I am thinking of building raised beds this year for our garden. Last year was our first year here and my first attempt at gardening - it was pretty much a trial year. We have two main problems: the soil - everything is clay here, hence the raised bed idea - and lack of sunlight. We have three huge maple and oak trees in our backyard and while we have lots of dappled sunlight all day, we have very little direct sunlight in any one place for any amount of time. My spring garden last year went really well so I know we have enough light until about June. I planted one tomato plant and one eggplant last year and they didn't do anything - but I don't know if that was because of the soil or the light. (Or the fact that last year was really really hot here).
Is it even worth it to try the raised beds? My dad has offered to make them but I would hate to go to the trouble of making them and then not have anything grow. There is one spot along the fence that might get a little more light than the rest and I wanted to try this year but it's still not a huge amount.
Not really sure at all! Maybe there is hope? There are so many variables to consider.
My only gardening experience comes from my dad who has a container garden at his house which is in full sun all day long. We have nowhere near that so it's one of the first things I think of as a potential problem here.
I would say try again.Get a bag of good soil to use just for the holes your plants will go in.You can buy these one time tags that will detect the sunshine amount,but I say save the money for plants and just check your spots hourly and make a noet.
Another option is to get some 5 gallon pots and put your plants in there.This way they are movable,but you need to water them often and if you don't add drain holes protect from rain overload.
I never had any luck with eggplants.I do get tomatos,but disease has been an issue.If you like zukes I have found they grow easily.
Don't give up!
Look into layering your beds and topping off with good soil/plants.No need to dig down.Another option is to dig a hole and dump in food scraps then cover.Repeat over and over.The eathworms will come and take care of that clay soil! My yard was nothing but clay fill dirt.I started with one square then another.To each I added scraps and the worms came. I knew I had bad soil when I dug for worms and found zero back in 2005.
My first couple years, my tomatoes hardly grew at all. Here is what gave me some improvement last year: More even watering and mulching to keep it moist, more nitrogen especially the first 2 months (composted manure dug in before planting, plus fish emulsion fertilizer every few weeks, and having planted beans or peas or vetch there before), some bone meal in the soil to fill the planting hole, and simply using a bed that had been fed and worked and planted in before. My garden beds really improve each year it seems like, adding manure and planting hairy vetch or whatever over the winter, digging it deeply spring and fall. So it's not just the gardener gaining skill each year that improves the garden, it's the soil itself improving if you feed it well and rotate crops. Loosening the soil really deep helps a lot, and planting the transplants way deeper than they were in the pot, the stem becomes root and a great root system really lets it thrive. Though another option is no-till, just piling the good stuff continually (dry leaves, chopped straw, grass clippings, manure, compost) on and letting it all break down, never digging and not disturbing the stuff underneath.
Also, heirloom tomatoes are special and delicious but fresh organically grown hybrids are yummy too and can be really prolific plants. My best performing ones last year were celebrity and champion.
Check out this article for working with your sunlight issues.
Also check into permaculture/permaculture gardening.
Use things like barrels to grow potatoes or strawberries that can be set in any small patch of direct sunlight you have.
Definitely do as pp have said and mulch, mulch, mulch to improve your soil. In a few years that issue will be solved.
Finally, at my previous home I had 4 raised beds that I loved! They produced fantastically using square foot gardening methods and as a bonus I had so few weeds.