Table of contents for Easy Vegetable Garden
Part 5 in a series of posts about one method of easily building a vegetable garden.
Gather Up Your Stuff!
At this point you should have your garden design in hand and are probably wondering when you get to start shoveling some dirt! Patience Grasshopper, patience…
Before you can start shoveling dirt you need the shovel. And the dirt. And that is what this article is all about — making sure that you have everything you are going to need to get the job done right before you begin. A small amount of preparation might prevent a trip or two to the garden center or hardware store later.
So print this list and head out to the garage or shed or barn and make sure you have the following items:
Shovel – You probably already have a shovel or three hanging about.
- Rake — Not the flimsy leaf rake! You will need the sturdy garden rake with short tines. Known as a Bow Rake.
- Wheelbarrow — Unless the topsoil pile is right next to your garden site you will need a wheelbarrow or trailer of some sort to help move it.
- Gloves — Good leather work gloves will save your hands, especially if you put up a fence and use wire connectors!!!
Pliers — Only need these if you are installing a fence and using wire connectors.
- Post Driver — If you are putting up fence and using metal fenceposts then spend the $25 for this! Makes driving the posts so easy you won’t believe it. A sledgehammer would work too, but I guarantee that money spent on a post driver is well-spent.
- Tarps — Optional. Can be used to kill grass before you build the garden. Also can be used to drag soil around or place under soil pile to make cleanup easier.
- Hammer and Nails — If you want to border your beds with lumber you need these.
- Twine and a Tape Measure — Use the tape measure for shorter distances, and the twine to measure long distances.
- Topsoil — You can purchase topsoil or you can make it yourself. The topsoil you use can make or break your garden, so it is hugely important. More on topsoil at the end of this article.
- Landscape Fabric and Pins — This is optional — but I found it was the easiest way to line the paths between my beds. Sam’s Club had the best price on this by far, but it is a seasonal item there so it isn’t available year-round.
Fence — If you need to fence in your garden I recommend something called a feedlot panel. They come in 16-foot sections and the wire is much thicker than a chain-link fence. In my area they are about $20 a panel. There are many other types of fencing that could be used. I’m convinced that feedlot panels are the way to go considering their reasonable cost, sturdiness and ease of use. Quality Farm and Fleet is where I purchased mine. If 16 feet is too long these can be cut down with bolt cutters.
- If you use the feedlot panels you will also need to purchase some poultry netting if rabbits or groundhogs are a problem in your area. Poultry netting comes in bundles and is inexpensive. Attach this to the bottom of the feedlot panels with the cable ties and you are protected.
- Fence Posts — If you use feedlot panels then the best fencepost to use is called a T-post. You want the posts to be 6 feet or 6.5 feet long. Your garden plan tells you how many you need — 1 on each corner and 1 every 8 feet.
Connectors — When I purchased the T-posts they gave me a bag of these wire fence clips that it takes a geometry genius to figure out how to use. They work, but they also tend to poke holes in skin and cause bleeding and other unpleasant stuff! So to connect the fence to the posts I used nylon cable ties — also known as zip ties. They were cheap and easy. Over time they will probably degrade from the sunlight and need to be replaced — but I’m OK with that because they were so darn cheap and easy!
- Lumber for Bed Border — Most of the raised beds I’ve seen are enclosed with lumber of some sort. It makes the garden look neat and helps to ensure you don’t accidentally step into your beds. The downsides are the high cost and the lumber will need to be periodically replaced as it ages. I skipped this step when Meadowwood Garden was built because it would have cost as much for the bed borders as it did for the fencing! But I am thinking about installing these retroactively just to neaten things up.
- If you decide to use lumber to border your beds you will want 2in x 6in x 8ft boards at a minimum. There is a lot of debate about pressure-treated wood possibly leaching chemicals into the soil. Personally I would not use pressure-treated wood in my garden — just in case. Regular pine boards will last for many years before they need to be replaced. Regardless of what you choose to use, make sure your beds are a minimum 6 inches deep.
- Path Material — What you do here depends on your situation. You could leave the garden paths natural and just mow them if you like. That is how Meadowwood Garden started out. What I didn’t like about having grass paths was the weeds that seemed to creep into the beds, the bugs they harbored, and the fact that it was really tough to mow in that small area. So in the middle of the growing season I lined all the pathways with black landscape fabric. At the end of the season I plan to put a layer of pea gravel on top of the landscape fabric.
- Another alternative would be to use straw to line your paths. Or you could mulch them. Or use pavers. The possibilities are endless!
Some Words About Topsoil
The #1 key to a successful garden is having good topsoil.
I can’t stress that enough. If your soil is rich and healthy then your plants will be vigorous and healthy. The richer your soil is the more nutrients it holds, and the less fertilizer is needed. Good soil tends to stay moist yet drain well. Your soil is the connection between your plants and the Earth. The better your soil, the better your garden.
OK, so does everyone understand how important soil is now? If you learn nothing else from this website, I hope you go away with the understanding about how important it is to have good soil in a garden.
Normally I’d recommend mixing up your own garden topsoil so you can control what is in it and ensure quality. But after seeing how large of a pile of soil it took to construct Meadowwood Garden I believe that purchasing a good-quality topsoil and having it delivered might be the best way to go. Meadowwood Garden is just over 1000 sq. ft. and the pile of topsoil was almost as big as my car!!!!!
So how much topsoil do you need? This website has a handy soil cubic yard calculator. Use your garden design to add up the lengths and widths of your beds. For height (depth) I used 8 inches to allow for some cushion. Hit the button and it will tell you exactly how many cubic yards of topsoil to purchase for your garden. Meadowwood Garden took about 7 cubic yards.
Ask around your local area for recommendations about where to purchase good topsoil — usually one company will stand out as the place of choice in your area. You can also use Google — simply enter Topsoil and the name of your city into the searchbox.
When you call to place your order tell them that you are looking for the best grade of topsoil they sell for use in a garden. In my case there were 2 grades of topsoil — the top grade had 20% compost mixed in already and didn’t cost too much more! Good topsoil isn’t cheap, so don’t faint. Much of what you pay is a delivery fee, so if you can go get it yourself you can save a substantial amount usually.
If you can’t get the soil yourself and it is going to be delivered consider ordering an extra 2 or 3 cubic yards. You can always use good soil, it never goes bad, and you are paying the same delivery charge whether they deliver 5 yards or 50. The extra I ordered is being used to expand a few beds and add a bed alongside my workshop, so I’m glad I ordered a little more than was originally needed.
Once the topsoil is delivered make sure you cover it if you can’t construct the garden right away and there is any chance of rain. Wet soil is very heavy — enough said?