Lesson Five – Prepare your beds

Blank Garden Journal

Let’s Get Growing!

Time to prepare your beds. If you want a simpler journal, I ended up coming out with this blank journal this year as well.

But now that you’ve decided what your beds are going to look like, let’s get them ready.


A natural landscape

Are you just wanting to get away from your landscaper spraying massive chemicals on your lawn and killing all the dandelions as fast as they sprout? Are you wanting to lay down some new  Eco-Lawn™   ? Are you wanting a place that’s safe for your pets and kids to crawl and run around on?

Eco-Lawn™ Bozeman, MT

My brother and I talked about their suburban yard on Long Island where herbs and fruit trees and natural bushes thrive but they keep weeding to a minimum and low maintenance that looks beautiful. They spend a lot of time outdoors with their kids and pets. They enjoy fresh mint in their drinks and fresh basil for cooking.

purple iris

Creating a natural lawn has the same needs as great beds ~ healthy soil therefore requires the same amendments: compost and manure!

Pathways and Rock work

Creating places for people to walk are not just welcoming and inviting but they are practical too because they keep shoes from getting muddy in spring and unwanted feet trampling your beds.

Are you planning some walkways? Some stone work?

Mike has made our garden special because of all the paths he builds.
One of his big secrets is getting every piece of quack grass out before he lays down weed cloth under the rocks. He fills in between with light 3/8 minus gravel or sand dirt.

One thing to think about when designing your pathways is that when you are dragging hoses around watering sometimes it’s easier to have straight lines. Our hoses frequently get caught on these rocks and it takes quite a while to get everything watered in the middle of Montana’s hot dry summers.

Rock work takes practice. Getting things to line up and fit together without falling apart takes care and precision. But there’s nothing like a natural staircase or pathway.

Path to Peace Sign rock work


He also talks about the perennials they’ve planted over the years that come back blooming beautiful colors and spread around the property like crazy.

Laura Behenna's front yard of strawberry plants

Are you wanting to plant a food forest in your front yard? Laura Behenna and I talked about her place North West Montana where her front yard is full of yummy delicious strawberries.

Deep Beds

Deep Bed hip high
This is one of Mike’s first deep beds that is hip high.  It holds tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and a handful of marigolds that are companion plants to keep the bugs away! Just remember this bed is going to require a lot of dirt!


New Raspberry Deep Beds

A blank slate

If you are starting with a place that has grass you want to transform into a bed, the best thing to do is start by laying down cardboard for a couple of weeks. You can also use black plastic. Then cover that cardboard with some organic matter. As much organic matter as you can. Eventually you will want to import as much high quality soil as you can.

We had to build new raspberry beds this year because our old ones finally faded away. Mike starts this bed with cardboard and then fills it full of dirt and some local peat moss we got a few years ago and a bit of aged chicken manure.

Raspberry bed full of cardboard

I spoke at length with Danny Swan about how to reclaim an old vacant lot into a community garden. They have had great success with this method.

raspberry bed full of dirt

Mike built a great deep bed out of an old boat. It will also take a great deal of dirt to fill. Are you starting to see why we started building compost right away?!?!


This was one of Mike’s first corn beds. Remember corn needs to be planted in a block and needs large distances between types. This bed is actually made from an waterbed frame Mike found at the green boxes.

Protecting your beds

We have over 260 feet of fence that borders our house and then the mini-farm is probably another 1/3 of an acre at least of fenced yard that the deer can’t get in. But a couple of years ago, we let the chickens have access to the garden and now we can’t keep them out. So Mike built some temporary covers last summer to give the seeds a jump start.

Mike also builds plastic covers in the fall to keep plants warm. Over the years he has used lots of different ways.

Extending the fall season. When Mike covers the plants they can usually take a frost down to 27º without freezing.


Your mini-farm

Mike used a broad fork to turn up the soil in the mini-farm before he planted potatoes this year. It’s mixing in the hay from last year that he used for mulch around the plants so not only does it work to hold moisture and reduce weeds one season but it adds more organic matter to the soil. One thing you have to make sure is your hay is coming from a credible source. We got our hay from an organic farm in the Flathead. It was a great deal 50 bales for $100. I think this is our 3rd year benefitting from them.

Here’s Lesson Six


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