If you are new to gardening, a great first-time project would be to create a simple 4’x8′ raised garden bed and fill it with salad-making plants.
It’s a good way to start small, learn a bit about gardening conditions, and grow those veggies you love to eat.
What You Will Need
You will need a sunny spot that is relatively level. It’s helpful if it is a bit out of the way where pets and kids won’t run through it. (Fencing may be needed to keep little feet out.)
I chose the 4’x8′ size for this article because 8′ is a standard board length and wood is an easy material to work with. (Use untreated wood so you don’t have chemicals leaching into your garden bed.)
Buy three 8′ boards (perhaps 1″x6″ or 1″x8″ if you want to go a bit deeper) and cut one board in half. That will give you two 4′ pieces and two 8′ pieces. Screw them together in a rectangle and voilà, you have a raised bed.
Extended family built this double decker raised bed and added a 2″x4″ wire fencing topper (we have deer). Theirs aren’t 4’x8′ as they just used scrap lumber on the property (probably cedar fence pickets). But you get the idea. You just need a simple frame.
Or you could make one of these: Concrete Block Raised Beds - A sturdy durable choice for your garden.
The other reason I encourage using a raised bed is that not all dirt is created equal. Making a raised bed means you can fill the frame with great dirt for a good start to your garden. (Talk to your local nursery people and ask them for a local source for good garden dirt.)
Before you fill your frame with dirt, put down some weed block fabric or a layer of cardboard. This will help control grass and weeds (the cardboard will eventually break down and become a part of your garden soil).
Choose Your Salad Fixin’s
When your bed is constructed and filled with dirt, you’re ready to pick your plants.
For the sake of discussion, I’ve created this drawing of how a 4’x8′ salad garden could look. As you consider your garden, you can do more or less of a given plant or change out a couple to include your favorites.
The garden is blocked out in 1′ squares. (You could mark the lines in the soil if you like or just imagine them like I do.) I approximated the planting standards given by the Square Foot Gardening book.
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This style of gardening is a bit intensive (the spacing may be a bit closer than the seed packets suggest), but it works very well. Because the bed is 4′ across, you can reach the center and do the planting and weeding with a 2′ reach.
How Much Space?
As in the graph, a bush tomato (a cherry tomato is a good choice) will take up about four square feet. Carrots, green onions, and radishes can be planted about 16 to a square foot. Lettuce, spinach, and your salad greens of choice can fit 3-4 per square foot depending on the kind. Tuck in some peppers and a couple of cucumber plants with a trellis and you have a good start on your salad. (The tomato and cucumbers on a trellis may create a bit of shade. Plant them on the north side of your garden, so the rest of your plants can get enough sunshine. Lettuce can actually handle a bit of shade.)
Square Foot Gardening: Planting Chart Cheat Sheets
Keep It Coming
Some of your plant varieties can be planted in succession. Plant a few every 7-14 days. On the harvesting end, you will have a new batch of veggies ready every 7-14 days. This is true of your carrots, green onions, radishes, and lettuce/greens. If your growing season is long enough, as you harvest, plant more.
They Need Water
Start with lightly moist soil when planting your seeds. Plant them at the depth mentioned on the seed packet. The idea is to keep the seeds moist without washing them away. Try spraying them once or twice a day with a spray bottle or a hose nozzle that has a fine-spray option to keep the soil surface moist.
When you have baby seedlings begin to back off a little. Let the soil dry a bit between waterings. You want the soil to be moist but not soggy. Watch for any sign of wilting and water as needed. As your plants gain size and mature you can run a sprinkler or use a hose around the plants. (Soaker hoses are is a nice option. Lay them out in your garden and then hook the end up to a hose on a timer for ease.)
You can also start with mature plants from your local nursery (I usually buy my tomato and pepper plants). However, most of the root crops need to be started in the garden bed. They don’t transplant well.
Maybe a Bit of Fertilizer
If your soil was good and rich to start with, you may not need to fertilize (just work some compost into the soil before you plant each year to enrich the soil). But I’m of the opinion that a little fertilizer never hurt (and if you use the square foot gardening idea it is a bit intensive and works the soil harder than usual).
My preference is to create my own compost and add in lots of rabbit poo before planting, but use what is available to you or ask your neighbor what he uses. 🙂 OMIL (the other mother-in-law) makes a “comfrey tea” to spray on her garden and I may have to give that a try.
Related Reading: from Oak Hill Homestead
How to Make Comfrey Tea for Your Garden
Enjoy your garden. Enjoy your salads. 🙂
Related Reading: Gardening: What and How Much?
Grow enough plus a little bit extra.