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 last few years we have landscaped our garden to have berms (raised areas of soil), old beds left fallow and landscaped areas with gravel over the top of landscaping material to stop weeds.  Last year we went with 9 beds of approximately 13'x 5'  to see how well each area in the garden did.  Most have done well, since this is a West facing garden that we currently have.  This year we decided to use a planagram for 20 or so varying sized beds and map out where they will go.  We've incorporated most of the West facing garden, North (which are under some maple trees) and three beds thus far facing East on the Western fence.  We will also be using the front yard for some use, but we will be using the current bed which is facing East.  With a bumper harvest of crab apples last year, the trees shed a huge amount this last winter, with many not being eaten due to the warmer winter we've had.  The average temperature was about -30 warmer than the usual -35 or -40 we're used to.  But we did get a lot of snow. which helped with the decomposition of the apples and these have been gathered up along with decayed leaves and placed into another compost heap.

Planting at this time of year is not an option either, as the ground is still frozen and so only the smaller beds can be tilled and worked on.  Later in the next two weeks, we hope to work on 5 more beds that have been left fallow.  The extra soil from a nieghbours yard will help to boost the beds soil content.  

We hope to experiment with using tires to put plants into and specifically potatoes.  We hope to dot these around the garden.  The 'Zen' area we used to have has been dismantled and the elm tree trimmed back severely by a professional arborist.  This will allow more light into the area.  Once the ground has thawed we hope to pull the landscaping material from that area and move it to another part of the garden.  This will open up another bed to use.  

We found that raised beds which have been left fallow, can be used to put wild flowers on, to attract bees and butterflies, and also containers have been placed on these berms and raised beds in the past.  A new landscaping arrangement will allow for the containers to be placed in one area, thereby cutting out the potential of missing a container (which has happened) when watering on hot days! 

As we go through the process of doing the garden this year, we will include photos of it's progress and what we'll be doing.  

Have a lot of seed from previous years and although we trust that the seed is going to be good for planting, some seed may not be so clear cut.  Here is a link to the video to check for seed viability:

We started working on the beds a little earlier this year than we have done in the past, and we planted some seed in the first week of May.  For seeds we planted, we decided to do something different.  We used Squash with corn, and in the holes made for the squash seeds we placed compost as well as in the rows for the corn. 

The seeds were planted about 10 days ago, some have started to come up but progress is slow, due to the swing in temperatures, from -2 at night to +14 during the day.  Due to the 8 of 10 progress we don't expect the temperatures to regulate or even out any time soon.

The sitting area we dismantled took about a week to work on.  We had a weed sheet and pea gravel which we moved to another part of the garden.  We then used the manual tiller to loosen up the dirt and added more dirt from the neighbours garden and compost.  This area is more sheltered, but do not know what to expect as previously it had been surrounded by trees.  Because it's a new bed, we will be adding chili powder to the soil to prevent cats from getting into it as well as other critters.  

Here is the sitting area being dismantled.  The soil has been worked before, it's a rich dark colour and easy to turn over.  The main tree, which is not in the picture was pruned back allowing more light, and the small trees in the back ground were taken down.  

Here the bed has been finished.  This was taken early in the morning, But during the day the bed gets lots of light.  

We also planted potatoes not in the ground but in tires, we used wet news paper inside the tire and added a layer of soil, put the potatoes in, then added another layer of soil over the top of them.  We have 4 double tires dotted around the garden, one garden pot and one old washing machine tub with holes in it.  As before with the potato box we will, once the leaves have grown about 4 inches above the soil, add more soil to cover and continue this until we are unable to add anymore.  

We have planted in the garden 15 beds of varying sizes and soil quality.  

One bed in the west of the garden with just some soil thrown onto some discarded sunflower stalks has two patches of dirt, both of them had beans planted in them.  After 3 weeks the beans are coming up nicely. This bed gets full sun all day and used to be a raised bed.  It now is host to raspberries and strawberries. 

The new compost heap in the NW corner of the garden has regular soil placed on the kitchen waste.  But also we noticed we had Onions growing  - not sure if they were the ones that didn't grow from last year and remained dormant and wintered well, then sprouted.  They've been growing for the last 6 weeks.

We have four 'pots' for potatoes from last year's seed, and keep adding to the soil so they are growing nicely.  The newspaper stuffed into the rim before the soil was added seems to help retain the moisture so far, but we have yet to head into the real heat of the summer.  These pot potatoes are planted in the North, the West and in the South of the garden.

We have 3 beds under trees and planted in one, Quinoa, Amaranth, and various herbs.  The herbs and amaranth have come up after about 6 weeks, this bed is in the North and protected some what from the sun and any frost that might come in, but also is a very dry bed due to it being under a tree.  The Amaranth, we planted two rows, and only one small patch in each row has sprouted.  The Quinoa looks like a local weed, while not sure if it should be pulled, will wait to see what it yields. The herbs are doing well.  

The next bed along is also in the North, this was laid down over raked grass and was hard packed dirt.  We put down potatoes that had grown in the bag over the winter months in the basement and put soil on them from the neighbours yard.  The soil is not the best, it's clay based.  yet the potatoes are doing very well and will be covered in another layer of soil now the tops are 4 inches above the soil.

The next bed from this one is a mixed bag.  We already planted squash in fresh soil, but have yet to see any results.  This bed is again under a tree and we've not had much success, although we did plant melons in the bed and they were successful.  

Our next bed is a raised bed using concrete blocks and is in the NE of the back garden.  This bed has done well, this year we planted corn, squash, and in the off chance that things were not successful, marigolds, spinach and borage.  Everything is coming up except the corn.  This is one of the beds we planted in early May.  

The Neighbouring bed in the East is doing well, there are three beds in the east, two have squash, and one has a variety of seeds.  The variety of seeds this year has not done as well as in the past.  however the sun flowers seem to be doing very well all over the garden.

The 5 beds in the South and South East of the Garden are doing well, however the one with the squash is in a raised bed and does not seem to be doing well.  One bed with borage and sunflowers has not sprouted at all.  The one bed we had the onions in, the same with the compost heap wintered with the bulbs in the soil.  But the other seeds are not doing so well, and the bed may have to be reseeded if they are not up by Mid June.  

In the SW we have two new beds, one bed is doing very well and seed is coming up.  This particular location has been worked before in the garden.  The other bed by the fence is not doing so well, again if seed is not coming up we may have to reseed by Mid June.

We have noticed the beans, peas, squash, herbs and sun flowers doing very well this year along with the potatoes.  But with the other seeds, the wobble and weather seems to have affected them.  Hopefully we will get a good crop out of the garden.  

The squash from last year we still have some left over, and it keeps very well, if kept in a dry warm place.  The marrow we used the seed to plant again this year and lots are coming up as well as the spaghetti squash.  

We tried to find parsnip seed, but didn't find any, however, growing in our fridge we found parsnip and will plant it outside to get seed to plant next year.  

We planted plenty of beetroot, carrot, bok choy, swiss chard but not much has come up as yet.

Hey km

 The Quinoa looks like a local weed, while not sure if it should be pulled, will wait to see what it yields

Does it look like lambsquarters (aka goosefoot)? They are related. Lambsquarters is also edible. (eaten by native americans)


I also tried some gardening on my window sill. Planted chilli peppers. The cilantro fell over (too much water I think. Looked like damping off). Now it might start getting too warm for it behind a window. idk

I'm going to plant some duckweed & azolla in little aluminium trays. And see how fast they propagate under shade. Maybe post the results here, if it is helpful.

@ Casey, good information! thanks for the link/video.  As for cilantro, have not grown it indoors but have found they don't mind being potted with some what dry soil, but not bone dry.  We have planted the cilantro, dill and chives in each bed and the chives take a while to establish, but the dill and cilantro are doing very well all over the garden. 

casey a said:

Hey km

 The Quinoa looks like a local weed, while not sure if it should be pulled, will wait to see what it yields

Does it look like lambsquarters (aka goosefoot)? They are related. Lambsquarters is also edible. (eaten by native americans)


I also tried some gardening on my window sill. Planted chilli peppers. The cilantro fell over (too much water I think. Looked like damping off). Now it might start getting too warm for it behind a window. idk

I'm going to plant some duckweed & azolla in little aluminium trays. And see how fast they propagate under shade. Maybe post the results here, if it is helpful.

thanks Km. ok will keep watch on water this time.

In the bottom pot is a radish plant. I threw the cilantro that didn't start too well in there. I'll probably replant cilantro or maybe some green onions.

Green pot above has basil & some chives.

Above that are 4 chilli pepper plants. These are in the main, a way to get family interested in growing vegetables.

I'm also growing azolla & duckweed. I'll grow some on my south facing window. And some out of direct sunlight, under different variations of shade.

Closeup of azolla:-

Closeup of duckweed:-

Right now the azolla & duckweed are in a hydroponic fertilizer solution. But I'll get my hands on some compost & put that in the water. Almost all videos on youtube re: duckweed involve aquaponics & aeration with it. But I'm just trying to imitate something anyone should be able to do in the aftertime (w/o electricity & in shade). We'll see how fast they grow, after I get them in compost water.

Also as you can see I dont have much space to grow stuff in my apartment. So I'll be helping a family friend with her vegetable gardening. This way I get experience & she gets my service for free. You might be able to advertize your help online or elsewhere for free, if you dont have grow space & cant find anywhere else to get some experience under the belt.

(click pics to enlarge. cheers)

Another day at the window sill garden:

I bought some organic green onions. And cut off the bottom few inches & let them sit in water. And planted those (Like shown here)

I hope to collect seeds from them maybe this year or next year. They've been grown in the pot on the right along with some parsley.

The pot on the left has Leaf Amaranth. Its a good summer spinach. I'm pretty sure the one I have is Amaranthus dubius. There's a red kind & green kind. One of them is in transplant shock right now. But they are a great summer spinach. The wiki for this kind says its a ruderal species--plants that are first to show up after disturbances like wildfires (think post poleshift). Also they're hardy & grow in poor soils. They are weedy & self sow. So if you grow them, they will show up next season. I think as we approach the pole shift, we will have no choice but to grow plants like these.

Good easy crop to grow in survival camps, also

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