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!

February Yard Work Getting Some Planting Done

This past weekend (mid-February) I did some garden work and planted a few seeds. It was a hot day but I decided it was time to move the lemon tree from the front to the back yard. Thanks to that digging and lifting my back was aching the next day. But I have high hopes that the tree will recover and give me some lemons one day. (Photos below)

The raised bed still needs more soil. While my son was cutting the grass he bagged up some oak leaves (oak leaves are small here, not like the majestic oaks of the north which drop big leaves) and dumped them into the bed.

raised bed garden
Adding oak leaves to the raised bed

Creating good garden dirt takes a lot of adding and mixing, not unlike making a good soup or stew. All the ingredients together will give me some delicious dirt to help my vegetables grow well.
I still have two potted crotons which were cuttings taken from the big croton out front – which is now dead thanks to the cold. I’m not sure what I will do with them.
fabric pots
Filling the fabric pots to be ready for planting

Bone meal and blood meal was added, and I threw in an old tomato (I regularly add kitchen scraps to make compost within the bed. I’ve even seen a couple of big worms in the dirt recently …. yay!
gardening in February
Eggplant coming back after the freeze

During the winter months it’s not a good idea to trim back dead growth, but I made an exception with my eggplant. With all the top brown branches trimmed away I can more easily cover it if cold temperatures come back.

I planted lettuce seeds in one black pot and yellow squash in another. I should have planted the lettuce earlier, but oh well.

The Lemon and Lime Trees

About a year ago I added a Persian lime tree and Lemon tree to my yard. The lime tree has done very well, providing me with loads of limes in the Fall season. I kept it in it’s original pot and it’s in the backyard.

The lemon tree was planted in the ground in my front yard. Right off it began to have problems. When I planted it, I wasn’t used to our new home location yet. I didn’t realize that front yard gets a lot of wind which makes it an inhospitable place for most plants. Even though the new tree bloomed and grew some lemons, it’s leaves fell off and none of the lemons were nice enough to eat.

lemon tree
Moved the Lemon tree – Feb. 2018

This was a lesson in choosing a good spot for my trees and shrubs. I doubt I will try to grow anything out front.

I really thought the tree would be dead by now. Besides the wind, we’ve had a few nights of cold temperatures. I covered the tree, but lots of things died even though I covered them. Still the tree lived on.

Many of it’s branches are bare and it looks like some animal maybe had been chewing on the stems. Plus my son often hits the branches with his weed-eater.

Even after all this, the lemon tree still grows. Below you can see how pretty the Lemon tree was when I planted it. Because it is still trying to live, I feel guilty for leaving it unattended for so long.

I’m hoping that with it’s new spot in a fabric garden bag in my backyard, I can bring this tree back to it’s original beautiful form.

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Meyer Lemon Tree – 2017

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.

Plant Shrubs in Winter, Readying the Garden Beds

weed fabric
The black fabric beneath the mulch has to go!

Today I did something that I have waited a long time to do.  I began work on my flower garden beds.  I am finally in my new home!   The big move began way back in January, and has taken the whole year.    There is still more to move from storage, and all the boxes need to be unpacked, but having a chance to work in MY yard again is a wonderful feeling.

We have merged two households, and I went from a three story house (including the basement) to a single story, no basement and small attic. So finding space for everyone’s stuff is challenging. There is a GoodWill nearby which I will be visiting often in the months to come.

Last night we bought garden dirt – 4 bags – and this morning I added it to two gardens. These are gardens which already have plants in them and I plan to add flowering shrubs to brighten the landscape.  The raised vegetable gardens are coming soon (fingers crossed).

All three planting beds have black fabric in the bottom, which I hate, and have removed from two beds. I don’t mind pulling weeds, and if a garden is done correctly, the weeds shouldn’t be a huge problem. So first thing I did was pull up the plastic fabric that is used for weed control.

garden bed prep
Front Garden

The garden bed near the front door has one overgrown shrub – which I am pretty sure I used to know the name of – and it needs to be cut way back. If it wasn’t already so large, I would probably take it out completely.  The bushy perennial blocks the breeze from entering my front windows, not to mention it mostly blocks the view out the front!

Since I am still busy with the house, my focus will be on the gardens already in place. Amending the soil and adding nutrients was my focus this morning. I pulled the old mulch out of the way to put the bagged dirt down, then mixed in some blood meal.

azalea shrub
This Azalea needs some help.

I did the same thing to the little area containing a raggedy looking azalea bush. I may cut this thing back and see if it will fill in more.
My plan is to fill in these gardens as I find plants for them. I can’t dig through the black fabric, so it had to go. Since this yard is new to me, I have to watch it for sunny and shady spots and buy plants accordingly. The azalea needs light shade and usually does well under the trees. It also likes acidic soil, which also happens to create blue flowering hydrangeas! I may be able to add some blue-flowering hydrangeas to this garden area, which is an exciting prospect.
While reading my gardening book, I discovered this about Florida planting: *Plant SHRUBS in winter AND *Plant TREES and PALMS in summer. Now (almost November) is the time to begin planning my perennial gardens. After that, it’s on to building the raised vegetable garden beds.