Tips for Starting a New Vegetable Garden

Tips for Starting a New Vegetable Garden

Starting a Vegetable Garden

Years ago when we bought our house, one of the great attributes to me as a gardener was the big open backyard. It meant that I could finally have a big vegetable garden like the one I grew up with. However, unlike the one I grew up with, I had to start from scratch…literally. Unfortunately it was July when we moved in, so the work was going to be especially hot. But I wanted my garden to be planted for the fall crop here in Georgia, so that gave me about a month to get it done. Here is how I turned my plot of backyard lawn into a productive vegetable garden.

How to Get Started

First, since we have a septic system, I selected a location away from the drain field and slightly uphill. I don’t know of a specific problem with planting shallow rooted veggies over the septic field, but I do know what happens if there is ever a problem with the system and I didn’t want to worry about having the garden polluted or dug up for repairs. My yard gets plenty of sun well into the afternoon, so that was not a problem. Finally I made sure to keep the whole plot within 100 feet of the closest hose outlet.

Next, I staked out a rough plot to make sure that was the location and size I wanted to work with. I also thought about where I wanted permanent plants like berries and asparagus relative to the rest of the garden. I didn’t want to have to work around them when they were not in production.


Digging Phases

Finally there were four phases of digging:

  1. sod removal
  2. spading the unbroken soil and removing the large rocks
  3. an initial pass with the rototiller and removing smaller rocks
  4. tilling in soil amendments

I dug up the sod layer (1-2 inches deep) with a shovel. Two easier methods would be renting a sod cutter to do the same thing only faster and with a less effort, or covering the area with black plastic for a couple of months to kill off the grass.

Spading is absolutely necessary before tilling. Simply stick the shovel in the ground as deeply as possible, then lift and turn over a chunk of soil and repeat. Using a tiller on unbroken ground is fairly ineffective since the objective is to loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8-10 inches for good root penetration.
I tilled the first time to break up the large clods which were reinforced with deep weed and grass roots, and to help remove medium and smaller sized rocks. I might have been able to incorporate soil amendments at the same time, but I chose not to.
Tips for Starting a New Vegetable Garden

 Soil Amendments

To incorporate soil amendments, I simply dumped everything on in an even layer and tilled again. Our soil is heavy clay, so I added a 3 inch layer of soil conditioner, which is very coarse organic matter derived from “decomposed forest product waste”. I also added powdered lime because my soil was very acidic and gypsum to help break up the clay particles.

The work was hot, but that was the only time I have ever had to do it. Now I just till once or twice a year to prepare for the next season’s seeding.


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