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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Romano pole beans produce well in containers. These were grown from seed from last year's yield.

Zucchini and red potatoes shown thriving side-by-side in their 4x2x2 ft container. The male zucchini flowers are particularly delicious when stuffed, breaded and fried.

My newest garden favorite is Malabar, or Climbing Spinach. It grows in sun or shade. If it gets morning sun and afternoon shade the leaves grow larger. It tastes like spinach, but when cooked does not shrivel. I simmer them in boiling water for 2 minutes, then layer them with all kinds of things, such as spiced shrimp and cheese, or chicken and guacamole. Basically I use them as tortillas.I also have stuffed them with a beef rice mixture and rolled them up with some tomato sauce on top, Like stuffed cabbage. This is a great plant for the changing climate, it produces until freezing temperatures.

If any of ya'll like chives, you will love chive vinegar. You pick 10-12 blooms and put it in a clean jar with 1 cup of white wine vinegar and set it in the sun for two weeks. Combine it with olive oil, and any other spices such as salt, pepper, garlic powder, and it makes a great salad dressing. I have also used the bloomheads of garlic and leeks. I just stuff the whole head in the jar and pour the white wine vinegar over it and it's wonderful. I use it on my salads, or pasta salads. Great stuff and it keeps forever!


Thank you for the photo's & helpful information, I have been collecting seeds for some time now & had no idea on how to begin growing them....I do now :-)

I also found this useful Garden / Allotment Planner on ebay.

I am also interested in the best ways to preserve fruit & vegetable's for storing, any helpful advise would be much appreciated.

Thank you Candice

@ Candice:

Over the years we have found that drying the fruit can help keep them longer.  we've turned fruit into jams, jellies and preserves.  The same with vegetables.  You can can them, or dry them.  Which ever suits.  Best to look up on the internet on different sites to see about preserving, pickling and canning.  Or you can get books that will help with the process. 

We've been collecting the coriander, swiss chard, parsley and other greens and drying them in the dehydrator.  Then grinding them into a powder.  We've added the powder to soups, pastas and meat dishes, it also tastes good!

We dug up the potatoes and got about 50-60 pounds worth.  They were planted at the beginning of May.  We stack the potatoes on shoe racks ontop of newspaper paper to allow them to breath and also keep the dirt on them.  We don't wash them as they have in the past turned rotten if not used right away.  These will keep for most of the winter like this, but will be brought inside the house as the utility room they are in, is not insulated.

We'll be keeping the potatoes in a cool dry place in the winter, the basement gets cool and dry from about mid October to mid March.  We kept some up in the kitchen in a basket but they rotted.  We kept them downstairs the last few winters and they seem to keep well.  From about March on - we allow a couple of the  potatoes to sprout so we have potatoes for the spring to plant.  Here are some links to prevent potatoes from rotting and sprouting.

The bed the potatoes were in, has been dug over and a small trench has been dug in the centre.  This is where the kitchen scaps will go over the next couple of weeks.  While it may not look pretty, the scraps will rot over the fall and spring and be ready to be turned over in the late spring.  Each bed will have this before the ground freezes.

The above potato bed yeilded about 5o-60 pounds of potatoes!  This bed was out in the open and was not hilled - that is piling the earth around the potato plant so that it produces more tubors.  This was done in another potato bed under a tree.  However the bed of potatoes didn't do so well under the tree and yeilded about 20 odd pounds.  Some plants like last year didn't produce anything, others only a few turbors and most produced small to medium sized tubors.  When the soil was turned over, despite the recent rain and the constant watering, the soil was very dry.  Beleive this might have been because it's under a tree and the tree saps the soil dry around it.  The soil in this area will be used for another bed that will be prepared in another part of the garden. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply & add more photo's :-) its great to see what others are doing.

I'm planning on spending the rest of the year getting my little plot ready for next season, its about 20ft X 6ft, yes good idea to chuck kitchen scraps in.

We have no tree's on this area, however we did have a 30ft leylandi near the plot that was cut down a year ago.

I will have to do something about my 2 rabbits, they have the run of the garden every day, I'll have to fence the area off.

We do have a great herb garden, my 5 year old enjoyed helping me power & jar our first crop :-)

The jars were a bargain price from Ikea, compared to other store's here in the UK.

I am also considering keeping bee's, as the honey would be a great source of energy & a great trading item, but that's something else I need to read up on, as I have no knowledge on bee keeping at present.

Because we have lots of activity going on in the garden, several years ago we decided to put the squash up on trellises.  They tend to grow just as well hanging as they do on the ground.  But have found the stems are more prickly as they climb than when on the ground.

We planted a variety of squash.  This year there has been a bit of a mixed bag, here are some of the varieties.

Varigated gourd was grown from last year's saved seed.

Spaghetti Squash, This one is about 3 inches, and grown from last year's seed.

Pumpkin, grown from seed from plants for the last 5 years.  This one is about the size of a small football.

The squash will be left to grow like this until the weather turns cold at night, or we get the first frost. The Zukini didn't do so well and hasn't produced any fruit.  They produced a lot of flowers though.  We asked locally how other gardeners were able to get their Zukini's to grow.  They didn't know as others have said it depends on who a person talks to.  Some varieties of vegetables have done well, while others have not.  

We have also been saving more seed. The seed here is Swiss Chard.  This will be left until it matures later in the fall.  Last year we left the seed from the swiss chard to winter in the bed but it rotted with the onset of the thaw in the spring.  We decided to leave the seed and pick it later.  The same with the Bok Choy.  The Bok Choy didn't do so well with the high temeratures, but two of the plants survived and they are producing seed.

Bok Choy seeds

Swiss Chard seed.

The garden is now coming to an end, and we're harvesting the seed and vegetables.  By mid-September if it hasn't already been frosty, the beetroots and carrots will stay in the ground, but the swiss chard, herbs, tomatoes and squash will be picked.

Here is some of the coriander seed...  This will be bagged and stored, some will be used for seed next year, and other seed for cooking.  This seed has been used for the last 5 years.

The tomatoes have been picked, they didn't do so well this year, but the round ones are from seed from the last two years.  Below have some seed that's 'mouldering' and put into the utility room over the winter to store until ready to plant in the spring.

and the 'mouldering tomatoes... have found that fresh tomatoes do best.  Here's a link to some information on 'Troubled Times for Tomatoes

We harvested last year some mini bok choy seeds.  Another plant we had in the garden, was like a white leaf cabbage, but not sure.  It went to seed very quickly.  The seeds were fine and impossible to spot amongst the dried debris from the plant.  We passed the seed through a kitchen sieve into a plastic food container. 

The we stored it in a plastic bag away from the light.

the seeds in the plastic bags will be placed in storage and used for next year's harvest.

In the pots we have, the Radiccio is finally bolting, hopefully it will produce seed before the cold weather comes. The basil hasn't done too badly, but has taken the whole summer to get to the size in the photo, as well as the Stevia.

Fortunately these can be brougt inside to the kitchen and placed by a window to continue growing when the weather turns cold.  The basil is the shinier green leafed herb, and the stevia is the serrated leaf herb.  Stevia is a sweet herb used to sweeten food.

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