A Truly Simple Garden: The Beginning

May 10, 2010 by

There are questions that no ones asks.  Like, “why do I have a lawn?”  In my case it would be, “why do I have a front yard that used to have a lawn, but now has patchy brown grass, weeds, and mole hills, and why do I continue to put in my time, money and energy into it?”

I asked myself this question after the sprinklers broke…again…for the last time.

So the question was asked and the answer was obvious.

“I don’t know.”

So from that day on the lawn had a short life span.  I wasn’t going to touch it, fix it or improve it.  I was going to get rid of it and replace it with a garden.

Thus the garden project began.  I chose the front yard for 2 reasons.  First the afore mentioned sprinkler issue and to do something different and create a centerpiece to attract discussion and inspiration for others.

Getting started on the garden:

Here is what I knew going into this project:

  • I knew I wanted a garden instead of a lawn.
  • I knew I wanted/needed to do raised beds because our soil is horrible and to keep pests out.
  • And thats about all I knew.

So I hit the internet and researched the heck out of it.  Sites like Growyourgreens has some great videos from a very enthusiastic host about how he converted every square inch of his front yard into a beautiful garden.   I took some inspiration from his rasied bed construction and I went to work.

You need three basic things for a garden.  Sun, Water, and Dirt.  I live in California, so the sun is covered, so lets start with water.

more sprinkler fun

I knew I wanted this garden to be simple.  Simple means low maintenence.  As much as I don’t want to mow lawns I aslo didn’t want hours and hours of work each week associated to the garden, so it must be set it up with automation and simplicity in mind.

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I re-worked our existing sprinkler system and re-ran water lines to each of the area’s where I was going to build the raised bed gardens.

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Not only would each box have its own water source on a timer for wattering but it would also have a constant water feed for a hose to be by the garden and for some automatic motion-sensor sprinklers to ward off those rascally rabbits.

This part isn’t fun, but with some help from friends it can go by quick.  My friend Joe helped me dig the trenches and I re-routed the water lines to where they needed to go.  Irrigation tubing can be bought at any home inprovement store and its pretty cheap.  A 10 foot piece of pipe is $1.24.

Construction of the boxes

Before getting to the dirt we need somewhere to put the dirt.  The plan was for 4 -6 raised bed boxes.  I ran the water for 6 boxes but started out with 4 to see how it goes.  I may add the other 2 later.

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The construction is pretty basic.  I dug some holes, and put in the 4×4 posts into the ground with some concrete.  This part is a little more work as digging the holes is not that fun, and hauling around concrete bags is heavy.  But don’t let this discourage you.  If you are doing small raised beds you don’t need to cement them in.

My (slightly flawed) design

The design called for 4×4 posts on the corners and in between each 6 foot length of cedar fencing.  I chose cedar fencing because its cheap and if a piece were to rot or need to be replaced it could be done easily.  I didn’t pay quite enough attention to the design and only put a post at the corners and at each 6 foot length.  I should have put one at 3 foot lengths to have more strength for the fencing.  I’m having no issues from that now except for some of them bowing out due to the weight of the dirt, so I may end up going back and adding in the extra 4×4’s for support.

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Part of the design also called for keeping out critters from below.  The use of some metal wire mesh will keep out the moles and such.

Raised beds mostly built, time for the dirt

I built the beds with 3 sides complete and left one side open to help facilitate the loading of the dirt.  I needed dirt and found some ads on craigslist for free dirt, only have to pay for delivery.

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I ordered 10 yards of dirt and 15 yards of organic compost.  Total came to $225 for delivery by a very large dump truck with a second trailer.  Apparently 25 yards of dirt is a lot of dirt.

If you are putting a raised bed garden on top of grass without removing the grass first, put down a later of cardboard and soak it with water. Then later the dirt on top of that.  The cardboard will decompose and prevent the grass from coming up through the garden.  A good place to find a lot of cardboard boxes for free is at Costco or look for “moving boxes” for free on Craigslist.

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Moving 25 yards of dirt into the boxes was a big project.  Luckily building it in the front yard was a genius idea and all the neighbors came out to see what the heck I was doing and help.  Big thanks to my wife for helping as well right after she worked a 12 hour shift at the hospital.


Even my dog Keaton was helping us.

Thats it for part one of the The Truly Simple Garden

Next post will show more of the completed boxes, the automatic watering system, the motion detector sprinklers to keep pests out and talk about planting the garden.

If you have any questions or have a garden project you’d like to share please leave a comment below


Here’s a quick shot of the garden today

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