Friends that are interested in trying to grow some of their own food have reached out to me and asked what they should do to get started. Much like I was when I started, they’re often overwhelmed by all of the various information out there about how to grow food and have no idea where to start. Here are the four simple steps I give anyone that asks me what they should do to get started with growing some of their own food:
Step 1: Cover the Bermuda grass with 2 layers of cardboard and wood chips
Most yards in Oklahoma have Bermuda grass. It’s important to know up front that Bermuda grass is a nightmare to deal with in the garden. It spreads vigorously and can grow right through the black landscaping fabric that’s commonly used. However, I’ve found cardboard to be a much better solution for me and it has pretty much eliminated the Bermuda grass problem in my garden. My first beds were surrounded by Bermuda grass and I was constantly fighting it off. Once I surrounded the area with cardboard and laid a foot of mulch on top of it, Bermuda has pretty much disappeared from the garden. I recommend having at least a 2-foot border of wood chips around each bed in order to keep the Bermuda out. Here’s a video showing how we get all our wood chips for free!
The next step is to build a simple box and place it on top of the cardboard. I recommend building them either 4×4 or 4×8 but you can build them however you want. I’d caution against building them wider than 4 feet or else you’ll have trouble reaching the middle. I also recommend lining the inside of the box with black plastic sheeting to help make the wood last longer. There’s also plenty of debate about the chemicals in pressure treated wood coming in contact with the soil. You can use cedar if you want to avoid the issue altogether. I’ve always built mine out of either the cheapest deal I could find on lumber or on salvaged lumber. I paint the outside of them to help protect from the elements and line the inside with plastic. If I had to do it all over again, I’d save myself a lot of money and build all the raised beds out of free shopping pallets. Be sure to get the ones with a “HT” stamp meaning they’re heat treated and weren’t used with chemicals
There are also pre-built solutions if you don’t want to deal with lumber. They usually go on sale in the spring and I’ll post about deals when I see them. I’ve also recently started using Smart Pots this year and think they’re a great option! These are probably what I’d recommend to someone that just wants to get started without a lot of up-front effort
Step 3: Fill the box with a high-quality soil mix (DIY or store-bought)
This is where you have a choice to make. You can either save money and build the soil mix yourself or you can buy bagged soil and fill the bed. Pick your path from here and calculate how much you’ll need using an online calculator .
This is the “Mel’s Mix” from Square Foot Gardening. Mix together these three ingredients together in equal parts:
- Peat moss/Coconut coir – You can find peat moss at most any hardware store and or store with a garden center. Coconut coir is a great option as well.
- Vermiculite – Buy the 4 cu. ft. bags from a local nursery. I buy them for around $30 from a local nursery.
- Compost – You can make your own compost, but that’s a topic all to itself. I recommend buying compost in bulk to anyone that’s just starting out. The best source I’ve found for bulk compost in Oklahoma City is at Marcum’s Nursery. You may also be able to find somewhere that will deliver compost if you don’t have access to a truck.
Check out this video showing an easy way to mix the ingredients together using a compost tumbler. It’s saved me hours of work compared to mixing on a tarp.
Many garden centers carry something that’s pretty close to the bagged version of the ingredients above. Tell them you want a bagged version of “Mel’s Mix from Square Foot Gardening” and they’ll know what you’re talking about. You could also use pretty much any potting soil you want but I recommend using something that isn’t packed full of chemical fertilizer.
Step 4: Pick what you want to grow and get started!
Here’s the best part! Check out our blog post talking about the best plants to start with if you aren’t sure what to start with. There are lots of great resources that will help you determine what you can plant now. One of my favorite tools is the Farmer’s Almanac custom planting date calculator. It will build a custom planting calendar for you showing you when you can plant pretty much everything. Of course, there are other things you’ll have to do once you get the plants in the ground. You’ll want to make sure the plants are receiving the adequate amount of water and food (fertilizer). Each plant has its own requirements, but the information is easy to find and you’ll find it all becomes second nature once you get a season or two under your belt.
I’m going to be working on posting growing guides here that will summarize all the best information we’ve found about growing each plant. I’ll be building them throughout the season as I plant our own food. Check back soon for those and please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or something you’d like to know more about! Also, you can read the full story of how we converted our backyard from bare lawn into an urban food farm at www.seedtospoon.net/about-us. Thanks for reading!