Backyard Farming by Kim Pezza [pdf, epub] 1578264596

Backyard Farming: Growing Vegetables & Herbs: From Planting to Harvesting and More

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  • Title: Backyard Farming: Growing Vegetables & Herbs: From Planting to Harvesting and More
  • Autor: Kim Pezza
  • Publisher (Publication Date): Hatherleigh Press; 1 edition (May 28, 2013)
  • Language: English

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Backyard Farming: Growing Vegetables and Herbs

Text copyright © 2013 Hatherleigh Press

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

eISBN: 978-1-57826-460-5

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.







Title Page




Meet the Expert

Chapter 1: The Basics

Chapter 2: Planning Your Garden

Chapter 3: Designing Your Garden

Chapter 4: Deciding What to Plant

Chapter 5: Let’s Create a Garden!

Chapter 6: Maintaining Your Garden

Chapter 7: Getting the Most from Your Harvest

Chapter 8: End of the Season

Final Notes






Gardening has been an important part of life throughout the centuries, not only in the United States but across the world. However, in recent history, vegetable gardening has disappeared from many home landscapes as cities, suburbs, and even rural areas have turned to the local grocer for their vegetables. The reasons for this shift vary, but it is often a result of busier lifestyles and the need for easier access to fresh produce.

But in the last few years, a resurgence of local farming and a renewed consumer interest in organic, homegrown produce has revitalized home gardening as a pastime and as a food source. Consumers have become more interested in where their food came from, passing over genetically modified foods and mass-produced produce in favor of organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Individuals, families, and even restaurants are beginning to find their way back to the land. As a result, through local farmers, farmer’s markets, and backyard gardens, America is experiencing a food revolution that shows no sign of letting up. These are the foods that our parents, grandparents, and even ourselves as children grew up eating and thriving on. Consumers today are looking to gain back control of their food by returning to farm-fresh produce. Many are also becoming interested in growing some of their own foods as well. As demand continues to grow, more and more individuals are looking to take up the spade and trowel and try their hand at providing their own farm-fresh produce.

Growing Vegetables and Herbs is ideal for those of us who want to join the move back to basics, especially those who have never planted a seed, picked a tomato off the vine, or fought with a weed … and had it win! Covering methods that can fit many situations, including limited gardening space, Growing Vegetables and Herbs will help you create your own gardens filled with vegetables and herbs, as well as some fruits and edible flowers.

Everything you need to begin your own gardening experience is contained in these pages. Read it from cover to cover or read it section by section as new questions and challenges arise. Either way, this book was written with the first-time gardener in mind, and is specifically designed to equip you with everything you need to make your first attempt at gardening fun and simple.

You will find nothing more rewarding than tasting foods you grew yourself. Imagine sauce from your own tomatoes, fries from your own potatoes, or pickles from your own cucumbers. Not to mention the dishes you can create with the freshest ingredients possible, direct from your own backyard! Once you taste freshly made foods from your own kitchen using produce from your own garden, prepackaged or grocery-store food will never measure up again.

So sit back, kick up your feet, have your favorite beverage at your fingertips, and begin your gardening journey. Whether you have one hundred acres, live in the suburbs, or are a full-time apartment dweller, you’re on your way to creating your perfect garden.





Kim Pezza grew up among orchards and dairy and beef farms having lived most of her life in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. She has raised pigs, poultry and game birds, rabbits and goats, and is experienced in growing herbs and vegetables. In her spare time, Kim also teaches workshops in a variety of areas, from art and simple computers for seniors, to making herb butter, oils, and vinegars. She continues to learn new techniques and skills and is currently looking to turn her grandparents’ 1800s farm into a small, working homestead.







In most cases, the new homesteader, backyard or urban farmer will begin their journey with a garden. It may be very large or very small, raised beds or containers on a balcony, in a backyard in the country or on a rooftop in the city. No matter what type of garden it is, for the first-time gardener, it can be one of the most gratifying projects someone can start.

In all cases, no matter the size or location of your garden, it is a food source, not just landscape aesthetics. This isn’t to say that a vegetable garden cannot also be part of your landscape or even the majority of your landscape. Even a flower garden can have a purpose other than just being decorative. The flowers may be edibles or fruits and vegetables may be intertwined within the decorative flower garden (of course, they may intertwine with edible flowers as well).

Depending on your family’s needs, wants, and available space, the garden may be a supplemental source of food. However, in some cases the garden may also be part of a total self-sufficiency plan. Some gardens may also be grown as market gardens, meaning gardens grown expressly for selling the harvest, while others may be grown mainly for personal consumption, but any excess will be sold (after you have eaten, canned, frozen, or dried all you want for the family), usually selling from a little stand in the front yard.

Whatever your garden is being grown for, you will need to think about its development. This does not necessarily mean that you need to take the time to create a map or a scale drawing, but site, size, and what the plot will be able to hold does need to be thought out, as well as what type of garden will be used. In Chapter 2, you will find more information on how to plan your very own vegetable garden to suit your needs.

Today, food gardens can be found in a variety of locations besides the farm. Backyards, empty city lots, schools, rooftops, businesses, apartment buildings, and even balconies can be found making a home for some type of garden. Basically, whether there are multiple acres or a couple of pots on the porch, food may be grown. And although there has been much ado about a vegetable garden in the White House, this is actually nothing new.



History of Vegetable Gardens


Starting in 1800, John and Abigail Adams had a family garden during their time at the White House. Then, in 1801, Thomas Jefferson, a noted farmer in his private life, added fruit trees to the White House gardens. Upon his arrival, Andrew Jackson included his touch with the addition of a small greenhouse, which was later replaced by a full-size version (unfortunately, in 1902, it was torn down and replaced by the West Wing).

In addition to food gardens, some of the First Families throughout history also kept livestock on the White House grounds, making this most famous house no stranger to the backyard farm. While today, the food garden seems to be a trend going back to early American life, it has been found that people have most likely been gardening for at least 8,000 years, beginning in an area of the world called the Fertile Crescent.

The Fertile Crescent is a very ancient area of rivers that stretch from the Nile to the Tigris and Euphrates, which features fertile soil that also provided pasture land and a wonderful growing area. Part of the Biblical lands area, it was the home of mainly nomads, who needed the good pasture lands for their livestock. However, the land was such a perfect agricultural area, due to the natural fertility and the presence of the rivers that allowed for irrigation, the nomads settled down in the area. It is also believed that the Fertile Crescent is the location of the earliest known culture.

The earliest known vegetable gardening book is actually still available in the marketplace. Written in 1599 by Richard Gardiner in Shrewsbury, England, the book focuses on such vegetables as leeks, turnips, lettuce, squash, and beans. The title of this publication is Profitable Instructions for the Manuring, Sowing, and Planting of Kitchen Gardens Very Profitable for the Commonwealth and Greatly the Helpe and Comfort of Poore People. Quite a title, even for the sixteenth and turn of the seventeenth centuries.

In the early United States, it was the kitchen garden that was the household staple, with the specific purpose of feeding the family, sometimes being the only source of food during lean hunting times. Getting its name due to its proximity to the kitchen, the kitchen garden held the seeds that the pioneers or immigrants brought with them from the homes they had left behind. And although it is not quite the necessity that it was in early America, the kitchen garden has been making a comeback, supplying vegetables and herbs to the gardeners of today.



Benefits of Growing Your Own Food


Although many still think that a big garden area is necessary to grow vegetables or fruit, this cannot be further from the truth. You don’t need acres of land to start a vegetable garden. Even with a few raised beds or a terrace garden, you and your family can enjoy the many benefits of growing your own food.

When you grow your own food, you have total control over what goes into your cupboards and what you eat. You also have total say as to how the food is grown, how it is harvested, and how it is preserved or prepared. You can even have a good stock of homegrown foods to keep you through the winter, should you decide to can or freeze the excess. You’ll find that by February, you will appreciate those canned tomatoes or the soups that you made last fall.

Another benefit of growing your own food is that it teaches your children about where their food comes from. Learning about and even helping with the growing of their own food helps children to develop good working habits, as well as an understanding of responsibility. It has even been shown that community gardens can actually spur a total neighborhood cleanup, due to the unexpected pride gardeners find they have for their hard (but gratifying) work.

For those who have allergies, growing your own food will ensure that the food you are eating has not been grown or processed with something that could set off a reaction.

And finally, you can grow exactly what your family likes or loves. And if there’s something you like, but can’t find in the grocery store, there is a good chance that you can grow it yourself! (But remember, your climate may have a say in what you can put in your garden.)

While there are many reasons to grow your own food, the best reason is the satisfaction you will take from growing foods for your own family. Whatever the reason, whatever the need, you will find a garden to be nothing but a wonderful experience, and one that you will look forward to year after year.







As a new gardener, a fun activity can be to put together a wish list of your goals and expectations for your perfect garden. As you do this, it is important to also be realistic about what will be feasible for you. It can take some thought, planning, and sometimes a little bit of compromise to build that idea into the garden of your dreams, but the planning process can be a wonderful learning experience.

Here is an example of some things to consider when putting together your wish list:

• How large a garden do you want? Remember: if you are limited in space, your options may be limited in this aspect.

• What do you want to grow, and how much? (This can always be adjusted year to year.)

• Are you just growing for yourself, or do you hope to sell your produce as well? (Again, this may depend on space available.)

• Do you want to grow organic? If so, do you have all the resources you will need (organic seeds, fertilizers, etc.)?

• If you have the space, will you have one large garden or a number of smaller ones? Sometimes making a few smaller gardens instead of one big one can have a positive impact on the look of the landscape, without affecting what you can grow.

• Do you want a simple garden or a more elaborate one? Just remember: the more elaborate, the more time (and money) it may take. A simple garden can produce just as well (and as much) as an elaborate, highly decorative one, and may even be a bit easier on the wallet and schedule. However, should you decide later on that you do want something a bit fancier, you can still do so and make the necessary changes at any time.

• Will you be doing companion planting? If so, then you will need to keep in mind which plants will do better together and which plants will need to stay clear of each other. You will need to take this information into consideration when planning your garden, even if using the container method.

• What shape do you want your garden to be? If you are building a traditional or raised bed garden, you can make it in almost any shape you want. The usual shapes are square and rectangular, but some are round or oval, while some raised beds may even be tiered (if you have the time to spend).

• Will you have small children working in the garden? If so, you may want to put in a small section of the garden that would be easier for them to work in, using plants like lettuce and cherry tomatoes, which will be easy for them to tend and harvest. If you give them their own small section or even their own small garden to tend to, then the adults and older kids can work their gardens without the little ones wanting to “help,” which can sometimes create problems. If you are growing for market, raising highly unusual foods, or any other situation in which you cannot afford an accident by little hands, it’s best to keep them out from underfoot.


These are only a few things to keep in mind when creating your own wish list. Your list will of course reflect your own wants and needs.



Determining Type, Space, and Size of Your Garden


Container gardening, vertical gardening, and even small raised beds can grow enough vegetables to supplement a family’s needs, with container gardening being especially useful for the gardening apartment dweller who would have little or no yard space for a traditional or raised bed garden. It should be noted, however, that container gardening may not produce quite as much as a small traditional, vertical, or raised bed.

So, when creating a vegetable garden today, how do you know what size and type of garden to create? This is easy enough to answer. Since the size of your garden will be limited to your available space, the first thing to do is look at what is available as far as this space. Then you need to look at how much time you have to commit to the garden, as well as what is to be grown.

If you don’t have a lot of time to devote to a garden, a container garden may work best, no matter how much space you have available. If you live in an area where drainage or soil is not good, then raised beds may be the answer (see this page for more information on these topics). Whatever you decide, should you want to change course the following year, you can (provided you have the space). Don’t assume that the garden you choose this year will be what you’re stuck with next.

Another thing to consider is what you want to grow. For example, if you want to sell lots of pumpkins for Halloween, then a little two-by-three-foot garden of pumpkin plantings won’t cut it. But if you need just a few pumpkins for a jack-o’-lantern and some holiday pies, the two-by-three-foot garden would be perfect.

Don’t forget to consider your own physical abilities. If you have a difficult time bending, then a vertical garden could be for you. In a wheelchair? Then consider raised beds with wide, smooth walkways to allow for your chair to operate. You can also adjust the height of your raised bed to whatever is comfortable for you.

There are a number of things to look at when deciding on the type and size of garden. But saying this, don’t make thinking about the size or type of your garden an entire project in itself. Remember, if you make a mistake in this year’s garden, you can correct it next year.



Finding the Right Type of Garden


A garden, be it flowers or food, can be as simple or as complex as you like.

For the purpose of this book, we will use the most basic of styles that were discussed earlier:

• Traditional: With the traditional garden, the plants or seeds are planted into flat, tilled (or untilled) ground. This is what most people picture when they think of a garden. These are the most inexpensive types of gardens to put in.

• Raised bed: Raised beds are exactly what they say: garden beds raised off the ground by inches or by feet. The garden beds are created in wooden frames and are usually built up at least eleven inches off the ground. Raised beds may be in frames built on the ground or in frames that are raised up on legs.

• Container: These are simply gardens in pots or other containers. The containers can be flower pots, wooden boxes, bags, or anything else that a plant can be put in for growing. While some plants may have individual needs once planted in a container, if you can pot a flower, you can certainly pot a food plant.

• Vertical: Vertical gardens may be either traditional or raised bed gardens. The difference is that everything grows upward. If the plant does not naturally grow upward, it can be trained to do so by using supports. Supports will need to be used with the vertical gardens, which will allow the vertical growth of the plants.


Any one of these garden styles may be found in backyards, city lots, rooftops, or on rural farms and homesteads throughout not only the United States, but many other parts of the world as well.


Traditional gardening. Photo by OakleyOriginals under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Of course, your selection may automatically be narrowed down by what space is available to you. An apartment dweller, for example, will have nowhere near the same space available for a garden as someone with rural acreage or even an urban backyard. And depending on the type of building, there may not even be a rooftop to use. In some cases, it may come down to a small balcony or some bright windows, in which case a container garden would be the only option. But no matter what the space, each will allow some sort of way to grow vegetables, herbs, fruit, or even some edible flowers.


Raised bed gardening. Photo by Lori L. Stalteri under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

To determine which type of garden you want to create, first put together a wish list of what you want to grow. For example:

• Do you want early or late harvest foods? (Usually, there will be a mix.)

• Would you prefer heirloom or hybrid plants (or perhaps a combination of both)?

• Will you want to do a late-season planting of cooler weather plants? Some vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and similar plants can have a second planting in late summer for an early to mid-fall harvest. Depending on where you live, you may also need to take zoning laws into consideration. Unfortunately, some areas see vegetable gardens as eyesores, and require that they not be in street view. So, if most of your available space is in the front yard, your wish list may need to be adjusted to fit the smaller backyard area, out of street view.



Container gardening.

Urban Farming

Usually consisting of gardens and sometimes a mini-orchard, urban farming can be anything from containers on a terrace to raised bed community gardens in empty lots. It is very important to check regulations on what is allowed as urban farming, zoning-wise, can be quite restrictive. Selling produce direct from gardens may not be permitted. Tools necessary for the urban farm are primarily common garden tools (shovels, rakes, wheel barrows, etc.), although community gardens may use small tillers to prepare large plots.

Suburban Farming

Usually traditional or raised bed gardens, suburban gardens are commonly found in private yards or community gardens. Although most suburban farms are in nonagricultural areas, there may still be zoning restrictions. Some developments may not allow food gardens in the front yard (some very strict developments may not even allow them in the back). Selling produce from the yard may or may not be permitted. The same tools used in urban farming would be used for suburban farms.

Rural Farming

Rural farms are in the country, usually in agriculture areas. There are usually fewer restrictions in rural areas, though there may be requirements as to lot size if you plan to include animals. There is usually no problem in selling excess produce from a stand in front of the house or starting a farmer’s market. Tools are the same as for urban and suburban farms, but as available space in rural farms ranges from small patches to entire acres, some rural farms will have small tractors for tilling and plowing.


Remember, especially if this is your first garden: if some of what you try this year doesn’t work as planned, you can rework and make changes for next year. Most garden plans are not written in stone, so don’t be afraid to amend your wish list for the following year.

When considering what type of garden you may want to create, also be sure to consult Chapter 3, which provides a detailed overview of each style.


Vertical gardening. Illustration by Ariel Delacroix Dax.



Organic or Not?


Besides space and size, another thing you will need to think about is whether or not the garden will be organic. For a garden to be organic, it doesn’t matter what type of garden is created. Traditional, raised bed, vertical, and even container gardens may be organic. But it does matter what is added to the soil, which types of seeds are used, and whether you will use pest control. Choosing to go organic means a commitment to keeping your garden chemical free, as well as using only organic seeds and gardening practices. Although this does not mean fertilizers and pest elimination may not be used, it does mean that whatever is used must be organic approved, especially if your garden is to be certified.

Community Gardens

Community and neighborhood gardens are popping up everywhere, spearheaded by people wanting fresh foods as well as for economic reasons, not to mention many have already had a passion for gardening.

Community gardens are cared for by the people and families of the neighborhoods that the garden is located in, with all who participate sharing the bounty of the harvest. Due to the fact that a community garden would be much bigger than a backyard city garden, and can offer a larger quantity in harvest than a container garden ever could, this garden type could be a preferable alternative for those gardeners in the city who are looking to grow more than what they themselves may have space for at home.

Along with being a wonderful project that brings people in a neighborhood together, community gardens also seem to renew a sense of pride in a neighborhood, spurring other improvements and cleanups in the area as well.


Growing totally organic simply means that no chemicals have been involved in the production of the food. This does not mean that fertilizers and pesticides cannot be used, but they must be a nonchemical and labeled organic or approved for organic use. It may also include the use of companion planting and the use of garden-friendly insects for parasite control.

Although you do not need to purchase organic seeds to grow the plants organically, if you are looking for organic certification, the use of organic seeds would be a requirement, as the foods will not be able to be “certified” unless the food is produced totally organic, which means organic from seed.



Certified Organic


Home gardens may be certified organic, but unless you have a very large garden with a large section of harvest going for market sales, it is not always feasible to become certified due to the high certification fees and record keeping involved. In fact, for most home gardens certification is really an unnecessary step. With that said, if you do intend to eventually expand into a market garden (a garden where harvest is grown for market), because the garden and soil will need to be pesticide free, it would be wise to use caution as to what is used on your garden and possibly begin to follow some of the organic regulations to make the eventual transition easier and faster. For information on organic certification and requirements, check the United States Department of Agriculture Web site at Most states also have their own organic-certification offices. Local extension offices may also offer information on certification.

Whether to make your garden organic is a matter of personal preference. Many gardeners will take it partway, meaning that they will keep their garden as organic as possible, but may use nonorganic fertilizers and/or nonorganic pest control when necessary. Either method, with proper care, will present a beautiful garden with enough vegetables (and fruit) to make it all worth the effort.







Finally, it is time to begin designing your garden. The following sections briefly discuss the four garden types in a bit more detail. Actual planting instructions will follow in Chapter 5.



Traditional Garden


Probably the most recognizable garden type as well as the one that most people picture in their minds when thinking about a garden is the basic traditional garden with tilled soil and nice, neat rows of plants. Although usually rectangular in shape, these gardens can actually be any shape or size. Traditional gardens are one of the easiest to install, but they do have their shortcomings.


A traditional backyard garden. Photo by Southern Foodways Alliance under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

To create a traditional garden, simply till or dig up the ground, remove any rocks and pieces of sod that have been dug up, and plant according to your garden design. Planting can be done in simple rows; however, as you become more experienced, you can create a more designed layout. When planting in a traditional garden, keep companion planting in mind (see this page for more details).

With the traditional garden comes the all-important task of keeping up with the weeding. Depending on the size of the garden, this could be a time-consuming task that will need to be performed several times throughout the life of the garden. However, there are a few things that can be done to help keep the weeds down and make the job easier.

After the soil has been tilled and before planting has started, a garden cloth may be laid down on the rows to be planted. Garden cloth is simply a very thin material which usually comes in rolls. It is easy to lay and can be a great help with weeding. To plant with a garden cloth, small slits can be cut into the fabric, allowing a small hole to be dug and the plant inserted. Using a garden cloth isn’t foolproof, and it usually will not cause total weed annihilation, but the little bit of time it takes to put a garden cloth in place will greatly reduce the amount of time necessary to devote to weeding and can end up being a great help.

For the budget-minded, newspapers can be similarly used as a weed inhibitor. Laid down first as a garden cloth would be, the similarities of installation end here. While the garden cloth lies on top of the garden, the newspaper is laid on the ground, wet thoroughly, and a thin layer of soil is then placed on top of the wet papers. (Although you may want to skip the step of covering the paper, doing so will find newspapers from the garden blowing around the neighborhood during the first good wind. So a little extra time now will save a headache later on.) As with a garden cloth, you would then plant by making holes in the soil and newspaper for each plant.

It should be noted that some gardeners find this method works better than a garden cloth and isn’t a budget buster for larger garden plots. However, newspapers may break down after a single season, needing to be laid again the following year, while garden cloth could last two or more seasons. The choice of whether or not to use a ground cover as well as the type to be used will again depend on your time and budget.

Another drawback of the traditional tilled garden, especially if you have limited time to spend with your garden, is the fact that it does not hold moisture as well as the raised bed garden, and may be difficult to use for those with physical limitations, especially those with problems bending or kneeling. However, this is also one of the least expensive gardens to install (unless there is bad soil and heavy improvement is necessary). The traditional tilled garden is great for beginners or anyone who is unsure whether gardening is for them and just wants to try it out first without having to put out a huge investment first.



Raised Bed


In its basic sense, a raised bed garden is a traditional garden that has been built within a frame that has been filled with soil rather than being flush to the ground.


Raised bed garden. Photo by rpaterso under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

The raised bed is a bit more expensive and time consuming in the initial construction in comparison to the traditional bed. However, these gardens will have much less weeding, hold moisture much better, and because it can be built at nearly any height through various ways of constructing the frame, planting, weeding, and harvesting can be much easier for seniors or the disabled. Because new soil or a soil mix will be added to the frame of the raised bed, even locations with poor soil may still be put to use for a productive garden.

The basic process to build a raised bed garden is simple, although it will take some time, a little elbow grease, and a little bit of money. It is a job one person can do, although if the beds are to be large and many, it will be much easier to have at least two people working on it. The job will go a bit faster too.

Like the traditional tilled garden, a raised bed can be any shape or size, although these beds are usually eleven inches or more in height in order to accommodate enough soil for planting and depending on the desired height. However, before anything, the box frame(s) the garden(s) will be housed in must be built.

Materials used to build the box can be any material that would be for the most part food safe. In other words, if landscape timbers are to be used to create the bed box, and if the wood has a preservative on it, make sure that it is a nontoxic type or else the plants and food they produce could be affected. Otherwise, it is preferable to use woods that have not had a preservative applied. (The same goes with paint. If wood is to be painted, make sure it is nontoxic.)

The reason for this avoidance is due to the fact that some preservatives have toxins that can seep into the soil. The soil holds the plant’s root system, which ultimately could send these toxins into the fruits or vegetables produced by the plants.

A variety of other materials may be used for the raised bed frames. Brick, pavers, cement block, and even two-by-fours are viable frame materials. Commercially, framing kits may be purchased at garden centers, home stores, and various other venues, including mail order and the internet. Along with the kits, there are new versions of raised bed garden kits and materials coming out all the time. So the options available for those who opt for the raised bed garden are great.

When building the raised bed frame, it is actually like building a box with no top or bottom. However, it should always have four walls, even if the bed frame is being built in front of a wall, as having soil piled against the wall itself could eventually lead to the wall rotting out or cause other problems along the way.

One thing to consider during construction is whether or not the frame will be sunk into the ground or set at ground level. Although this is basically a matter of personal preference, there are pros and cons in the decision to “sink or not to sink.”


Setting up a raised bed garden. Illustration by Ariel Delacroix Dax.

If there will be problems with burrowing animals, then the best option is to sink the frame. To do this, the perimeter of the space should be dug down at least one foot so the base layer of the bed frame is below ground level. This will prevent animals from digging or burrowing under the bed and gaining access to the garden. From this point, the bed frame will be built as usual. And don’t forget to allow for the sunken part of the frame in the measurements. For example, if a four-foot-high bed is desired, then the height of the entire sunken bed should be five feet. One foot below ground level and the rest above, which would leave you with the desired four-foot-high raised bed.

If burrowing animals are not a threat to the garden or sinking the bed would just prove too difficult a task, then the frame may be built totally above ground. In this case, the base of the bed would sit flat on the ground and built up from there. It is that simple. It is indeed less work to build the frame totally above ground, and neither way will have any affect as to how well the plants will actually grow. In the end, the best way to decide which way to erect the raised bed frame is to analyze the potential threat to the garden, and then choose accordingly.

Once the frames are built and secured, the next step will be to add the soil mixture. The ground should be loosened up at least a foot deep before adding the new soil mix, and make sure the depth of the soil added is adequate for the plant’s root system.

A common mixture that can be made by the home gardener is as follows:

• Half organic matter (usually compost)

• Half soil (purchased or dug up)

• A bit of sand for drainage


There are a number of other “recipes” for soil mixtures available that can be found online, through the local extension office or by asking local nurseries, but this is the most common one used and the easiest for a novice gardener to obtain the materials for and produce. After a while, once becoming more comfortable in working with the soils, some gardeners will end up creating their own mixtures and ratios. If time is an issue, however, a premixed commercial soil may be used in the bed. If you are creating large beds or multiple beds, you may try to purchase loose, bulk soils by the truckload, as it will usually result in a better price. These may be found in larger garden centers or commercial operations that deal in landscape or soils. It should be noted at this time that if the new garden is to be a totally organic garden, then the commercial mix selected must be a totally organic mix. Although sounding strange, as who would think that soil is anything but organic, nonorganic soils may have nonorganic additives or other additives that do not fall within the organic guidelines. Should you want a true organic garden that would be certified, commercial soil mixtures that have unapproved additives will not pass muster and certification will be denied. If you are seriously interested in organic certification, the USDA website at as well as other state and local organics websites will present any rules and regulations to get the garden certified.

On a final note, raised beds are a perfect solution for rooftop gardens. However, you must, and this is very important, be sure that the roof that will house the garden will be able to handle the extra weight, keeping in mind that not only will there be soil weight to consider, but weight from the plants as they grow and fruit and weight from the wet soil due to watering and rain as well as from the snow and ice that will collect on the dormant garden in the winter on top of the soil that is already there (for those gardeners in harsh winter climates).

In the end, although the raised bed garden may be a bit more work in the beginning, it is something that does not have to be rebuilt year after year, and it will save time and energy with weeding chores and watering. All in all, a very reasonable return in the end.

Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening is another gardening method typically used in conjunction with either a traditional or raised bed garden and not by itself.

You can garden with straw by planting in the bale itself or packing straw in a form. The straw needs to be soaking wet and kept wet. There is a process to this type of gardening, much more than sticking a plant in a bale of straw, but it can be a fun way to garden once you master it. Which method you use will depend on what you can grow. And the straw will usually need to be added to or replaced each season, again depending on the method used.


A typical straw bale garden set-up. Photo by Judy Thomas (


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Your Backyard Farming Experience Begins Here!

A bountiful vegetable garden is a mainstay of the backyard farm; when done right, it can form the foundation for all your future farming successes. Whether you’re aiming at self-sufficiency or just looking to add the freshest ingredients possible to your own kitchen table, starting your own backyard vegetable garden is the best possible first step.

Backyard Farming: Growing Vegetables & Herbs is your guide to ensuring that your first garden is a success. Intended to serve as a comprehensive primer for first-time gardeners, detailed illustrations and informative photographs help to eliminate confusion and ease new homesteaders into the world of backyard farming.

Growing Vegetables & Herbs takes you from start to finish: from planning out your garden, to planting and nurturing, to enjoying your first home harvest.

Growing Vegetables & Herbs shows you:
• How to design the best gardening layout for your space
• The ins and outs of weeding, watering, and pest control to keep your garden fresh and healthy
• Ways to organize your plantings to take advantage of natural complements
• The equipment you will need to make your garden a success
• How to harvest your vegetables and prepare your garden for the coming winter
…and many more tips and tricks from experienced growers to help you avoid the most common mistakes.

Join the growing movement of homemakers and homesteaders looking to make a return to a healthier, happier way of life—right in your own backyard. Growing Vegetables & Herbs will show you how.

Backyard Farming is a series of easy-to-use guides to help urban, suburban, and rural dwellers turn their homes into homesteads. Whether planning to grow food for the family or for sale at the local farmers market, Backyard Farming provides simple instruction and essential information in a convenient reference.

About the Author

Kim Pezza grew up among orchards and dairy and beef farms having lived most of her life in the Finger Lakes region. She has raised pigs, poultry and game birds, rabbits and goats, and is experienced in growing herbs and vegetables. In her spare time, Kim also teaches workshops in a variety of areas, from art and simple computers for seniors, to making herb butter, oils, and vinegars. She continues to learn new techniques and skills and is currently looking to turn her grandparents’ 1800s farm into a small, working homestead.

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Great book

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