Thursday, June 16, 2011

DIY- Garden Beds 101

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at gardening, but just weren't sure where to start? Or maybe you've made a few attempts, but you just weren't pleased with the results? To me the three biggest roadblocks to gardening in this area (Raleigh/Cary, NC) are the soil, the weeds and keeping things tidy. The picture above show the outer edge of one of our garden beds. A couple of weeks ago it was brimming over with the blue flowers of nigella and lots of feverfew, but now it just looks very TIRED. Today I thought I would give a primer on improving the DIRT in your garden.
Now I am just going to replant this bed edge, but this technique can be used to create a new bed wherever you would like to put in a few flowers or vegetables. Once you've added the new amendments to your soil, you will have an area that you can actually get a shovel in. And in the future all that you will need to do is add a little compost on top, a little fertilizer and your plants.
Yesterday I pulled the "tools of the trade" my short handled shovel and the mattock, (kinda like a pick, but it has a three inch flat blade on one side). Most of the soil in our area is heavy clay- the kind that you just can't go out and start shoveling in. To break this soil up, you need a mattock.
In the picture above, I have removed plants that were past their prime so that I can put in some new annuals and perennials. After these were removed, I took the mattock and broke up the soil. This bed area has been worked some before so wasn't too hard. But a mattock works on even hard clay. Note here: if the soil is REALLY DRY I suggest watering the area the night before you pull out the mattock and start pounding away. Start with a small area- probably about 3 ft. by 6 ft. at the most.
Next step is to amend the soil. Here I have a couple of bags of Black Kow (a composted manure) for a 3 ft. x 6 ft area. If I was working in hard clay, I would also had one bag of soil conditioner (finely ground pine bark), in addition to the Black Kow. Soil conditional aids in breaking up the clay. We also have a compost pile that we use to add organic matter to the gardens, but the first batch of this season has gone into the vegetable beds- Black Kow is a good substitute.
The above picture shows the added bags of Black Kow, a little bit of lime, and an organic fertilizer called Plant Tone by Espoma sitting on top of the bed. The next step is to use the shovel to blend all the ingredients together, kind of like mixing dry ingredients for a cake.
Here is the bed with everything mixed in. Now it's ready to plant.
And here is a picture of the newly added plants. I put in several coral colored phlox- these little beauties are perennials and should come back each summer. The other smaller plants are annual bedding zinnias. I top dressed this little area with soil conditioner to help keep the weeds down and moisture in. Given adequate water, these plants should take hold and hopefully take off for the rest of the summer! I will put up additional pictures to show how this new bed area does.
I would love to hear any feedback or any questions you may have.
Happy Gardening!

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