A little while after we announced our intention of starting a huerta (veggie garden), we finally found the ganas (motivation) to start working on it. At first the gate was stuck shut in a tangle of wire and vines that we had to break free, then the barbed wire that hung across the entrance at eye level had to dodged, and finally an army of massive ants sprang from the ground where we removed an old glass pop bottle.
The ancient garden had been taken over by many prickly plants and trees, and the hard ground fought us tooth and nail to keep those roots where they lied. After three tough sessions of clearing the garden and then help from two fellow volunteers (one from the Agriculture sector whose expertise guided us through the whole process) to prepare raised beds, we have a garden and lived to share this tale.
How To Start A Garden:
1. Clear The Land. We started with a weedy mess that we broke free from the ground. Don’t worry about getting all the roots at this step. (You can throw them out in Step 4.) Leave the weeds atop the soil to help protect it from the sun that dries up all the rain and makes your soil overly dry and hard.
2. Wait For Rain. We learned that in a garden, it’s all about the soil. So be patient and wait for a good rain to pass through before planting.
3. Sketch Your Beds. Decide how large you want each bed to be and trace it in the dirt. We arranged ours to work with the slope of the garden, hoping to use the rainfall without having washouts.
4. Make The Beds. We used the double digging technique, which is recommended when you start your garden and then every 5 or so years. Dig a shovel’s width of soil out of your bed, working down about a foot. Then move over (to the right in the picture below) and dig out this soil and place it into the trench you just dug. Continue digging and refilling the trenches over the course of your bed. Then fill the last trench with the soil you removed initially. The bed is now raised because the double digging technique creates well-aerated soil.
5. Fertilize. Sprinkle the bed with a compost or use what we did — dried up cow poop. Mix into the soil with your hands, breaking up any big dirt clumps, and smoothing it out when finished. Leave a lip on the edge of the bed to help retain water.
6. Plant. Drag a finger through the soil to create small trenches. Sprinkle with seeds. We will transplant these veggies when they begin to peek up, but for now having them together is a better use of water and they give off nutrients that help each other grow.
However, we planted our root veggies in large trenches from the get-go. We gave plenty of space to things that spread like our cucumbers and watermelon and planted them in raised little mounds.
7. Cover and Pat. Cover the seeds with soil and pat down gently but firmly.
8. Water. These little seeds need lots of love so water daily with a gentle flow as to not stir the seeds up to the surface.
9. Wait and Weed. This will be the hardest step for me because I’m so excited to see something peek up from the soil, not to mention whip up a batch of fresh summer salsa with our own garden produce. But I hear it takes time, so in the meantime I’m singing the “Be paaaaaatient, be paaaaaaatient, don’t beeeeeee in such a huuuuuuurry” song to myself as a reminder, plucking out things that shouldn’t be there.
There are many techniques when it comes to starting and maintaining a garden, so this is what we chose to do with the help of our gardening guru Curt. Different climates and soil situations play into decisions as well. But despite the tired muscles from all that digging and scooping, it’s been a lot of fun to learn the basics of starting a garden. Now I can’t wait to report back as we get to the transplanting stage and eventually the eating stage!