Darlene Carlson, 68, of rural Lincolnville has found a way to deal with the heavy clay soils that are common in this area. She has been using raised beds in her garden since she moved there in October 1993. She said 95 percent of the gardening she does is done with raised soil.
She said the raised beds allow for better drainage and can be filled with lighter soil.
A fenced-in area in front of the berm home contains beds growing multiple flowers and shrubs.
Carlson’s husband at the time, Lester Mott, helped her develop the flowerbeds. They used railroad ties for retainers. Carlson, who grew up on a farm southwest of Burdick, obtained dirt from an old manure pile in a cattle lot on the farm. They stockpiled the dirt at their farm and used a loader tractor to fill the beds.
Some of the beds were 20 inches deep while others were eight inches deep.
The soil was augmented with peat moss to create a lighter mixture.
The garden is exposed to strong south winds, so a fine netting was placed on the three-sided fence to break the wind. Wide paths of grass were planted between the beds.
Other areas of the yard are dedicated to vegetable and herb production. Carlson uses a variety of materials to frame the beds, including bricks, old cedar posts, and stone.
In one tomato plot, soil hills two or three inches deep and one foot wide were developed in rows, and then the entire plot was covered with weed cloth. The tomatoes were planted through holes in the cloth. The resulting walkways are lower than the plants and the rows and walkways remain free of grass and weeds. Drip hoses are in all the rows.
The vegetable areas also are protected from the wind with netting on surrounding fences.
An orchard garden is to the west of the house. It contains apple, apricot, pear, and peach trees along with blackberry and raspberry bushes and grape vines. Interspersed among the trees are small raised beds of flowers. Several old water tanks also contain flowering plants.
Drip lines are in all the beds and even the fruit orchard. Water hoses can be connected to them for easy irrigation.
Carlson said plants could be grown closer together in raised beds because the soil is better and the gardener has more control over nutrients and irrigation.
“With raised beds, you can always plant, harvest, or pull weeds,” she said. “It’s never too muddy to get out there.”
Raised beds warm more quickly than ground-level soil, so planting can begin earlier. This year, Carlson started planting March 1. She said raised beds must not be too wide to reach to the middle of them, and they should not be too long.
“Never walk inside the bed,” she said. That way, the soil never gets compacted.
To augment her garden, Carlson uses potted plants, which are a form of raised beds in themselves. She uses whatever can hold dirt, including laundry tubs, wash tubs, and any other containers that might be found. The potted flowering plants fit into spots that need some color or are bare.
She is an organic gardener and has learned that it is better to use something other than railroad ties for beds because of the creosote in the ties.
Every year, in fall or winter, she gets a truckload of horse manure to put around shrubs and trees and mix into the beds.
Plants are allowed to die down naturally in the fall. During the winter, the beds are cleaned out and the debris is thrown onto a compost pile.
Several years after her husband died in 1997, Carlson married Glenn Czarnowsky of Herington, and he moved to her country home to help Carlson with her garden.
“He does all the heavy stuff,” Carlson said. “He keeps the grass mowed and edges trimmed and helps wherever he is needed.”
Although the original construction was a lot of work, the resulting raised-bed garden is easy to maintain and brings the couple a lot of satisfaction.
Carlson has a greenhouse where she grows most of the plants she puts into the garden. Excess plants, vegetables, herbs, and fruit are sold at area farmers markets.
She said she has loved looking through seed catalogs since she was 7 years old, and she still loves them. She trades seeds with others. She started gardening at 8 years old and has never quit. She points to a grandfather who gardened and lived to be 102 as an example of what gardening can do.
Carlson worked in occupational therapy for 38 years before retiring.
“I sometimes wonder why I still do this,” she said. “I think it’s because I like to see things grow. I like to go to markets to show people what things can be grown and to promote organic eating for a healthier lifestyle. It also is a way to let other people see the results of my gardening.”
She enjoys talking to new gardeners and teen-agers and providing information about various plants and produce. Gardening remains a fulfilling pastime.
“What else would I do?” she said. “Besides, it’s good exercise.”