Blog: Getting Growing

By Janice Stillman
April 15, 2010

Yesterday, I put in my first big day at the community garden: about three hours of turning the dry soil and pulling the weeds and grass that had taken hold since last year. (I took this pic about halfway through the job.)

As laborious as this work is, I take a certain instant gratification from it. I can still feel the effects of heaving the pitchfork, but I do really enjoy grabbing hold of grass stems and pulling out the runners. The longer they are, the better. And I love the feel of the deep, loose soil—walking in it up to my ankles and running my hands through it to catch any errant weed roots.

There are a couple of theories, maybe more, about restarting a garden. Some gardeners advocate not disturbing the soil—just planting in last year’s bed (assuming, of course, that plants are rotated as needed and there are no weeds) vs. turning, or tilling it like I did.

This year, I have an opportunity to try both. An area on which I spread a rich compost last year now contains far fewer weeds than the portions of the bed that didn’t get that cover. Sure, I will have to move the soil to set seeds, but I am going to try not to turn it deeply. And I’m going to lay down more compost.

As I understand it (and if previous seasons are any indication), the tilled portion may produce more weeds. Turning the soil introduces more oxygen, giving the tiny bits an opportunity to thrive. (Of course, I mulch throughout the summer. See this midseason picture from 2008: There is hope yet!)

Now in my sixth year in the community plots, I’m still learning, considering all advice—including of course, that found here. So tell me—please: What do you do to prep your garden each year?

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Thanks Marcia for the advice

Thanks Marcia for the advice for us beginners to 'start out slowly' - I'm very excited about a vegtable garden this year - it will be my first. I've turned and manured two 8 x 10 beds and will intersperse tomatoes, cucs, beets and radishes with day lilies, lavendar and some roses - My seedlings have started out very well but I'm scared to death to harden off then transplant outside - hate to see them 'not make it' - I'll wait till after mother's day and closer to memeorial day - when the air temp is a more steady 65 -70.

Haven't gardened for a while,

Haven't gardened for a while, but a new knee has alleviated the reason for that. I dug wood violets about three years ago, thinking they would make a great bed border. They did, but in 2008 they smothered fifty onion sets and one hundred shallots! They took over completely in 2009 while I was recovering from the knee surgery. They spread by seed. Lovely but lethal evidently. So this year out they go and the soil will be replaced, at least the top eight inches. I have compost and creek bottom soil and believe ardently in sheet composting in place. A bit like Ms. Lanza's Lasagna style. I gardened in southern New Mexico and southwest Texas for thirty years where the heat was so great it ate my compost piles so composting in the plant rows worked very well. Here in the blue ridge mountains of Virginia it has worked as well. I offered the electric company tree trimmers a place to dump their shreddings. I have great piles of chipped and shredded wood to which I added an acre or so of grass clippings in addition to the leaf mold from the dry ponds on the place. The soil is so acid that the lack of nitrogen in the compost works for a new garden. The second year more green maatter goes in to keep a balance. This year I have 144 seeds started (all open pollinated) for the deer proof garden. This in an effort to save seeds that will grow here. The nights are so cold here some years that grass doesn't grow well! My critter safe garden is a 16 ft. by 22 ft. chain link enclosure with 1 inch chicken wire at ground level 1 ft. high to deter rabbits and chipmonks. This is a whole new world for me I never had so many weeds or critters before. The canning garden is in the creek bottom and at 60 ft. by 100 ft. is the deer magnet. Last year a wiley buck determined how to lift the gate off the hinges and stroll in to the corn patch. Not much damage though. The June flood took out most of the plantings and replanting was too late for much except beans and turnip greens. Wish me better luck this year. Garden angel blessingsto all, Shirley

Two weeks ago a friend loaned

Two weeks ago a friend loaned me his brand-new Craftsman tiller and I have tilled up an 8'x25' garden area while adding composted leaves from this past winter. Now I am just waiting until the ground is warm enough to plant all my selections for this year's crop! Today (Sunday April 18th was supposed to be the last frost date but they are calling for a possible frost on Monday morning in Charlotte, NC and there is a freeze warning in the NC mountains. I have also been told that I should wait until after Mother's Day to plant my tomatoes and corn. I sure am itchin' to plant but, do not want to waste my time with failed crops. Richard.

We live in rural Snohomish

We live in rural Snohomish County, WA on 4+ acres on a lovely small lake. Our primary vegetable garden space is approximately 80x40 ft., fenced to keep deer out with 2-ft raised beds and half whiskey barrels throughout. This year we will be putting in additional lower screening to keep the rabbits out. We get a dump truck load of compost every other Spring to add to the raised beds as we turn them and other areas of plantings throughout the property. We have a large tumbling composter that includes all kitchen waste as well as leaves and grass and also make our own leaf mould which we mix with maple, conifer and alder chips for mulch later in summer. We grow and wildcraft aromatic plants that we distill in copper stills as a part of our aromatic products business that you can find online at
My advice for beginners is to start out slowly; don't bite off more than you can chew. You'll get easily discouraged if the work seems overwhelming. Get to know each species and varieties; experiment from year to year to find the ones that thrive in your region and that you like the best. Keep a garden journal; you'll be surprised how much you learn from yourself from year to year. If you want advice about growing aromatic herbs and home distillation or fragrant flowers that can be tinctured for delightful homemade perfumes and aromatic room sprays, sign up for my newsletter and check in with the company blog periodically for ongoing aromatic plant tidbits, wildcrafting in the PNW and periodic gardening info as well as aromatic lifestyle ideas and recipes. Earth Day is April 22; celebrate with passion and vigor!
Aromatically, Marcia