I’d like to have a vegetable garden at my new home this year, so I’m trying to decide what the best way to get a garden set up now is. It will be around 30’x50’. Soil survey says I have silt loam, but it looks like yellow clay with no topsoil to my untrained eye. My farm was a tobacco farm previously, and I heard that one of the previous owners from 40 years ago grew the best tomatoes around in his vegetable garden - so it must be decent soil. I have not tested the soil yet, it’s on the list of things to do.
One option I saw was to rent a sod cutter and cut all the sod out of the area I want to use. It seems like a good solution, as I’d like to amend the soil with some well rotted bedding/manure I found in the barn. I’m pretty sure there is enough there to put a good base down for the entire 30’x50’ plot. Part of me thinks I should till the manure in, part of me wonders if I would encourage compaction if I did till it. I plan on mulching the entire garden with straw to help build organic matter and conserve water.
The other idea was to rent a rear tine tiller and till the sod into area… but I’m afraid it will just stir the weeds up and I’d have to till it again when they germinate. We have a wicked problem with wild garlic here, and I know if I till any of that garlic up I’ll never get it out of the garden. So the tiller has be a bit leary.
After this year I plan on adding compost to build the soil. We hot compost everything on the farm, from butchering waste to manure to garden/food/hay waste, so we will have lots of amendments in the future.
Which option do you think is the better of the two… or do you have another suggestion? I’m open to ideas! Thanks
For me, the easiest way is just put down one or two layers of cardboard and put six inches or more compost/manure above.
I thought about doing that too (I had a mountain of cardboard from moving) but the area is about 30’x50’ and I’m not positive I have enough dirt from the barn to cover it all adequately. I figured if I was short, at least the plants would have the native soil to grow into.
It would take a heck of a tiller to bust up growing sod. I’ve tried it several times and it just doesn’t work. I killed off an area (using glyphosate) in June the year I bought and built here. Late July I planted that area to forage radishes and turnips. The next spring the area rototilled up beautifully.
We grow tomatoes and peppers in ground that has never been tilled. I put down a 12’x20’ sheet of woven polypro landscape cloth, cut openings into for the tomato and pepper plants and let 'em go. Works great
That’s a good idea too - just put them in the ground. Did the landscape cloth slow down/stop the sod growth?
I thought about containers too - but I’ve already used all the big containers I had/could find. I usually do about 30 tomatoes for canning - that’s a lot of containers
Tarp it for the next 60 days, cover with card board then compost then a thick layer of hay let it sit till next spring. You are correct tilling will bring dormant seed to the surface.
The woven polypro landscape cloth I used completely stopped the sod. It’s some heavy duty stuff. I also believe it helps with blight issues. Since there is very little exposed soil, when it rains the spores can’t bounce up onto the foliage.
Whatever you do, don’t haul the sod away. Before covering the area with cardboard, compost, and mulch, dig it up and turn it upside down. The sod contains plenty of goodness in terms of nutrients. The one exception is if you have Barmuda grass growing. This way the turnaround is faster than just covering the area. Disturbing the soilweb may not be ideal but you’re just doing it once.
I would mark the spots where my plants will grow(will try to avoid sowing seeds, just to plant large plants like tomatoes first year and may be use some containers or quick beds for seeding). Then manually remove sod in marked spots and amend them with the good dirt you have. Then use either cardboard or landscaping fabric to cover whole area and make the cuts/openings for the plants. With cardboard I would do two layers(make sure all the tape is removed), then place the rest of the dirt on top to cover the lot. You may use straw on top. This way, by next year you most likely have full lot ready to plant, just keep dirt wet, so it doesn’t fly around and let the cardboard to rot. Also do some investigation. If they grew vegetable garden, may be there is already a spot with better soil…
You have gotten a lot of good advice and it is interesting how varied it is. I first want to back-up what @smsmith said because I was thinking the same thing before I read his response…If you just set a small tine tiller on sod it will beat you to death and still not do much to till below the sod.
I also understand the comments from those offering various methods that don’t involve doing much in the way of disturbing the whole soil system. However, what @MockY said about the sod and the soil that holds its roots (ie top 3 inches or so) being the best part is true. Since you’ll only do it one time, and if your garden isn’t on a steep slope that will result in a lot of erosion, I’d condsider the old fashioned method: Find a nearby farmer (even in town there are usually folks who do it pretty cheap) and have him take a plow to the area. This will result in several large clumps (depends on how many blades the plow has) of sod and top soil that will just be pulled up and turned over (or on their side). This puts all the sod and nutrients back into the garden. Let it go through a rain or two if possible, then have it tilled with a tiller or maybe a disk if you can’t find anyone with a tractor tiller.
It will come back in weeds and grass for a while. Honestly it takes almost a season to turn a full sod (would have been better to start in winter) area into good garden but done this way will surely give you a garden you’ll enjoy forever. Next year just your rear tine tiller will work.
Just another way to consider. Others may be easier tho.
Lots of great ideas, thank you!
A couple of years ago i did pretty well exactly what you described above, with great success.
If you decide to use the sod cutter I recommend getting a couple of hands to help you, as it is alot of lifting and moving.
After the sod was removed i tilled the topsoil then marked of where the beds would be with string and stakes and walked the aisles while hilling soil up with shovels. I added compost to all the beds, holstein manure to some and aged/dried chicken manure to nitrogen demanding crop beds.
The biggest surprise to me was how little weed pressure i had. I literally weeded a handful of times(maybe 5 hours total) last season in a 2000 sqft garden. This year i added wood chips to the aisles to suppress any weed growth, help with moisture retention in the hot summer months and hopefully long term nutrients as they break down. The jury is still out on this one though.
Both your options work, as does a turning plow behind a tractor, or spraying Roundup and growing the way the big guys do even on a small plot. (But, being an organic grower, you’ll cross that one off I am sure…but it works.)
My first thought was to plow it, We do have a small plow - but our plow is still in MI with the rest of my tractor implements. We ran out of room for them in the initial move. Just the tractor made it to KY. So I crossed that one off the list. I don’t know enough people here yet to ask for much help, so I’m kind of down to what I can rent at the rental store as far as equipment goes. Luckily the tractor has a loader so I can at least move the manure I found in the barn.
Great ideas, I appreciate the feedback!
I have no idea about other areas, but I know that around here there are people who advertise garden tilling each year on craigslist as well as in our little local advertiser (newspaper). Those that I know of have compact or sub-compact tractors with rear mounted tillers. A set up like that could tear through sod pretty easily.
I am not a fan of turning the soil with a plow.
Till it then make the raised beds and you don’t have to till again, as long as you manage the garden properly.
I’d rather employ the use of a good tiller to bust the sod than kill the grass with roundup. My neighbor has a pretty nice Troy Bilt that busts sod pretty easily, and my grandfather had some 1940s era tiller that was practically held together with chewing gum by the time I got to use it but it also busted sod pretty good. If it means having to rent a tiller or pay for a rototilling service, that’s what I’d do.
I’ll take a look at the farm store boards, thanks for the tip!
We worked up quite a bit of established sod in our early years with a 7hp reartine Troybuilt. What really worked was to then plant a green manure crop, till it in when jt gets a good height; replant, grow, till; do that again. One year was OK, two years much better and saved lots of time-work the next years. Things grew better, too. It really was worth it. Made permanent beds after that. You might consider doing a small garden this year and buy your main veggies from local farmers. Good way to get to know those neighbors! Sue