{gardening} The Busy Person’s Guide to Starting a Perfectly Fine Garden

I love to garden. Maybe you do too. I love to do lots and lots of things. So many things, in fact, that I am too busy to allocate as much time to my garden as I would like. If only I had an extra 2 hours a day… that would make things so much better! But I don’t, so I work with what I have. This year I moved to a new home and one of the first things I wanted to do was set up the garden. The spot I chose was right in the middle of a fantastically thick and green lawn. I mapped out 6 plots that run side by side and take up a total of 266 square feet of garden space. Now, who wants to till 266 square feet of sod under? Not me! And guess what? I didn’t. There was an easier way!

What you need to get started:

Newspaper: A LOT of it. Not the shiny stuff, just the regular newsprint with soy-based ink. Or you can call your local newspaper and try to score a big roll of newsprint for a few dollars, like I did. Not all papers keep the end rolls, but some do. Calculate enough so that you can lay down 6 layers where you want your garden to grow.

Topsoil/compost: You’re going to pile this dark brown goodness on top of the newsprint. Get enough so that you can lay a few inches on there. At least enough to block out the sun and hold in moisture.

A watering can/hose, a wheelbarrow, a shovel, something to outline your desired garden bed and a lot of energy!

What to do:

1.  Stake out your garden boundaries. I pounded wooden stakes into the corner of each defined bed and strung some twine around the perimeter.

2.  Lay the newsprint over the entire garden bed area, 6 layers thick.

3.  Water the newsprint well. This will also serve to keep it flat if you’re doing this on a windy day.

4.  Cover the newsprint with a few inches of topsoil.

5.  Wait a few weeks, then dig into the new bed and plant your garden!

You have a few options for planting. You can plant into the layer of topsoil, leaving the newsprint undisturbed, or you can use a shovel to dig a hole through the newsprint and mix the topsoil that you put down with the soil underneath the dying grass. This is what I did when I planted the tomato plants this year. When I turned the soil over I found some nicely decomposing newsprint, yellowed grass blades, and lots and lots of earthworms enjoying a tasty meal. I pulled the clumps of grass roots aside to make room for the tomato plant. The plant went in the hole, was covered by some loose topsoil, and the grass root clump was placed to the side, where the moved topsoil once was.

6.  Here’s one more step, if you dig into the newsprint, plant your garden, and find that the root clumps all ended up on top of the heap: lay down a little more newsprint and topsoil where the root clumps are, and you’ll stop the grass from coming back to life and taking over in the middle of the summer.

Decomposed newsprint and dying grass roots

The Science Behind It

How does this work? Where does the newsprint go? How can you dig into the newsprint and expect to have a viable garden?

As you know, sunlight feeds the plants, makes them green, and helps them to grow. This process is called photosynthesis. When the plant doesn’t receive sunlight, photosynthesis does not occur, and the plant becomes weak and eventually dies. When newsprint is placed on the grass and covered with soil, photosynthesis stops. The newsprint is the key here. If you were to only put soil on the grass, the sunlight would still get through.

The newsprint breaks down very quickly. After a few weeks (I would say 3 at the earliest, 6 for sure) you can dig down to the newsprint, pull it back, and see that the grass underneath is turning yellow and shriveled. Yellow blades of grass signify that the roots are weakened. And you know what weak roots mean, right? Easy digging for you, easy growing for your veggie seeds and transplants!

Happy Gardening!

Tomatoes are in, and the other beds are ready to go


14 Comments Add yours

  1. epeavey1 says:

    Really like your yard so green. You don’t put a border around your beds? What about a permanent raised bed? What are you growing besides tomato’s? Ellen from Georgia

  2. Jillian says:

    Hi Ellen,
    I used to have raised beds (at my former house) but I always found that I had trouble reaching into the middle to plant, weed and harvest. The beds I made this year are all different widths – 3, 4 and 5 feet wide. They meet up with the grass and I’m not making a border. I like to be able to get into my beds and I find it’s much easier to do it without the border.
    Aside from tomatoes I am growing peppers, carrots, summer squashes, pumpkins, watermelon, swiss chard, kale, lettuces and tons of herbs. I’m trying to keep my inventory small so that I can really pay attention to the things I am planting and not feel overwhelmed mid summer!
    What do you plant in Georgia?

    1. epeavey1 says:

      Hi Jillian we have five raised beds trying to figure out how to post the pictures. The beds are 4×8 and the round ones are made of plastic we have four of them. I planted Tennessee squash, early squash,zucchini. Then broccoli,lettuce.cauliflower,and one fennel plant.We also have spinach,rainbow chard,walking stick kale,golden mengal. The strawberry’s are in a separate bed. We also have a bigger garden down near the edge of the woods, potato’s,tomato’s,corn,peppers,melons,jack beans,sweet potato’s,green beans,egg plants. I will figure out how to post the pictures and send them. Ellen from Georgia

    2. epeavey1 says:

      Hi Jillian to flicker, I joined and posted the pictures hope you can see them

      1. Jillian says:

        wow you have so much going on there, I love it! What is a lasagna garden?

        1. epeavey1 says:

          Hi Jillian a lasagna bed is where nothing is nailed together and every thing is in layers no digging. First card board layers of then lots of layers of newspaper then I used straw that came from the chicken coop. Next some compost and then straw from the rabbit hutch, made a small hole or pulled it back and threw in potato skins and all the other compost like coffee grinds, lemon skins all the things from the kitchen compost pail. I have potato’s and onions growing in this bed. Ellen from Georgia a picture is posted of the lasagna bed

  3. How do you keep birds, squirrels and other pests away from your vegetable garden?

    1. Jillian says:

      Good question! I have never had a problem in the past with them. One year I put up a 6 foot high fence using metal posts and deer netting because I wasn’t sure if the garden would be eaten by deer and rabbits. But in other years I have not used the fence and no one came to devour my plants. I do have problems with all kinds of bugs though – borers and squash bugs and beetles. I just bought some ladybugs today to eat the bugs on my shrubs and in the past I have picked off beetles or sprayed insecticidal soap on the plants.

  4. Hi Jillian, It was great to meet you at the Schenectady Food Swap! I am loving the lip balm! I can’t believe I didn’t even tell you how much I like your posts!!! I have been learning/practicing lasagna gardening this year, trying to turn my suburban 1/4 acre into an edible landscape. I can also relate to the having lots of things I love to do! best-melissa

  5. Duas says:

    Very god article.

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