You might assume that because I work on farms, I know everything I need to know about growing my own food. Unfortunately, that is not the case!
The farms where I work already have immaculate beds. The soil has been amended to near perfection, often with the help of heavy equipment such as tractors and plows. Gorgeous soil allows plants to grow up with better defenses against pests, disease, and weeds. So basically all I have to do is show up, pop in transplants or seeds, and – voila – vegetable bounty.
My home garden is proving to be more of a challenge. Ahem, make that my future home garden, because right now all I’m growing is grass.
My husband I just bought a house last November. The property is a little over five acres, half of which has adequate sunlight for a garden. I’d love to have a big, 40′ x 40′ vegetable garden. But turning all of that sod into garden has turned out to be somewhat of a challenge.
The first obstacle I’ve encountered is lack of information. It seems like most gardening books and internet resources assume that you already have a garden bed. They give you information about how to amend your soil and grow vegetables, but don’t give you much advice on how to get to that starting point.
So I’ve had to talk to quite a few experts about the best ways to turn my lawn into a garden. Here are four organic methods that I’ve been considering:
Digging allows you to plant your garden immediately, but can be brutal on your back.
You can dig a garden bed in the spring as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked. You want the soil to be moist but not soggy. If your soil is dry (certainly not the case here in the Midwest!), water the area a few days ahead of time.
First you need to remove the sod. Using an edger or a sharp spade, cut the sod into parallel strips about a foot wide. Cut these strips into one- to two-foot lengths. Then pry up one end of a piece of sod and slide the spade or fork under it. Cut through any deep taproots and lift out the pre-cut piece, making sure to include the grass’s roots. Shake any loose soil clinging to the underside of the sod back onto the exposed ground. The sod pieces can be transplanted to another part of your yard or rolled-up and composted.
At this point, you can incorporate compost or other amendments into your soil by double digging the exposed ground. First, dig a trench about a foot wide and as deep as your shovel on one end of your new bed. Place the soil in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp. Drive the the tines of a garden fork or broadfork as deep as you can into the bottom of the trench. Rock the handle back and forth to loosen the subsoil. Spread compost and other soil amendments over the loosened soil. Dig another trench alongside the first, dumping the removed soil into the first trench. Continue to the far end of the bed, and fill the last trench with soil from the first trench. At this point, you can proceed with planting.
Pros: Permits immediate planting without the use of expensive power tools.
Cons: Very labor intensive, especially for large beds; sod removal results in loss of organic matter; topsoil lost during sod removal might have to be replaced, especially if you want a raised bed.
(Image courtesy of brotherM via a Creative Commons license.)