How I Started A Spring Garden Without A Lick of Work in The Fall


seedling.jpgAbout this time last year I decided I wanted to plant a garden.  I had a decent size yard plus my new-at-the-time neighbors said they wanted a garden as well. We decided to set up several plots in their space and ours and share.  Having no previous experience we turned to the internet and looked up how to prepare our space.  Everything we read said that you need to start in the fall by breaking up the sod and tilling it and adding compost.  Then, in the spring you till it again and you can plant.  But it was already spring…

We called a farmer friend and begged his advice.  “Dowse everything heavily in herbicide. Wait a week for it to die and then you can break it up and it will be ready to plant. I also use herbicide at this time of year, that time of year, on these crops and those…”

I wasn’t OK with that.

I sat, criss-cross-applesauce in my yard and stared at that spot.  I live in a place where rich black dirt is everywhere you turn. It’s a drained swamp that was once covered with glaciers. Things grow here. Everything grows here. Toss an apple core in the bushes and a tree will sprout.  I’m not kidding. That has happened to us.  This isn’t like our yard in Arizona where anything that wasn’t a prickly pear cactus had to be nursed along like a 90 year old heart attack patient.  The trick wasn’t getting the garden to grow. The trick was to get everything else to STOP growing in that spot.  There had to be a better way than spraying poison on the ground where I wanted to work barefoot and grow my family’s food.

I asked myself, “What’s making the current life grow?”

Easy. It had rich soil, sunlight, water and air.

What if I could deprive it of one or more of those things?  Hmmm…

A plan was hatched.

I grabbed a shovel and turned all of the sod by hand. This may be the single most physically difficult task I’ve ever undertaken.  Then again… this is coming from a woman who gets tired carrying the laundry basket from one room to another when it’s full.  I’m not exactly an olympic athlete.  The work made my hands blister and bleed. I whined a lot about my poor, sore hands. Mostly because I was kind of proud that I’d communed with my inner pioneer woman and I wanted everyone to know.

I got my fingers in the dirt and broke up the big clods working the largest weeds – dandelions mostly – out roots and all and tossing them into my compost bin.

When everything was more or less dirt-side up I got the garden hose and turned the whole space into a muddy slosh pit and then I covered it with thick plastic and weighed down the edges.  I left it, baking in the sun like that for one week. No oxygen. No light. Way too much heat.

At the end of the week, I pulled the plastic off, broke everything up again with my trusty spade (a significantly easier task the second time around) and picked out any remaining weeds. There were only a very few survivors.

I planted the space and it thrived beautifully.  A few weeds came through as summer wore on but I’m reasonably sure that would have happened no matter what.

Some crazy big tomato plants from last year's garden.  I now know why they say to leave a good deal of space between those tiny seedlings!

Some crazy big tomato plants from last year’s garden. I now know why they say to leave a good deal of space between those tiny seedlings!

Is this the approved method used by experienced gardeners everywhere? Nope.

Will it work on every type of soil? I honestly have no idea.

Is it better to start in the fall and get everything ready ahead of time? Absolutely. I have no doubt what-so-ever that you get better results that way with much less back-breaking work.

Is all lost if you decided this spring, as these first warm days peeked out from behind the gray clouds, that you want to start a garden? No way! Get out there and look at your space. REALLY look at it and I bet you will see a way to make your garden grow… no nasty chemicals required.

Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?

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6 responses »

  1. We don’t use chemicals either. We have insects, and that’s okay. The local wildlife nibbles our plants and that is okay too. I figure I’m just sharing with friends 🙂

  2. I turned all mine by hand that first year too. It took me a week just to finish that part (I’m really lazy and out of shape!) And the plastic thing is exactly what people do when you don’t like all those nasty chemicals. Last year we borrowed our neighbors rototiller because he shared his load of composted house manure with us and there was no way I was going to be able to turn it all in thoroughly in time to plant. And with that fertilizer as well as the regular rain we got, my tomatoes free to over 10 feet tall! (Most of that height was sprawled all over the grind since my cages were a 3rd of that height) and our corn we measured with a 15ft measure and the corn was a few feet taller than that. The guy who brought the manure would drive his friends past our house and point out our crazy gigantic crops. We were all so proud! Lol

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