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Gardening/ Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Perennial Garlic

You may have never heard of perennial garlic before.  Perennial garlic is actually just hard neck garlic treated differently and harvested more minimally over the course of a year than traditionally planted garlic.    

Before I really started growing it I start I always assumed that hard neck garlic would be best for storing because I figured it would be sturdy to hold up to storage.   But in reality is not as good for storing.  I like to remember “s” for soft neck, and “s” for storage.  This is the kind that you’ll braid and keep in your pantry until next year.

I have been growing hard neck garlic perennially in my orchard.  Garlic provides some excellent permaculture benefits to the orchard.  Garlic has a pungent smell that deters some of the bad pests.  Also, it grows as a bulb.  Bulbs help in preventing the encroachment of grass around your trees.  You really want to avoid the grass around your fruit trees as it will take nutrients and water away from your trees.

Garlic Reproduction

There’s two different ways that perennial garlic reproduces.  In the spring the garlic will send up a flower spike.  People know this as a “garlic scape” –they’re edible and delicious.  Many people harvest these garlic scapes at the stage when they are curled around themselves in order to enjoy eating them, or to encourage larger growth of the garlic bulb .    (Read my seven steps for growing large garlic heads here.)

When you cut off the garlic scapes you send more of the energy of the plant towards producing large heads of garlic because if you don’t the flower will put energy into the fruit, which for garlic is these small garlic bulbels.   

These bulbels can be eaten, they have a garlic flavor and you can use them as little cloves of garlic.  

Self-Perpetuating Garlic

If you leave the bulbels in place the stem will eventually weaken as they grow bigger and the stem will topple over.  Then the bulbels will root into the ground to grow more heads of garlic.   You can aid in this process, if you desire, by separating the individual bulbels and spreading them out evenly to plant.   

The main head of Garlic can also be harvested like traditional garlic or left in the ground.  

If whole bulbels are allowed to fall on the ground and grow, or if whole heads of garlic are left in the soil, they will go dormant in freezing weather.   Then the following spring, rather than just a single head of garlic growing there, each one of the bulbels or the cloves from inside the head of garlic will sprout and grow into a new head of garlic.

It is very interesting the way that these heads of garlic grow because all the garlic cloves are in this floret shape around the center stem.  So the new heads grow out from each other in this floret shape.  

When they grow together from the head like this that they end up a little misshapen because of their being crowded.  So these heads of garlic are not perfectly round they’re a little bit lumpy and flat on some sides because of how they pushed up to the other garlic. 

Maintaining a Perennial Garlic Patch

Like many other perennial plants you need to thin out and divide your perennial garlic every few years at least or else they will start to outcrowd themselves. You can spread this garlic out throughout your garden. You can also just harvest portions to eat every year while leaving some behind.  

 Hardneck perennial garlic can be clipped a half inch above the head to remove the stock.  Also you can cut of the roots.  Store these heads in a basket or another breathable container in a cool dry place, to use as you need it.  

I definitely had some heads that ended up bigger than others, but my biggest heads of garlic were the ones that I had left in the ground a whole year in this perennial fashion.  

Don’t get worried in the fall if the foliage is turning brown and dying back.   It will put on some new green growth in the fall or it’ll start first thing in the spring next year.  Let me know in the comments if I left anything out, or if you have any more questions about growing garlic perennially as a part of a fruit tree guild or even just a part of a permaculture garden.   

Gardening/ Preparedness/ Vegetable Garden

Easy to Store Life-Sustaining Crops

Sweet potato slips

My garden grows wonderful, delicious, life-sustaining food for 165 days out of the year.  But what do I do about those other 200 days of the year? How do I provide food for my family during that time? 

This year we set out to grow some easy to store survival crops that will feed our family through the winter– even without needing canning or refrigeration.  

A lot of easy to store survival crops fall into the category of “starchy vegetables”. They contain more starch so they typically contain more calories or energy and less fiber than some of the other vegetables you might be thinking of that grow in the middle of our summer garden like lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and okra. 

Starch is a carbohydrate. Our body breaks it down into glucose that we use as energy so this is where we will get the 2000 calories the standard adult diet requires.  We need to get 2,000 calories from somewhere so these starchy vegetables will provide a lot of those calories that we need to have energy for the day.


Potatoes have been the entire mainstay of certain populations over time, so they are a life-sustaining food.  Their vitamin C content prevents scurvy which is a disease that comes from malnutrition.  But potatoes also provide a lot of potassium which is an electrolyte aiding in the workings of our heart and nervous system.

Don’t forget to eat your potato skin though, because the skins provide fiber which is important for your digestive health.

Potatoes are planted from “seed potatoes” that are saved from the previous year’s harvest. They have “eyes” on them that will start to send out roots and grow the plant. If you want to get the largest potatoes possible you cut the potatoes so that there’s only two to three eyes per chunk of potato.

Typically they start to develop underground for a long time before the plant breaks the surface.  They may eventually produce flowers before ultimately dying back.   It is when the above ground plant dies back that you know that the tubers underground are ready to harvest, by digging up with a shovel or garden fork.  

To get potatoes ready to store for the long term you need to cure them first.  This is to take them into a cooler temperature ideally below 60 degrees but with a pretty high humidity, 85 to 90% humidity for about 2 weeks.  So what we did to keep the humidity high is we took ours indoors and then we covered them with a tarp while they were curing.

When they’re curing this is a time when little nicks or cuts can heal over with kind of bit of a scab that helps to keep them protected so that they don’t rot when they’re in storage.  After you cure them, sort through and make sure there’s none that are kind of squishy or smell bad and take those ones out. 

The rest can be stored in a dry container like a cardboard box or a basket.  They need to have some ventilation but you want to keep them in the dark.  The light will cause them to turn green and produce toxins that you’d rather avoid.  Potatoes can be stored all winter in a cool dark place 45 to 50 degrees.

Potatoes are great baked and eaten as a main dish, fried up for a side dish, or added to things like stews.  I’ve never tried it, but Jeremy swears he had a delicious potato pizza one time. 


Corn is one of the most widely consumed cereal grains.  Just like potatoes it’s very high in carbohydrates.  This is this is the energy that we need, but its also high in several vitamins and minerals including manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper. 

What we’re talking about growing for storage is “field corn” also you can also grow popcorn for storage. 

Field corn and popcorn are both allowed to dry before picking.  As long as you’re not having excessively rainy weather it’s fine to just let the corn completely dry on the stocks.  You can take them insideand place the ears on a slatted table or some other place with good air flow to make sure that the ears get evenly dried out.  You know the corn kernels are fully dry when they are brittle and shatter if you try and hammer it as opposed to denting or bending if you try and hammer it.

Then you can remove them from the cob.  They sell a cylindrical tool that you slide the cob through to remove kernels if you don’t want to pry the kernels out by hand.  If you’re going to store the corn on the cob you should at least remove the husk, because that can store moisture and lead to molding.  

Corn is easy to grow from seed.  You just plant it right into the ground about an inch deep, six inches apart.  And I’m always amazed when I see the corn start popping up.  It doesn’t need a ton of watering to germinate, after a good watering in when I plant it.  

Field corn is the type of corn that you typically are going to grind up into cornmeal polenta corn flour and popcorn obviously is used to pop and make popcorn but popcorn is also good to use for grinding into cornmeal as well 

Butternut Squash

Winter Squash is good to grow for good long term storage and survivability. It is lower in Calories than potatoes, but very high in vitamins and minerals. It provides vitamins A, B, B6, C, and E and is also high in magnesium, potassium and manganese which play important roles in bone health.  Orange vegetables and fruits have been shown to be particularly effective at protecting against heart disease. 

We choose to grow butternut squash as they are particularly resistant to squash vine borers, and squash bugs.  We have a lot of trouble with squash pests in our area of the country and the butternut squash hold up a lot better.   

In order to get the squash to store the longest you’re going to need to let the vines die back.  At the least the stem where the squash meets up to the plant should be dried and brown.  When you’re harvesting squash for storage it’s a good idea to leave an inch or two of the stem attached.  When you pull the stem entirely off the plant you often open up a place for mold or other pathogens to get into the fruit itself.  You can lay out the fruit and cure it in the field for five to seven days or cure indoors at around 80 to 85 degrees in an area with good air ventilation.

Ultimately you’ll store the cured squash at about 50 degrees in the dark.


Pumpkins are actually higher in calories than butternut squash and higher in fat which is a necessary macronutrient that we need to have in our survival diet.   It also has a lot of the vitamin A precursors beta-carotene and alpha carotene, which is what your body turns into Vitamin A after you consume the plant.   

Winter squash seeds are planted straight in the ground in the spring.  They need a very long growing season–usually over 100 days to maturity.   We love to keep pumpkins around for the fall holiday season as decor and then turn them into delicious food.  You want to make sure and harvest after the plants kind of die back in the fall but before you get any frost.  Once these go through a frost they will get soft and squishy and will spoil really easy.  If you’re using them for decor on your porch, bring them in at night when it looks like it might frost, and put it back out again in the morning when it’s warmer.

Try and leave the stem on if you can to prevent breaking the protective skin and store these on cardboard or on straw in a cold area.  

Squash and pumpkin are good in all the traditional baked goods.  They can be used in pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread.  But squash is really good also with pasta or even pureed and blended into a pasta sauce.  Also don’t forget about the classic pumpkin soup.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are actually not a potato, but a different type of tuber. They are high in beta carotene, an antioxidant.  They are high in fiber and very filling.   

Sweet potatoes can be eaten in a lot of ways: baked steamed, and fried, so they’re very useful the growing form of sweet potatoes is very unique.  

You plant sweet potatoes from “slips” which are a little plant that grows off of the tuber from the previous year.  You can mail order these slips and they arrive somewhat wilty.  You just rehydrate them in water for about 48 hours and then they get all perky and ready to plant.  Dig a nice hole for the roots, and pack the bottom inch of the slip into the soil. 

The potatoes take off and they spread all over the place and cover your whole garden.  In the fall you wait for the vines to start to yellow a little bit and then you can harvest them.  Alternately you can actually check on the sze and harvest them earlier if you want a more manageable size tuber.  We want to get the most food possible from our plants so we let them get nice and big.  

They need to be cured at a pretty high temperature and pretty high humidity.  We will go ahead and put them in our greenhouse because it needs to be about 85 degrees.  Cover them with a tarp just like the potatoes too keep the humidity up.  Leave them about 2 weeks.  After that they need to store at a cooler temperature in the 50 to 60 range but they need to continue to have that high humidity so move them with the tarp to a cooler location.

It takes about six weeks to fully finish curing, and this actually helps develop the flavor.  So they will be the most flavorful after that complete curing time.  After that just keep them stored away in a dark cool place.  Just like the potatoes, if they start sprouting by spring you will just be ready for next year’s planting.

We love sweet potatoes in pancakes or or a sweet potato pie.  Also, I have a couple great pasta recipes with sweet potato in them and I have really great recipe for sweet potato and black bean chili.

Dry Beans

Dry beans have been eaten around the world for thousands of years and are still an important food source worldwide.  They are unique among the plant world in providing such a high protein content, so dry beans are really important in our survival garden. Dy beans are really high in fiber which is important–particularly when you’re eating a lot of starchy food like some of the other vegetables in our survival crop list.

Pinto beans are one of the most nutrient dense foods at 245 calories per cup of beans.

Beans grow from seed.  Their growing season is short enough that you can tuck beans in bare spots throughout your garden as some of your other earlier crops come out.  This can help you increase your yield of dry beans.  Another benefit to dry beans in the garden is they actually improve the fertility of your soil for the rest of the crops by fixing nitrogen in the soil.  

Beans can be left on the plant until the pods get dry and brittle.  If you shake them you can sometimes hear the beans rattling in the pod.  Crack open the pods to remove the beans.  Once your beans are completely dried out you can store them in mason jar or you can reuse other food safe plastic containers like a juice jug.   For best storage and quality you can throw in an oxygen absorber. 

Beans can be added to all sorts of dishes they help make vegetable dishes more filling.  My hambone beans recipe makes a delicious pot of beans from something many people throw away.  

Gardening/ Orchard

20 Easy Plants for a Fruit Tree Guild

On my suburban lot I like to use my space as efficiently as possible. So I plant my fruit trees in a food forest of overlapping fruit tree guilds.

In a FRUIT TREE GUILD all the understory plants contribute to the health of the fruit tree, but many of the plants offer one or even two additional benefits. These benefits include: attracting pollinators or deterring pests or weeds, providing living or biomass mulch, providing nitrogen or other nutrients to the tree, or being medicinal or edible to humans or animals.

I prioritize many of the blooming plants that are pollinator attractors or can be used as cut flowers to help beautify my orchard because my orchard is in the front yard of my house. I also prioritize edible plants and herbs to make the most of the space.

I currently have 4 apple trees, 1 sour cherry tree, 1 peach tree, 1 native plum tree, 1 persimmon tree, 3 paw paw trees, 1 fig tree, and 1 dwarf mulberry tree. I have designed a naturalized-style planting of a food forest where the benefits of the plants provide for multiple trees at once.

20 Fruit Tree Guild Plants Grouped by Benefit to Orchard

When planting my orchard I have tried to look for plants in each of the categories to benefit my orchard. The parts of a guild are not set in stone so you may find various lists with different beneficial parts to a guild.

Sometimes they are just additional sub categories of a more basic category. “Cut Flowers” is not traditionally a fruit tree guild benefit–it is a subcategory of human benefit—but I found it informative to my style of gardening to know that some of these plants traditionally found in fruit tree guilds have this additional human benefit as well.

Guild BenefitPlant
Pollinator AttractantBee Balm
Pest RepellantCalendula
Nutrient AccumulatorYarrow
Living MulchViola
Wild Violet
Grass SuppressorDaffodil
Edible (Research to know which part is edible)Borage
Wild Violet
Nitrogen FixingPeas
Cut FlowerYarrow
Table of Fruit Tree Guild Plants Grouped by Benefit to Orchard

These plants can be grouped in any combination. One plant can fulfill many roles to benefit the guild. Or you can choose different plants fo provide each benefit.

In addition it simply benefits the guild more and adds more diversity to add any additional plants from each category.

I will share three examples of fruit tree guilds in my orchard, and after that I will share photos and tips for all the listed plants.

Example Cherry Tree Guild

My fruit tree guilds overlap into a larger food forest. So far these are the plants I have closest around my Montmorency Sour Cherry tree comprising my cherry fruit tree guild:

  • Pollinator Attractant: bee balm
  • Pest Repellant: onion chives
  • Nutrient Accumulator: yarrow
  • Living Mulch: wild violets
  • Mulching: borage
  • Grass Suppressor: daffodils
  • Medicinal: echinacea
  • Nitrogen Fixing: peas

Example Apple Tree Guild

Johnny Appleseed wanted to see apples all across America, and many people do choose apple trees for their home orchard. I have four different apple trees: Jonafree, Pristine, Enterprise and Gold Rush. This is the list of guild plant I have planted around my Enterprise apple tree:

  • Pollinator Attractant: fennel
  • Pest Repellant: perennial garlic
  • Nutrient Accumulator: yarrow
  • Living Mulch: strawberries
  • Grass Suppressor: daffodil
  • Medicinal: calendula
  • Edible: strawberries
  • Nitrogen Fixing: lupine

Peach Tree Guild

I love growing peaches because they are my first tree to leaf out each year and that always gives me so much hope for the upcoming year. I have planted a Redhaven peach because it is self-fertile. Here is a list of plants in my peach tree guild:

  • Pollinator Attractant: mint
  • Pest Repellant: chives
  • Nutrient Accumulator: yarrow
  • Living Mulch: wild violets
  • Mulching: rhubarb
  • Grass Suppressor: chives
  • Edible: rhubarb
  • Nitrogen Fixing: lupine

Fruit Tree Guild Plant Photos and Tips

Bee Balm: Pollinator Attractor– It is totally adored by the bees.  It did not bloom the first year I planted it.  But by the second summer it was already taller than the dwarf sour cherry tree I planted it next to. 

Around here I often see a bright variety in people’s yards as well.

Echinacea Pollinator Attractor, Medicinal– These flowers, also known commonly as “purple coneflower” attract all kinds of flying insects.  The butterflies are especially fun to watch.

Echinacea is traditionally used to support the immune system. I have not yet experimented with using my home-grown echinacea medicinally.

Yarrow: Pollinator Attractor, Dynamic Accumulator, Cut Flower–I planted my yarrow from a seed mix called the “Colorado Mix”.  I ended up with a white, yellow, hot pink, and pale pink.

It spreads readily and needs to be split every third year.  I have it planted quite a few places in the orchard and I’m really excited with how much it’s grown and how much the plants are are filling out– the colors are really fun as well 

Yarrow can be used in cut flower bouquets or can be hung and dried to use as a dried flower as well.

Borage:  Pollinator Attractor, Dynamic Accumulator, Mulching Plant, Edible–It produces periwinkle blue flowers that are edible.  People say it tastes like cucumber. I don’t notice a specific flavor other than a sweet drop of nectar.

The plants grow quite tall (around 3 feet)and leafy which will die down in the fall and provide mulch.

Calendula: Pollinator Attractor, Medicinal, Edible, Pest Repellant–Calendula flowers can be collected to infuse in oil and use for making salves and lotion bars.  If left on the plant the flowers go to seed and will self-seed each year easily.  

There are many varieties, but this classic orange “Resina” variety is the most prized for medicinal usage.

Violas Living Mulch, Edible–I planted some little violas from seed.  They have edible flowers to use in salads or sugared or pressed in to cakes or cookies.  

Strawberries Living Mulch, Edible. They have taken well in the wood mulch and they are spreading through runners.

Crops such as strawberries may not produce as much in a fruit tree guild as in a dedicated strawberry bed.  But the trade-off is the benefit it is giving to the tree.  

Fennel: Pollinator Attractant, Edible–My kids love to chew on the licorice-flavored fronds which are also good with fish.  If you dig up the bulb it is good in soups and salads.  

In this picture it is very young. By the end of the summer the fennel can grow 5 feet tall. The seeds can be collected as well and are a common ingredient used in sauerkraut.

Perennial Garlic: Pest Repellent, Grass Suppressor, Edible–Hardneck garlic is perennial and so you do not have to harvest it each year.  But you may need to split the clump every few years.  

It also produces edible “scapes” which can be eaten. However they develop further into little edible “bulblets” of garlic that are more similar to cloves of garlic that you can use and still leave the bulb in the ground to benefit the orchard.

Wild Violets: Living Mulch–I would rather not have quite so many. Wild violets are a “weed” in my area, and 6 inches of wood chip mulch over cardboard didn’t offer much deterrent.

I’ve decided to accept their presence because they do make an effective living mulch in my orchard guilds.  

In the spring they produce sweet edible purple flowers, and their leaves can be added to salads as well. (If you did not purchase the plants or seeds always be sure you are 100% certain you have properly identified a plant you believe to be edible.)

Onion Chives: Pest Repellant, Grass Suppressor, Edible, Nutrient Accumulator–All parts of the plant are edible. It is easy to grow from seed or you can spilt a large clump to divide into two.

It will bloom annually starting its second spring.

Daffodils: Pest Repellant, Cut Flower, Grass Supressor.  Traditional wisdom states that if you want to prevent grass and moles or gophers from getting close to your fruit trees you should plan daffodils in a circle touching bulb to bulb the whole way around.

Unlike your prized tulips, deer will not eat daffodil bulbs, so plant away!

Daffodil bulbs spread, and if you want to keep enjoying blooms you need to make sure they don’t get too crowded.

Rhubarb: Mulching, Edible.  Rhubarb leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid and should never be eaten by humans. However, when the plant freezes in the fall the leaves create good mulch in the orchard.

The pink or red stems are tart and edible, usually cooked into chutneys or pies.

Elderberry: Pollinator Attractor, Mulching, Edible, Medicinal– Always consult a wild edibles book to properly identify elderberries to make sure they are safe to eat. We dug up some shoots from down by the creek–a common place to find them.

Elderflowers smell delicious and you can make them into a syrup for elderflower cordials. When fully ripe the berries can be cooked into a medicinal syrup to support the immune system.


Blueberry plants: Edible–Blueberry plants have specific PH needs. They prefer soil PH as low as 4-5.  If your native soil is unfavorable you may find they perform better in pots. Peat moss is often used as a soil amendment to lower PH along with “acid-lover” fertilizers.

Raspberries:  Edible–Berries are a delicious layer to the food forest. Providing food for people and animals alike.

Take not of whether your variety is summer-bearing or fall bearing. This will dictate the maintenance they will need.

Nasturtium: Pest Repellant, Mulching, Edible–Nasturtium have beautiful spicy edible flowers that are sharp like mustard greens and fun to add to salads. They will vine out quite large and provide some mulching benefit.

Mint: Pollinator Attractor, Pest Repellant, Living Mulch, Edible, Cut Flower– I rooted some mint cuttings to plant in my orchard. I hope they will compete with the wild violets and creeping Charlie. Mint is known to be an aggressive spreader, so take care if that is not what you want.

Mint is a fragrant addition to cut flower bouquets, but is also edible and commonly used in baked goods and drinks.  

Peas: Nitrogen Fixer, edible–The first year I planted my orchard they were all just bare trunks with tiny “feather” branches. So I figured I might as well use them as little pea trellises. Pease help make nitrogen available to the tree and are delicious to eat as well.

Lupine: Nitrogen fixer, Pollinator attractor–Going forward I want to add more lupines as a beautiful nitrogen fixer to my fruit tree guilds.

Why These Plants are “Easy”

Many of the plants on this list are perennial which means they will grow back each spring. So you do not have to plant new ones each year.

Also, most perennial plants spread over time. The group or clump will get bigger and bigger. After a few years you can split these clumps to move part of it to fill in a spot that is empty.

These include: bee balm, echinacea, yarrow, elderberry, daffodils, lupine, mint, raspberry, wild violet, strawberries, onion chives and perennial garlic.

Quite a few of the rest of these plants are prolific self-seeders. This means that even though the plant will die each winter, if you leave the blossoms on the plant to dry in the summer and fall, they will drop their seeds and plant themselves again for next year.

These include: borage, calendula, fennel, violas, and nasturtium.

Through perennial spreading and self-seeding you can increase the number of plants in your orchard without heading to the nursery to buy any more.

How to Plant a Fruit Tree Guild

Plants in a fruit tree guild will do the most benefit for the tree if they fall within the “drip zone”. This is the area under the fruit tree where the majority of the roots of the tree reside and generally corresponds with the diameter size of the canopy of the tree.

When you first plant your tree this area is quite small. (See my article on planting fruit trees in clay soil which also includes general fruit tree planting tips.).

Since your fruit tree will immediately begin to grow branches, you can start by adding your guild plants within a 3-4 foot diameter circle around the tree. As your tree gets bigger you can expand that circle by splitting and spreading out your perennials, or adding additional plants outside that original circle to correspond with the growing size of the tree.

Have you planted a fruit tree guild? Share your favorite plants in the comments!

Guild Plants Video

If you want to see how this all looks together in my orchard, watch this video:

Gardening/ Vegetable Gaden

Seven Steps to Growing Larger Garlic

Garlic is on of the easiest things to grow in the garden and also it grows at a time of year when nothing else is growing which is really motivating and enjoyable as a gardener.

There are some important tips to help the garlic that you grow to be even bigger. I know that I hate peeling off a little garlic papers when I’m trying to chop garlic for dinner so bigger cloves of garlic is definitely a win.

To grow the biggest cloves of garlic you need to select the largest heads and cloves for planting, plant in the fall for proper vernalization with generous spacing, fertilize properly, and avoid harvesting prematurely.

Read along and I will explain each of these steps.

Plant only the Largest Cloves

The first thing to do is separate the clothes of garlic from the head. You will start to see that some of the cloves are bigger than the others. Only keep the largest cloves to plant. You can take these little ones and put them in the cupboard or in fridge to use in your cooking.

You want to leave the paper around the clove in tact. It is going to help the clove to not rot in the soil before it starts growing.

Consider how many heads of garlic you use in a week or month to decide how many cloves to plant. Each clove of garlic will grow a whole new head of garlic.

Plant 4-6 Inches Apart

I plant my garlic at least 4 to 6 in apart. This will give the garlic plenty of space to for the heads to plump up nice and big.

Every once in a while I’ll accidentally plant two smaller cloves of garlic that are together wrapped up in paper and look like a single large clove. When that happens I’ll get two shoots growing out of the same spot and both of them will compete for sunshine and nutrients and I end up with two very small heads.

Plant with the flat side down–that’s where the roots are going to come out. And the pointy side up–that’s where the shoots grow from. Plant 2-3 inches underground. The hori hori is a great tool for this job.

Plant in Late Fall

For most places the proper planting time is late fall. In the Northern Hemisphere this is usually mid-October to mid-November. This is after we’ve had our first freezes but before the ground is frozen solid.

(If you live somewhere that doesn’t go through such a harsh winter– you may not need to plant your garlic so early. You may wait until January or later to plant your garlic so just check your local Extension office.)

With a good late fall planting there’s enough time before the ground freezes for the garlic to start start to sprout a little bit. And it will send out some roots and it will just wake up from its dormancy a little bit. It may even get a few inches of shoots above ground.

If it goes fully dormant for the winter before it has sprouted the garlic will sit there in the ground and it could simply rot.

If you wait until spring planting time to start planting your garlic what you’ll end up with his clothes of garlic that will grow and they will send out shoots out the top but they will never form a head of garlic underground. This is still usable product it goes by the name of green garlic and it’s delicious for making pesto or for using in stir fries.

It does not form a head because it did not get it’s period of cold vernalization. You can experiment with getting around this by purchasing pre-chilled garlic, or try chilling it in your fridge for a few weeks before planting.

Mulch 4-6 Inches

Cover the garlic with a nice thick 4-6 inch layer of a light mulch like straw or leaf mulch.

This is to help the soil retain moisture and to prevent erosion and prevent nutrient loss over the course of the winter. This is going to let the garlic start growing nice and early in the spring as soon as conditions are perfect.

Spring Maintenance

There are two necessary jobs to do in the spring.

Even though you planted your garlic in fertile, healthy soil, garlic is a heavy feeder which means it really needs an application of fertilizer in the springtime. Liquid seaweed fertilizer is a great natural fertilizer to use.

The second job you only have to do if you are growing hard neck varieties of garlic. Hardneck garlic will grow scapes in the springtime which need to be trimmed off.

Scapes are flower buds that grow out the middle of the plant on a stalk. The flower bud develops into small bulblets of garlic. These bulblets are intended to grow new garlic plants, so a lot of energy from the plan goes into develop those plants. So if you’re growing your garlic for nice large heads you want to trim off those garlic scapes to prevent that energy loss.

Don’t Harvest Too Early

To get the largest head of garlic it’s very important to harvest at the right time. Many people may see their garlic pop up in the spring and think that then it should be ready to harvest in a month or two, but this is not the case.

In most areas of the country garlic is not ready to harvest until at least the first week of July. To see if your garlic is ready to harvest, look for the bottom two sets of leaves to start to dry up and turn brown.

When you see this sign you can dig down a little bit and pull out a test head of garlic from the ground. Look for ridges or lines between the cloves showing a definition between the cloves of garlic. Once they start to form ridges with this definition between cloves you know that the head of garlic has reached its peak of growing and that it’s about as large as it’s going to get, and you can harvest at that point.

Plan for Next Year at Harvest Time

I like to pull off the outer set of leaves right at the time of harvest because they come off so easily at that point. Then you have beautiful clean, white garlic. You need to set out the garlic in shady spot with good air circulation to cure until the stems are dry.

This is a great point of time to sort your heads of garlic and put aside the largest head. Save your largest heads for planting next year.

This process of only planting the largest heads that you grow and only planting the largest cloves of garlic from each of those heads is going to over time select for those growing properties. And your garlic will grow larger and larger over the years.

There’s always variations of weather and climate from year to year which will cause variations. So it’s not always a linear progression but over time you will see larger and larger heads of beautiful garlic.

Gardening/ Raised Garden

How to Choose Between In Ground or Raised Bed Gardening

Many people choose raised bed gardening because of its consistency and predictability and the solutions it offers to a number of gardening challenges. However there are many valid reasons, especially if you have a larger plot of land, or lower annual rainfall why you may choose to garden in-ground instead.

Gardening in ground is the most well-known type of gardening and has been around the longest, but people began raised bed gardening for a number of beneficial reasons. Let’s discuss first some of the pros and cons of raised bed gardening, and then move on to the reasons to choose one over the other.

Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening Over In Ground:

Complete Control Over Soil

In the ground one area of your soil may have a lot of organic matter, while another area may be completely clay. When filling raised beds you can ensure that your soil mix is consistent across any number of beds. This will lead to more consistent results in your gardening.

In a raised bed you add everything to the bed that the plants will grow in, so you ensure that it is the perfect medium for growing. You don’t control the composition of your native soil. So even though you could add amendments to your soil, you still have less control over the composition.

This complete control over the soil can allow you to crow crops with very specific soil requirements. Blueberries require a higher than normal soil Acidity. It is easier to achieve this in raised beds in areas where the native soil is not useable.

Start Planting Earlier in the Season

There are two reasons why you can get a head start in your garden when using raised beds. Drier conditions and warmer temperatures.

As winter snowmelt and late winter rains saturate the soil it makes it impossible to start your garden.

An old gardener once taught me that in the spring, the proper time to start planting is when you can pick up a handful of soil and it will clump together in your hand, but when you drop it on the ground it will break apart. If the soil is too wet then when you drop it it will land in a glob on the ground and not break apart.

Overly-wet soils create poor growing conditions where you can experience root rot, and undesirable fungi. Also, you will really destroy the soil structure by digging it up while it is so wet.

Because the raised beds are above ground level, more of the rain water drains out of the beds into the soil beneath. So even in the early spring when the soil around the beds is muddy and squishy, the raised beds will be ready to plant.

Being above ground and holding less water also helps the beds to warm up from the sun earlier in the season before the ground does.

Seeds germinate when all the conditions–including soil temperature–are perfect. These warmer raised bed conditions will give you a head-start on planting.

High Intensity Planting

Traditional gardens hold beautiful single rows of vegetables–each separated by a pathway large enough for a wheelbarrow to go down–or at minimum–a person to walk down.

Raised garden beds use a high intensity planting model, where we take the spacing recommended between plants in a row, and give the plants that much space in every direction, but plant multiple rows next to each other.

This creates the appearance of a grid in the garden bed. By getting rid of the space between the individual rows of vegetables–a gardener is able to plant exponentially higher numbers of plants in the same amount of space as the traditional garden.

There are additional benefits to this high intensity planting model. The plants themselves act as a sort of living mulch, helping to prevent nourishing sunlight from getting to weeds and helps retain moisture in the garden bed.

Avoid Wasting Amendments or Materials

Many people find it necessary to add amendments to their garden–whether that be sand or peat moss or compost or other fertilizer to help promote satisfactory growth.

The traditional model of gardening is very wasteful in this respect. Amendments are spread across the entire growing space and tilled into the ground. But only a portion of that is in the soil that will actually hold a plant.

In a raised bed garden, you will only add amendments to the raised garden beds. None of the amendments will be wasted in the aisles or walkways. This also helps avoid the environmental impact of fertilizer runoff. 

This same principle affects using things like row cover, insect netting or greenhouse plastic. You can get more plants covered with less material than traditional rows.

Structural Benefits

There are a few benefits to be had from the actual structure of a rigid raised bed.

Raised beds which are constructed with sides out of lumber, stone or metal can be any height you desire. This makes raised bed gardening ideal for people who are unable to bend over to tend a traditional garden. People using wheelchairs, or the elderly are often able to garden in a raised bed built to fit their needs.

Raised beds with rigid sides can also be constructed with either a rigid bottom, or a screened bottom using hardware cloth.  These garden beds will help keep out burrowing animals such as moles and voles.  This may be the only way gardeners with this type of animal pressure can successfully garden.

Non-compacted Soil

Having the raised beds distinct from the path ensures that the planting area does not get stepped on. Stepping on the soil compacts it and makes it harder for the roots of your crops to grow.

For this reason many people build raised beds no longer than 12 feet so the gardener will never be tempted to step in the bed to get to the other side instead of going around. For the same reason others suggest only making beds 30″ wide so that the gardener can simply step over the entire bed to get to the other side.

Drawbacks of Raised Bed Gardening:

Beds Dry Out More Quickly

One of the major drawbacks of raised beds is that they will dry out much more quickly than the ground. This may be a bigger problem depending on where you live. Most crops grown in the garden need at least an inch of water every week. If this is not provided through rain you will need to have a system for supplementally watering your garden. 

Cost of Materials

The biggest drawback to constructing raised garden beds is the cost of materials. Inexpensive raised beds can be constructed out of pine boards. (See my DIY Raised Bed Instructions)

Cedar or Redwood will be more expensive.  Stone, brick and metal are also options that will cost more but can be very attractive. 

The simplest raised beds can be made by forming mounds of soil that have no rigid side at all. But regardless types of raised beds will need a substantial amount of soil ordered in. 

Semi Permanent Nature

One additional drawback to building raised beds is that it would be difficult to move them.

If you want to till up part of your yard and plant a few rows of a garden one year. You could easily reseed that area with grass and move your garden to a different location if you realized it was not the best spot, or you did not enjoy it.

Moving raised garden beds would be in some cases impossible, and in every case a lot of work.

All of these considerations about the pros and cons of raised beds help inform the decision of how to grow your garden. The following indicators about your personal situation can help you determine what type of garden you should grow.

When to Choose Raised Bed Gardening:

  • You only have a small plot available
  • You have very poor native soil
  • You have heavy clay native soil
  • You have burrowing animals like moles and voles
  • You have trouble bending over to ground level or getting up and down

When to Choose In Ground Gardening:

  • You don’t want to put money toward bed construction
  • Your native soil is average or good
  • You have a lot of land available
  • You want to produce on a large scale
  • You want to use large farm equipment
Gardening/ Orchard

How to Plant Fruit Trees in Clay Soil

I don’t know what area of the United States does not have predominantly clay soils, but it’s no where that I have lived. But that hasn’t stopped me from planting gardens and even fruit trees.

There are many important steps to take at planting time to ensure the good health and growth of fruit trees that this article will discuss, but the most important principle to successfully planting fruit trees in clay soil is this:

Fruit trees can be planted in heavy clay soils by planting the tree in a mound at least partially above ground level, which raises the roots above the ground water so that they will not drown during wet periods.

Here is the method I have used to successfully plant fruit trees in heavy clay soils in two different states.

Mulch Planting Area in Advance

Fruit trees are nourished through their roots and much of the important nutrition and water is actually provided through a symbiotic relationship with a type of fungus called mycorrhizae.

As far in advance as possible, prepare the soil where you will be planting fruit trees.

Lay down unprinted cardboard and a few inches of wood chips, straw, or raked up leaves. If it is not a wet time of year wet down this material periodically.

Naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi is activated to begin breaking down this material. You can inoculate the material with this fungi, or let it come naturally. It will spread and begin creating a fungal network through the ground that will ultimately benefit your tree with greater health.

Dig the Right Hole

Once you acquire your tree you can dig your hole. Do not dig a hole too far in advance in clay soil or it will crust over .

The hole needs to be more shaped like a wide bowl than a deep bucket. It should be about as deep as the roots and 3-4 feet wide.

Score the sides of the hole vertically with your shovel about every 10 inches so that the sides are not slick and smooth. This will give the roots a place to catch and dig in to grow outwards and not in a circle.

Prepare the Tree Roots for Planting

If you receive the tree dormant with “bare roots” you should be prepared to plant it within a day or two. Do not let the roots dry out while waiting.

The roots re often packed with shredded paper or something similar. If it is drying out and you will not be immediately planting the tree, spray the paper with water so that it is moist, but not dripping wet.

To prepare the bare root tree for planting remove any shredded paper or other medium the roots may have been shipped covered in and submerge roots in a bucket full of water for at least one hour, but less than three hours to rehydrate the roots before planting.

Set the Tree at the Proper Hight

It’s most crucial that you plant the tree high in its hole.

I like to lay a rake handle across the hole to accurately gauge the hight of ground level, and make sure that the upper roots of the tree are above the ground level level.

Mound up some soil in the bottom of the hole to set the tree on at the proper height. Spread the roots evenly around the mound in a circle.

Backfill With Native Soil Only

Put the same soil you dug out of the hole right back into it. Do not add any extra organic matter.

Adding organic matter only creates an easy “path of least resistance” compared to the clay around the hole, which encourages the water to seep into the hole and drown your tree.

The only thing I add when filling in the hole are a sprinkling of Azomite trace minerals and mycorrhizal fungi.

Water in the Roots

When half the soil is back in, and once again when the remaining soil is back in the hole, gently tamp down the soil by stepping or pressing on it, and run water over the soil.

This will help the soil to settle and prevent air pockets which would kill your roots.

Mound with Amended Soil

After I have returned all the native soil to the planting hole there are still roots of the tree exposed above ground level.

Create a planting mound up around the tree with raised bed planting mix to cover all the upper roots. This is light and airy soil that will ensure you tree gets all the oxygen it needs and that you never have all the roots completely submerged in groundwater.

If you want to mix your own use one part each topsoil, peat moss, and sand.

Leave Graft Above Soil

Identify the graft union of your tree.

Mound soil over the roots and all the way up to the trunk’s previous planting depth (where the bark changes color). This should be about 2-3 inches below the graft.

Always leave the graft 2-3 inches above ground level.

Mulch Tree Mound

Mulch around the tree with wood chips or straw. The more aged the better.

Keep the much away from the trunk a few inches to avoid rot.

For the best health of the tree keep the tree mulched in its entire drip zone. Basically, however wide the canopy of the tree is–that is how wide the mulched are beneath the tree should be to help keep the mycorrhizal fungi for the roots happy.

Add Beneficial Plants to Create a Fruit Tree Guild

This is my Summerhaven Peach immediately after planting.

Here it is in its second summer after planting.

The tall buttery colored flowers growing underneath it are Yarrow which is a dynamic accumulator, pollinator attractant and used in bouquets. Behind the tree is mint, thyme and oregano, which are all pest repellants, edible, and pollinator attractants. To the right of it you can see a small rhubarb plant that is a mulching plant and edible. Also, in the spring this area had daffodils which are pest repellants and can be used in bouquets.

Further back to the right is our American Persimmon, surrounded by medicinal calendula. In the very back are some tall elderberry plants which are edible and medicinal.

Click here for my full planting list of beneficial plants in the orchard.

Video of Planting Fruit Trees in Clay Soil

Condiments/ Gardening/ Herb Garden/ Recipes

3 Things to do with Chives and Chive Blossoms–Chive and Onion Dip Recipe

When you plant an herb like chives you are setting yourself up to have years and years of more fresh herbs than you even know what to do with–that is the right kind of problem to have!

Chives is perennial herb in the allium or onion family. Chives have a zesty flavor similar to onions but that is milder, not quite so sharp. To retain their bright flavor chives are most often used raw.

I want to share with you three ideas of how to use your home-grown chives–each at a different stage of the plant.

  • chive and onion dip
  • chive blossom vinegar
  • harvesting chive seeds

Chive and Onion Dip

Harvest a small bunch of chives by snipping them low on the plant, about an inch above the base.

Mince 3 tablespoons of chives. (Printable recipe at the bottom.)

It is quick and easy to mince chives by using scissors or nippers to cut 1/4 inch slices of a whole bunch at once.

Measure 1 teaspoon each of salt, onion powder, and dried, minced onion.

Stir the spices and chives into 16 ounces of sour cream, reserving about 1/2 tablespoon of chives. Sprinkle remaining chives on top for garnish.

Serve with chips or with sliced vegetables like carrot, celery, and sweet pepper sticks for dipping.

Chive Blossom Vinegar

Chives produce beautiful purple flowers that are edible. Chive blossoms have a very similar taste to the the chives, mildly spicy and onion-flavored.

Why do your chives not have blossoms? Chives begin flowering their second spring in the garden, and continue to spread.

Here’s the size comparison of my chives their second and third Springs in the garden.

The blossoms make a great edible garnish for soups or salads.

Chive-blossom vinegar is a well-known product that sounds gourmet, but couldn’t be simpler to make.

To harvest, snip or pinch chive blossoms from the end of their stems.

At this point you can trim back that stem to an inch above the base. If you leave the stem it will dry out hard and brown in the center of the chives.

Collect enough blossoms to fill a jar of your choosing.

Fill jar with chive blossoms and cover completely with white vinegar.

Store jar in a dark cupboard for two weeks. The vinegar will become infused with the oniony flavor and amazing color of the chive blossoms.

Strain out the chive blossoms and store the vinegar in a clean jar.

Chive blossom vinegar is great to use in salad dressings or marinades.

Harvesting Chive Seeds

If you do not harvest the chive blossoms they will dry up and produce seeds.

You should remove these dry heads if you do not want your chives spreading any faster than they will simply from the bulbs underground.

But the seeds are easy to harvest and plant.

Rub the dried flowers between your hands to break up the blossoms and release the seeds.

You can separate the seeds from the chaff a bit, but really don’t need to. Sprinkle the seeds on top of potting mix and spray well with a spray bottle. Cover with a sandwich bag to keep in the humidity.

Keep moist for 1-2 weeks and keep indoors or in a semi-shady area outside, until you see about half the seeds sprouting. Then remove the plastic. Let the chives “harden off” in a semi shady area outside for a few days, then move to a semi-sunny area for a few days before planting out.

Why would I want more chives?

LOL! A pot of chives makes a great gift for someone to keep on their kitchen windowsill.

Chives are a great pest-deterrent in a vegetable garden or around fruit trees.

A group of chives has a beautiful spiky form with dark green shoots and showy purple flowers in the spring that make them an excellent specimen for cottage gardens or formal planting borders alike.

Chive and Onion Dip

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Serves: 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 10 minutes

This classic dip is great served with chips or sliced vegetables like carrot, celery, and sweet pepper sticks for dipping.


  • 3 Tbls fresh chives, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried, minced onion
  • 16oz sour cream



Mince chives. It is quick and easy to mince chives by using scissors or nippers to cut 1/4 inch slices of the whole bunch at once.


Reserve about 1/2 tablespoon of chives to sprinkle on top for garnish. Stir the spices and remaining chives into sour cream until well-incorporated.


Garnish and serve with potato chips or sliced vegetables like carrot, celery, and sweet pepper sticks for dipping.

Cut flowers/ Gardening

9 Self-Seeding “Annual” Flowers To Grow That You Will NEVER Have to Plant Again

My college biology professor used to repeat week after week: “the point of a _____ is to make more_____”, and would fill in the blank with whatever plant, insect or animal he was lecturing about that day.

Flowers in your garden are the same: they want to make more flowers and they don’t alway need your help!

Planting an “annual” seed usually means the plant will die by winter and you will have to replant it every year. But there are some plants that are such prolific seed producers that they will replant themselves for you. Here is a list of annual flowers that reseed come back every year on their own.

  • bachelors buttons
  • sweet peas
  • snapdragons
  • pincushion flower
  • violas
  • sunflower
  • calendula
  • larkspur
  • marigold

In order for these to come back each year you must allow them to “go to seed”. If you cut off all of the blossoms to use in bouquets or crafts, you will not get any new flowers the following year.

But I have found with each of these varieties, that even if I consistently harvest early in the season, by the time these flowers reach the end of their season they have been producing so many flowers that I could not keep up with all of them. And they have thrown plenty of seeds all over my garden just waiting for next spring.

Read on for my tips and favorite varieties of each.

Bachelors Buttons

Bachelors Buttons come in many colors, like this “Classic Magic” blend, and have a sort of shaggy, casual look to them.

However, as you can see by the tulips in the background, these flowers are in full production super early in the year before many seeds can even be sown outside. This makes bachelors buttons an invaluable filler in your cottage or cut-flower garden.

The most familiar or traditional color of bachelors buttons are blue. In fact if you ever find a light blue color in your crayon box called “cornflower” that is named after these flowers. Another common name for bachelors buttons is cornflower.

This variety I grew are called”Blue Boy”, or you can grow the “Classic Fantastic” mix if you want some variation in the blues. I grew these ones specifically to make this red white and blue bouquet for Independence Day last summer.

Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas have the most amazing scent you can not believe is natural. They are great climbers so you should plant them on a trellis or along a fence.

Just make sure you do not plant sweet peas near your vegetable garden, and make sure your family and children in particular know that these are not for eating. When the sweet peas are pollinated they grow into little pea pods that look just like edible garden peas, but are actually toxic.

Make sure no one eats them, but if you let them develop the pods will fall to the ground and come back the following year.


Snapdragons are one flower I remember my mother growing in her yard. If you want to be able to use them in bouquets you should get seeds of a “tall” variety. Bouquets of snapdragons will fill a room with their spicy scent, so I do recommend getting a cutting variety.

Snapdragons are very hardy and can be a short-lived perennial if your winters are not too cold. Many of mine survived the winter. But I ended up with plenty of new snapdragon babies all over the garden as well.

Pincushion Flower

Pincushion flowers, also called scabiosa, are easy to grow from their funny-looking seeds.

The seeds are shaped like tiny shuttlecocks, and like a shuttlecock will catch the wind and blow around your garden, surprising you next year with where they show up.

I actually have a seedling that started growing in my potted Meyer lemon that is currently indoors for the winter!

Pincushion flowers are on delicate stems that let them “dance” in a bouquet in a really fun way.


Violas are a low ground cover type of flower. Plant them near the edges of your planting beds so they don’t get lost behind other taller plants.

Violas are sometimes called “Johnny Jump Up” because the flower will jump up above the plant on a little stem. Violas are edible– if you know they have not been sprayed with any chemicals– so I like to collect bowlfuls to sprinkle on salads or press on cookies.

The tiny plants seem so low to the ground, but that did not stop seeds from ending up in all kinds of crannies in my garden and popping up all throughly walkways.


Bees love sunflowers. They pollinate away and if you leave the sunflowers after the petals drop the seeds plump up and attract all kinds of wildlife to your garden.

I love watching the sweet little goldfinches hop from sunflower to sunflower in my garden. This spreads seeds all around for next year.

Many sunflowers, like this Mammoth variety can grow way above your head. If you want sunflowers for bouquets you may like to try the shorter or branching varieties.

Many flower farmers grow the “Pro Cut” series that are also pollen-less to avoid making a mess inside your house. Unfortunately, the seeds they produce are not true to type, so you would need to replant more pollen-less seeds every year.


Calendula Resina are cheerful orange flowers that have edible petals and can also be used medicinally in skincare products.

Some people use calendula in bouquets, but I’ve never really found my stems to be long enough to add to other cut flower bouquets.

Calendula come in a variety of types and colors, like this frilly large-headed “Kabloona”, and pink-undersided “Zeolights”. All of them easily self-seed all over the garden.


The tall spikes of Larkspur are a cutting garden must-have. I had a bit of a rough time starting these from seed, but they had no problem coming back on their own the following year. (Gardening can be like that sometimes!)

The ones speckled in pink are the aptly-named “splish splash” variety. This year I want to try some “shades of blue”.


Marigolds are a vegetable garden staple for their scent–which is kind of unpleasant. This scent helps to deter pests from the vegetables.

Marigolds need to be dead-headed regularly to keep producing lots of new blossoms. That means removing the old-shriveled blossoms to allow energy to go to flower production instead of seed development.

Inevitably you will let some blossoms stay on the plant too long and they will develop seeds. I deadhead and drop the heads on the ground around the plant as a mulch. So I always end up with marigold babies around where the plants grew the year before.

Sometimes you can get some really interesting variations the following year if they cross-pollinated. These self-seeded marigolds grew with just a single layer of petals that I found to be just charming!

This is the list I’ve had success with. Do you have any other self-sowing flower favorites? Leave a comment below!

Gardening/ Raised Garden

DIY Raised Garden Beds

A simple way to get started growing a garden is in a raised bed and it is not very hard to create that bed all yourself. Follow these easy step-by step instructions, or skip to the bottom for a video of the process and FAQs.

(If you aren’t sure if raised bed gardening is for you read my article about how to choose between in-ground or raised bed gardening.)

Steps to Create a Raised Garden Bed

  • Construct the garden box
  • Lay down grass or weed suppressor
  • Add soil
  • Add amendments
  • Plant bed
  • Surround with mulch if desired

How to Construct Easy Garden Boxes

I usually build my boxes 4 feet by 8 feet. The supplies needed to construct one box are:

  • 3– 2x10x8 untreated boards
  • 8– 3 inch deck screws
  • Power drill/driver

Cut one of the 8 foot boards in half to make two 4 foot boards. All of the big box home improvement stores (Lowes, Home Depot, Menards) will cut a board for free that you are buying from them.

Dry fit the boards together with two long boards making the sides and short boards on the ends.

To avoid splitting the wood you can pre-drill screw holes with a drill bit that is narrower than the deck screws.

Secure the boards at a 90 degree angle at each corner with two screws.

Setting Up a New Raised Bed Garden Area

You can set up a raised garden bed on any surface that provides drainage–including a grass lawn. Just lay a weed barrier where you want to set up the garden bed to prevent grass and weeds from growing up through the bed. I like to use cardboard, but you can also purchase specialty barrier cloth.

Remove all tape and staples from boxes, and only use matte, not glossy coated boxes. And only use blank boxes, or those with a minimal amount of black, not colored, printing.

Overlap the edges to prevent weeds from coming through.

Fill the bed with raised bed mix. You do not need to use a liner in raised beds, though using a liner can extend the life of wooden beds.

Home improvement stores will sell bags of raised bed mix. Or a local landscaping company or nursery may sell and even deliver bulk mix.

To figure out how much soil you need–can you remember geometry from high school? This is where it comes in handy:

A 4×8 bed is 32 square feet. And the sides are 10 inches high, but you don’t want the soil all the way to the top or it will get washed out by rain and watering. So just fill it 9 inches high which is .75 of a foot. So .75 feet times 32 feet squared is 24 feet cubed.

You will need 24 cubic feet of soil to fill one 4×8 bed 9 inches deep.

A cubic yard is 27 cubic feet. If you are able to buy in bulk you could potentially save money by purchasing one cubic yard of soil to fill a 4x8x10 bed. You would just have a little bit extra you could just smooth out on the top, or fill in around your landscaping.

Homemade Raised Bed Mix

You can also make your own raised bed mixes. I have used both these mixes in the past.

DIY Topsoil Raised Bed Mix: use 1/3 each

  • topsoil
  • peat moss
  • sand

DIY Soil-less Raised Bed Mix: use 1/3 each

  • compost
  • peat moss
  • pearlite or vermiculite

I always add soil amendments when starting a new garden bed. I use both Bone Meal and Blood Meal according to the package instructions.

Each year you will need to add amendments, including compost, to your raised beds for good fertility.

The peat moss, sand, vermiculite and pearlite do not get “used up” and will not need to be replenished each year.

The fun part is planting your bed! The soil should be nice and loose which will make planting very easy. After getting rained on and watered a few times the soil will compact more.

A really nice way to finish out raised beds is to surround them with a pathway border of mulch or gravel over weed barrier.

This will help prevent weeds from getting into your beds by growing up under the edges from the outside. It is necessary in areas with crabgrass because of their aggressive runners. In areas without such troublesome weeds, leaving grass between the beds is an attractive option.

Watch the whole process of setting up two new garden beds in the video below.


Should I use raised beds or garden in the ground?

Visit this post I wrote about how to decide between gardening in beds or in the ground.

Do garden beds have to be 4×8?

Garden beds do not have to be 4×8, it is simply a common size.

Most of my beds are 4×8, but I have a few 3×8 beds as well

What is the best size garden beds?

Garden beds should be no larger than 3-4 feet wide and 6-8 feet long. This is so that they are narrow enough that you can comfortably reach to the center without stepping on and compacting the soil in the bed. And this ensures they are not so long that you are tempted to cross the middle of the bed by stepping on and compressing the soil rather than walking around to get to the other side.

Do I have to pre-drill the wood?

Pre-drilling wood is not necessary, but makes it less likely that the wood will split when screwing together.

Can I put dirt in my raised garden beds or pots?

Plain “dirt” from you yard is generally not suitable for raised garden beds. Dirt in many parts of the country has too much clay and will be heavy and not allow water in the beds to drain well. Topsoil is mixed with peat moss and some sort of grit such as sand, pearlite or vermiculite to improve friability and drainage to be made suitable for raised beds.

Will animals get in my raised beds?

If you have groundhogs or moles you can staple a layer of hardware cloth inside the bottom of the bed before adding soil, this will prevent burrowing animals from coming up under your bed and eating your crops.

If you have rabbits you will probably need to make your raised beds taller to keep them out. You can stack two bed boxes on top of each other and secure with a 2×4 inside the corners.

Is using peat moss in the garden sustainable?

Though peat moss is only a slowly renewing resource many people choose to use it in gardening as part of a sustainable lifestyle. Peat moss is only required at the set-up of a garden and never needs to be “replenished” like you do with a yearly addition of compost or fertilizer. Home gardening and home composting for gardens have so many positive benefits for the planet that the one-time modest amount needed justifies its use.

(ie getting food from your backyard instead of letting it travel to you from a continent away, turning food waste back into useable fuel for garden growth rather than putting it in a plastic bag to pile up in a landfill, and others.)