Spring is right around the corner, which means it’s time to start prepping our garden beds for this years first plantings! At the BELL Garden we grow in several types of garden beds including raised beds, but today we are going to learn how to start a garden with nothing but bare lawn space and hand tools.

Tools & Materials:

  • Broadfork
  • Cultivator
  • Hard Rake
  • Good Quality Compost
  • Wheelbarrow or buckets
  • Straw or other mulch

Step 1: Broadforking

The most important tool we use for bed prep is the broadfork. This tool is important to us for a variety of reasons you can read about in our previous article, but basically it serves as our “tiller”, loosening soil and preparing it for planting. The broadfork is unique because it gently loosens soil without flipping it, which preserves the habitat of the soil building organisms within. Watch the video above to see how the broadfork is used.

Step 2: Amending

After broadforking and removing all weeds from the garden bed, you are ready to add compost. We use mushroom compost but any kind of compost will do. You can also make your own compost at home or use worm castings.

The reason we add compost is because we want to make sure that our demanding vegetable crops have available nutrients. We also want to ensure that the organisms in the soil have organic matter to feed on, which in turn provides plants with nutrition in years to come. Generally, you can add as little or as much compost as you want, but depending on the quality a little can go a long way.

Step 3: Cultivating

After fertilizing, use your cultivator to fluff up the top 4″ of soil and bring the sides of the bed into a mound, making sure to break any large clumps of dirt and mixing it well with the compost. Then, using your hard rake, smooth the top of the soil until you have a nice flat bed to work with.

You may notice that your soil has gained some height. This is because of the added pore space created by broadforking and fluffing with the cultivator. Not only does this aid with drainage and penetration of plant roots, but this also provides the organisms in the soil with valuable oxygen they need to decompose organic matter.

If you cultivated the top layer well, then you should have a garden bed that is soft and easy to plant in.

Step 4: Planting and Mulching

Now that your garden bed is finished, you can either sow your seeds directly in the soil or put out transplants you started inside earlier this year. Whatever you do, make sure you add a layer of straw or some type of mulch on your bed. Most fallen leaves make a good mulch in a pinch.

Mulch is important because it helps block weeds and hold moisture in the soil, protecting plant roots and soil organisms. It also provides organic matter to the soil, breaking down over time.

But perhaps our favorite quality of mulch is that it provides a habitat for several of the beneficial insects that we want to keep in our garden by giving them spaces to hide and hunt garden pests.

Happy Gardening!