Over the 16 years we’ve lived in our home, we’ve built about 20 flower and vegetable beds using two methods. Initially, we grubbed up the grass to create a bed; later, we used the no-dig lasagna gardening method.
This is our house, the first summer we saw it, over ten years ago. As you can see, this side was surrounded by yews. The only shrub left from this picture is the holly which we just never seem to get around to removing. My husband dug out all of these yews himself.
The other side was bare with some small trees along the property line. This is now where we have flower beds, the apple trees, the compost pile, and the raspberry beds. There is a cinder block wall that runs along the right side, just out of this picture.
This is an expanded view of the first picture showing one of two pine trees on the property and the hawthorn that we finally removed after it lost a major limb this winter. Between the hawthorn and the hedge is where our vegetable garden is.
As you can see from the pictures, we had some beds to work with, but most of the property was wide open. After we removed the pine tree above, we left the wood chips in place, but raked them out in the vegetable garden area. The woodchips from the other pine tree became the foundation for an herb bed at the front of the property.
Beds Built with Free Leaf Mulch
Initially when I built a bed, I would remove the sod, if needed, and put it into the compost pile located on the back side of the house next to the cinder block wall. Then I dumped four to five inches of leaf mulch from the transfer station on the bed. For the next two to three years, I mulched with the leaf mulch until we built the beds up enough to switch to triple shred hardwood mulching. I think I did about eight to ten pickup truck loads each year.
When I expanded the vegetable garden on one side and built new vegetable beds on the other side of the house, I switched to the lasagna gardening method. This method doesn’t require removing sod, but it does involve some work and some money depending on access to materials. To make my beds, I wet newspapers and lay them down in a thick layer. Over top, I would dump four to five inches of leaf mulch, along with grass clippings and homemade compost.
Currently, I’m building a bed next to the compost pile using the lasagna gardening method without the newspaper layer. This bed has served as a vegetable bed in the past so there’s no sod issue. However, I wanted to build the bed up a bit. After placing pieces of seed potato on the ground, I dumped leaf mulch, grass clippings, and half-done materials from the compost pile. As the season goes on, I’ll keep dumping materials in here, along with another load of leaf mulch. In the fall, if the materials are still pretty large, we’ll run them through the shredder and leave them on the bed over the winter.
This is our compost pile. As you can see, it’s very close to our neighbor’s home, but the pile doesn’t smell, at all. I doubt our neighbor knows that it is there. We do get little rodents living in the pile, but the neighborhood cats like to hunt here and keep the population in check.
We have three main bins, made of cinder blocks. Normally we try to dump new materials into two bins, leaving the third for finished compost, but the wealth of materials can change that plan at times. To the right of the compost bins is the new vegetable bed. No, the kids don’t get to play in the pile, though they would love to as you can see from the dump truck parked next to the pile.
Building beds for flowers and vegetables doesn’t have to be expensive. Just find out what free materials are available in your area and go from there. Maybe your neighbor always dumps his grass clippings in the trash. If he doesn’t use pesticides, offer to take the clippings in return for lettuce, zucchini or tomatoes.
If your county offers free leaf mulch, it’s worth renting a truck for $20 for a day to do two or three loads. If you can’t rent a truck, figure out how to fit containers into your car like I did. Start a compost pile in a secluded spot in your yard, using yard waste (weeds, grass clippings, leaves), fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen, and any other household materials that will break down quickly like plain brown cardboard. It isn’t rocket science, just baby steps.