I began vegetable gardening two years ago. From that time to now I used a garden bed that my grandfather had been using for years. Now, I'm in the process of buying a home. There is a large space in the backyard where I'd like to place my garden next year. I have a few questions for advice.
1) I'd like to edge my garden with something. I like the way it separates the garden from the yard. What material is best to use? I don't want raised beds but I'd still like the separation.
2) What do you recommend to clear the garden bed? The spot is part of the lawn with thick grass. Should I till or do you recommend covering to kill all grass? Keep in mind that I have time to work on the bed because it will be first used NEXT Spring.
If you have a good tiller, good garden tools, and want some good exercise, I would till. You will get to know your dirt sooner and better, I think.
Get started now and you will have time to get ‘er done and be ready to plant some cole this Fall. Arid conditions and heat, which AR usually has in July and August, will devastate turned-up grass and weeds.
I use concrete paving stones stood on end to make raised beds, but I understand that you don't want raised beds. If you lay them flat to make a dry surface to stand on while you garden, and to keep the grass roots away from the bed, you can always change your mind later and stand them up on end!
They do make plastic edging that you drive down into a slit cut in the soil, and that helps keep grass roots out of the garden.
>> 2) What do you recommend to clear the garden bed?
I hope someone familiar with "lasagna gardening" chimes in. They lay heavy cardboard or many layers of newspaper over the grass "to block the weeds". Then they lay the ingredients for composting over the cardboard, and grow right in that for the first season.
I might not be describing it right, but you can search the Soil and Composting forum for "lasagna gardening".
[b]My own preference is very old-school, [/b] until I finish the process by building raised beds on top of the loosened, amended sub-soil.
I dig down 12-18" and then remove the soil (but you could do it all in place). I arrange for the "floor" of dense clay to slope downwards toward whatever edge or corner is downslope, and cut a drainage trench from there to a low spot in my yard. I have just about NO natural drainage in my native clay.
I screen out rocks and roots and break up the clay finely.
I add as much compost as I can afford.
Then, since I can't afford infinite compost, I add some mineral grit like finely crushed stone, very coarse sand, or #2 chicken grit (1-3 mm in size). Those are heavy and expensive, so I don't add much: maybe 1/2" to 1" of mineral grit. It has to sustain some soil structure after the compost decomposes.
Then I add cheaper "bark grit" which might only last 2-3 years, but does help aerate and drain during those years. I screen cheap, fine bark mulch to get the finer parts for soil-amending. I save the bigger chunks for mulch. If it passes through 1/4" screen, it can be used. It's more effective if it is small enough to pass through 1/8" screen, so it may be worthwhile to use your lawnmower on it.
Then I till that to mix it very well. I want the clay to intermingle with the compost and bark fibers and sand.
This makes up my partly-amended [b]subsoil[/b]. It has to sustain fairly good drainage and some aeration. I firm it down to encourage it to stay "fluffed up" as water passes through it.
Then I amend the soil that I removed even better than I amended the subsoil. I use more compost, and I screen it more than once to break up the clay balls as small as possible and mix them with the amendments. I will let it sit and compact and be rained on, then screen it again and usually add more compost.
This becomes the topsoil - piled on top of the subsoil and mixed just enough to make a gradual transition so it drains uniformly. By now I've added so many amendments that the soil lies well above grade, so I throw walls around it to make a shallow raised bed. I use concrete paving stones stood on end.
During the first year, the compost encourages soil life, and the clay mingles with the amendments. For the first 2-3 years, I usually have to turn it again to mix more compost deeply, and to re-establish the soil structure ("fluff it up"). After a few years of adding compost, and of soil fungus and root hairs and worms doing their thing, the soil seems not to need as much turning.
Thanks for the advice. I haven't even looked at the soil at the new house. My wife fell in love with it so I don't think it really matters. I'm hoping for good soil already but will try your advice if not. Around here the soil runs from hard clay to sand. It seems like it changes from mile to mile and not very consistent. As far as the edging goes, I'm thinking of taking some old 2x6's that I have laying around and burying them about 3 inches with 2-3 inches above ground. I think that might look pretty good. I really hate to leave my old home. It was my grandfathers and he gardened where I am now for fifty years. The soil is perfect. When turning it over, you can tell where his garden ended just from the change of soil. Thanks again.
Don't bother burying the 2 x 6 lumber. Just build a box on the soil surface. Then fill it with 1/3 garden soil (no matter how 'bad' it seems) and 2/3 compost. Any sort of organic matter. Horse stall bedding with manure. Whatever. If you can still identify the manure it is not ready to plant.
I filled mine with soil dug out of the walkways for irrigation + fallen leaves + the finest parts of the chips from a tree pruning company.
Then fill the walkways with coarse chips that will stand up to a few years of foot (and wheel barrow) traffic. I use the coarser chips from tree pruning companies.
End result is that the 2 x 6 is pretty close to buried, with just enough showing that outlines the beds, about what you would get if you went to all the work to half bury them. But instead you are putting the work into making great soil, improving the drainage (raised beds drain better) and setting it up for great gardening in the future.
A caveat to consider: In many areas, especially the South, certain kinds of buried wood (mostly untreated softwood) in moist soil is a termite magnet. I have rolled over supposedly treated timbers from a big box store and interrupted their busy dining.
Will you be providing a termite nursery near your new dwelling?
AdamAgain brings up a good point.
If termites are a major problem you might want to use synthetic lumber, plastic or concrete materials to edge the beds. I do not like the smaller things that just shift about, so if I had to think about termites I would probably go with one of the sturdy plastic sorts of materials.
One brand name is Benda-Board. Not a great product, but will work, and termites and fungi do not touch it.
I would consider purchasing a soil test kit from your extension service. They're not very expensive, and are easy to use. This will let you know exactly what amendments might be needed. Good luck with your new garden.