So you want to create your garden bed yourself? Sure, why not! In this post, we'll be covering the basics of creating a luscious organic nirvana in your backyard. Before you know it, you'll be enjoying the fruits of your labours as you devour some of the best-tasting fruits, vegetables, and herbs you've ever eaten. Like everything else, this all starts with a solid foundation, so follow along, and you'll be able to build your garden with confidence in no time!
Step 1: Deciding What To Grow
When it comes to deciding what grows in your vegetable garden, there has always been one rule that I've always followed, with a few exceptions.
Rule #1 If you don't eat it, don't grow it!
A simple rule to follow, but it doesn't allow for a few caveats that most gardens can use. For example, I grow Marigolds, Lavender & Zinnia's in my garden. They're not edible, but they offer many benefits such as pest control above and below ground, elegant fragrances, and act as a magnet for pollinators like bees and butterflies.
When choosing what you're going to grow, consider your climate and be reasonable. Welcome to Canada. We don't grow Pineapples, Yucca, Papaya, or Avocados outside in our gardens and yards. Figure out your Gardening Zone and the estimated first and last frost dates and work from them. Other gardeners in your area are also a great source of information, and like most Canadians, we're always up for a chat!
I used the Government of Canada Natural Resource Website to plan my first garden. It's a great resource to find your Planting Zone and what grows best in your area!
If you're planning to start small, don't expect to be able to grow a Giant Pumpkin or Melons in your garden as they spread out over a large area. Plan for the foods you intend to eat fresh daily or that you want to store over the winter!
Step 2: Location, Location, Location
Planning where your garden will be in your yard is probably the most significant decision in this process. Your chosen location will affect the productivity and success of the entire endeavor. Most fruits and vegetables require a minimum of 5 hours of sunlight per day to produce any amount of fruit. Things like Greens, Herbs, and Root Vegetables can be grown in partial shade. However, in our Northern Climate, most plants require as much sun as they can get.
Try to consider things like moisture, frost pockets, high winds, and access for watering and picking your fruit. Quite often, the most neglected gardens are just out of sight. It's also important to remember too much moisture is as bad for a garden as too little. Wind and frost are two deadly adversaries for your Canadian garden. Try to keep your garden sheltered from the wind and in the spring/fall sun to prevent frost damage.
You shouldn't plan your garden in high traffic areas. Pets, Children, and Wildlife can be a disastrous combination when it comes to a garden. Try to keep your garden off to the side in a low-traffic area where you can keep your eyes peeled for Deer and Bunnies that may enjoy snacking on your young seedlings or ripened fruits.
Step 3: Planning Your Layout
When you've decided where your garden will be, it's time to decide on the type, shape, size, and layout of the new bed. Depending on the quality of soil you have available, there are options for your bed. An attractive option for most gardeners nowadays is a raised bed. Their height makes it easier and more comfortable to work. However, they tend to dry out more quickly. Sunken beds are another good option, especially in dry areas. The fact that they are a low point makes them a natural location for moisture to gather.
Some things to consider if you're going to block or bed garden instead of row gardening are the length and width of your beds, which should be no more than 1.3 meters or 4' across and no more than 3.3' or 10' long. The reason for the narrow bed is so you can reach the center. Stepping into the garden and compacting the soil isn't ideal for your seedlings or plants.
Next, you need to decide whether you want to use a row or grid pattern for planting. The goal of any garden layout is to minimize walking paths so you can maximize your growing space. You only need to add soil amendments and fertilizers to the planting areas to save some time and money. Don't forget about Companion Planting to improve yields and maximize your garden spacing.
When allowing for garden spacing, remember to give your seedlings a lot of room since even when they start small, the full-grown plants can be huge. Overcrowding isn't beneficial to any plant, and every plant will struggle in this situation. A smaller, well-tended garden can produce as much if not more than a large, poorly maintained garden.
Vertical Gardening is another space-saving option for people looking to grow more crops in less space. Fences or Trellis are a great way to grow things like Tomatoes, Beans, Peas, and Cucumbers.
In areas that you've got little to no space to spare or even on your balcony in your apartment, raised beds are another option. Things like grow bags, containers and troughs are a great option in these cases and can be used just like any other garden plot.
Step 4: Investing in the Right Tools
Having the right tools for the job can turn a chore into a pleasure. You shouldn't purchase flimsy tools to work in your garden but tried, tested, and hard-working equipment. Avoid cheap plastic tools if you can! Avoid them as they aren't much more affordable than their metal counterparts and are much more likely to break and possibly cause injury. Some of the tools you'll need to get started include the following;
D Handled Spade
These are just the basics you'll use in your garden. There are many more specialized tools, and you can decide which tools work best for you. Just remember that good tools will save you time, effort, and aggravation. Keep them clean, sharp, and respected, and they won't let you down.
Step 5: Working the Soil
Purchase soil from your Local Garden Center to fill your raised flower beds unless you don't mind holes in your yard. A good mix of high organic matter in black, sandy soil is your best option. Your Local Garden Center will be able to advise you which is your best option for what you're trying to accomplish.
Sunken Beds are a lot more work to get started. First, set your lawnmower to the lowest setting and mow the footprint of your new plot. Be sure you've taken off as much of the grass as possible, as this should kill the vast majority of the grass in the area. You can use chemicals to kill it off completely. However, this is harmful not only to the environment but also to yourself. You'll then have to dig and turn the entire bed. Allow the chunks of sod to sit for a few days and dry out in the sun. After they've started to fall apart, you can break them up and shake them out to remove any root systems that will make working up the soil tough. Finally, you can borrow or rent a rototiller and give your garden a good once over to break down the remaining dirt and roots even more and leaving yourself with a soft, smooth, well-aerated bed.
You can do some extras like put in plastic edging to keep the grass back or fabric under the dirt to keep weeds from growing. However, it's a lot of work moving that much soil back and forth, so although it may be beneficial, it's not very necessary in most cases.
Step 6: Testing Your Soil
There are several things that you should know about your soil before you start planting. Things like Soil pH, Soil Make-up, Nutrients, and Contamination are of vital importance. Some can be determined by looking at the soil, but others will require soil tests. You can contact your Local Garden Store for testing or even purchase an at-home testing kit for a little extra money.
You'll find that most of your crops prefer a soil pH around 7, which would be considered Neutral. Some plants grow better in slightly acidic or slightly alkaline conditions, such as Root Vegetables and Brassicas. A good balance of nutrients and adequate organic matter is as important as the proper pH. Over time you will learn how vital organic matter is to your soil. You'll find that soil rich in organic matter = vibrant, strong, and healthy plants for harvesting.
Step 7: Amending Your Soil
The final step in creating your new garden plot is preparing the soil for planting. The testing you had done on your bed will tell you what you have adequate amounts of and what you may be lacking. Enter compost and fertilizer as it's their time to shine! A good compost high in organic matter will do wonders for your plants at any time. Fertilizers can be added at specific times throughout the growing process to give your plants a little extra boost. ALWAYS follow all instructions when adding fertilizers. Remember, just a bit goes a long way, and too much can be catastrophic to your new garden.
You now have all the information necessary in simple steps, so get to Creating Your Garden Bed!