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.
Finally there were four phases of digging:
- sod removal
- spading the unbroken soil and removing the large rocks
- an initial pass with the rototiller and removing smaller rocks
- 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.
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.