Our added garden. It shows recycled black plastic and using fishing line and t-posts as a deer-proof fence.

How to Start a Garden Bed

Growing your own garden is a great way to ensure healthy, nutrient-dense food for you and your family. In recent years, more and more people are wanting to get fresh, organic food for their well-being.

There is great wisdom in gaining control of your food sourcing and your ability to ensure you get the food you want. Additionally, you will know what went into the vegetables you grow and ensure it is truly organic and non-GMO.

First, select the location of your garden.

It sounds relatively easy to pick a spot and start planting, right? Well, there’s a little we need to do before that.

Note where the sun rises and sets. One of the ingredients in successful gardening is making sure each variety of plant gets the amount of sunlight it needs in order to grow sufficiently to produce what you need.

Seed packets come with recommendations for sunlight exposure. Lack of proper amounts of sunlight will lead to stunting plant growth. If you aren’t careful in planning, you may find out that you have produced a small plant with no fruit.

Similarly, some plants are shade-loving and do better with less direct sunlight. Therefore, take a week or two and note where the sun rises and sets on the area you have chosen.

Note things like: When do surrounding trees and/or buildings cast a shadow on it? Will your shade-loving plants do well where you plant them? Is that where you thought you were going to put your tomatoes?

Another thing to note is the geographic location where you live. “Full sun” in the desert is not the same as “full sun” in say New England. When we tried to grow a garden in “full sun” in southern New Mexico, it did NOT work the same as it does here in Tennessee. We literally had to give our full-sun plants partial shade or they would dry up.

Second, determine your garden’s soil type.

Go to the area of your garden and dig. Not just a little. Dig about 6″ in your proposed garden area. Examine your soil. Is it mostly sand? It it clay like?

Figuring out your soil will help you with the next step – amending your soil. Being new to gardening, if you stop here – identifying and amending your soil – you can still successfully grow a garden.

If you want to take it a step higher in your gardening you can also find out the acid level of your soil by getting a soil testing kit. This will help you make choices about where you will plant things like blueberries, which needs a more acidic soil, if you choose to do so. It will also help you decide where you soil is deficient and what additives (if any) you will need for your plants.

Another thing you’d want to do is examine the compaction of your soil. If your soil is compacted this further makes the ability of roots to grow down more difficult. Take a piece of rebar and stick it in the dirt. Push it down until you meet resistance – this is your deadpan. This will tell you how deeply you need to loosen the soil.

Third, amend the soil.

If you have clay or sandy soil, you will need to add humus to it.

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Humus is actually composted materials. This has a lot of organic materials that are breaking down, just looking to unload their nutrients and interact with the soil. By it’s very nature, it is loose and fluffy.

By adding this to your clay or sandy soil, you are making it easier on your plants to grow. It retains water better and is loose so roots can grow.

You can get this from a compost you have been building, but you can also purchase bags of material called “garden soil” from the store that will help make the soil better suited for roots to dig their toes into and also have more nutrients to draw from.

You can actually start your own composting pile as you begin your garden so that you can have it for the future, next year’s garden.

Once you get the materials, you can loosen the soil and sand with a shovel, pitchfork, or broadfork. Then, pour the soil amendment over the overturned soil and mix it together. You can use a hard rake or a shovel to mix it up. How much to add really depends on the area. Ultimately, keep adding until you have enough to feel like loose and almost “fluffy” soil.

You can still use this method if you are intending to use “no-till” gardening, but at this point it is better to do this and get your soil headed in a healthy direction and therefore giving your plants their best chance in producing.

You can stop mixing when you can’t easily identify clay and sand from humus. Clay tends to clump and so making sure those clumps are as small as they can be and well integrated in with you humus, this will be the best you can get from the clay, but it will work well.

Once it is amended, thoroughly water it down. You’ve now created a comfortable bed for your new garden.

Fourth, decide if you want to mulch your garden.

You should also decide if you want to mulch your garden or not. We are big proponents of no-till gardening. We encourage you to investigate mulching your garden as an option.

First, it helps to retain water in the soil. Last summer we experienced a drought in our area. Many of our fellow gardeners experienced a lot of loss in their gardens. Our garden did really well because the mulch held in a lot of water and protected the garden with the hay.

With mulching your garden, once seeds are sprouted and get their true leaves, mulching can be pushed closer to the plant. We water until this point. After the plant is on it’s way to maturity, we usually don’t have to water unless there are drought conditions. We exist solely on rainwater. This enables us to plant in places where the hose doesn’t reach.

The mulch we have used in the past are, in order of preference, wood chips, used goat hay bedding, and leaf litter.

The wood chips are amazing. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend the documentary “Back to Eden”. We began our garden with this method. Five years later, you should see the richness of the soil that was once wood chips. The only reason we stopped using them was because it cost us a lot of money to import them every year. However, if you can get free wood chips, this would be my #1 recommendation. This is NOT the same as the decorative wood chips. These are ground up trees and branches that the tree companies make and dispose. You can also look up a site where you may get free wood chips.

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Next, we used the deep litter method in the barn with out goats. This is a method of not clearing out hay in the barn, but rather adding more on top of the soiled hay. The eliminations of the goats plus the hay begin to decompose under the top layers and produce heat. Therefore, we leave it in the barn until spring.

When it’s time to clean out the barn, we do so and use the wasted hay/poo to be spread as mulch on the garden. This is like built in fertilizer. Yes. It may cause weeds this way but it’s still less than the weeds left uncovered. With anything else on the homestead, there are pluses and minuses to anything and you always just consider what the best option is or what you’d be willing to put up with.

Lastly, leaf litter can also be used as a mulch. I like this least because when wet, the leaves can stick and mat together. It is more difficult to work with. If you choose to do mulching combined with no-till, this material will remain on your garden bed and continue to break down. Over time, you are building soil health. If you are mulching, lay it over the garden bed at this point, now that you’ve watered, it will help retain soil moisture.

Kitchen country garden

Your Bed is Ready to Be Planted

Well done! Now your bed is ready to have seeds, seedlings, or plants! You are on your way to supplying your family with wonderful goodness!


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