Skip to content


Home > Learn > Self-Reliance > Gardening

Gardening is probably the most well known way of supplying your own food. It is also very versatile. The most common form of gardening is to plant in dirt outside. This is typically done directly into the ground or in raised beds. When planting directly, weed control often is one of the biggest issues, along with soil health.

With raised beds, you can control the soil that goes in them and have some barriers against weeds. It is also easier to reach your plants. The negatives are that there is typically cost associated with creating the beds and filling them with good soil. Also keep in mind that the material used for building the beds is very important. Wood is great but it will rot in time. Treated wood may leach out chemicals that you don’t want in your soil. This is especially true of landscaping timbers and railroad ties. Logs are sometimes used which can often be free and take a long time to decay but are not quite as attractive and can be difficult to set up due to the lack of uniformity. There are some good options for metal materials such as scrap sheets of roofing or tin or some edging products. These are typically fairly expensive and metal edges are not very pleasant to fall on or accidentally cut yourself on. Concrete blocks are used sometimes as a material that doesn’t rot or leach and is very uniform and relatively cheap. They are heavy and not extremely attractive but very practical. If you are using blocks with holes in them, it is advised to fill the holes, at least partially, with concrete to avoid weeds and grasses growing out of them. These are very difficult to pull and manage in a hole. For the solid that fills the raised beds, topsoil is a common filler. Another great option is to use mushroom compost, often mixed with topsoil. Some people will even add some sand in the mix to create just the right growing medium. There are many other considerations. How long do want the beds? How wide? Do they need to be temporary or permanent? Where will you position them? You will want to be mindful of how the sun tracks at your site, shadow considerations, having room between beds for mowing, not making them too wide to be able to reach your plants easily, etc. Some people will even put down landscaping fabric around the beds to minimize weed factors.

When planting directly into the ground, the soil health is one of the most important factors. Building the soil should be the highest priority. There are countless organisms and interactions going on within the soil that will determine the success of plant growth. Tilling therefore is often discouraged. It can cut up and destroy a lot of the soil life. If you are going to till, it is advised to spread out compost, till it into the soil once to establish your fertile garden plot, then use no-till methods from there. A broadfork is an alternative tool that can break up the soil without the destruction of tilling. Other considerations are drainage, sunlight, weed control, access to your plants, and distance from your house among other things.