Gardening from scratch - a beginners guide

A beginners guide to Gardening.

Have added several 5' x 13' plant beds to a garden.  Starting from scratch using only the minimal of tools, a shovel, rake and a home made soil sieve.  Also using kitchen scraps to make a compost heap, along with grass cuttings and any spare soil from different areas of the garden. 

This is where the sod was  taken off and placed in different areas of the garden.  The soil has never been worked, and had to be dug by shovel to turn it over.

next, the soil was dug up and passed through a sieve to aerate it and get rid of any surface weeds.


and the next stage was to add other top soil which had been sitting out for a couple of years, the three types of soil used was the original, which is slightly grey in colour (yellow card) and the compost (green card) and the top soil ( blue card)

The tools used were rudimentary, and because there wasn't any wheel barrow, have used a plastic flower pot instead.  This works quite well, and builds up muscle.the sieve was put onto two upturned containers and worked through with the hands or a garden trowel.  the sieve was made of four pieces of wood and really find wire mesh about 1 cm diameter holes.  The garden centre thought it strange to ask for a 2 foot square piece of wire... but it was cheap and didn't want the whole role. 

The completed garden bed with a loose stone wall and loose brick planters.The total time it took from start to finish was approximately 12-14 hours of work with minimal equipment. This is half way through the process, the three extra beds took two weeks. Two other beds are done and are 13 x 5 as well.  Each bed will be fertilized with kitchen food, and compost from the compost heap at the end of October trenches will be built in each one and food waste will be placed in the shallow trench.  This will be covered once the frosts start freezing the ground and then covered over to break down over the winter.  Once Spring comes the beds will be turned over once more.  With the addition of extra soil in the fall to each bed they will be about 6 inches above ground so any settling will keep the beds at ground level or there abouts rather than sinking into the ground - at least that is the general idea...

Here are the beds half way through...


And here are the finished beds - all material was found on site, the only thing that was bought was the material to stop the weeds from growing up through the gravel.

some trees in the back ground are only a year old, everything seems to grow really fast during the summer months.  We have one tree that grows 6 feet in one year and is notoriously hard to get rid of, its Carraganon, and grows wild here on the prairies.  It's invasive but excellent for fencing, coverage for just about anything else except eating!


The beds are planted on the sides with what ever was found in the garden, the first bed has concrete breeze blocks excellent for using for potted plants as well, the second is made from stones found in the garden, and the third is made from lumps of sod from the beds ithemselves.  These are laid out at an angle and laid on top of the weed sheet and built into an informal wall about 6 to 8 inches high. Over the winter it settled and produced a hard surface along the edge of the bed.

Three extra beds were made and using the same process as above.  The beds have the hoola hoops and tomato cages to put the plastic over them to help prevent the seedlings from dying if the weather changes suddenly.  Branches can also be used.  In the new beds the soil was mixed with potting soil and sieved to reduce the grass, roots and dandelion roots.  Established beds were dug up and airated and left for a week, and then had a fork passed through them to get out the roots from the grass and dandelions.  All beds had kitchen compost dug into a trench in the early fall (September/October) and was buried to break down over the winter, then worked through the soil then left for a week before being raked over and then planted with seed.  As soon as the seeds were planted, took a journal and made a note of where the seeds were in the garden.  (in our area we have a short growing season, normally from May to end of August/September) then it starts to get cold again mid September to October.  After that it's anyone's guess as to when the snow falls!) All seed this year is short term, (maturing between 50 and 60 days.) because of the long winter and not sure of how long the good weather will last... but if there is a possibility, the seed can be planted twice.  Have also planted several types of squash, the leaves and flowers can be used in most cases, especially if it is pumpkin.  (seeds have been used from last year's crop)

Have also used containers to plant herbs and lettuce and will also be making a raised bed for herbs and other plants.

The seedlings are now coming up after 3 weeks, we planted fast growing seeds, raddish, swiss chard (2 different varieites), carrots, spinach and beetroot.  The tops can be used in a variety of ways almost immediately after showing especially the raddish.  They have a spicey peppery taste and good in sandwiches or salads.

Also added in other beds peas, tomatoes, bok choy, coriandar, several varieties of potatotes and squash.

The compost heap was originally placed at the back of the garden.  It had been added to over 5 years but needs to rest.  It will be turned over this year, if there are no squash growing in it.  So we made a second compost heap using only kitchen scraps no meat as this would attract vermin and it would stink.  We placed the scraps on a piece of dirt that had been cleared of grass.  Then cordoned off to show where the compost needs to stay.  We added soil ontop of kitchen scraps over the winter to help with the breaking down of the food and then when spring started we added more.  We also add grass cuttings.  In previous years we have used the dandelions and spinach for salads.

After two months, the spinach is starting to flower and go to seed.  Will be keeping one row for seed and will harvest the rest.  The spinach when it's starting to flower is still good to eat either raw or cooked Believe the plants with the yellow flowers are swiss chard.  Have kept a garden journal of what seed has been planted in each bed.  But, these came up from last year when it went to seed.

And here is the Spinach...

And the chives.

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thx km. It was partly an experimental garden, to see for instance how well quinoa grows here.

do you by any chance know/seen amaranth & spinach ever cross-pollinate?

Have not heard of the amaranth and spinach cross pollinating, and the Amaranth here grows slowly so that by the end of August, the spinach is well and truly done.  
casey a said:

thx km. It was partly an experimental garden, to see for instance how well quinoa grows here.

do you by any chance know/seen amaranth & spinach ever cross-pollinate?

Just updating the duckweed/azolla experiment. I grew both of them in deep shade (this summer). Eventually both of them died. But duckweed was able to do better in the shade than azolla. Even when both of them stopped growing, duckweed was able to remain in a stagnant state-not growing or reducing in size. Whereas azolla was consistently reducing in size & shriveling up.

I believe azolla is supposed to perform better in the cold, but otherwise from what i saw, duckweed was a much better performer. Just my 2 cents worth of anecdote..

Also, one thing that consistently grew in deep shade & far outdid both duckweed & azolla was (not suprisingly) algae. But I dont know much about growing algae that's safe for humans/animals. I know that spirulina requires electricity to oxygenate the water... So thats ruled out for most of us.

Since we had the storm come through with the hail, it shredded quite a few plants, so we waited a bit before posting pictures to let the plants recover.  Interestingly enough, all the beds but one have shade of some kind, the one bed which doesn't have shade, is struggling.  The other beds have some sort of shade from either sunflowers or trees.  

Here are some pictures that show how the garden is progressing.  This year we have a neighbour who is allowing us to use their water from the hose.  So we are not using compost water this year.  We've noticed a difference but, don't know if the growth is due to the lack of nutrients or just the weather.  This year though we did fertilize with seaweed.  We used sushi seaweed! We let it soak for an hour in water and poured the water into a watering can and sprinkled each bed with it.  We will be doing this again just before harvesting.  As most beds had a really good compost added before planting.  

We also noted that the squash in the prepared beds are not doing as well as those that are just plonked into the garden with a bit of dirt over them.  

this is one of the beds with the squash planted in the holes with compost.  The corn was for the squash to climb on, but the squash is not doing so well.  This is the same in all three beds with the same technique.  

This is a squash plant from seed just placed under some dirt, it was only a handful but seemed to be successful.  The squash is also shaded to some degree by a grape vine, and trees.  

The squash in this bed is doing really well, it was very well shredded by the storm but recovered well.  It's producing plenty of fruit and there are at least 3 varieties in this bed.  

Here is the amaranth, two rows are growing, and this is the tallest at only 2.5 feet high right now, we're hoping it will grow bigger with the heat etc,  This bed is under a tree, and when it hailed, was one of two beds that were spared.  

This is the one bed out in the open, and it's not doing well at all.  The weeds did take over, but only after the hail shredded the onions and garlic plants.  One plant is standing tall, an onion, producing seeds.  We'll use the seed next year to plant more onions.  

A couple of years ago we got some seed potatoes from a catalogue, a variety that hopefully would produce the seeds.  The first year we had the seeds, we kept them inside and tried to dry them but they rotted, fortunately, had enough of the seed potato to plant for the following year (last year).  With the seed from last year, which we put into the compost heap and hoped it would sprout, which much to our surprise it did!

Here is the potato seed.  

                                          and the seed potatoes in the compost heap. 

Also we decided to have a go at growing sweet potatoes.  We put one sweet potato in a jar, let the eyes develop into shoots, then once the shoots reached about 6 inches or more, we planted them outside.

and growing in the garden...

Admittedly did ask a local commercial green house if they grew any sweet potatoes and they gave some ideas and pointers.  

The sweet potato you see above is about a month old in the garden.  We have about 8 plants and did have about 12.  Have found the taller the shoot the easier it seemed to get established in the garden.  But was also vulnerable to the changeable weather we're having.  We planted a different sizes of shoots, 4 inches, and up to one foot.

Which vegetables will cross-pollinate with other plants, (when trying to save seed)

For next year, with the weather being so erratic, we wanted to do a type of green house on the side of the house.  Here it's in the South, has it's own micro climate and is protected from a lot of the elements.  We are going to use only what is in the garden to build it up.  Any scraps we have of wood to make it a raised bed and use the soil from a nieghbours garden, the compost from the garden beds.  This part of the garden gets a lot of compost anyway from the apple trees.  So the soil is rich.  What we've done here is to place plastic over the grass.  This basically cooks the weeds and makes it easier to pull them out.  This part of the garden was supposed to be a gravel garden, but because it's been too warm has not been used that often.  As the summer progresses the grass will die off and in the fall we'll be able to take the plastic off and rake the grass off.  The gravel will be utilized elsewhere in the garden.  

Next year, we hope to utilize some of the ideas put forward by several people and use pallets (only what we have in the garden) to build the bed up.

We took the plastic covering off after 5 weeks, as can be seen, the weeds are dying or are dead.  The plastic in the main, cooked the weeds.  We scraped off the top, the weeds, and since most of them were dead, the roots came with them.  Underneath on the top of the soil is about 2 inches of pea gravel.  Didn't want to shift that as it was too much work to begin with, so we decided to make some raised beds with plastic sheeting at the base.  

Using only the available wood we had on hand, that included old head boards from an old bed in the basement, to pallets sitting around the garden.  It was a great opportunity to get creative as well!

Here are the tools we used.  Hammer, saw, pen, screwdriver and garden sheers.  We also used a metal rake and a shovel (not pictured).

We sawed the pallets to fit as needed for the beds.  These ones we will turn into boxes which will we hopefully will show later.  

We found some pallets which we collected, some weeks back at the beginning of the summer.  We cut them either in half, or thirds.  or cut the ends off to make ready made boxes.  The glove is for scale.  The boxes are approximately 18" x 4" x 6" each.  

We also used odd ends of wood lying around to make the one bed.  We also incorporated an old door from a neighbour from some years back.  The door has been used as a garden ornament for years. We laid plastic down first to prevent the weeds from coming up through the soil of the raised bed.

This the almost finished bed, it will be built up along both sides and the cut pallet will have plant boxes.  One will have one at the bottom allowing what ever is planted in there to climb, and the other one will allow for three plant boxes.  This bed is approximately 14' x 3'.  We are not sure how we will plug the boxes if we will use wood or other material for support of the plants, but we do need good drainage.  

The other end of the raised bed.  We used old branches/twigs from pruned trees to use as a climbing frame for plants if needed. 


For the second bed we are making it wider, but shorter, about 6'x 12'.  We will be using the sawed pallets length ways and also making long boxes.  We used flexible board from an old head rest from the basement, and odd scraps of wood weaving it into the wood and hopefully not needing too many nails.  Again we will be using plastic at the base to prevent weeds from coming up through the soil.  Once this is done will post some pictures. 

The soil we are using will be from a neighbour's yard, they had dug out their basement and needed to get rid of it.  It's a mix of clay, loam and other material.  Once fall approaches and the rest of the garden dies off, we will be putting a lot of compost material into the beds to help keep the soil from compacting and to nourish it. We already have plenty of compost from last year and this year, we will add to the beds in the fall and spring.  

We finished two different kinds of planting beds.  Keeping in mind that we were not using any carpentry skills, just ingenuity and creativity and a little imagination!  

The first bed we have already featured, using pallets and landscaped items such as the door.  We did however move the bed by two feet so now it is about 12 feet, instead of 14 feet. This was to allow for access at the back of the beds.

On the second bed we used no nails.  Just items from the garden, pallets and interlocking pallets using pieces of wood.  

The side of the bed is supported by a tree trunk that was in the garden. 

The pallets were cut in half and the head board of a bed was woven in between the boards.  This will form the side of the bed used as a separate'window' box type of wall, allowing for extra growing room.  No nails were used.

On the otherside of the bed it has the same type of 'window box' wall.  This is supported by some wood woven into the pallets.  We also placed some soil down on the ground with wood on top, so we would be able to walk between the beds with out getting muddy.  We didn't have any cardboard, or wood chips so this was the next best thing and what we had available.

At one end of the bed we put a half cut small pallet upright and tires behind it to support the wall.  We placed wood in the gap and seemed fit perfectly, and next to the half pallet was another piece of wood we had in the garden.  These tree trunks we got from a neighbour some years back.  They were going to be thrown out.  

And here is the back end of the bed using the tires and tree stump. to finish off the bed at one end.

The front end we will also be using the 'window box' type of wall. We hope to utilize as much of the space as possible allowing for other plants to be grown in a small area, which can be covered with plastic, a tarp if needed and using the features seen here, to support the cover when the weather changes suddenly, during the 8 of 10 we are currently experiencing.  

Hi everyone

worth having look at this simple aquaponics set up

best wishes

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