Okay, so you want to get digging, the time is right for planting and you are desperate to get your hands dirty. But you just don’t know where to start. The first thing to do is make a list of what you need before you even begin any work. I am going to show you how to renovate a garden bed that has plants already in it, as I have recently done in my back yard. I will include every step of the process to show what I have done, then you can adapt it to your situation. The best idea is to start small. A small garden of a metre by a metre is plenty to get going, and if you have space, you can expand it once your garden is successful.
- Garden fork
- Tarp or bin
- Watering system (optional)
1. Gather all the materials you need before starting, and decide exactly where you are to put your garden. Start small.
2. Decide what plants you want to keep (if any) and put them aside, everything else goes in the bin or on the tarp for composting. That includes weeds and all unwanted plants. If any plants you take out are in good nick, see if your neighbours want any, otherwise compost the lot!
3. Rake over the bed to remove any stray roots and branches, and spread some compost if you have any available. Don’t worry about buying it if you have none, just go to the next step.
4. Break up the whole area by sticking a garden fork in to its full depth and pulling back on it to “crack” the soil a bit. This is especially important for clay soils. Don’t turn it over though, there’s rarely any need for that, it destroys soils structure and bring weeds to the surface.
5. Spread some manure over the whole bed, I used pelletised chook manure, which is quite strong, so only a light spread. Horse, cow or sheep manure is much bulkier, and has less available nutrients, so you need to put a heavier layer. The smell will be suppressed by the mulch we add later.
6. Cover the whole area with mulch, I used sugar cane mulch, because it’s cheap, and readily available. It is also chopped up quite small, so it’s easier to handle than pea straw or lucerne. The advantage of the latter two is they have a high nitrogen content, and break down quickly to release nutrients.
NB: If you leave your perfectly mulched garden bed unattended, the local birdlife will come and redistribute it to get at the freshly exposed earth beneath. Can be messy!
7. Plant! I have planted tomatoes, lettuce, rainbow silverbeet, cucumber and peas, but I will add more to fill in gaps as the season progresses, including basil. I planted with the long term, slow crops toward the back of the bed along the wall, where picking will be a long way off, and more concentrated, while things I could harvest every day are near the front of the bed.
8. Water everything in. I used a trigger hose to water in the plants, but then I used an old drip watering system I cut up to fit as a permanent watering solution. I will connect it up to a timer so they will get enough water over the summer. I can think of no bigger waste of water than a garden that misses out and dies before harvest! Drips are better than sprays because they lose much less water to evaporation (and wind!), and it all goes to the roots where it’s needed.
9. You might want to put up a fence around to keep the mulch in, and animals out until the plants get established. You should also keep planting in the gaps to fill in places where weeds might appear, and top up with mulch if any thin patches reveal themselves. You probably want to keep an eye out for snails, too. They will smell the fresh young seedlings and come feasting overnight. A dish of beer will distract them, and literally drown their sorrows. There are lots of ways to control snails, I have a whole post about it!
10. Keep watering, keep planting, and keep picking! In four weeks, you could have this: