Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Putting in a New Garden Bed by Hand

I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon putting in a new garden bed by hand. I turned a steep slope that had to be weed whacked every week into a place for my onions to grow. I figured why not. 

Turning a small section of the lawn that was too steep to mow into a new garden bed was a win – win considering I want to delve a little deeper into sustainable vegetable gardening.

Now, doing this all by hand was a bit of work. After all I had to use quite a bit of muscle and sweat to transform an otherwise useless space into something workable. My new garden bed is roughly 7’ x 12’ (I’m really bad at estimating measurements, even small ones.)

(I sill had a bit of digging to do in the lower left hand corner of this picture)

Step 1: Digging Out the Grass

I used a spade with a long handle and dug up the existing grass. I worked from bottom to center and then top to center to create my new garden bed. Working from the bottom was easier because I didn’t have to balance myself on the steep hill. Mind you, I didn’t want to compact the grass by stepping on it before digging it up.

The grass roots were pretty shallow so I was able to angle the spade under the grass and lift the roots. Some areas were easier to work than others. After loosening the roots I was able to shovel most of the grass, clump by clump, into my wheelbarrow. For the stubborn clumps I used a hand spade to loosen the roots and removed them by hand.

Step 2: Removing the Debris in the New Garden Bed

After all the grass was gone, I removed any stragglers and ripped out a few stubborn blades where they remained. I also picked out the rocks I found. I noticed some stubborn root systems still embedded in my new garden bed so I removed those as well.

Step 3: Adding Compost/Tilling/Leveling

The soil in my new garden bed looked pretty good but I added a dose of compost anyway. My compost consists of kitchen scraps and leaves. It’s a great way to add nutrients to the soil organically.

Trying to keep with the sustainable garden idea, I tilled in the 2" of compost I added by hand. This took a bit of time but my new garden bed isn’t very big so it was definitely doable. Once the tilling was finished I leveled the soil with the backside of a metal rake.

Step 4: Making Raised Rows in the New Garden Bed

I decided to make raised rows in my new garden bed for 2 reasons. First, I needed some space to be able to move between each row. The trenches left between the raised rows act like shelves on the steep hill giving me a somewhat comfortable place to walk.

Secondly, since I was putting in onions and know they grow better in raised beds, I figured I'd give them a little treat and raise the rows a bit. (I didn’t put in a raised bed)

Step 5: Putting the Onions in

On Saturday I put my onion sets in the new garden bed spacing them about 4” apart and covering them with about 2” of loose soil. My rows ended up being a good 6” inches apart. I knew we were getting rain on Sunday morning so I didn’t water my sets right away which is recommended.

We ended up getting a Nor’ Easter with rain Sunday into Monday so my onions got more rain than I was expecting. (We’ll see how they turn out) It’s still a bit early to be sowing vegetables here in Maine, but onions are pretty hardy and can withstand freezing temperatures. They can even over winter in the ground so I’m not worried should we get another frost.

Since I knew I was putting in my onion sets the next day, I went ahead in put in my new garden bed not worrying about weeds overtaking the bed before it was time to plant.

(Looking from Top to Bottom)

I took several water breaks during the time spent putting in my new garden bed. It was pretty hot for April in Maine, in the 80’s I believe, and I wanted to enjoy my time spent outdoors. As you can see in the first picture, my cat kept me company and seemed to enjoy my new garden bed as much, if not more, than I did. 

Additional Reading

Images By: Patrice Beaulieu (all rights reserved ©)

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