Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Start building your vegetable bed NOW! Building a great vegetable garden begins with the initial idea to DO IT. In fact, you can grow terrific edible plants your very first year. The instructions that follow provide the fastest, least expensive way to get started.
It’s true that the first year is usually the most labor-intensive, which some folks find discouraging. However, the rewards of gardening year-over-year just continue to multiply. By adding some compost, regularly pulling a few weeds, and choosing the right plants to grow, you create a MAGIC SPACE in your yard that provides food, beauty, and an occasional sense of awe.
Choose a place to build your vegetable bed. By “build” I mean a relatively permanent spot where you can improve the soil and grow plants for long periods of time (1-100 years). The area (approx. 4 ft X 8 ft) should be sunny, flat, and within reach of a water source. Preferably, the ground is not compacted by foot-traffic, but this is not a deal-breaker. Remove all unnecessary items so you can work safely and without using too many cuss words.
Minimum tools needed: Shovel, water hose/watering can.
Nice tools to have: Rake, gloves, plastic tarp, wheelbarrow, energetic friends. A rototiller is wonderful but something you may only use once or twice, so consider renting or borrowing one.
Materials needed: Compost. You can usually buy bags of compost from any gardening store/big box store, or have it delivered (by the cubic yard) from a landscape supply business like Kurtz Bros. If store-bought compost isn’t in your budget, you can use tree leaves/grass clippings/shredded paper/kitchen veggie waste that you’ve chopped up. (Other suggestions for compost: https://www.hobbyfarms.com/5-types-of-organic-matter-for-your-garden-2/)
Nice materials to have: Pizza to feed your energetic friends.
Pre-action action: Determine if the soil in your chosen area is hard/dry. If so, water generously **the night before** so it has a chance to soften up. If it’s ridiculously hard, you may need to water for a few days beforehand. HOWEVER, if the ground is sopping wet from rain, wait a few sunny days to let it dry out a bit. Use the extra time to collect your tools and materials.
1. Outline your garden bed. If you need to remove turf grass, use your shovel to cut into the soil, and then angle the shovel to remove a SHALLOW slice of grass and roots. Place the grass slices on your tarp and drag or throw them into the area where you’ll create a compost bin (later post). Right now, you need them out of your way.
2. Begin digging down and turning over the soil. You only need to go down about 8-12 inches, which is magically about the same length as most shovel blades. Chop up the soil into smaller chunks as you turn it over. (In the future, you may want to dig down deeper but don’t worry about it your first year.)
3. When you’ve dug up about 3 x 3 feet of soil, add compost (half a bag) and mix it in. If you wait until you’ve dug up the entire bed to add compost, you’ll have to walk over your hard work and re-chop it. Just say NO to redoing work.
[TIP: If you’re not used to turning over soil, schedule at least two work sessions. You’ll want to give your back and legs an overnight break to recover.]
4. After you’re done digging up your new garden bed, rake it level, and then stand back and admire your handiwork. Nice job! Water the area to settle the soil a few hours before you add new plants.
With the removal of grass and initial application of compost, the area is likely to be pretty flat. After you add compost each spring, the garden “bed” will gradually grow higher that the surrounding area. This is why it’s called a “raised” bed.
Stay tuned for building instructions for raised beds that use a box or frame -- our gals from Central Ohio Women in the Trades (Jill and Chrissy) will demonstrate how easy it is in an upcoming FB post. A box or frame is NOT required to garden successfully - but it does make it easier to maintain.