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Monday, February 15, 2010

Garden Planning, Beds and Soil

spring vegetable gardenImage by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Alright my last posting was about where to place your garden.Maybe by now you have had sometime to think that one over and you are ready to get down to the business of starting your garden beds. Since there are a few different ways to go about this I'll go over a couple of the most common ways to get going.But before I get around to digging and soil lets go over the garden beds themselves since you are going to need to know the sizes of your beds so we can talk about soil.

When we build new beds here at Hrafinstaad we don't worry about the length of a bed so much,we just fit the beds length to the space. But we do keep a fairly standard width to the beds,not measured just done by eye so we keep things looking a bit organic.We like to keep our garden beds from 32-40 inches wide or as wide as I can take a big step over.This is actually a gardening standard in many books.This width allows you to plant 3-4 rows of plantings,enables a person to easily step or reach across the beds and makes your work simple. This measurement is also true when building raised beds.
Now this is pretty straight forward stuff,this idea of straight lines but you don't have to make rows of beds,you can choose to make your garden beds any shape you want just as long as you keep one thing in mind and this goes for all garden beds so listen up here....ALWAYS have pathways or stepping stones for stepping into your work area.Set this thought in your head like stone DO NOT STEP ON THE SOIL YOU ARE PLANTING IN,you will end up with compacted soil that creates an unhealthy environment for both the plants and the thousands of little beneficial creatures,many of which are still unknown but are very important,that live in your top soil.

Finally when planning out your garden area take into consideration how far apart you want your beds to be, this is goes for those of you digging up a big area ,building raised beds or sheet mulching your beds. Our beds here in our front yard garden are wide enough for the lawn mower to mow the soon to be gone grass in between the beds but the beds in our back garden are spaced apart the width of two feet placed together.That is feet like the kind you put your shoes on.

Alright on to the soil part of planning your garden.If you are starting a brand new garden area you are going to need to tinker your soil a bit.That is if you are digging your garden otherwise for raised beds you will most likely buy soil to be brought in.

When purchasing soil for your garden you will need to know a couple of things.One being which kind of soil you want.Most companies that sell soil will have a garden mix made up of soil,compost and maybe some minerals.Call and ask the company what they have for gardens and what is in it.Also when you call you will need to find out how much soil you will need.The soil place should be able to help you figure how much you will need based on your bed size.

If you are digging up your garden area for the first time you will need to add a few things to get your soil going and ready. I recommend once your soil is tilled or dug and nice and fine to add around 30% compost.Now how you know you have that percent is learned through experience.Don't worry to much, trust your eye to tell you when you have it right.You can always add some fertilizer or mulch as a top dressing later to make it all work out. Once you have your soil worked lay out your beds the way you want them.

Back to everyone, I really suggest you wait a few days or up to a week before you plant in your new garden beds.This gives things time to settle in and start working as a new environment. Not only will your soil be happier you waited but I am sure your back will be happier too.Waiting also gives you time to map out your garden.

Chance and I have dug many garden beds over the years and it is a satisfying job. But this past Spring we tried Sheet Mulching for our front garden beds.We have a thick layer of gravel under our front yard and digging or tilling it was going to be a nightmare so we needed another option. I am not overly fond of raised beds,they do not seem natural to me.I like getting in there and really digging in the soil.I feel more connected to the Earth and not boxed in with beds. Sheet Mulching was a great alternative for us it has the ease of raised beds but I can still dig and work on rebuilding soil.

To Sheet Mulch is fairly simple,you will need sheets of un-waxed cardboard or broken down un-waxed cardboard boxes.The un-waxed part is very important,if the cardboard is waxed it will not break down. Lay the cardboard in the shape and size you want your garden beds. You can see Chance doing this here from last Spring.Now lay down a thick layer of compost,it can still be a bit chunky because it will finish composting later. Over the compost mound up soil about 8-10 inches high.Let the beds sit for a week or two before planting in them.The compost at the bottom will start to cook and will need to cool down a bit before you plant in it.Over time the beds will settle and no be as high.This Spring Chance and I will add some more soil to the beds we made last year.

There is so much information out about building a garden and how to care for the soil.It is a matter of how you want to go about it. Look around until you find a way that suits you and your wants. Rhonda Jean has been doing some great postings about gardening and dose a much better job than I, so I am encouraging you to go over to her blog and check things out. I am finding that I know all this information in my head,some of it based on science and some based on how I was taught by my folks but sorting it all out into useful information is proving to be tricky.I wanted to add a bunch of soil science bits to this posting but did not want to scare away anyone just starting out with gardening.

My work load at Urban Farm is settling down and soon will only be working 2 days a week.Cutting back on outside work will be good in the coming weeks,we have lots to do in the yard, build,plant , re organize and create. Wednesday we have company coming over for Chicken butchering and dinner. Our friends rooster has turned mean and needs to meet the soup pot. Spring is beginning to show her lovely self here.Our neighbors Willow tree is neon green with new growth, the spring bulbs are starting to bloom and in the morning I am greeted by the voices of the birds that have returned in full chorus.

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1 comment:

  1. So don't step on the soil and let the soil stew a bit before using. Got it.