Back yard garden

(Question)

I want to start a backyard garden for vegetables and fruits.  I would like to use all of the backyard for growing.  I grew plants last summer in pots and had a tomato plant in the garden soil.  The plant grew well but I did not support the vines and so many of the tomatoes rotted.

I would like to be able to grow in the whole back yard, how can I prepare it for a food garden?  Should I till the soil, add lots of wood chips, or just cover it with lots of top soil?  I also find it hard to locate the ingredients to build this.  I was thinking of getting worm casting, bio char, rock dust, and some fertalizer.  I do have a home compost pile where I throw all the food waste there, it is exposed and I turn it once in a while, but it takes forever to do anything.

Your help is needed :)

 

(Answer)

Sounds like you are ready to start a major garden expansion, so I suggest a first step is to plan what you can realistically manage and the amount of produce you are after, before you start digging.Here are some suggestions on planning your garden to maximize yield and minimize maintenance.

Our Master Gardeners guide on Organic Vegetable Gardening notes that you should position your beds where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of sun each day.  You may want to use intensive beds rather than the traditional rows.  Intensive beds can be any size as long as you can reach into the middle – typically no more than 4 feet wide with pathways between the beds to give access.

A good book to assist with the planning of intensive beds is Mel Batholomew’s “Square Foot Garden”.  The author recommends laying out your garden in 4 ft X 4 ft beds and gives clear instructions on the space requirements for each vegetable.

The main advantages of intensive beds are:

  • Higher yields through more intensive planting as the space between rows is eliminated.
  • Soil quality is maintained as there is no need to walk on the beds which compacts the soil making it more difficult for plants to absorb nutrients and water.

In terms of overall garden size, the author recommends one 4 ft X 4 ft bed – 16 square feet for each household member you plan to feed.

Once you’ve laid out your beds, you can begin to build the soil.  Click here to have a look at one of our earlier posts which does not recommend tilling your soil which is detrimental to the soil structure and the many beneficial micro-organisms that live in the soil.  Digging down about 6 inches and removing weeds and debris will do a better job.  Organic matter such as compost or manure can then be added.

For more information on soil amendments, see our Master Gardener guide on Improving Your Soil Organically

Mel Bartholomew’s book is available through the Toronto Public Library.  The Master Gardeners also do presentations on many gardening topics at various branches of the TPL.  A schedule of these talks can be found on the TPL web site by searching on ‘ask an expert, master gardeners’.

Best of luck with your new garden. Please contact us again if you have other questions as the garden starts to take shape.