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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This year instead of putting the herbs into the beds, we decided to put them into containers, using the same potting soil mix for the tires.  The sixty pound bag of potting soil, and 2 bags of 10 pound bags yielded approximately 13 containers of various sizes.  We cheated and went to the nursery to get the herbs, because the cold weather destroys the plants if they are not kept inside over winter.  This year we have a variety of thyme and oregano. 

We also interplanted onions, leaks and garlic with the cabbage.  There are also self seeding plants growing in the beds and we've left them as they are.  

We used to have a built in Trampoline in the garden, but due to erosion we found it was disintegrating.  Taking it out of the ground, we took it apart and thought about how to use the spare parts.  Putting 1/3 of it together we decided to use that portion for a temporary green house.  

For the floor of the temp. green house, we used a plastic table cloth we had on hand, then cardboard opened up and spread on top. along with stones of various kinds.  

Next we put tires on top and filled them with soil, and added cucumbers, Okra, water melon and melon.  

Once the tires were filled the clear plastic was placed on top but due to the high winds every afternoon, we felt there was some weight needed.  Using the springs to hold the mat in place on the frame, we fashioned weights with shoestrings strung across the top of the plastic and frame.  We enclosed one end facing the west, and kept the east facing part open.  

Using lots of duct tape we taped the plastic sheeting together, and used rocks to hold the plastic in place at the base of the green house.  We will find out if it holds through out the summer.  

At the front of the green house is an old frame from a sofa, we've had this utilized for various plants over the years! This year it will hopefully help with the beans.  

This particular spot in the garden gets varying sun and shade due to the tree in the corner of the garden and the fence.  It is exposed to sunlight most of the day.  

Here are some of the tools we used for the project.  Not included here is the purple plastic, cardboard, stones, and the frame of the trampoline.

Here is the basic frame of the trampoline laid out by the bed with the tires resting on the base parts to keep it in place. 

Here we placed the purple plastic table cloth, stones and cardboard as the base.  

The tires are full of soil, and as we've done with the others, placed wet newspapers in the tires to retain moisture.  The frame at the front will help with the beans to keep them from trailing along the beds.  We also used the springs of the trampoline, as a hanging frame for the cucumbers to climb onto, and other plants too.  

Here below is a clearer view of the spring frame and the layout of the tires and plants.  

The finished green house.  The weights are the springs over the top of the plastic holding it down and attached to the shoe laces.  The cat, is for perspective, but it's relatively spacious! 

In this image, the duct tape is keeping the two pieces together and the spring weights are holding the plastic down.  

The plastic is held down by rocks found in the garden, and if needed they can be taken off to gain access to the plants.  The plants will be watered from the front.  

All items were found on site using stuff we already had on hand.  The only thing we found is that small items can easily be lost either buried or misplaced (we had this with the scissors - they were buried by accident) Using a small box, container or tool belt is helpful to keep things in one place!

The board on the pedestal is now filled and we have placed seed in it.  Borage, Cilantro, Dill and amaranth.  We will see what comes up!

It has been just a little over 5 weeks since first planting the garden, and in some beds 6 weeks.  With the temperatures being a little cool and once or twice being almost at freezing point, we saw some of the cabbage leaves turn purple.  But for the most part they are doing well in the tires.  We grouped the tires together, and filled in the gaps with soil and planted peas and spinach in the gaps.  We didn't want to waste any space between the containers.  

We have in the tires a mix of herbs and vegetables.  Onions, bock choy, cabbage, peas, spinach, broccoli, celery, tomatoes, carrots, (which have yet to come up) and cilantro.  We found that the bugs don't like to climb up the rubber tires, and the weeds are easy to control as well.  

Also in this part of the garden we have the green house.

We found the spring weights were a good idea at the time, but not practical as they flew off one too many times due to the increased wind.  Once it rained we decided to keep the rain water in the dip of the plastic to keep the plastic on the frame.  It had blown off a a few times during some of the storms that came through in the last 3 weeks.   It's also been too cold for mosquitoes so for the time being we are not concerned but we empty the water out regularly, and have instead of putting rocks around the outside, put them into containers and placed them on the plastic!

Inside the green house we also have the plants growing like crazy.  We've already harvested plenty of strawberries, as well as we are growing 3 types of melons and 1 type of cucumber.  Still in the early stages and the melon plants in the metal container are not more than 5 weeks old, are already growing and may end up taking over the whole green house.  

The beans seem to be doing well.  We're not sure why the beans turned yellow, they came from the same batch but came up yellow and are stunted compared to the others.  

The weeds are also doing well, but mostly we have pig weed which is edible, in amongst all this are cilantro, spinach, beets, carrots and amaranth.   Chickweed is also edible and we use it when we can and don't mind when it's accidentally picked with other stuff.  

We also have several squash plants coming up.  We dug a hole and put 3 squash seeds in.  We planted about 20 squash plants and they've all come up.  Hopefully they all produce fruit,   We also planted borage amongst the squash. 

The bed shown below had the soil replaced, but did not have any sunflowers or potatoes in to put nitrogen in.  The soil is hard to grow things in, yet produces after a fashion.  next year we are going to put potatoes into the bed.  This fall we will also use it as a compost heap, nourishing the soil ready for next year.  Part of the issue for this bed are the noxious weeds that come up.  They are an invasive species and not quite sure what they are but they have purple bell flowers and in the later part of the summer produce seeds which spread everywhere.  These are two of the 8 rows in the bed and are about six weeks from planting.  

This bed was planted about six weeks ago and seems to be doing really well.  We planted potatoes one year and sunflowers another, and put a lot of compost into the bed.  These plants nourish the soil putting nitrogen into it, which has not happened with the bed in the picture above.

 In this bed we have cilantro, dill, bok choy, carrots, spinach, beans, cabbage and swiss chard.  

We are also watering with bath/shower water, since we don't have an outside spigot.  Some of it has soap in it and some of it has epsom salts in it.  Either way the plants seem to like it,  Also we are using a larger container for water this year, and since we drink a lot of tea, using the used tea bags and tossing them into the water.  We also put into the water egg shells and let that marinate for about 24/48 hours before putting onto the plants.  We've put  into the water some seaweed which we got from a local nursery (we cheated) but it was in powdered form, and works really well.  Seems to super charge the growing or at least gives the plants a good start.  

We decided to add a little more to the tire containers this last week.  We also wanted to show that containers don't necessarily have to be containers.  The can be rocks, hats, broken crockery laid out, (basically anything that will hold the dirt and drain the water.) a direct quote from a work colleague.  

Below are some pictures of the additions.

We added the walls first and then some stones.  This is to help a little with the drainage.  Then we filled the small area with soil found in the garden.  

The hat was an old hat found in the house and not doing anything.  We put a piece of plastic into it, with holes, and put dirt in, then the creeping thyme.  The other area we put stone and broken bowls.  These had been in the garden for some time. 

The plants to fill these areas, were bought from a nursery and we found that if buying at the end of June, there are some nurseries that have bargains and discounts.  The one we went to had a flat box and we were able to fill the flat with as many plants as designated as possible and then some for a fixed cost.  

We've had some pretty cool nights some times having a little frost at the end of June!  With the wobble the way it is, we have no idea what is going to be next for our weather.  With the two halves of the trampoline on opposite ends of the same bed, we decided that since we had enough plastic and some centre supports we would if needed be able to turn the whole thing into a temporary enclosed green house.  At least that is the plan at some point.  

It's now the end of July just about and one of the beds is ready to be harvested.  In early July it went to seed, we left it so the seed could mature.  We also left some of the weeds in to help protect the plants from the intense heat of the sun   We have sunflowers and pig weed in the bed which offer protection as well.   Once the plants dry out we will start harvesting the seed.  Some years back, one of the .ning members suggested that leaving weeds in the beds would help to preserve the moisture in the soil when there's a drought.  We have seen that this year, we had hardly any rain in the last few months and most gardeners and farmers at the moment are struggling with crops not growing.  

In this bed we have bok choy, cabbage, garlic, onions, spinach beans, borage, sun flower seeds, pig weed which can be eaten when the leaves are young just like spinach, radish and mustard along with Italian parsley and beans.  The spinach, pig weed, sunflower seeds, Italian parsley self seeded.  The herbs we have are cilantro and dill.  

Also in the last few days since a lot of rain fell two days ago, we have had the white cabbage butterfly return with a vengeance.   In a last ditch attempt at keeping them away, aside from our cat and the birds, we used garlic.  Despite the cabbages and the other cabbage family plants we planted this year having onions, garlic and chives planted around them etc, even marigolds haven't stopped the butterflies.  So we had some roasted garlic in the freezer.  We roasted it with organic canola oil and salt, and put it into a bag to freeze and use later.  Thought why not use a portion of the garlic like a small handful of no more than 8 garlic cloves stuck together, and rub on the hands like soap.  Then when the oiled garlic is smooth enough and melted enough spread it onto the cabbages, broccoli, brussell sprouts, red cabbage, kale and mustard leaf greens.  Hopefully the butterflies will not go near them, and with the garlic being oiled on the leaves, the rain won't wash it off.  Will see how it works.  

(update on the garlic) It's now a week later and the roasted garlic proved a moderate success through rain and shine! We will be putting some more on as we've trimmed some of the plants and harvested.  so we will see how long this next rub of the cabbage plants will last. 

Here are the cabbages and et al  - it's only been two days since we applied the garlic rub onto the leaves but so far the butterflies have not been around too much. 

also for the first time since growing onions, we have onions in the container.  Not sure why this is the case, planting them in the garden didn't do anything and they shriveled and died.  

Also with the broccoli we are letting it bolt so we can get seed from it for next year.  The same with the cauliflower at the very back and top of the picture.  We will be doing the same for the other plants, letting one or two of the plants bolt so we can get seed from them for the following year.  If the Butterflies get to the cabbages, they lay eggs and the little green caterpillars decimate the plant, eat it and defecate all over it, stunting the growth as well.  Since we want to grow seed from some of the plants, we need them to be as healthy as possible.  

The cabbage leaves when as a kid we used to eat them while they were growing in the garden, are not readily seen in the stores these days.  But they are a good addition to the family dining table as well.  Most leaves of the cabbage family can be eaten.  We have already had several meals from the garden of cabbage leaves.  In the foreground is dill and cilantro.  

Raspberries are something we eat off the canes each year and harvest, freeze and use as needed.  We can and make jam, syrups and use the juice by placing the berries in an old porous sleeve of a garment, tie it up to the point where the juice comes out twist in other words the cloth sleeve above it  and then let it hand over a bowl over night.  We've used this juice to make red velvet cake, adding it to compots, which is a mix of prunes, apricots and other garden fruits soaked in juices.  This year we froze the raspberries, with the intention of using some for syrup and jams.  

Originally we had 3 canes from a neighbour.  We've cut back and hacked at the raspberries and each year they come back healthier and thriving.  This year because of the lack of water, we've had to water and a lot of raspberries are hard and sour.  We left those and will probably cut those down severely come spring.  

The young leaves at the top of the plant, we save, dry and make into a tea.

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