In years past, vegetable gardeners laid out their gardens in nice, neat, straight, narrow rows with a pathway between each row. Although this approach works, there’s another way that works much better: the W.O.R.D. method.
W is for wide rows, O stands for organic methods, R is for raised beds, and D stands for deeply dug soil. A garden contains two kinds of space-space for plants to grow and space for a gardener to walk. Walking compacts the soil, and compacted soil is not plant friendly. It restricts root growth, thereby limiting the ability of the plant to take in nutrients and water. Using wide rows encourages root development while limiting soil compaction.
Organic methods support healthy soil, which in turn supports healthy plants. Generous use of compost is the mainstay of any organic garden. Raised beds provide good drainage and are easier to work on when weeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. Deeply dug soil again promotes good root development by increasing the capacity of the soil to receive and store water.
Bed width depends on the gardener-whatever width is comfortable for you is best. Generally, you must be able to reach into the center of the bed from each side. These beds are permanent, once established, and maintenance becomes a simple task as opposed to tilling the entire garden for narrow rows each year. With wide rows, you amend, plant, water, mulch, and harvest.
Raised beds can be created with wood or concrete, or simply have sloped sides. Again whatever suits you is best. Once you’ve raised it, stay off it. The point is to have loose soil; so walk around or step over the bed, but never walk on it again.
Dig the soil as deeply as possible in each bed: 18″ of loosened soil is a good guide. This includes the 6-8″ that is raised, incidentally, which lessens the work of digging. A tool called a broadfork works well for this, as it is not necessary to remove and replace the soil during this process. The goal is simply to loosen it.
D could also stand for diversity. Vegetables don’t care about community so don’t plant everything in clusters. Spread it out to confuse the pests. Plant a solid bed of cabbage, and you’ve put out the welcome sign for cabbage loopers. Add some dill, thyme, onions, and a nasturtium or two, and the loopers won’t be able to locate the cabbage! (Please note that companion planting is a subjective term, and some plants do not grow well with others. Do some research before proceeding.)
W.O.R.D. -better for your plants and easier on your back.
Kathy Fiebig, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service