Building a Garden is Slow and Steady Work

Building a garden is slow and steady work, but once the ground is prepared, the fun begins. This may take days, weeks, months or years depending on the size of the garden and how much help you have in doing it.  Cats not included.

As a new gardener you may think that growing things is pretty straightforward. Buy the plants, dig a hole and put them in the ground. A little water here and there and soon you’ll see flowers or vegetables emerge.

Experienced gardeners know it is far from being that simple.

A Little Back Story

The first house I bought in New Hampshire had ready-made, lovely garden areas. I enjoyed picking asparagus from the perennial asparagus bed. Stunning tulips popped up in Springtime all over the yard, and the large perennials included wisteria, dogwood, and hydrangea trees! I enjoyed that yard for only two years, then moved on, through no fault of my own.

tulips and daffodils
My old New Hampshire Garden in Spring

The nice thing was the fact that the gardens were ready for planting. I could go buy pretty plants, or vegetables and put them into the ground and they grew nicely alongside already established additions. Prepared beds and established perennials are a wonderful treat for a homeowner.

After that, I have never lived in a ready-made gardening landscape. This means planning the site, tilling the soil, adding amendments, and finally buying the plants which will hopefully grow happily in their designated spots.

Without the extra finances (or help in the yard) to put toward all this, it can take years to accomplish a garden plan. Really.

In New Hampshire I had loam delivered each year. I moved wheelbarrows full of the dirt to various areas in my yard over the course of weeks. I’m an older lady and can’t do a lot in any one day, so I had to pace myself. Within five years time I had some pretty nice gardens in my yard – then I moved away.

The Here and Now

I moved into my Florida home in Fall 2016. My son built me a raised bed and I’ve been working on filling it since then. At the time this writing it is April 2018 and finally the bed is full of good soil which is ready for planting.

raised bed garden dirt
The raised bed is ready for planting

I’ve been using the raised bed as a mixing station. One end is free of plantings so I can dump bags of dirt and compost in and mix it up. After adding blood meal, bone meal, and fertilizer, I mix it up like a big stew and fill black pots to grow individual plants.  (By the way, as I was writing this, I discovered that not all “organic” labeled fertilizer is really organic.  Read my post about identifying real organic fertilizer and even bags of dirt.)

I also had to re-plant a big bucket in the yard where everything froze over the winter.  This pot used to hold a huge croton.  Now you can see what’s left in the background.

bucket of flowering plants
Big pot re-planted with crotons and flowering plants

Now that I’ve used that good dirt mix everywhere it was needed, I will plant more vegetables in the raised bed. From here on out, all that is needed is to amend the dirt with compost every so often and re-plant when needed. The hard work is complete.

Yahoo! Yippee! Hallelujah!

Building Good Soil in a Raised Garden Bed

pine wood raised bed
Raised Garden Bed

I was thrilled to see the raised garden bed my son had made. He wanted something to do, so he researched the “how to’s”, went and bought the wood and put the thing together. With his brother’s help, they carried it to the backyard and finished tightening the screws.

Step one on the road to Florida vegetable gardening was complete.
Now I just needed some dirt! But buying dirt doesn’t mean you will have the good soil needed to grown super veggies.

Most gardeners know that soil makes or breaks the growth of the plantings. Planting directly in the ground means there is at least something there to begin with, but starting with an empty box means building the good soil from scratch.

The Basics For Building Good Soil

Over the years this is what I use to create good, worm-loving dirt that gives a good yield of crops.  I’m no expert, so feel free to leave a comment with your recommendations.

1. Loam / soil / organic dirt
2. Compost – store bought and / or homemade
3. Organic Fertilizer
4. Bone Meal (for crop root development)

The location of this raised bed presented a problem when it came to filling it. My son has a truck and was happy to go pick up a load of loam / dirt, but getting it to the wooden box was not going to be easy.

First we filled the bottom of the box with leaves and grass collected in the lawn mower bag. Then I put my black fabric garden bags inside the bottomless box.  I also left a few pieces of cardboard in the bottom to help keep the weeds / grass from growing.

growing carrots and lettuce
Bags with carrots and lettuce

For now, I planted vegetables separately in each of the bags, and I ended up buying some new bags, so I could grow more.

Two bags had potatoes – the red ones gave me lots of little red potatoes, with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and peas in the others.  When the plants had gone by and were no longer producing, I dumped them into the bed, plants and all.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-9-27-07-am
My Garden March 2nd

Between using the dirt in the black pots, and adding compost (store bought and home made), I can eventually fill the box with relatively good soil.

Creating good garden dirt is an ongoing process.   Banana peels, egg shells, and chopped vegetable scraps can be added directly to the dirt in the box.  Soil amendments must be continuously used to replenish the soil.

Hopefully, that will bring earthworms.  Soil can’t be called good, unless there is an abundance of worms!  This all takes time.  The ingredients have to break down over time.

It’s been 6 months since I began to fill my raised bed, and haven’t done much this summer except let the tomatoes, basil, eggplants, and peppers grow wild. The heat keeps me inside, but I do pick a small tomato or pepper every now and then.

The wood has faded to a weathered appearance, and slowly I will be raising the soil level as I empty more of my fabric bags.

summer garden raised bed
The Summer Garden Grows Wild
female cardinal
Female Cardinal, photo credit: Skeeze @ Pixabay

Cardinals come to the garden looking for bugs to eat, and they drink and bathe in my makeshift bird bath sitting on the corner. (I can’t get a good photo, so I used this one from Pixabay.)

Little lizards run along the edges and I see the occasional ladybug and butterfly on the plants.  Parsley worms have been found on the parsley.

raised garden bed building the soil
Once the weather cools off enough to work outside, I will dump all my fabric bags out into the box. I will add more grass clippings, along with organic fertilizer, bone meal, and cornmeal (supposedly it brings worms). In other words, I will work on building up the dirt to get it ready for winter planting.

I’ve found that the big wooden box is a good place to store my unused bags and pots for now.