How to start your first garden (while saving money)

Today, planting in ground has been left behind as raised beds take over in backyards.

They must be constructed with store-bought materials, filled with store bought soils. And they are not conducive to certain crops like corn. This turns your first garden from a love affair with shovel and spading fork into a shopping experience. That makes it expensive if you fail.

Save money, get a good workout and make your garden the old-fashioned way: hand digging.

Most residential vegetable gardens can be made in a weekend with nothing more than a strong back and hand tools. Start by removing all the grass and weeds in the area you’ve designated where it gets full sun much of the day. Next, use a fork or shovel to turn over the soil one shovel-full at a time. It’s slow and tedious, but fun if there are two of you working from opposite ends.

While the ground is open, add some nutrition. Composted steer manure is the cheapest soil conditioner out there, and one of the best. You can’t use too much. It will bring in microbes and micronutrients that may be lacking, as well as organic matter. Plus, there’s something different about manures that offers more immediate fertility, which is why it’s used to cover newly sown lawn seed.

Work the manure in as you use the iron rake to pulverize clods, remove sticks and roots and rocks. Your goal is a smooth, soft surface to accept seeds and seedlings.

This method takes much of the guesswork out of a first garden. It’s hand-watered and it will produce like gangbusters. Without beds to restrain you, the space can be fortified and tilled year after year for a large family garden. Maybe its size grows unhindered by boundaries. Above all, you can rearrange your garden each year for crop rotation, which is vital to maintaining soil fertility overall.

Is this an organic garden? That’s up to you. It’s OK to be a hybrid gardener. That means we are aware of the all-organic ideal, but not consumed by it. We prefer organic products when we have the choice.

Learn the basics and the rest takes care of itself, said an old mentor.

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