Starting a brand new garden
Not too long ago, my cousin called me to tell me she was going to be driving through my town later that day and would like to stop and see me.
I told her, “Of course! I’d love to see you!” So a few hours later, she showed up on my doorstep with her two boys and we welcomed them in. We had a GREAT visit and were able to reconnect in so many ways.
I was showing her around our house and when we came to the back of the house, she looked out the window and saw my garden and asked to see it too.
So I took her into the backyard and showed her the garden. She wanted to know what all of the plants were and she oohed and ahhed over everything.
And then we had a conversation that I have thought about again and again. It went something like this:
Her: We wanted to start a new garden when we lived in Ohio and were planning to do it and then my husband was called to be the bishop of our ward and he didn’t have the time to help me set it up so we never did it.
Me: (completely shocked) Oh man, that’s too bad. Are you going to plant one in Spokane? (This is where they had just moved a few months earlier)
Her: I hope so. I’m pretty sure we will be able to get one started now.
I still don’t know if she has started her garden yet. I suppose I should ask her one of these days, huh?
My thoughts about this conversation (besides total dismay) are how sad for her. How sad that she fell into the mind-set that starting a new garden is hard and requires a lot of hard physical labor. How sad that she missed out on so many years of growing experience and learning. Also, how sad that she was not able to eat delicious, homegrown food for all those years.
And while I can’t change the past for her, I CAN share this story so that this doesn’t happen to you too.
Because the truth is that starting a garden doesn’t have to be hard.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
– Sod is the biggest obstacle to setting up a new garden. Ideally, you have an area that doesn’t have sod. But for most people, the place where you want to plant will likely be covered in grass. So, if you DO have sod, the best option is to cover it with cardboard and let time kill it for you. If you can’t or don’t want to wait, you will have to remove the sod. This can be done but it will get expensive and is very labor intensive.
– Most of the time there is no need to till the soil before you begin planting. Contrary to popular belief, tilling doesn’t actually improve soil and most of the time does more harm than good. It destroys the natural soil layers, kills microorganisms, and causes any organic material present to burn up quickly because you just mixed in an outrageous amount of oxygen. Whenever possible, don’t till. If you feel the need to aerate (which worms and plant roots will do naturally), use a pitch fork pressed into the soil and then rock the handle back and forth gently to create air holes.
– Keeping the ground covered with a layer of organic material will help keep weeds down, retain moisture, and improve the soil as it decomposes. The most obvious choice for most homeowners is a layer of grass clippings. Be sure to spread it out thin so it can dry…wet grass clippings will get very stinky very fast! Once the layer is dry, another layer can be added. Other choices to cover the earth with are hay, straw, newspaper, wood chips, finished compost, leaves, etc.
– Raised beds aren’t necessarily the best option and are difficult and expensive to set up. But I know a lot of people who love them and already have them set up. I will admit, there are some places where they are definitely needed (Arizona caliche, anyone?). Use raised beds if you’ve got them, need them, or love them.
If I were going to set up a brand new garden in a typical subdivision lot backyard, and didn’t have much help in the way of muscle power (like the situation my cousin was in), here is what I would do:
1. Lay down a layer of flattened cardboard 1-2 layers thick over the area I want the garden to be.
2. Weigh the cardboard down in some way: rocks, bricks, or a layer of dirt/compost on top to hold it in place.
3. Wait several months until all the grass has been killed.
4. Either remove the cardboard and plant directly in the dirt or have a load of soil/compost delivered and poured on top of the cardboard.
5. Plant and then cover with a mulch.
If you have muscle power (or would like to pay someone for muscle power or machine power) all the better. You can set up a garden more quickly! These suggestions are for people who don’t have the strength to be digging and hauling vigorously.
One thing I have learned is that each garden is unique to each individual gardener and there are many, many ways to do things. Just because this method would work great for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it would work for you. Feel free to take these suggestions and tweak them to suit your tastes.
Also, it’s usually better to get started on a new garden and do SOMETHING even if it’s not perfect or ideal.
I just went over to my next door neighbor’s house because he wanted me to look at where he was thinking about putting a garden and tell him what I thought. He said “I should have started it in the fall so the ground could sit all winter, right?” And my response was, “Yeah, that would have been the best time. But do you know when the second best time is? Right now!” Same goes for you!
Now is the best time to start a garden
(no matter what time of year it is).
If you need help getting started, be sure to download my FREE gardening cheat sheet here. It’s everything you need to know about planting on one page!
So if you are feeling the itch to grow a garden, I really encourage you to get out there and do it.
You’ll be so glad you did!