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 we kept a garden journal of what was planted in each bed.  We decided to plant 5 bed of squash, although we only have two dedicated beds for squash we planted squash in four beds and one bed reseeded itself.  We have four beds for vegetables and herbs.  Four sets of tires at two each for potatoes as well as two dedicated beds and an old washing machine tub.  We decided to change our compost heap to a different bed one that had the quinoa in last year.  We are not growing corn this year but have plenty of sunflowers, borage and marshmallow.  

A garden journal can be done in anyway, but we prefer to draw a map of where each bed is so that we can visualize where things can be changed if and when needed. 

Came across this website for the 12 fastest growing vegetables in the garden. 

After six weeks (sorry no pictures as yet) the seeds are up, but some are very sad looking.  The garden has been a hot spot for heat, and with the erratic weather, some plants have not done so well.  The squash in the two beds we prepared are no more than 4 to 6 inches high.  Some have yellowing leaves, others are what seem to be stunted.  We have had some cool nights, with the evenings and early mornings coming down to 2 C compared to during the day of up to 28 C or more.  The plants struggling are the ones that are in the centre of the garden and not covered by trees or other plants.  On the edge of the garden, most plants are doing well.  The pot with the bok choy and Arugula was planted two weeks ago, will be ready to harvest in another 10 or so days and we can reseed.  Onions, garlic, cabbage, flax, spinach, nettle, and some other hardy squash are doing very well.  Peas, beans and herbs are doing well too.  They are where they would be expected after six weeks.  We have hardly had any rain, and have watered every other day.  The squash also that have not had some special start up is doing really well.  The one in the pot on the deck is doing very well.  We are waiting for rain, which will help some of the struggling plants, chlorinated water probably doesn't suit them.  

We also have an abundance of borage which seems to thrive in any conditions.  Eating the young leaves raw or cooked like spinach, they have a mild cucumber taste to them.  The flowers can also be used to make jam, put into salad or eaten raw. 

We finally got some rain after 3 months since the snows melted.  It's been hard on the garden just getting chlorinated water, but we've also been able to supplement with compost water and letting it sit for two days in the garden to settle before watering the plants.  

We wanted to be organized with some beds and others we randomly put plants together as companion plants.  While there were some beds that just had some seeds in them from previous years and we let them grow.  

In this bed we decided to plant a variety, Squash, amaranth, flax, onion, beets and a couple of other plants.  The plants in this bed are facing NW and seem to be doing really well, they get full sun for most of the day, but that also means they get dried out quickly too when it's hot.  The spinach in this bed seeded and we pulled them this week.  We extended other beds and cleared out other spinach that went to seed and planted a second crop.  

Here is the amaranth in the same bed as the squash above.  We are finding that this great plant is hardy and grows just about anywhere.  We planted some last year for seed and used the seed this year to plant these!

We had also planted kale again this year, but not from seed.  We cheated... and decided to get the plants from a nursery.  The same with the cabbages and plant them with onions and or garlic.  We didn't do this last year and ended up with very well chewed plants, which the insects enjoyed but we didn't.  

Here the kale is right next to onions.

And the cabbages with the onions and garlic.  There are other cabbages in the garden, this particular bed is in the South part of the garden, gets full sun but doesn't do well for some reason.  This bed will be left to rest next year and will be used as a composting area.  

We also have a variety of containers and raised beds this year.  The raised beds worked on last year had the sunflower stalks and small branches added to the base then some soil and potting soil added this year.  The raised beds were randomly planted with quinoa, mustard, squash, sunflowers, radishes and coriander. 

We decided to work only one of the two raised beds this year and since this particular part of the garden is a micro climate we wanted to experiment with lots of soil to barely there soil.  the barely there but nutrient rich soil seems to support the same amount of variety as the deep clay like soil.  However the nutrient rich soil is potting soil and was initially intended to have been spread around with the clay like soil but, we decided to try it this way to show that it doesn't take much to grow plants if they are well looked after.  

The squash on the deck is in a planter under some trees and is one of the plants that is doing really well so far.  We're using the tree to help it climb and hopefully it will produce some good fruit. 

We planted a variety in the planter in the centre of the garden.  Mini Bok Choy, lettuce, flax, corianda and spinach.  We are letting the lettuce and bok choy go to seed for next year's planting.

This year we wanted to provide a bit of variety for the compost heap and include some nitrogen rich plants to enrich the soil when we redistribute it to the beds for next year.  

Squash, beans, quinoa along with several other plants that have started to grow and we don't know what they are.  They were seeds and we thought they would rot but instead are coming up.  

This year has been a mixed bag for the garden.  We've had some beds that have done very well, some that have done not so well.  We had seven main beds which didn't do too well this year because of the intense heat and lack of rain. No matter how much we watered, the seeds did not come up as the heat was too much for them.  However the sunflowers seemed to have really flourished and we let them grow hoping they would provide some shade for the seedlings.  But, we only got swiss chard in one bed, along with cabbage, carrots and beets which flourished after mid-July when the temperatures and weather calmed down a bit. 

The potatoes came out reasonable well, and we have enough for seed for next year, but for yield we expected more.  Researching the sunflowers, we discovered the black seed sunflowers do very well sown for greens and eaten within the first 3-5 days after sprouting.  

We also planted turnip and found the turnip greens rich in Vit. K we dehydrated some to use in stews etc along with the kale which did really well this year.  These were in a bed directly under some trees so the had some protection from the intense heat.  We will be leaving the turnips, beets and carrots in the ground for at least another month, which might mean they go through some heavy frosts, but they will, we were assured, by seasoned gardeners, taste sweeter!

Our squash in the micro climate beds did really well.  The sunflowers helped to shade and support the plants.  We got several squash from the plants before the first frost at the beginning of September!

Interestingly, one other bed was out in the open at the end of the garden, it seemed to be going the same way as the other beds in that it was affected by the intense heat and the lack of water despite being watered generously twice a day... however, for some reason it did very well.  We had plenty of squash, lots of amaranth and beets along with some onions we planted earlier in the spring and from last year.  

As for the berries, the raspberries didn't start off so well, but after mid-July when we started to get rain, they did very well, along with the grape vine, and the apples.  However, as soon as the apples were ripe, beginning of August, within 3 weeks, the apples had rotted on the tree.  We had such a phenomenal harvest with them, the apple tree branches were breaking there was so much.  Unfortunately we were unable to use more than a handful of the fruit, as they were very wormy and had by the time we started picking them at the beginning of August started turning and were rotting on the trees. 

We were also looking after a neighbours garden this year, and this was the first they had planted one, we found that the garden was in shade for most of the day.  The squash did very well, along with cucumbers and beans, peas, and like with our garden, the herbs did exceptionally well.  

The beetroot planted either at the beginning of May, which didn't do so well due to the heat and the lack of water, even though the plants were watered x2 daily, and carrots were dug up today, and they were no more than an inch round if a little more.  They will do for a basic dish - borscht - something very traditional here in northern climes.  The beets and carrots planted mid-July have done very well, and were overall larger than expected.  Although there were fewer that were planted again these will go towards eating the cooked dish.  Any carrots can stay in the ground over winter.  Asking around and getting advice from seasoned gardeners, we found that leaving the beets and carrots as well as other root vegetables in the ground, helps to enhance their flavour and sweeten them too.  Having left carrots we will see if they can be left a little longer as some of them have not done so well. 

Here are some great gardening tips and hacks to keep in mind for the coming gardening season next year...

This year we decided to leave several beds fallow, so we have fewer beds to grow the produce, but we are using more containers this year.  The weather this year has been cooler than usual up north here and we started later at the May Long Weekend to plant and seed.  This year we have melons, squash of several varieties, potatoes from seed from the previous year, as well as beets, carrots, turnips, swiss chard, spinach and several plants that self seeded last year.

We also cheated this year and got cabbage and onions from the nursery.  We interplanted the onions and cabbage and hopefully this will help with the control of bugs.  In previous years, we've not had much luck with onions, garlic or green onions.  Although we've taken green onions, sad and dried out from the fridge and put them into the garden and they seem to thrive.  We also have leaks this year.  

Filling the tires and containers, we used potting compost and potting soil, mixed together.  We were advised to wet the potting soil before hand with about 5 gallons of water to a 60 pound bag of soil.  We followed this advice, as previous years, we put the soil in dry and found it didn't work in the containers, and ended up putting more soil into the containers than warranted.

Here is the soil mix we used the in the containers in the image below.  The containers are a mix of tires and flower pots.   We filled them with damp shredded newspaper to help prevent the soil from drying out too much and to hold any moisture when they are watered.  The containers have tomatoes, cabbage, onions, celery, leaks and green onions. 


This year, because we wanted to experiment and build up two of the beds, we decided to put potatoes into them.  We didn't put them into the ground like we have done in previous years.  We did something similar in building up another bed with soil, and just putting the potatoes on the ground and putting soil over them.  Then when the leaves of the potatoes poke through we put more dirt on top and repeat 4 or five times.  Adding soil to cover the leaves.  This time we watered the potato mounds before covering them with more dirt.  The hand is for perspective to show how small the leaves are, but we will be covering them with more soil.  

This bed had sunflowers in it last year.  This year we put potatoes in around the edge. In the centre we have some herbs and cilantro seeded.  and a nice amount of grass that will be pulled later.  

We have also utilized an old washing machine tub, it's been kicking around the garden for years, and is excellent for potatoes.  This year we're using it for melons.  The frame around the tub is from an old sofa and will help with the vines.  We also planted beans and will put in place poles or some sort of frame to prevent them from growing over the bed.  We also planted in this particular bed some buckwheat.  This is our first time and hopefully it will be successful! 

The container on the pedestal was built a couple of years ago, but we didn't use it. This is just wood with chicken wire over it. This year we will be filling it with soil and some seeds.  We won't be using root vegetables because the holes of the chicken wire are too small.  We might possibly use lettuce, spinach and other quick growing greens.  

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