The first step is to clear the soil of weeds. If it is covered with Bermuda grass, you have some work to do. Since Bermuda will not grow in the shade, you may kill the grass by covering it with black plastic for several months in the summer.
In West Texas, your soil, like mine, will be alkaline. It will probably be some variation on clay. Actually, it may resemble some substance in the process of becoming rock. While alkaline soils present some problems, they are fairly easy to overcome with time and patience.
The next step is to level the soil as much as possible. If it is already fairly level, that’s great. If you live on a hillside or slope, you might want to consider terracing. Many very nice gardens have been planted on hillsides. Level soil is just easier to work and water.
Now it’s time to lay out your beds. You’ve heard of raised beds? This is what we’re going to achieve. The beds should be no wider than four feet but can be as long as you like. Four feet is about all you can reach across to work your beds without stepping in them. It is a very good idea to edge your beds with bricks, blocks, boards, metal edging or something else. You need these edges to enable you to keep the beds well-defined and the paths clean. They will also help to hold the mulch in place (more about mulch later). Plan for paths to give you access to both sides and the ends. These paths need to be wide enough to drive your lawnmower down them. Some people use wood chips or some other substance on their paths. This has not worked well for me because you still get some weeds and grass coming up through it. I don’t mind weeding the beds, but it seems a waste of time to weed the paths. It might work better if one put down some kind of weed block first. I have found that it is much simpler just to mow the paths.
Once you have laid out your beds, you may loosen the soil in them with a digging fork. This will be one of the few times you need to do this because we will be strongly suggesting a method where you don’t disturb the soil more than absolutely necessary. The very act of loosening the soil and applying compost will raise your beds a couple of inches above the level of your paths. The addition of mulch will also add to the height of your beds. You want this height for drainage and aeration purposes. You should never set foot again in these beds unless absolutely necessary. Your goal is to never pack the soil. If you have soil like mine, it will do that by itself.
Now is the time to begin a process which will continue for your life or the life of your garden whichever ends first. You will begin to add nutrients to your soil in the way of compost, mulch and minerals. We will discuss this fully in the chapter on working the soil. But now is the time to add the first layer of compost followed by the mulch you stockpiled before you began. Do not be concerned about mixing this with the soil. This will happen naturally as microbes and worms do their work. As the soil life increases your compost and mulch will disappear and need regular replacement. So save everything, prunings, leaves, grass clippings, compost ingredients and, if necessary, grind them up and use them either for composts or mulch.