Before digging, a basic understanding of a few key aspects of gardening will give you the necessary knowledge for executing the garden. This chapter offers basic gardening information for building a garden. Follow the three steps below when starting your garden:
Building the Foundation
Type of Garden:
In-Ground, Raised Bed, or Container
Planting the Garden
Building the Foundation
High quality soil is essential for growing high producing, quality crops. There are two types of soil nutrients that plants need to grow, macro- and micronutrients. Macronutrients are widely known as NPK, which is short for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Plants also use many micronutrients to grow, such as calcium, magnesium and iron.
To maintain and improve soil health, use proper soil preparation techniques, follow a well-planned crop rotation and add compost or other beneficial amendments to the soil such as egg shells, lime and charcoal powder.
Soil types differ across South Carolina. There are regional consistencies and deficiencies in soil across the state. This can be better understood once the soil where the garden will be located has been tested by Clemson University. To find out how to submit a soil sample, visit Clemson’s Soil Testing website.
Type of Garden
The amount of time and work needed to create the beds and build the soil will depend on the size of the garden, the location and type of garden you choose.
For outdoor gardens, there are three main types of growing spaces to choose from: in-ground, raised garden beds and container gardens. This section will guide your efforts in building the type of garden your committee chose.
For in-ground garden beds, the first step is to loosen the soil. This process, known as tilling, allows for more water, nutrients and air to easily enter the soil and reach the root of the plants. Tilling is most often done by using a tilling machine that rotates the soil.
If you do not have access to a tiller, there are other methods that can be done by hand. Double-digging is a widely used soil preparation method that is beneficial if your soil is compacted. It is a sustainable practice to build and maintain rich soil. The method involves removing 12 inches of the topsoil, loosening and amending 12 inches of the subsoil and replacing and amending the previously removed topsoil. This process includes:
- Marking the garden bed dimensions using flour, lime or string.
- Watering this space thoroughly in advance to soften the soil and make digging easier.
- Spreading a layer of compost on top of the garden bed area.
- Removing one wide strip of topsoil 12 inches deep and placing this at the end.
- Loosening and amending 12 inches of subsoil with one shovel full of compost.
- Moving the next strip of topsoil onto the first strip of loosened subsoil.
- Loosening and amending the second strip of subsoil with one shovel full of compost.
- Repeating this process until the entire bed has been double dug.
- Replacing the last strip subsoil with the topsoil you removed at the beginning of the process.
- Leveling and watering the bed thoroughly.
The goal of double-digging is to create a rich soil structure, increase soil fertility overtime to lessen work in the future and to make gardening more sustainable. With a rich soil structure, you will only have to cultivate the upper 2 inches of the soil by amending it with compost. Remember to include the garden committee members and children in this process to spread the workload.
Raised beds are typically made of rot-resistant wood or other materials like plastic boards and bricks. This will vary depending on the desired type of frame. Raised beds look organized and tidy, while supporting plant growth. Loose soil encourages the roots to grow strong and deep while moisture can easily soak in.
- Gather the necessary materials. For wood frames, this includes lumber and lots of screws. Do not use lumber treated with toxic chemicals.
- Cut the lumber to the desired lengths for each of the raised beds. If you do not want to cut the lumber yourself, ask the store to cut them for you.
- Optional: Cut and install corner stabilizers. Use 5 screws on each corner to provide extra stability.
- Assemble the frame by screwing the corners together.
- Position the bed frames where you want them.
- Dig the ground underneath to loosen the soil. If desired, place old boxes or newspapers down or consider installing landscape fabric to suppress weeds or wire to deter burrowing animals.
- Fill the bed with a mix of good garden soil, compost and other soil amendments.
Growing containers come in many shapes and sizes. Common growing containers include clay pots, wooden barrels and plastic or metal buckets. Regardless of the type of container selected, it is important to ensure the materials are suitable for growing, there is adequate drainage with holes in the bottom and it is frost-proof for exposed sites.
The type of soil used is equally as important as choosing the right container. Due to the limited growing space for root systems, a highly absorbent, light weight potting soil should be used in order to retain a high amount of nutrients. Ask about the best soil for potted plants, both indoor and outdoor, at a local hardware or gardening store.
All plants can be grown in containers, but those that require less soil, water and sunlight are better suited for smaller spaces. Remember to select a container that is the best fit for the type of plant to be grown. Reference the chart to the left for some ideas for container gardening.
Planting the Garden
Planting the garden is an activity for everyone. Based on their abilities, children can help with different planting tasks. Some activities that they can participate in are digging holes for seeds and using rulers to measure how far apart to space plants and how deep to dig holes. Check out “How Children Can Help in the Garden” in the Additional Resources at the end of this section for more ways to get children involved in the garden.
The two main methods for planting are direct seeding and transplanting. Direct seeding is a one-step planting method that requires placing a seed at a certain depth in or on top of the soil. Transplanting is a process that requires starting direct seeding indoors, allowing the seed to germinate. Gradually transition the seedling outdoors for a hardening off period to allow the seedling to adapt to the new growing environment before being planted directly into the soil.
- Plant Seeds Indoors and/or Outdoors: Many seeds can be planted either inside or outside. Seeds that do not transplant well should be directly sown into their outdoor garden space.
- Planting Depth: Reference the seed packet for specifics on how deep to plant seeds. For seedlings, reference the plant instruction tag.
- Plant Spacing: All plants need certain amounts of space to avoid competition for nutrients. Follow recommended spacing requirements on seed packages. Spacing varies for different crops.
- Days to Germination: This is the number of days it typically takes for seeds to sprout.
- Days to Harvest: Depending on the crop, there will be a certain number of days before the produce is ready for harvesting.
Replanting and replenishing the soil is a necessary part of the planting process. If a plant dies, remove the plant, add compost, water thoroughly and then replant in that space. To replenish the soil of an entire bed after the harvest, till and amend the soil if necessary, plant a cover crop and/or follow a crop rotation plan.