In my USDA climate zone, it's about a month out from being able to plant certain cold-tolerant vegetables in the garden, so today we're going to finally get digging in the soil. I will show you how to prepare your garden bed to get ready for planting seeds when spring rolls around next month.
Hopefully, you've still been throwing your kitchen scraps, yard clippings, and other organic matter into your compost pile and turning it regularly. If this is your first year composting, you probably won't have a huge amount to use for your garden. That's totally fine... any amount of compost is going to provide some benefits to the plants you decide to grow. And if you are consistent with composting your organic material, in the coming years you will have more and more compost to use to fertilize your garden.
Preparing the Garden Bed
You'll want to start by sizing out your garden bed. I have decided to make a 5'x5' area in my backyard the vegetable gardening bed. I highly recommend that if you are new to gardening to start with a much smaller area, so as to not become overwhelmed with the amount of work to do, at least at first. As you gain more experience, you can expand your vegetable garden as much as you want. Just remember that a small garden that is maintained will be more productive than a large garden that is given up on because it's just too much work. A 3'x3' bed is a good starting point for a novice gardener, as it will allow enough room to plant a decent variety of vegetables without requiring too much work or material to start and maintain. Even a 2'x2' will work, although it will produce much less food. Just start with whatever you're comfortable with, even if it's just one vegetable.
Once you have figured out where your bed will be located, it will be time to decide on a border for the space. You don't necessarily have to have a border for your bed, but it will help keep the soil raised up (good for soil temperature and drainage), as well as marking where not to step (helps avoid soil compaction). If you decide to use borders, there are a lot of materials that will work. Collecting sticks from fallen tree limbs in your yard is a simple way to create a border around your bed. Bricks will also work if you have any extras lying around your home. Rocks are also another idea, although you will want to be careful not to hurt your knees when bending down to dig or weed around them. Lumber is also an option. For my garden bed, I picked up some free scrap lumber pieces from a local high school's shop class:
|Some scrap lumber makes excellent garden borders|
After you decide on the material you will use for your bordering, go ahead and align the material into the shape of your bed. Initially, I measured out a much larger area for my bed. Something like 7'x8'. I quickly realized there would be no way to access the middle area of the bed without stepping in it, which will compact the soil and potentially damage plants.
|My initial garden bed... way too big|
To improve the fertility of soil (even without adding in compost just yet), I raked my yard and put all the leaves on top of the bed. There are two benefits to doing this. First, the leaves are an effective mulch, which will keep weeds from getting the light they need to survive in the area we want to use for our vegetable bed. Second, the leaves, as well as the weeds the leaves smothered, break down over time, improving the fertility of the soil by adding nutrients back into it. If you don't have any leaves, don't worry... it's not necessary for a productive garden. But if you still haven't gotten around to raking your yard of fall leaves, consider putting them to use in your garden before bagging them up to be put on the street for the garbage collectors. At the very least, they can be valuable as composting material.
|My re-sized veggie bed, topped off with leaf mulch|
|A year's worth of compost ready to be mixed into the garden soil|
|Adding the compost to the bed|
|Here's the bed with about 1" layer of compost|
|Rake smooth after mixing leaves and compost into the soil|
Finally, when the compost and leaves are thoroughly mixed into the soil, use a rake or similar tool to even out the surface of the bed, making it a little more flat on top.
Now your garden bed is ready for seeds to be planted when warmer weather rolls around. In the next article, I will show you how to sprout your vegetables, efficient plant spacing for maximum production, and more. Things are about to get a lot more interesting!
Total Costs So Far
The cost of growing your own food so far:
- $0.00 for home-made compost
- $0.25 for seed packets
- $1.00 for potting soil
- $1.00 for hand tools
- $5.00 for perennial plant starts
Click here to read Part V: Starting Your Own Transplants