Nearly a year ago, Mrs. Up and I were shopping for our first house. We had a lot of things we wanted for the home and quite a few we absolutely needed. Most of those things are irrelevant for this post. What was relevant, and what we decided was a need, was a garden.
I wanted a big awesome and highly productive garden, and Mrs. Up wanted a very organized garden. It took us all of about a week to realize that we’d probably want some form of raised garden beds to accommodate both of our garden goals.
We bought a home with existing garden beds, but they were overgrown weed monsters. Horrible landscaping fabric overtaken by weed roots, landscaping rocks that were sharp and it was not child friendly for baby up. To add insult to injury, the landscaping rocks were a horrible red color that offended Mrs. Up’s eyes. After moving in, we decided that the garden had to be addressed. It was too awful to let it stand.
So, I got to work. Having no idea what I was doing and no experience doing any meaningful outdoor work, I was like a National Lampoon’s movie. If Clark Griswold did landscaping, I have to imagine he’d have looked like me. There was a ton of trial and error, but I learned that first I had to cut down all the overgrown weeds and plant matter, then mow it close to the ground, then tear apart the old garden edging, and then somehow dig up the cement like soil. All of this was necessary to get to the ground and start with a blank slate.
Eventually, I learned a rototiller would save days of my life because it could tear up the soil much easier than a shovel if I moistened the soil with a hose In the morning. (I bought a relatively cheap electric corded model on Amazon because this isn’t a huge space and I viewed my rototiller needs as being limited). You cannot skip cutting down the overgrown plants and raking them out before using a roto tiller. I had a couple of early misadventures because I rototilled over vine plants and they wrapped up the entire motor. It took a while to cut that all off.
I kept ending up the exciting owner of huge piles of warped, bent and broken pieces of some synthetic garden edging material.
It’s actually taking me months to dispose of all the junk from the garden. Random debris, garden edging, old hoses, metal pieces, and all manner of broken and improperly disposed of garden supplies were buried in the existing garden. (My trash pick up takes one bulk item per week and they’re basically willing to take 8 pieces of the edging tied up at a time.)
The largest object I found in the soil was 8 feet of rusty pipe duct taped to a random metal stake. For the life of me, I cannot understand how or why that object existed, let alone why anyone would bury it under a garden bed.
After 2 months of working on it when I could, I finally cleared the garden area. Because I was working off and on, I had problems with weeds growing back before the next day that I’d have available to do some work. I found out that a tarp weighted down with bricks will cause weeds under the tarp to suffocate and bake in the sun. (Done more thoroughly, it’s called solarization and it’s awesome.)
It took two months of working a few hours each weekend to clear out an old garden. I suspect that if I’d known what I was doing, had owned the proper tools, could have worked uninterrupted, or had help, clearing the old garden could have been a 1 or 2 weekend project.
Things I learned?
- Rototillers save a ton of time if you need to chew up a ton of soil or just rip up some ground cover. Don’t let it get tangled with vines or tall grass.
- Moving garden rocks is slow, laborious work.
- It takes a long time to dispose of old garden edging. Seriously, there needs to be a better way. I just want it all gone. It’s winter already for goodness sake.
- Landscaping is hard work without the right tools or friends in the area to help.
- Solarizing weeds to death with a tarp is super cool and not labor intensive. Also, you can use cardboard to do it too.
Despite the fact that I’d spent months clearing the existing garden, I still had to figure out how to get raised garden beds and actually plant a garden. I’ll save those for the next posts.