In the past, I made a large garden by tilling up a patch of soil in my yard. Every time I wanted to plant or weed the garden, my knees would end up completely muddy. This year, I decided that I wanted to do the same thing at my new house, but I wanted to be a little less dirty when I was finished with the planting and weeding. Leaving grassy strips in between the beds makes a garden more accessible. One of my friends fondly called my a "Farmville" garden (because of the facebook app), and the name stuck.
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Step 1: Look on the Bright Side
Notice the areas of your yard that get the most sun. Some people think I'm a little strange for putting the garden in the front yard, but that's where I get the most sun.
Step 2: Remove the Sod
Rent a sod kicker to remove the grass and roots. A sod kicker can be rented for about $15 per day; it consists of two handles, a roller that sits on top of the sod and a sharpened blade slightly under and in front of the roller. There is no need to rent a heavy-duty, gas-powered sod cutter if you have a small section of sod to remove. It will take a bit of effort, though, as you have to kick the tool forward, severing the roots of the grass and dandelions.
When removing the sod, measure the width of your lawnmower (or eyeball it at least) so you can leave those widths of grass between the rows. You will be able to kneel on the strip of grass when planting, weeding or dividing plants, thus preventing your knees from getting dreadfully muddy. Make sure that you can easily maneuver the mower to access the strips. You could even be creative and make a spiral labrynth garden, though that would take some fancy maneuvering with the sod cutter.
It took about 1.5 hours of sod kicker action and another 1.5 hours to drag the sod into the back yard for removal.
Step 3: Break Ground and Add Amendments
I used a roto tiller to break ground. The house was built in 1949, and I doubt that there had been anything but grass at this site, so it took some effort. When the ground was tilled, I shoveled compost on top and allowed it to decompose for about two weeks. The compost I added was from a local garden show, and it was the consistency of rich potting soil with tulip stems and flowers (and the occasional bulb).
Step 4: Dig In
When the weather was warmer and it had rained a bit (which further softened the ground), I used a garden fork to incorporate the compost and added my rabbits' manure into the soil.
Also, since the rototiller often distributes the roots of perennial grasses and weeds, I was able to pull out the maturing weeds as I used the fork.
After raking the debris that didn't get incorporated, I got excited to put seeds in the ground!!
Step 5: Map Out Your Plantings
I still need to decide on which vegetables to grow in my garden (and where they will go). Since I am not new to vegetable gardening, I know the heights and widths of many plants. It's always exciting to go through seed packages in the Spring and draw out the plans so the taller plants don't tower over the shorter ones.
It is always a good idea to make a list of the vegetables and herbs you eat and cook with on a regular basis and a few that you would like to experiment with. This year, I used http://www.growveg.com to plan my garden. This web-based program allows you to see information about each vegetable and helps you to retain enough space in your plan between vegetables.
Have fun and enjoy your new, mudless-knee Farmville garden!! Maybe I'll add chickens next year... ;)