable gardens in the past and I want to make this one as easy to maintain as possible. I don’t mind spending more time setting it up, but once I plant this time, I don’t want to fight Bermudagrass (and every other weed) – I want to water, occasionally fertilize, and get food. Can you help me get there?

A: There’s no completely perfect answer, but I’ll tell you the method that’s given me the best results so far – and it’s pretty close to what you’re looking for:

  • Setup: Find a spot in full sun. For extra credit, sink a couple of posts on the west side to support a light shade cloth. You may not need or want one, but it’s nice to be able to rig partial shade if the heat spikes through the roof.
  • Raise the garden: A minimum raise of 12″ high, preferably 16-18″, will give your vegetables plenty of soil to work with. It’s also easier to maintain the garden when you don’t have to bend over as much! Cinder blocks are cheap, or you can build a wooden frame. Just make sure there’s gaps or holes in the slats or blocks to provide drainage.
  • Weed prevention from the get-go: Lay a layer of cardboard or tack a layer of weed barrier along the bottom of the enclosure, partway (or all the way) up the sides. (I prefer a woven weed barrier – it lasts longer, and it drains better than cardboard.) Fill the enclosure with a good garden soil, then layer weed barrier on top of the soil, tacked down with turf staples.
  • Plant on a neat grid: Cut a small “X” in the weed barrier at the location for each vegetable transplant. Plant through that hole. Don’t forget the time-release fertilizer!
  • Mulch the top of the bed: This will conserve water, making your watering tasks easier.

It’s also a fine thing to lay a soaker hose atop the new raised bed.  A soaker hose will water the soil for about a foot to either side of the hose, so in a 4′ wide bed, you’ll have two lines of hose. Put it under the weed barrier, and you’ll lose very little to evaporation. Leave the hose inlet sticking out above the weed barrier to make it easy to hook up when you want to.

For more tips on how to get your veggie garden growing, join us for our free Fall Vegetable Gardening class this Saturday, July 21st at 1 pm .