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Part 1: How to get your vegetable garden established from scratch.

I constantly meet people who want to start their own veggie and herb garden at home, or improve on the one they have. Since the time restrictions in their lives, or my own, do not always facilitate for an on site visit, workshop or training session, I thought it would be useful to have a one-stop resource here on this blog to go through the setup or maintenance of the home vegetable garden.

In this post I will cover soil preparation, setting you up for planting readiness.

Creating vegetables production beds

Keep in mind that you can do your garden in the ground, or in raised beds. Pots are an option but not as easy because they dehydrate faster.

Before you start with the hard work, check that the position you have chosen for your veg garden can:

- have the existing soil conditioned to a depth of about 0.5 m (conditioned = dug up, trenched, add compost and organic matter)

- be used to build raised beds if you cannot dig down

- have at least 5 hours of sunlight between 9am and 3pm. Morning sun for veg gardens is a must. If your space gets sun from 1pm-6pm your veggies might not grow well

- be secured from pets - dogs, cats, chickens, birds or other

- get easy access to water

- drain or can be adjusted to have drainage (this means that it shouldn’t flood or get waterlogged)

- be easily accessed from your house

If your space meets all the above requirements, choose a style that you’d like your garden to take (for everything you need to know about styles, why not purchase Workshop 1: Edible garden design).

But first decide, either raised beds or in the ground.

Beds in the ground Raised beds

Raised beds vs in the ground

With raised beds you don’t have to dig, but you do have to build. So this can be costlier as you require materials to build the vertical sides as well as organic matter, topsoil and compost with which to fill the beds.

When your beds are raised it means you don’t have to bend down as much which makes working in the garden once it’s established, quite pleasant.

With beds in the ground it takes quite a bit more effort to get the soil well prepared as there will be a lot of digging involved. Once your beds are trenched, if you look after them well you shouldn’t need to do trenching for at least 3 to 5 years.

If you have drainage issues, raised beds are a good option as you can build draining into the raised beds.

Raised beds create height in a landscape. If this is something you need because the rest of the scape is flat and unidimensional, consider raised beds as a solution.

Choosing raised beds

If you have decided to go with raised beds the next decision will be the materials you use to create the sides. And the options are endless. For my raised beds I have built them as retaining walls from brick and mortar. I chose this because once they are built they are permanent and require very little maintenance. I like the neatness and strength that brick and mortar offer. I opted out of the commonly used wooden sides as my luck thus far in using cheaper wood in the garden has not been good. The wood tends to warp and split quite quickly.

When you have designed the layout of the raised beds and want to calculate costs of filling the beds, take the dimensions

bed width x bed length x bed depth = cubic metre capacity of the beds.

While you can do some base layers of organic matter and larger sticks etc at the bottom of the beds, filling with landscapers mix is a good option. Using soil such as landscapers mix (part topsoil part compost) prevents major compacting further down the line and your beds won’t appear half full because this. A cost effective way of filling the beds is to order the landscapers mix in bulk (per cubic metre) delivered to you. Bulk, loose compost and soil is cheaper than that delivered or purchase in bags. When you are filling the beds with your soil medium, add a few handfuls (measured amount as per package instructions) of organic fertiliser to the soil.

Examples of different materials used for raised bed sides

Choosing beds in the ground

Creating super fertile beds in the ground is hard work but very rewarding. If you prepare the beds thoroughly and maintain them well you won’t need to redo them for quite some time. But the process can be tricky so keep a few things in mind.

Once you have planned the layout of the beds, demarcate them in the space using string, rope or a hosepipe. Using a sharp space, cut into the earth all along the outline of the beds.

Ideally you want to be digging down into he soil to 0.5m deep. When the soil comes out of the ground it expands and will take a lot of room once it has been dug up. For this reason it’s sensible to do small - medium sized beds at a time so that you avoid landing up with massive mounds of soil all around you with no room to move about.

Another tip is to water the area prior to digging as it will soften the soil somewhat.

When removing the soil from the ground, place the topsoil (first half of soil being removed) separate from the bottom soil (second soil removed).

When you have your dug up trench area, start filling the holes in the ground about 1/4 with organic matter such as composting material generated from your garden (you can collect extra organic matter from neighbours if you don’t have enough).

Water the organic matter in the trench and replace the bottom soil back into the hole on top of the organic matter.

Repeat this process followed by adding the top soil back in at the very top of the trench bed. Adding a small layer of compost and organic fertiliser into the top of the bed offers an extra bit of nourishment to the soil.

Once all the soil and organic matter are in there trench the soil height will be higher than the level of the ground. It takes a while for this to compact so it’s a good idea to create support for the sides of the beds to avoid the soil spilling over into the pathways.

There you have it. Two methods for prepping super fertile beds for planting. In the next part of this series we will look at planning and planting of your amazing new veg beds.