May 5, 2014

How To Garden: Soil and Garden Type

This week we’re taking a slight detour to somewhere different: the great outdoors! Now, if you’re not a nature-girl or woodsy-kinda-guy, no worries. There is something for everyone in this series, mostly because caring for God’s creation (the earth and ourselves) is a way to honor and glorify Him.

Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” And 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 asks, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

So this week, I’d like us to take learn the basics of gardening … look at how working the land to bring forth a harvest and nourish our bodies lives out the Scriptures above. Even if you don’t garden, I hope you’ll join us! 

Before we start, I’d like to give you a little background. Every summer, I had the great joy of spending time in Downeast Maine with my grandparents. We dug the ground and sunk our fingers in the soil of their gardens (veggie and flower). The seeds were planted in my heart then. My love for gardening grew as I helped my dad with his raised beds in our family’s back yard and planted cosmos and gladiolas with my mom as a kid. As I grew, so did my knowledge and skill. I tinkered with houseplants, flowers and container gardening.

Now, my husband and I have turned our backyard into an organic garden with a mix of vegetables, fruit trees and bushes and flowers.

Despite my 30+ years experience in gardening, I’ll preface this series by saying there are many different ways to garden. We have figured out what works for us with our soil, amount of sunlight, zone, pollinators, dietary habits, time, and all the other factors you have to, well, factor in! So I encourage you to do the same. That said, the way we do things isn’t necessarily the best or only way. It’s the way that works for us (and many of the experts we go to for advice, from online experts like John Kohler to the 74 year old farmer to our favorite local garden center guy, Clint!)


To begin, there are a few things to consider:

1. Why do you want to garden? Gardening takes time and energy, so having a passion of one kind or another for it can help sustain you when it’s hot and buggy outside, and you’re done for the day but you still have to harvest.  Start out small and add each season as you become more comfortable with everything.

Joshua and I garden for several reasons. First, we feel the Lord gave us the land to work so it’ll produce food for us. So we honor God and the gift of the earth by gardening. Second, it’s so good for us to eat foods we know are GMO- and pesticide-free and fresh. Third, savings, savings, savings! Fourth, I love it!

“The one who works his land will have plenty of food, but whoever chases fantasies lacks sense.” ~Proverbs 12:11


2. Study your yard. Observe the pattern of the sun and how much sunlight you get per day. Most veggies and flowers need ‘full sun’ or 6-8 hours/day. Remember this will be different in the summer and winter, so plan accordingly. Notice bug activity in your yard. You’ll want pollinators (bumble bees and butterflies) and some beneficial bugs too like ladybugs and spiders (ugh! I do not like spiders, but they are good for the garden). Watch to see if you have any rain water that pools in your yard and where the natural drainage occurs. If you have puddles, you’ll need to build that land up if growing in the ground.

3. Location, Location, Location. Pick a location, your crops, and how many you’re going to plant. Then create a ‘map’ for where you’ll plant each crop. (we’ll cover companion gardening in another post to help you decide on this). Try to plant rows in a north-south orientation to take best advantage of morning and afternoon sun. Plant tall plants farthest north {corn, beans, tomatoes}, medium height plants in the middle {cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, squash, etc.} and short plants to the south {radishes, carrots, beets, lettuce, onions, etc.}. This will help your shorter plants NOT be shadowed by your taller plants. But you’ll need to take in to account  your own personal sunlight in your yard, as well as drainage. Do what makes most sense for you.


The next step: Determining what kind of garden is right for YOU!
Quick! When you hear the word garden, what image comes to mind? A wood pallet? 5-gallon bucket? Rain gutter? OR maybe a 500-acre farm? A 4×4 box?

There are as many ways to garden as there are varieties of veggies! What’s important is to remember: you are NOT limited by your space! And remember that many things can grow up, using things like trellis and cages, so take advantage of limited horizontal square feet. Here are a few different kinds of gardens you can consider to decide what suits the factors mentioned above (time, space, sun, etc.). When I lived in a townhome, I had an 8×8 concrete patio as my ‘backyard.’ I assembled a 4×4 wooden raised bed and had 2 laundry baskets, 3 small pots, and 2 long containers. It was hard to take my trash out without tripping, but well worth the fresh fruits and veggies!


1. Container Garden: Rev up your creative juices and go to town! You can use buckets, clay pots, wooden pallets, a laundry basket … the sky is the limit. For best success: create a great drainage system by poking holes in the bottom of your container and giving water ample room to run out (we don’t want to leave roots sitting in stagnant water pooled at the bottom of your container. This will encourage the roots to rot.) Make sure your plants are receiving adequate sunlight based on their individual needs. Be mindful of using pre-treated wood, or other materials that could leach harmful toxins into your soil and get soaked up by the roots of your plants.

BENEFITS: If space if limited, you can get a lot of produce in many pots on a small patio, window box, lined up against your house or anywhere space is limited. If sunlight is limited, you can move your pots around to receive what they need. When weather is cold, you can bring your pots indoors.

MATERIALS NEEDED: Gardening gloves (if desired). A small spade. Containers and drainage trays or risers.

Pallet Patio Garden

  2. Raised Bed Garden: Here’s another chance to be creative and decide on any length or shape bed. Raised beds are built on the ground, or put on a table, cinder blocks, or any type of structure above ground. If your soil will be on top of the ground, you may want to till the existing soil, but it will be covered with several inches of your own mix of soil. Tilling the soil in the ground gives the roots a softer place to burrow.  You can make your frame of wood, rocks, blocks or any other materials fit to use in your garden. Be mindful of using pre-treated wood, or other materials that could leach harmful toxins into your soil and get soaked up by the roots of your plants.

BENEFITS: Raised beds reduce the amount of weeds (major bonus!). If native soil is of poor quality, you can basically start with a fresh slate in a raised bed by mixing your own soil. Depending on the height of the bed, you save your back by not having to lean over. And you also save the roots of the plant, by not walking on them as you would in a traditional row-by-row garden. Building barriers around raised beds is fairly easy as well. Additionally, when planted in square-foot or hexagonal-style patterns, more produce can be grown. One last benefit: if you have deer, rabbit, chipmunks or other critters who partake of your harvest, it’s easy to build a frame around your raised bed and attach either bird netting or chicken wire to deter the animals.

SIDE-NOTE: You may want to add chicken wire to the bottom of your bed to prevent little voles/moles from burrowing through from underground.

MATERIALS NEEDED: Gardening gloves. Shovel or tiller (especially if your soil is hard). Materials to build your raised bed. And materials to build any animal/critter barriers if desired.


3. In-Ground Garden: Good, healthy native soil makes for a great garden sown directly in the ground. This method of gardening requires the least amount of extra materials needed.

BENEFITS:  There is no real setup or building required, just put your seeds in the soil. Your harvest will give you a large yield, based on how much you plant. It is easy to walk around your plants.

MATERIALS NEEDED: Gardening gloves. Shovel or tiller. Materials to build any animal/critter barriers if desired.

(image source unfound)

Now that you’ve decided what kind of garden you’re going to have, let’s talk SOIL!

It’s important to my husband and me to grow organic produce and this starts from the ground up. Roots will soak up whatever is in your soil. So healthy soil= healthy plants! There’s an old saying, “10 cent plant, 10 dollar pot.”  In other words, your soil is the most important part of your garden and it is worth investing in quality soil.

When FIRST starting your garden, this is a good recipe to use as a foundation. Once you have this mixture established for your first harvest, you won’t need to continue adding each element every time you re-plant. Instead, when you pull up last season’s plants and put new seeds/seedlings in the ground, just fill your old hole with compost.



We use a mix of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost (try to use different types of compost that suit your dietary habits: cow, chicken, mushroom and/or homemade).

Additionally, we added two other components to increase nutritional value in our soil. Follow the instructions on the back of the bags to determine how much you’ll need based on the size of your garden.

1. Rock Dust
2. Worm castings (these are often found within organic fertilizers, but you can also buy them individually).

Now we acknowledge that this soil recipe is rather tedious to mix on your own, and it can be hard to transport to your house if you don’t have a truck and need more than just a few bags. Two things to help remedy that:
1. Most local garden centers (as in locally owned…yay!) will have a mix that is for vegetable gardens. It’s not their regular topsoil, but a step above geared specifically for vegetables and is organic.
2. Many local garden centers will deliver truckloads for you, though there usually is a delivery fee. This would be worth it to me for a one-time fee and to NOT use the bagged stuff found at big box stores (You know who I’m talking about… they do NOT give ‘miracle’ results (hint-hint). Trust me, I’ve used it in the past and did NOT get the results I’m getting now with this organic mix.)

And, steering clear of pesticides helps keep our bodies healthy!

That’s all for now folks! Stay tuned tomorrow as we talk about Companion Planting and Pollinators. 



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  1. […] back to our Gardening Like Grandma series. Yesterday we covered Soil and Style of Garden. This week we’re looking at how to start and maintain a successful garden. When done properly […]

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