Did you know fall is the perfect time to prepare a new growing area for the following year? It’s true!
A little forethought and cleverness can save you hours, days, and weeks of backbreaking work in the future.
Today, I’m going to show you how to create a new garden bed from either an utterly barren, unproductive area of our yard or a garden bed run over with weeds.
Step One: Cover the Ground to Kill the Weeds & Grass
If you want to plant a garden next year, RIGHT NOW is the time to start preparing that area!
We avoid tilling as much as possible. While there is a time and place for tilling the ground, over time, it damages the soil structure.
Instead, we use a method called “Occulation”, which involves covering the desired area with an opaque covering, such as a silage tarp. This method is easy and effective. First, mow/brush hog the area as short as possible. Then it takes only a few minutes to spread a tarp and weigh it down with rocks or sandbags. Then you simply leave it in place for a couple of weeks or months until the vegetation underneath is dead.
We often spread the tarps in the late summer/early fall over spaces we want to plant the FOLLOWING spring. When you pull back the tarp in the spring, you have a growing area that is ready to go, no tilling needed!
Step Two: Lay Down Cardboard Over the Garden Bed
Please tell me I’m not the only one with an amazon habit! Ha! We put all of those boxes to good use.
A thick layer of cardboard helps to create a weed barrier so your desired plants can get established and not have to battle weed pressure. The cardboard eventually breaks down and turns into a highly desirable habitat for earthworms and other beneficial critters.
Tip: Don’t attempt this on a windy day the cardboard will blow away, making more work for you. It’s helpful if you can wet down the cardboard with a hose while you’re working.
Step 3: Cover Cardboard with Leaves
If you have access to leaves in the fall… DON’T GET RID OF THEM! Composted, broken-down leaves are perhaps nature’s most perfect FREE fertilizer. If you don’t have many trees in your yard ask a neighbor for their leaves. I bet they will be more than happy to let you have them. Pile all of those leaves us to use in your garden.
The trick is to turn the leaf pile a few times over the months to encourage them to begin breaking down and decomposing. Otherwise, the leaves can begin to form an impenetrable mat that repels water.
By the following spring, the leaf pile will be crawling with earthworms and other beneficial organisms. When you spread the leaves over the cardboard, you are actually importing new life into the growing area!
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Step 4: Cover Leaves with Compost
Next, we covered the leaves with a 6 inch layer of compost. “Compost” is a loose term and can mean many different things, so I will point out that this was well aged and broken down compost made from mostly vegetative matter, NOT animal manures.
Learn More About Compost – HERE.
We planted our seeds and seedling directly into this compost. If you are using composted animal manures, you may need to add some soil to the mix, as the compost may be too rich or “hot” and kill your seedlings.
I have a simple test for knowing when compost is ready to be used in a garden. If you would be willing to stick your hands in it and bring it up to your nose to smell it’s sweet earthy scent… then it’s ready. If not (or smells gross!), it’s too fresh and needs more time to break down.
Step 5: Plant your Seedlings and be Proactive about Weeds
Here is an infallible truth: If you leave soil exposed, it WILL grow weeds. Nature loathes bare soil , which causes erosion, so nature created the perfect solution to combat erosion: Weeds. Yup, that’s right. Weeds DO serve a purpose
If you don’t want your growing area to be overrun with weeds, YOU HAVE GOT TO COVER THE SOIL. You can cover the soil with straw mulch, woodchip mulch, grass clippings, pine needles, or whatever you have handy in your growing area. Or you can use landscape fabric like we did, with holes for the seedlings. Yes, some weeds will also grow in those little holes, but it makes things much more manageable.
You can plant seedlings/plugs in the growing area or simply direct sow the seeds.
We lay soaker hoses for irrigation in the growing area. UNDER the landscape fabric is preferable, so that water doesn’t come into contact with the leaves and cause disease.
I hope this post inspires you to get out there and prepare your own growing area. Remember, fall is the PERFECT TIME to start planning and preparing for next season!