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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The potato patches we've had some potatoes from earlier in late July, but have yet to look at what they yield for later this year.  We are hoping for a moderately good crop.  One bed is in the full sun and the other is in the shade under trees.  Also on the deck we've had plenty of success, with the bok choy, lettuce, kale, basil, tomatoes, parsley as well as celery, swiss chard and beans.  The beans in the full sun have been protected by the goosefoot weed, as well as the beets and carrots.  We did a test dig and it looks like we are going to get a decent crop this year.  A lot of the area where we live has had some rain, other areas have had hardly any.  We decided to try something different this year with the weeds and keep them in place to help keep moisture in the soil.  So far we have been successful and have had some good results with the beets and carrots.   Note that goosefoot leaves can also be eaten.  

The last few days we have experienced some wild temperature swings.  With one day being +40C and the next being +15C it's been hard on the plants.  The extreme temperatures have not been kind to the exposed plants and including the weeds, most were scorched due to the heat.  We've also experienced the lows of temperature extremes with one night at +7C. With all this we are noticing the garden is not doing so well, and decided to harvest the squash and beet leaves.  Our lettuce died in the pots on the deck, but our tomatoes are doing very well, as well as the herbs and beans.  The Gherkins planted on the far side of the garden are too small to pick and need more heat and growing time to mature.  The Melons are not doing so well and the pumpkins have only got two fruits that we can find.  

We planted a little amaranth this year, but it hasn't done so well, and the borage and coriander have done very well so far.  

The smoke from the forest fires in the West have left the skies darker and the days a little cooler - which makes for growing in this later part of the season more difficult.  But we do expect a good potato harvest along with the beets and carrots.

For the last little while, there have not been many postings regarding the garden in this blog.  That's because of disabilities which are long term.  So as a result of this, the garden will be worked on with disabilities in mind.  This year we put some of the plants like carrots, potatoes and beets into the beds, but put everything else into containers on the deck or patio for easy access.  Next year we are going to organize the garden differently - not sure in what way, but it will be to make gardening easier and accessible.  This will take a little bit of work, but hopefully the weather won't be too cold during the spring months and allow us to work on what is needed and then plant.

We found putting containers in a closer proximity works  and putting them where we wanted them to go while empty and then filling with dirt helped.  And while we didn't have a spigot for a hose pipe, we put a water container near the planters for easy access.  

We have a lot of bricks which we intend to make use of, for next year in the garden as well as the tires which are currently lying around filled with dirt.  There's also a lot of wood we intend to use for raised beds.

Currently there is a lot of clean up needed, especially with the goosefoot plants, they are also a great source of seed for the birds at  this time of year as well! Today was the first time getting into the garden which had been covered in snow for awhile, and frost hardened.  This clean up will be done bit by bit as there is a lot. 

Also Nancy has in her story Finigan Fine book has a chapter on the oldsters home, gardening in wheelchairs along raised garden beds.

We are at that point where we can almost plant, but the weather at this time of year is very unpredictable.  We are still in April and even though it is warmer than most places in Canada, we still might get snow.  We had a harsh winter this year, with persistent -40C temperatures for several weeks.  Fortunately we had a lot of snow, and the Thyme, leeks, and onions managed to get through the harsh winter as they were covered and well protected from the bitter weather. 

We are changing up the garden this year, due to a disability that set in last year.  The garden in its present form did not work and so we are trying something different.  There will be four types of beds.

One - containers, both on the deck and on a patio with in easy reach. 

Two, a 21/2 foot or 30 inch raised bed made from loose bricks and cinder  block as the base.  In this bed we have top soil and divided the bed into two in a U shape. This bed will be easier, as we won't have to lean down too far to plant or weed. it is also easily accessible for standing with support. 

Three, we have a small raised bed made from stones, small boulders and wood found in the garden.  Again we have top soil in the bed and will be able to sit down and have access to both sides of the bed as it is not too wide or long. 

Four, we have tires for containers which we will use for potatoes and other plants.  These tires have been placed in such a way as to be easily accessible when sitting.  There will be a bench in the middle that will allow access and easy reach to the tires.  

We had some old chairs we rescued, and the curved part of the back of the chair, will be useful as a tool to help when leaning over. The spokes we will use to identify plants, vegetables etc.  We were also fortunate in having able bodied helpers putting the beds together. We also bought the top soil used in the beds as other top soil was used to fill in the trampoline pit we had in the garden. 

We decided to add another bed, one that had been used in previous years, but is overgrown with weeds, raspberries and onions. We wanted to show that an old garden bed not used much and over grown, can be worked on.  This will make 5 beds in total, including the raised beds and containers.  

At the moment it is where the tires used to be, those same tires are now in a different location in the garden and are being used as containers for potatoes.  The trampoline halves will be used as makeshift green house frames for two of the beds, the bigger one will go over the 30 inch raised bed.  

In this bed we are hoping to plant - squash, corn, beans and sunflowers.  This bed is facing west, but is protected from the direct sun by a large tree.  

Around the garden we had several old oak barrels, unused for many years.  Mainly because they don't drain properly and because they are oak, hard to drill through.  This year we decided to empty them and turn them upside down, so they would be suitable for seating around the garden.  When weeding or watering, being disabled a person can sit down and rest or have the seating moved closer to the bed as needed.  The seating featured here is on the deck - we took some artistic license! 

We have had to adapt the garden to suit the needs of the disability, but it's working out well.  We are slowly moving forward with volunteers doing the bulk of the heavy work from mixing the soils, shoveling, rota-tilling and moving heavy items like the barrels, stones and other items.   The ground is still defrosting and most beds won't be ready to plant until the end of the month.  Hopefully by then we will be able to do an 'after' picture of the above bed as well!

We seeded some wild flowers in the garden and noticed when handling the seed, the hands because of a disability don't close properly or hold things as they used to.  So we devised a simple and very effective seed pourer.  Usually we pour the seed into the hand, and then take a pinch and sprinkle into the trough, but there is difficulty with the finer motor skills.  We found a simple solution - a cardboard toilet roll stapled at the end to make a cup of sorts - it will hold just about a 1/4 cup of seed and we found some gorilla duck tape and made some handles - one to slip over fingers when needed and the other to pinch when pouring.  

We have kept to the two raised beds and the containers for ease of maintenance and to see how much we can maximize our yield this year.  We added two adhoc beds with sunflowers, spinach, borage, cilantro and hollyhocks.  These don't need much in the way of water to thrive and will water when needed.  The other beds we have watered every day.

In the small raised bed we have squash, beans and cilantro.  Coming up from previous years are borage and sunflowers.

We cheated this year and decided to buy from the nursery and plant only 5 squash.   With squash, the leaves and flowers are edible and look forward to stuffing the flowers with herbs and cheese, then baking them or stuffing the leaves like fig leaves with rice and meat.  

Borage leaves can be eaten like spinach and the flowers used in deserts or decoration.  Tastes a bit like cucumber. 

In the larger raised bed we have onions and garlic, carrots, cilantro, beets, spinach, collard greens and mustard greens. We also are using a chair back to help keep steady when watering or weeding. 

For the containers we have tires and we've been asked if this will affect the crops grown in the them.  We have planted several years in these containers, but switch out the soil and put fresh soil in along with the shredded newspaper.  Other gardeners we have spoken to, who use tires, have used fresh soil each year.  This year we are using them for potatoes, a tomato plant and peppers.  We also use an old dryer drum for a planter and this year are using it for onions.  

The gray garbage can in the middle is being used as a water container, We have two for easy access to water.  

We also planted several herbs, again cheating and bought from the local nursery! We have 10 herbs planted in containers in total.  These are dotted around the garden - again for easy access, and on the deck.  The plants seen here are rosemary and mint.  We have cilantro, tarragon, oregano, thyme, another mint, basil, stevia and parsley. 

Over the years we've been working the garden, we have discovered the compost heap is one of the more important items in the garden.  Not only is it a great way to get rid of kitchen waste as well as the waste water in the kitchen sink, but will create soil for the following year.  We start our compost heap on a fallow bed - one we will not be using.  Next we select if we want it to be small, medium or large.  Do we want to have the compost heap 'free range' or put a barrier up so it is controlled as it is built up?  The other question is do we want to put slow composting materials like small branches, leaves and rotten wood into the mix or put that to one side for another type of compost. We also put the compost in a place where soil is readily available, where we can shovel it onto the exposed kitchen waste, as it will smell in the heat of the summer.  If soil is not available or not an option, grass clippings also work well.  

This year we put the compost heap on one of the beds in the north of the garden, allowing ease of access.  Starting it as soon as the snow melted, we put kitchen scraps at the base, then when it gets into a nice heap we place soil over the top of it - about 2 inches.  Then more kitchen scraps - another 4 or 5 inches, then some more soil and so on.   Then on the 3rd layer we start watering once a week.   This watering helps to moisten the compost and better decompose, so that when the winter comes it's already well broken down and we won't have to wait well into the summer or fall of the following year to use the new soil.  Occasionally we get lucky and a plant - like squash - comes up!    This year, our fridge stopped working and we had to throw out a lot of stuff. As unappetizing as this looks in the bucket below, when put it onto the compost heap, it will turn into good soil. We were able to put a bit of fish in the compost, but no meat.  Meat can get smelly and attracts vermin.  Most of what we put on there is vegetable matter, most kinds of starches like bread and rice or noodles.  Fruits we also put in the compost as well as old potatoes, which has resulted potato plants! Earlier in the spring we did notice a number of ant colonies and worms in the compost heap so we know it is doing well and not too acidic.  As the compost has grown and is layered, we prefer, since we have the room - to move it out and again layer it with soil, then compost and then soil much like a layered cake.   

The garden is growing nicely, we have had to water with bathwater since we do not have an outside spigot and using the garbage bins to hold the water in two different parts of the garden seems to work.  Volunteers have helped to move the water and the last couple of days we have had a nice volume of rain, and hopefully more to come which will help the garden along nicely! 

So far the tomatoes (we did get six in total but 3 were broken due to cat activity) are doing well.  All of them are beef steak, which are the large ones.  The peppers, onions and garlic are growing and the potatoes are coming up.   The arrangement of tires and other containers are not exactly eye catching, it's the ease of access and not having to bed down that is the main purpose of these containers in this particular area. 

We also have several volunteer squash coming up from seed in the bed we planted other squash plants bought.  We have 13 of them and not sure what varieties are coming up.   The grass and other plants - one which is a purple coloured leaf, is a goosefoot plant, will be overshadowed by the squash once it really starts to grow in July and August.  

The raised bed with the bricks has yet to show any seedlings and with the rain we have just had we hope to see something soon.  

We had some old beets and carrots that had sprouted in the fridge.  The carrots had grown furry roots and tops and the beets had also grown some roots and tops.  Several years ago we had a beet that had sprouted in the fridge and planted it.  The following year after it had wintered in the garden, it sprouted and seeded.  We are hoping to get beet and carrot seeds.  The beets we will probably get seed from next year, and the following year the carrots. 

We dug a small trench and lined it with the carrots and the beets.

And then we put the soil over them.  We will leave them to sprout leaves and hopefully either next year or the year after, produce seed.  

We have done the same with green onions in the fridge from the store, they looked sad and wilted and instead of throwing them away, we planted them in the soil.  Several are coming up all over the garden producing seed.  

Having gardened for several years, we still consider ourselves beginners and through trial and error find the right balance for growing.  Each year as the earth changes grow ever increasingly wild, along with the weather, we have learned to adapt and take gardening more seriously.  We also companion garden which helps with the interaction of each plant.  One bed we put squash, beans and sunflowers.  All of them are doing really well.  Onions with cabbage and marigolds with tomatoes. There are a lot plant companions. Here is a list of some companion plants which help in the garden. 


10 Tomato Companion Plants To Get The Most Delicious Tomatoes This Year

10 Tomato Companion Plants To Get The Most Delicious Tomatoes This Year

Companion planting has been practiced for a very long time. Native Americans were amongst the first to use companion plants to improve the vitality of plants. According to Iroquois legend, planting corn, beans and squash together helps all these plants thrive and produce a better harvest. Many gardeners still practice this method of growing called the “three sisters” today.

Companion planting is all about finding plants that can exist together in a symbiotic fashion, helping one another. Some companion plants help to deter pests, others provide shade and some even help to add nutrients to the soil.

To be successful with companion planting you need to know which plants do well together and which ones don’t. Grouping those that get along could just be the key to your garden success. If you want to have the biggest and best tomatoes, consider companion planting. Here are ten plants that will help your tomatoes taste delicious.

1. Marigolds:

Some gardeners would never consider growing tomatoes without marigolds. These bright and chipper annuals do a mighty wonder when it comes to deterring pests. They do this by producing a substance known as alpha-terthienyl. This substance reduces root-knot nematodes in the soil.

2. Borage:

This annual herb planted with tomatoes helps in a number of ways. It will repel tomato hornworms and cabbage worms. In addition, it will improve tomato health and flavor.

3. Mint:

Mint is an aromatic perennial herb that can become invasive. It is best to plant mint in your garden in pots so that it does not overrun the show. Although we may think that the aroma of mint is lovely, pests really hate it. Planting some mint near your tomato plants will even keep small rodents away. 

4. Leaf lettuce:

If you grow leaf lettuce with your tomatoes it will act as a mulch to keep tomato plants cooler. It also helps reduce the chance that disease will spread from the water and soil to the tomato plants.

5. Chives:

This pretty herb not only helps improve the taste of tomatoes but also helps repel aphids and makes a great addition to any tomato salad.

6. Asparagus:

This yummy perennial vegetable produces a chemical that can kill nematodes. Tomatoes contain solanine, a substance that is toxic to the asparagus beetle. In addition, tomatoes grow tall, creating shade around asparagus plants, thus not allowing weeds to grow.

7. Nasturtiums:

These pretty old-fashioned annual flowers not only add color and cheer to your garden but also do wonders protecting your tomato plants. The deter whiteflies, squash bugs, beetles, and aphids while keeping fungal disease at bay. Although they are annual, they often reseed making them an even more delightful addition.

8. Garlic:

Planting garlic alongside your tomatoes will help to keep spider mites away. Besides, who doesn’t like a little fresh garlic in their tomato salad?

9. Calendula:

Calendula, although often called pot marigold, is an entirely different plant. Both the leaves and blooms of this plant are edible and taste delicious in salads. When planted in between tomato plants, calendula is an effective natural way to control pests that feast on tomato plants. These pretty flowers also look sweet in a salad.

10. Carrots:

Carrots and tomatoes share space well. You can plant carrots when tomatoes are small and they will be ready to harvest by the time that the tomatoes are getting larger and needing more room. If you are short on space, this is a great way to increase your yield.

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