Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How to start a garden from scratch

How to Start a Garden from the Beginning

Hi Jim, I am inspired by your plan and your leadership on this forum. I am
ready to take the plunge and go Mittleider next year, but have no clue where to

I have plenty of land that has been vacant for 20 years. I mow it off a couple
times per year to keep the weeds from taking over but that's about it, lots of
shade and old old old horse manure for the garden as my starting point. I plan
to cut back some trees to fix the shade problem but beyond that not sure where
to start.

Here is what I have gathered as a plan from the website:

1. lightly till (1-2 inches) to break up the grass, weeds etc
2. rake all the weeds and grass roots out that I can
3. put on the recommended pre plant treatment
4. till it all in
5. wait for spring to build my beds up

My problem is, I don't know what the pre plant should be, I don't know how to
plan the garden layout, whether I should put up a small greenhouse to start, or
put the small grow-houses over top of my beds etc..

Any resources I should definitely get? Any pointers or directions you can give


In a situation where you have many years of growth, and the area is large, I
recommend you bring in a blade and scrape off the top 2-4" of soil and weeds.
That way you will remove not only the weeds, but also the weed seeds, and all of
the rhizomes and runners of the grasses and other perennial weeds. If you use a
tiller they will just be chopped up, and every one will become 5 or 10 potential
new plants.

DO NOT put the Pre-Plant mix into the entire area. You would be wasting more
than 70% by doing that. Wait until you have your beds staked out and apply
fertilizers only to the growing area.

From your questions I will assume you are going to build 18" soil-beds.
Following are the first steps to preparing your garden. Much of it you can do
in the Fall, but I'd wait until Spring to fertilize (except the horse manure if
you need to use it) and finish the beds, unless you're going to do a fall

1) Use nylon strings and stakes to outline your garden perimeter. Plan ahead so
that you have room for full-length beds if possible.

2) Measure and stake beds and side aisles - 18" and 3 1/2' are recommended. Do
this on opposite ends of your garden area, then run strings between the stakes.

3) Make your beds 30' long by putting end stakes at 30', then 35' (for 5'
end-aisles), then 65' and 70', etc.

4) Cut the strings, tying one end and looping the other once around the stake
tightly and lifting the string over itself to hold in place. This is important
so that you can move the strings out of the way quickly and easily when it comes
time to till, weed, etc.

5) Till the aisles only 1 1/2 to 2" deep, then pull that soil from the aisles
into the beds, starting in the middle of the aisle and pulling both directions.
This should leave all your 18" bed areas 4" to 5" higher than the aisles.

6) After making the soil uniform and smooth beneath the strings, level the beds
by using a straight 8'-long board with a string level glued to the center.
Determine which end is low, and how much, then move soil from the high half to
the low half until level. You should have no more than 1+" drop in a 30'-long

7) Smooth the top again, making sure the soil is directly under the strings and
the same width throughout the length of the bed. Double-check the level and
correct if necessary.

8) Apply Pre-Plant and Weekly Feed nutrients 2 ounces and 1 ounce per running
foot and till thoroughly into the soil to a depth of 8+".

9) Re-smooth and level the bed, then pull soil from the center of the bed to the
strings until you have a planting area 2+" higher than the aisles and 4"-high
ridges on both sides.

10) Smooth and re-check the level, and make sure the planting area is 10-12"

Your beds are now ready to plant - in the Fall probably not much more than
garlic will go into the ground.

For a simple Pre-Plant mix you will mix calcium, magnesium, and boron in the
ratio of 80-4-1. And Weekly Feed can be made quite easily with the
Micro-Nutrients from the Foundation website plus NPK and Epsom Salts, per
instructions on the Micro bag.

I recommend you build a seedling greenhouse ASAP if you are serious about
growing a large garden. In a 20'X 40' greenhouse with tables inside and out you
can grow 20,000 seedlings at a time. The plans are available in the Files
section of this group. They are also Appendix D of the Mittleider Gardening
Course, and pictorially displayed and taught in Grow-Bed Gardening.

Jim Kennard

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