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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We have started to collect seed from the beds.  The one bed we have has gone to seed fairly quickly, dill, coriander, mustard greens, beans, borage and radish.  

we clipped the stems about 6 to 8 inches from the head of the seed and laid it down on either paper or in a container so the seed if when it is ready to drop has somewhere to go and we don't lose too much of it.  Then we let it sit for a while in the container while the bugs and insects leave and have a chance to 'escape'.  Then hang the seeds up.  In this case, it was a mad dash to get everything off the bed because of a very large and furious thunderstorm that was looming and dropped twoonie sized hail not too long after we picked the seeds.  We had decided to put the seeds into old plastic solid blue sleds that looked like trays.  Perfect for collecting seeds.  

We also made a vegetable stew from the garden produce, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, celery, carrot, cabbage and some herbs.  We also dug up some potatoes and used some roasted garlic to shallow pan fry the potatoes with the garlic - hmmm delicious.  The stew was good too!

We are using parsley and tarragon in the stew along with pepper and salt.  

 The garden above is ready to be picked. 

The last few years we've been planting radish seeds to add nitrogen to the soil, and when the plants have seeded we've either left them or stored the seed pods.  As beginner gardeners, we've found a lot of information over the years to be hugely useful, like the wild plant that kept popping up in the garden, borage.  This can be used everyday, the leaves when young, raw or cooked just like spinach, the delicate flowers can be used in salads, preserves and jams.  The stems used when young just like - again spinach and cooked or steamed with a little butter.  When older the plant can be used grow more seed, and of course there are volunteers that spring up every year.  Borage grows in just about any part of the garden, be it cultivated or not.  So long as there's soil and sun they're happy.  

Another plant that's very versatile is the squash plant.  Every part of the plant can be used except the roots.  In the past we've stuffed the flowers, used the young fruit in stews or steamed them.  The leaves we've used just like spinach, the stalks when young are tender and not stringy, but as they get older and more established the stems become tough just like the bigger more established leaves.  The leaves when young can be partially steamed and stuffed with just about anything just like with cabbage rolls.  Each plant has a distinctive flavour.  

Vine leaves are something we've come to enjoy as well.  This year they are fewer because we trimmed the grape vine back, but we have stuffed and preserved leaves in oil and vinegar for enjoying later.  We only take the best of the leaves usually in the late spring and early summer, so they are tender.  We've used a greek recipe for stuffing them and frozen them for later.  The leaves don't break down and when placed in hot water for sterilizing they are also easier to fold.

Cabbage leaves, we've just started to use them as this is the first year we've had cabbage that hasn't been ravaged by caterpillars.  We soaked them in hot water for a few minutes and took them out, stuffed them with a filling of our choice and folded them into bite size nibbles.  Most of them didn't leave the kitchen to get to the freezer, as they were eaten quickly, but with a few cabbage leaves, we made cabbage rolls.  

Swiss chard leaves and beetroot leaves.  After asking lots of questions of master gardeners about their tricks of the garden and what they use to cook with, some of the best recipes are the simplest.  One person mentioned that she uses anything she can get her hands on to make 'cabbage' rolls.  That being said, we experimented and used Swiss chard leaves.  These worked really well, and again they didn't last long, but with their distinctive flavour, we put with it a distinctive filling.  

Most plants we've planted in the garden, the leaves can be used.  Using the mustard leaves to give a distinctive flavour to dishes is another thing we've done, and allowed the plant to mature, produce seed which we've used in various parts of cooking and pickling.  

Radish plant we've not had any success with the root, which is the bulb seen in the produce section in the grocery store, instead we've been hugely successful with the seed pods and have had enough that we can use them.  We've learn't that radish seed pods when green can be used raw or cooked. 

We've re-used the seed year after year to produce a lot of radish for the garden and volunteer plants pop up all over the place.  Most of the plants mentioned above are very hardy and grow in just about any part of a garden.  

Preserving your harvest for future use is something that is important, and one we are continuously learning as we learn more about gardening.  The best thing to do is get a book, be part of a group, or internet access and asking experienced gardeners and farmers what they do with their produce.  Most people are happy to pass along their experience and expertise to help those who are just starting out.  

What we've done is to pickle, freeze, dehydrate, preserve and cook our produce.  

The latest we've done is to pickle and preserve food not only from the garden but from the store or the farmers market.  

The best way is to find out what best suits individual needs.  

This year we've pickled apples, lemons (from the store) beetroot, cucumbers from the garden, carrots, and beans.  We've preserved crab apples in syrup, made apple sauce from them as well.  The grapes we've made wine, raspberries a cordial and jams.  

Instead of using lots of sugar we half the sugar and although the jam is runny from the usual store bought stuff we can use it on bread as well as pancakes and cakes.  

We use a tripod pot holder and conical processor which was given second hand, as well as an old coffee filter with a wide base.  for processing jams and preserves.  The large wooden half rolling pin we use to mush down the food to put it through the filter.  We also use tongs.  most of our canning items were found in second hand stores, simply because it was cheaper and more easily found.  

We also use cheese cloth for more runny stuff, like raspberries and cherries or grapes if we need to.  We also use a number of large pots to help with the preserving, pickling process, but since we are also learning, the recommendation is for doing the research before embarking on any pickling or preserving adventure.  It took a while for us to get it right, but once we did we were thrilled with the results and now we are on the path to discovery. 

The one main thing though is the sterilization of the jars to be used.  Be sure to follow the guidelines in any canning process for sterilization.  This is important as a dirty jar will leave the hard work put into growing, picking and preserving your food - void.  

here are some links to canning and dehydrating that might be useful.

Storing food that is not quite ready for canning or preserving can be a challenge.  Potatoes can be stored in a cool dry place with an apple in the middle of them to stop them from sprouting too soon, and carrots we've found can be left at the bottom of the fridge in the bottom drawer and they will last a while.  Squash seems to do really well in a warm environment and much better than down in a basement which is cool and dry.  We've found several surprises gurgling in the corner somewhere creating an experiment we had not intended.  That being said, when one squash is going mouldy, we were able to get at the seed for later on to plant in the garden.  

Any of the leafy greens we would keep no longer than a few days in the fridge then they would wilt, so we dehydrated them and turned them into a powder which we are able to add to soups and flavour rice.  

We also have herbs which we have picked and dried or put into vinegar to add flavouring, either for salad dressings or as a hair rinse (makes the hair smell really nice!)

What we've also done is to make a cakes or breads from the produce in the garden to help use up the produce.  We've also frozen the end product and it seems to fair well.

Carrot cake, carrot puree for carrot stews and tarts.

spinach powder for cakes to add colouring

apple puree for sweetner and fillings for pies, cobblers and pancakes

stewed fruit making a compot 

baked or steamed marrow (squash) which can be used in preserving to make jams and cakes.  

potatoes is a versatile vegetable and can be used in a number of things such as cakes, dried can be used to make flour, dehydrated can be preserved or canned.  

Beetroots are versatile as well, they can be baked to bring out the sweet flavour, boiled to make borscht and pureed to make cakes.

Zukini can be baked, fried and preserved as well as shredded to make cakes.  

we have listed only the ones we've grown in our garden and what we've done with them.  There are so many other uses for them.  

Most vegetables, leafy greens and fruits can be eaten raw, we make sure we rinse and wash off our produce before consuming because we don't use clean water.  Our water is usually used bath water, or it is a mixture of egg shells, seaweed and left over juices which the plants really like.

We use 2 litres of warm water and a solution of 1/4 cup of white vinegar and a teaspoon of borax.  this kills off any unwanted microbes.  We usually leave the picked produce to one side for an hour or two to give the insects a chance to leave the plant once it's been picked. 

Even though there are several blogs on this .ning dedicated to seed saving, it's a large part of gardening.  At the end of the season we can see what plants we want to continue for next year, using non-hybrid seeds which will continue year after year. it took a while for us to figure out that either planting earlier or later really didn't matter when it came to collecting seed, 

We allow the seed to mature on the plant and keep the plant in the ground for as long as possible to ensure the seed is fully mature.  We have put old carrots from the fridge into the ground and let it sprout only for it not to produce seed the 1st year but the 2nd year as the plant is then mature.  Beetroot is the same.  We got a beetroot from the farmers market and planted it in the garden as an experiment to see what happened and we got seed enough for several years the following year. 

We found the type of spinach we grow goes to seed very quickly and leaves a lot of volunteers in the garden.  

We let the squash we grow mature over the winter and what we don't eat we leave alone and when the fruit rots we take the seed out.  We've also taken the seed from the squash we use before cooking it.  Leave it to dry and package it for the following year.  

Eating the squash seeds is also something a lot of people do, pumpkin seeds are popular, but also any of the squash family - the seeds are edible when cooked.  

We are also preparing for the After Time, in that we got ourselves several organic lemons, limes and other fruit seeds.  We managed to find organic Jackfruit which is very tasty and the seeds are edible.  We saved some seed and plan on planting once we are able to after the pole shift.  Not being all too familiar with the plant we asked around and apparently the young Jack fruit (JF) can be used as a vegetable, fried or in curries.  At the moment the JF grows in the warmer Asian countries like the Phillipines, India and SE Asia which after the pole shift, will be closer to the new South Pole.  

We have started to bring in the harvest from the garden, this year it is much later than other years.  We've had a good summer despite the lack of rain.  Small gardens have done well, farmers in this part of the world have had some issues, with those in the northern part of this area getting too much rain or too little, and in the Southern part of the land, getting too little.  Some farmers have had to leave their crop to swath off the following spring and then not being able to do so and find the previous years crop a total loss. Smaller operations thrived though, where people can attend their gardens and smaller operations more attentively.

Since we had a good year for our garden, we were able to pick the produce a little later.  Here we have Swiss Chard, celery and some of the squash.  We also had a good crop of squash which we picked off the garden before the weather cooled down.  We cut the Swiss Chard back as well as the Celery to allow it to grow again.

We strung up the onions, but air dried them first so they would not rot, and the herbs we dehydrated. 

We also dehydrated the swiss chard, which we will turn into powder and in turn put into soups and stews.  

We were also hoping to get some seed from the bok choy we planted, but because of the excessive heat we've had recently (30+ C) it died off even though we were watering the plants.  We have some other bok choy hidden in amongst the herbs and hopefully those might go to seed.  

We had some really good weather the last few weeks and decided to leave the root crops until later this month. We didn't do so well with the turnips in fact they didn't really develop, either because of the soil being too hard, too hot or not enough water.  Asking other gardeners how their gardens faired this year, a lot of them locally mentioned their gardens didn't do so well either.  Some of the seasoned gardeners at the farmers market were selling a lot of carrots which did well this year as well as the tomatoes and cucumbers.  Squash didn't do so well this year and we didn't plant so many, so we didn't get as much as we would have liked.  We got a fairly decent crop of potatoes, as well as tomatoes.  The beets in the tires did well and we were able to get a decent crop.  We also picked the cabbage.  Asking a seasoned master gardener they mentioned that once they had picked the carrots, they took the tops off and placed them in a container with holes and kept it in cold storage like their basement or dug a hole in the ground about 18 inches deep, put the bucket in the hole and covered it with wood to stop insects from getting in.  Then covered it with old potato stems or anything that would cover the wood to insulate it from the cold.  Apparently they said upon digging in the spring the potatoes, carrots or beets that had been buried would have been perfectly okay and not frozen as they'd have been insulated.   

We have several heads of red cabbage, and we noticed they were not big, but this is the first year they actually grew without being eaten by hoards of caterpillars. (using the roasted garlic rub on the leaves actually helped quite a bit!) We were advised instead of chopping off the heads, to dig up the roots and keep the heads attached, cut off the outside leaves and leave the head, store them upside down in cool storage then use them as needed.  They would keep well for a couple of months like this.  

We also planted several herbs, stevia, thyme, mint and oregano  in pots on our deck, these pots have now been brought inside the house much to the amusement of our cats, but we had some freezer dried lemon and lime husks which we kept and put them open ended down on the soil of the plant to stop them from digging in the soil.  So far it's worked.  

The seed we picked is slowly drying out in the shed and will be there until the snow flies.  We will bring them inside and either make mustard from them or save the seed for next year.  As for the radish seeds we will keep them until next year, and let the radish sprout and use the seed pods for food.  The borage seed will be collected too and kept for next year's planting.  

We are now well into fall here at 52 degrees north and what normally we would expect rain, snow and cool temperatures.  Because of the wobble the weather is more unpredictable and we are experiencing a mixed bag of weather, warm, hot, cold etc and as expected is all over the place.  Also the camera is not working so well these days and am unable to post pictures at the moment, when the problem is fixed we'll post to show the progress of some of the fall vegetables.  

We have picked most of our harvest from the garden.  What we have left are the broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, swiss chard, onions and celery.  Due to the cooler nights we decided to rake the leaves and put them onto the plants left in the garden.  We've had virtually no rain for quite a few months, which is good news for the farmers as they can get their crop off quickly, but for others not so much.  

We managed to pick a head of cauliflower about 4 inches round, and pleased with that as it is the first time we have been able to grow this with out the produce being eaten by hoards of caterpillars.  The Broccoli is doing well in the cooler temps and we cut it back after the first set of shoots, and it grew back bushier, but took its time because of the heat.  Note though we have had good cabbage family of plants, we bought them already grown about 4 inches or so from the nursery. 

Someone else locally started growing lettuce and found the cat litter plastic boxes were perfect for the lettuce as it was compacted together and was able to grow straighter.  We have lettuce and cilantro 'still' on the deck in a tub.  The soil in the tub is about 6 inches from the rim of the tub so it provides a lot of protection and with some news paper on the top over night seems to fair well.  We've already had some lettuce in spring rolls, tasted really good too!

The herbs we put inside the mint is doing well, but the basil died and the mixed oregano struggling, but that's because the cats seem to like brushing past it and the Stevia is doing as expected, hopefully we'll have some plants for the spring if the cats don't eat the stevia first.  

The seed we collected is now being stored in the shed dried and ready to process as needed.  The borage seed will be separated from the chaff of the plant and the mustard seed will be used either for next year's seed crop or for mustard.  We have some great honey mustard seed recipes.  

We have also started to build a bed in an experiment to show that digging a bed is not always an option if there is no soil or it's poor soil.  We opted for one of the fallow beds we dug out the onions and garlic in the spring and placed some compost on the surface.  We also purchased - processed card board - what look like card board egg cartons and we are sure the egg cartons can be used for this but for show purposes we decided to use the containers for composting instead.  We have placed about 7 of these containers which contain about a gallon of waste in them from fruit to vegetable cuttings etc and placed them open ended down.  The put leaves over the top and will eventually put the stalks of the sunflowers over and around and then build up the bed with soil and again use branches to build the sides and add more soil to the top and sides.  Hopefully this will work well.  If the weather holds we will be able to complete this project before the winter hits or wait until spring time in April or May to continue.  

This year due to the weather being unpredictable we started planting later than expected.  After a very long harsh winter we were expecting the ground to be soggy, but it has become dry.  So we decided to be somewhat lazy in our approach to gardening this year.  Leaving fallow 2 beds, we planted potatoes in two - one in the Northern part of the garden, and another in the central part.  We had put old soil from the planters from the deck on to the bed in the north, and hilled the potatoes.  Once they start growing their leaves through the soil and break through, we'll add more soil.  In the central bed, we planted potatoes, but this bed had a lot of debris from last fall, branches, compost and leaves. Piling the leaves, branches and compost into a hill, we wanted to see if this helped to retain any moisture in the bed. We scattered our seed potatoes and put soil on top and will do the same as with the other bed, continue putting soil on once the potatoes leaves break through.  

We have another bed which is in the centre of the garden, and have decided to companion garden with squash, beans and sunflowers.  We placed poles on one side of the bed and used an old tool to makes holes for the beans and then filled up the holes with soil from different areas of the garden.  Each bed has new soil form different areas of the garden.  

We made a new bed next to the trampoline green house and have planted in the rich soil we found there.  We also found gopher holes, but realize they are no longer around especially with two cats in the yard! In total we have 9 beds and the deck which have planters with lettuce and bock choy.

This year we planted several varieties of squash, cucumber, melon, beans, peas, herbs, carrots, spinach, beets and turnip.  From the local green house we will be getting swiss chard, cauliflower, broccoli and onions, as well as garlic and celery.  

Our crop of celery and onions did very well last year as well as the herbs and swiss chard,  

Although the temperature swings have increased due to the daily wobble, we are hoping that the garden will do well again this year.

(pictures of the garden will follow shortly)

It has been almost two months since we planted several beds.  We planted 7 in total, two of which didn't come up and the third only partially.  These beds were out in the direct sun, and the weather has been up and down.  One day 15C and the next 29C or higher.  As a result we put most of the plants into pots this year under trees or on the deck which has a lot of shade. The other beds have squash, beans and borage in them and another two have potatoes, one in the full sun which has not done so well and the other under the shade of trees has done really well. 

On the deck we chose to put herbs, parsley, tarragon, basil, stevia, lettuce, bok choy, mustard and peppers.  We also put into a large pot - swiss chard, italian parsley and celery.  We also have tomatoes as well.  In two small beds made with bricks earlier in the late spring, we planted squash, peas, and dill.  One bed of squash is doing well, the other bed of peas and dill have struggled with the temperature swings and the full on sun.  

The squash beds have done well, as well as the squash in the pots under the trees.  The one bed out in full sun, we let the weeds (goosefoot) grow to provide shade for when the sun comes around in the afternoon

We plan on using the squash leaves to wrap like cabbage rolls.  We have already used the young squash as there was a lot planted, in dishes as a flavouring. Some of the squash was planted in a bed under the trees, but the soil was used to fill the pots and the squash grew in random places.  So we used them in various dishes.

This is one of the Squash after two months, it's 2 feet high and already has fruit and blossoms on it.  This one is under one of the trees at the side of the house, facing north, and is relatively protected from the direct sun during the day. 

This bed is in full sunlight and hasn't done so well.  It's taken a while to get the squash to grow and the goosefoot weed will hopefully protect the beans and squash as it grows taller. 

We are now at the beginning of August and it's been a mixed bag for weather.  We've had heat one week and cool temps the next.  For the first time since gardening we've got cucumbers.  They are in a pot under a tree.  But it still hasn't prevented the plant from drying out or from their leaves from turning brown.  The two other squash on either side of the cucumbers are doing well and bearing fruit.   These squash are doing a little bit better than the ones out in the garden.  The quash in the full sun wilts during the day,  and has yet to bear fruit.  The other squash which is also under a tree, is doing well, we have mini cucumbers,  melons which we have yet to find, and pumpkins. 

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