Diggin' In

New beds were dug last weekend - good thing!

Rain, rain, go away... and take this April snow with you too!  It's a good thing that last weekend was so productive, because this weekend was a disaster!  I started creating brand new veggie beds while the sun was shining last week, and was planning to set out all of the broccoli, brussels sprouts, leeks and onions today.  Add to that sowing of some beets, lettuces, radishes and some early carrots and it was promising to be a nice, busy weekend. Hmph - best laid plans, right?

Ah well.  While I'm waiting for the weather to cooperate, here's a look at how my veggie beds are shaping up and how I went about creating them...

The season begins with planning & measuring.
 Starting new garden beds in a lawn can be intimidating.  You look across a perfect sea of green, and it takes a bit of visualization to consider the possibilities.  There are many ways to start a veggie garden, and my plans changed the moment I stuck my spade into the soil.  I had thought that I'd construct raised beds by removing the sod, building cedar boxes out of 2x6 boards and filling in with loads of compost... BUT, I was thrilled to find that beneath the monoculture of my ordinary lawn laid extraordinary native soil.  

My existing soil is lovely, rich and free of toxins or heavy metals.
Oh, the luck!!  It's a lovely clay loam that's rich in colour and easy to work with a shovel.  My friends, it would be criminal not to take advantage of this! I decided that I'd start with 4 beds, each 4' wide by 10' long, separated by 2' of space between them.  I'd turn under the sod, add some additional organic matter, and count myself a lucky gal. 

The sod is turned over with a spade and I worked it in by hand, filling in large air pockets.
It didn't take long to turn the sod over.  I methodically dug a spade-depth down and tossed the sod under, working back and forth across the width of the bed with Arcade Fire providing the soundtrack... not a bad way to burn a few calories!  After all of the sod was loosely turned, I went back over it by hand and with a small trowel, setting the chunks into place and filling in any large air pockets and breaking up the biggest chunks of clay.  Here's what it looked like after that:
The hand-worked soil looked great! 
 At this point, some may think, 'Why the hell didn't you just use a tiller?!'  Hand-turning soil is tough work, and yes, a tiller would have been much easier.  But I think that the easy way isn't always the best way - we're finding that out every day, aren't we?  A motorized rototiller rips up the soil in minutes, but the process is pretty violent.  I'd have obliterated the helpful earthworms that are in the soil (and I saw LOTS of them - a good sign!) and tilling can cause compaction of the sub-soil, which can inhibit healthy root growth over time.  So, I decided to put in the work, save the gas, and now I have beds that will never need to be tilled and will teem with life.  Not a bad deal.

Organic matter like composed manure further improves the soil.
  With the bed turned and ready to rock, I began adding some extra organic matter to further improve the condition and fertility of the soil.  First, I put down a thin layer of newspapers, which I hope will help to inhibit the re-growth of any of the sod.  I watered the paper well, and then topped it off with beautiful, black, composted sheep manure.  

The finished bed, ready for planting!
Finally, I topped off the whole thing with some loose triple-mix, loaded with more organic matter and bonemeal.  The consistency and texture of the new bed is perfect, with well-worked, loose soil that will allow teeny little roots to grow.

One down, three to go.  Lola Mo knows it's not as easy as it looks.
Three more identical beds will run along the fenceline, and Mo Farm will soon be producing some great food.  Starting small like this will allow me to make adjustments and plan carefully for expansion as I go along.  I would have loved to turn under the entire lawn... but I know that this is a smart start!

So, if it ever stops snowing, the next step is seeding and planting beds 1 & 2 with brassicas, onions, lettuces, and root veggies, to start.  Are you in a more fortunate climate than I?  What have you planted so far?

In the near future, I'll share my planning process with you, and discuss the benefit of my 4-bed system.  Until then, happy growing! 


  1. Kris, I like the open garden concept but if you have rabbits and squirrels in the neighborhood I would suggest you plan a way to protect your garden beds from the pesky devastation they can wreak on a garden bed. Since one of my beds will have lettuce in it, I will have to cover that bed with a netting to keep the rabbits from thinking that I have planted a buffet just for them. I have a total of five garden beds with two more planned for expansion this year. My plan is to expand by two each year until I reach a total of 13 then I'll have to see if I want to continue of level off and perfect the 13 beds with bio intensive gardening methods. Thirteen beds would most likely meet all my needs for vegetables and give me some to give away to the neighbors.

    Have a great spring garden preparation day.

  2. Wow! Looks great. I wish my native soil was as nice as yours. I've got this nearly dead desert sand. (The price I pay for year-round gardening ) It also looks like you have enough room for many more down that side of the yard. Is that your goal eventually or is 4 the limit?

  3. @David - I imagine fencing will definitely be in my future! That said, the dog is outdoors often, so I'm going to see what happens and react as needed. Sounds like you're going to be busy this season - best of luck!

    @BePartial - Oh yes, 4 is just the very beginning. It is my hope that the majority of my lot will be producing food in the next 5 years. I'm following the advice of the greats, however, and taking baby steps first - as difficult as it is to contain myself!

  4. This looks great! My husband built a raised bed for me this year. I have a dachshund mix and he loves to dig and roll around in things, so as much as I love what you did, I don't think it would work for me. Happy planting and I hope the snow ends soon for you! I'm in Austin, TX and it got close to 90 degrees yesterday. Ouch!

  5. @Jules - Yes, our furry friends can definitely dictate the gardening styles we adopt! I'm lucky that Lola Mo doesn't have much interest in the gardens... other than an occasional unplanned harvest of some lettuce. Thanks for reading!