When it comes to adding a new bed to your garden (or in our case, on our ever-expanding terraces), shaping is the final step before planting can begin. As we learned the other day, the process can take time and patience, but the steps are simple to follow and the end result is immensely gratifying: a beautiful, raised bed, no wooden box necessary.
The bed you begin with should look something like this: staked, twined, and recently amended. Before you start make sure to have all the tools you'll need handy--a shovel, spade fork, hard rake, and sledge hammer--and if your soil happens to be very dry take out your hose and give it a water.
Step one: hammer in your stakes so they create nice right angles in your bed, firmly rooted in each corner with no wiggle room. Since you'll be wanting the soil in your bed to eventually touch the twine strung around the bed, making sure your stakes are secure and upright is very important.
Next re-string your twine around the bed, ensuring each edge is taught and straight. Make a secure knot on the final stake so there will be no loosening during the raking and digging. At this point you can also break up any large clods on the surface of the bed.
Now take your hard rake and sweep across the top of the bed in long strokes, leveling the surface and pushing the soil that gathers on the front of the rake off the edge of the bed. This is the first step of a three-part process you will continue until the soil in your bed touches the twine.
The second step is to take your rake or shovel and firmly pat the side of the bed, packing the soil in and ensuring that your bed will have nice straight sides. It's okay to push hard here--you want the soil to be fluffy on top but nice and solid on the bottom and sides so there will be no caving in.
The third step is to take your shovel and scrape up any soil that did not get packed in on the sides and put it back on the top of the bed. Continue to break up any clods, and repeat the three part process--rake top, pack sides, and scrape up bottom--until your bed is nicely evened out, with firm sides, a smooth top, and the soil as close to touching the twine as you can get. Lastly, give your newly-shaped bed a good water--and prepare your seeds or seedlings for planting!