Starting a new garden is one of those projects that gets put off either because we think it will be a ton of work, or we just don’t know where to start. If that’s you, I have great news – just ten minutes of effort this fall will win you a fertile, weed and grass free garden plot that is ready to go in the spring! No ripping up sod, no spraying Roundup to kill grass, no tilling, no hauling in loads of compost and mulch – I’m not joking, it’s really hardly any work at all. And if you usually bag up your fall leaves, this method will actually save you time. I’m not going to make this sound more fancy than it really is – the process is simple:
- Choose a location for your garden. Choose the sunniest spot on your property, but at the very least a vegetable garden will need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day. I also strongly support front yard gardens! If curb appeal is a concern, you can be more selective with fencing and how manicured you keep things.
- Rake leaves over the plot where you’d like to have your garden and wet down with the hose. (let your kids jump in them first!) Ok, so I didn’t count raking your leaves in the 10 minutes, but I figure you have to rake your leaves anyway, right? And if you don’t have a supply of leaves, you can actually skip this step! If you do add the leaves, they will break down, providing your soil with important minerals, feeding earthworms and beneficial microbes, and improving your soil composition (lightening heavy soils and helping sandy soils to retain moisture). Continue to pile the leaves on your garden every fall from here on out. It’s a major win-win: your garden benefits and no more bagging leaves!
- Cover the leaves with 2mm black plastic and pin the edges down with landscaping staples. The plastic will block sunlight from reaching the grass, killing it by the time you plant in the spring. It will also raise the temperature underneath by a few degrees, boosting the decomposition of the leaves and grass. You will notice that the plastic domes up with the leaves underneath. You can weigh it down with some rocks, spare lumber, etc., which will be especially helpful if you live in an area that doesn’t get much winter snow. Here in Minnesota, you can count on the snow to pack it down, but high winds before the plastic is buried below the snow could pose a problem. In that case, some reinforcement would be wise.
You may have heard of similar methods that call for several inches of compost, manure, and mulch – oftentimes referred to as “layering” or “lasagna” gardening. It’s true that the extra organic matter will improve the fertility of the soil, but here’s the thing – I believe that to make things happen, sometimes we just need keep things simple, you know? And not only is the method I laid out simple, cheap, and super fast – it’s also totally effective for getting a great garden started. If you choose to amend your soil in the future with the addition of organic compost or manure, etc., you can still do that – at any time!
In the spring, you have a couple options for moving forward:
- You can leave the plastic in place. This will keep weed growth under control and help warm the soil, giving decomposition a boost. To plant your garden, simply cut the plastic as needed (an “x” for transplants, long slits for rows of seeds), work the soil to loosen up the immediate area, and plant. The downside is that you will have to pay closer attention to watering your garden, as plants won’t get as much moisture from rainfall. The plastic eventually will need to be removed or replaced, but will work well for at least one season.
- You can pull the plastic up. Pulling the plastic up allows you to do an initial till of the garden and to continue to add organic matter to the soil. There is really no need to till your garden year after year, but being that this will be a brand new plot, an initial tilling to break up packed-down soil can be beneficial. In future years, I think the simplest method is to continue adding layers of leaves or other mulch, and only working the soil as needed for new plants. The layers of mulch will keep weeds down and improve your soil as they break down over time. Furthermore, I for one became a much happier gardener when I no longer worried about borrowing or renting a tiller every spring.
Stay tuned in the spring for more gardening posts! I’m excited for getting into the details!