Garden Preparation Need Not be Difficult
Maybe it was your neighbor’s tomatoes that did it, or the butterfly garden you saw in the park. Perhaps it was a flush of impatiens, lighting up a shade-dappled spot at an outdoor mall. Whatever it was, you’ve decided that next year, you’re going to have a garden.
While you may be thinking that you’ll have to wait until the weather warms again to begin, in truth, now is the perfect time to get a jump start on your bed, and, throughout winter, help create a rich planting material that will give vegetables or flowers a boost come spring.
Decide Your Garden’s Purpose
First, you must decide your garden’s purpose. This is guided and defined by your available locations. Vegetable gardens and butterfly gardens, for instance, need an absolute minimum of 6 hours of full, unblocked and unfiltered sunshine each day. Think of a place in your yard that bakes in the sun, perhaps even a spot where your grass burns out from the heat. That spot is perfect for this purpose.
If your goal is a bed of lush impatiens surrounded by hostas, your location should be shaded, or partially shaded. Look for a spot under a tree, under your home’s overhang or on the west side of a fence.
Shape and Size Matters
Next, decide the shape and size of your garden. First-time gardeners should keep their bed size manageable, about 4′ x 4′. While your garden doesn’t have to be a square, keeping the size to about 16 square feet means you won’t get overwhelmed and give up!
One of the most popular trends in gardening today is using raised beds. Raised beds mean less digging; there is no need to remove grass and sod. It also means you can amend the soil easier and, depending upon how high you build the edging, it can be more comfortable for your body.
There are many, many, MANY ways to edge a raised bed. You can use boards screwed together at the corners, creating a standing frame and placed in your desired location, you can build a fence with stone, brick or woven branches, you can use wine bottles, roofing tiles, pieces of siding, flower pots placed tightly together – the choices are endless! Pinterest has dozens of ideas for edging materials.
If you are ambitious and believe your garden will grow over time, it’s easiest to build an edging that can change easily, using the sod removed outlining the bed. First, place a garden hose or rope on the ground, in your bed’s location, to outline the bed shape. Play with this until you have a shape that is attractive, complements any existing landscaping and reflects the architecture of your home.
With a sharp shovel, dig into the grass along the outline of this shape, about 4-6″ deep. When you’ve completed the outline all around, dig into the other side of this outline, so you create a trench surrounding your bed. Pull out the wedges of grass and soil and place them inside the outline, all along the trench, so you form an edging, made of this grass and soil, all around the bed. In short, you’re using the grass and soil you pulled out of the trench, instead of boards, bricks or stones, to form the walls of the bed.
Next, kill the grass inside the bed. No chemicals, no digging, no plastic – just newspaper for this job! Soak stacks of newspaper in water. Use only the dull, un-coated news print; do not use the shiny, glossy sales flyers. Spread the wet newspaper over the grass, about 10 pages thick, overlapping and covering the grass completely. Newspaper is one of the gardener’s best friend. It is biodegradable and, as it decomposes, will actually help enrich the soil, while blocking grass and weeds from growing into the bed.
Prepared and Ready for Beauty
Now, your bed is prepared and ready for gradual filling with the lasagna composting method. Rake any fallen leaves into a pile, chop them with your lawn mover and place them in the bed. All through the fall and winter, collect vegetable peels, egg shells, celery ends, avocado peels and pits, fruit peels and seeds, coffee grounds, leftover rice, unpopped popcorn kernels, dryer lint, nuts and nut shells, beer, wine, the empty rolls from toilet paper and paper towels, teabags (any staples removed) – and any other biodegradable materials! – and dump them into this bed. Do not include any protein, like meat. Do not include dairy, like cheese, yogurt or milk. Do not include any animal or pet waste.
Your bed is plotted, planned and started. Keep filling it with compostable materials throughout the winter.
About the Author
Rebecca Palumbo is a Certified Master Gardener and her yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Since she could hold a trowel, she has been gardening – first as her mother’s oft-reluctant assistant (read: Weed Puller) and now for her own joy. She has fought Creeping Charlie tooth and nail, struggled to grow zucchini in complete shade and continues the battle of wits, hot pepper and fencing with Damn Rabbits. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association and is the Creative Director/Founder of Rollins Palumbo Creative, a graphic design and marketing firm in Chicagoland.