You've decided on the size and location of your children's garden. On your plan, you've marked paths for getting in and out of the garden. You've included some fun structures in your plan. And you may have even planned your garden around a theme.
If your theme already has a detailed plant list, you've probably searched catalogs and ordered seeds. If not, you can wait to buy nursery plants until after you build the garden. You'll have a clearer idea of how many plants you need once you actually see the space.
The next step is to have your soil tested. Contact your university Extension Service, purchase a soil-test kit, or check your phone book's yellow pages for a reliable testing lab. Remind them you want recommendations for organic gardening. The results may seem complicated to read, though they usually come with explanations. The key things to check are that there is no lead (Pb) in your soil and that the pH of the soil is as close to neutral (7) as possible. The lab will make recommendations on what to add to bring the pH into neutral range and to balance the nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK) in your soil.
At last, it's time to dig in:
- If you're gardening in a new place, you'll have to remove all the turf and weeds. Depending on the size of the new bed, it may take more than a day to accomplish this task. Just do as much as you can each day, carefully slicing the grass and its roots and removing it in sheets. Remove every weed, roots and all, or they'll come back to haunt you one hundred-fold.
- Edge the garden for a tidy appearance and to show the lawn the line it is forbidden to cross over. Perhaps it will stay on its own side.
- Lay paths. This can be as simple as laying down newspaper and covering it with straw or wood chips, or as complicated as laying bricks. Make paths at least 3 feet wide.
- Add structures now if they're substantial building projects, since erecting them will compact the soil (see Chapter 4).
- Dig the soil by hand or with a rotary tiller. Dig only as deep as your spade; the goal is to lighten the topsoil, not bring up the subsoil. Many gardeners use a technique called double digging, described in most general gardening books. Remember, work done thoroughly at soil preparation time saves you from an overload of work later; it also helps plants thrive.
- Add any amendments recommended in your soil test. For example, limestone will remedy acidic soil and agricultural sulfur with neutralize alkaline soil. Adding compost and/or manure will increase your garden's organic matter to improve the soil structure and promote root growth.
- Plant seeds and plants according to packet or plant-stake directions or the recommendations in standard references.
- Water the plants thoroughly, and celebrate. For ideas of sure-fire winning plants for kids, see Chapter 6.