Gardens, gardens everywhere! (It’s easier than you think!)

Posted on March 2, 2011


It may still be a little frosty to start your garden, but according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac there is a 50% probability that here in lower Michigan we will be frost free after May 4th.  That means outdoor planting could be less than 2 months away for those hardy cold loving plants, like spinach or carrots, and even sooner for things that get started indoors.  I don’t know about you, but at my house garden planning has already begun.  There’s choosing the location (in my case a balcony full of buckets) and the number of beds or containers, deciding what to grow, where to get seeds, and when to plant them.  Let’s get started!

How to Turn a Lawn into a Garden

When turning your lawn into a garden the first thing you need to do is get rid of the grass.  The mass of root fibers just below the surface makes for a beautifully uniform carpet of green, but it does that by choking off  any other plant that tries to access the soil.  If you’ve never used your lawn as a garden before and you’re willing to wait until next year there is an easy way to make use of all that organic matter. Just put down a layer of newspaper, get it wet, and put about 6 inches of soil or compost on top.  Do this in the fall, and the following spring you will be ready to go.

If you want to get started right away just cut out the sod and add a generous layer of soil and compost to kill any remaining grass seed.  You may also want to put down some type of edging or mulch to keep the grass from re-colonizing your garden beds.

Raised beds allow you to ignore the grass completely.  You will need to add topsoil to a depth of at least six to twelve inches though, or the grass will grow right on through!  You can either pile the dirt up in a flat-topped mound and mulch the sides or build a rectangular frame.

Solid Frame Raised Beds

If you choose to build a frame, pick your materials carefully.  Wood is the easiest to find and the simplest to work with, but be careful, some boards have been chemically treated and could contaminate your soil.  Natural cedar is an attractive and rot-resistant choice.  No matter what wood you choose, be sure to use nails or screws that are stainless, galvanized or otherwise treated to prevent rust.

Stone or brick are durable and attractive materials.  Concrete is another good material, just be sure to leave the bottom of the bed open to the soil!

If you really want to go green with your raised beds you might even consider using “plastic timber”: It is very durable, non-toxic, often comes in pre-cut interlocking blocks, and is made from recycled plastic.

Since you can fill these beds with a custom mix of topsoil, compost, and natural fertilizers (like peat moss, Dairy Doo, or bonemeal) they are extremely productive.  Plants can be grown closer together, netting you higher yields with less space.  Just be sure the soil mix is deep enough (at least 6-12 inches ), and add some fresh compost at the end of each growing season.

When choosing how high to make your frames think about planting and weeding.  How far do you want to reach?  Higher beds mean less bending and crouching when caring for plants.

Consider adding arched hoops every few feet.  You can then cover the bed with clear plastic to act as a mini-greenhouse and extend your growing season.  Or use netting in the midst of summer to protect your veggies from insects and birds!

Apartment Farming

Visions of  homegrown heirloom tomatoes and incredibly fresh and tender salads dance through your dreams, you imagine the satisfying crunch of the season’s first green bean, the convenience of  the farmer’s market in your own back yard…  Wait, you don’t have a yard?  Drat!  However will you reap a homegrown seasonal bounty with no garden of your own?  One word: Containers.

Containers don’t need to be fancy.  They can come in any shape and size and fit just about anywhere.  Hang them from the ceiling, tuck them onto shelves, or turn your porch or balcony into an edible jungle.  Almost anything can be turned into a planter: coffee cans, buckets, even old shoes (for flowers) if you are feeling adventurous.  Just make sure it’s made from a  food-grade material, has adequate drainage, and put it where it can get plenty of sun.

Save that empty Earth Balance tub, punch a few holes in the bottom, set the lid underneath, and voilá!  A windowsill herb garden.  Just be sure to place small stones (the smooth ones they use in fish tanks work great!) or other hard non-toxic objects over the drainage holes before you add soil.  This helps keep  waterlogged soil from blocking the holes and turning your garden into a swamp.

Want to go bigger?  Then stay tuned for my upcoming How-To on making your own self-watering containers.

I hope you find these gardening tips helpful this summer.  There is no better way to know where your food comes from than to grow it yourself.  (Or get it from your friendly neighborhood Co-op!)  The joy that comes from sharing homegrown produce- or getting friends to chip in with the weeding- can really help build a sense of community.  If you have any questions about these tips, or if you have a few of your own you would like to share, just jump right in with a comment!


Anyone can be a gardener, just give it a try!

Photo By Srl (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

(Article modified from one I wrote for GreenTree Co-op Newsletter.)

Posted in: Gardening