Appalachia Gardening

How to Make a New Garden Bed in a Small Space

How to make an easy garden area cheaply

Reading Dean Mullis’s March 4 Laughing Owl Farm Newsletter inspired me to try and make my own instant garden. This is what Dean said in his newsletter:

“It has been almost 4 months since it has been dry enough to prepare land for planting with all the rain. Luckily, I had an area that I had sub-soiled and ridged up last fall that was dry enough to till on Tuesday. I was able to plant 150 lbs of potatoes Thursday, about 750 row/feet.

I am seriously thinking about building more no-till beds. I built two this week, each 4′ X 100′.

Even if you only have a 10′ X 10′ space in your backyard, you should be growing some of your food. Few tomato plants, a couple of squash and cucumbers, basil, cilantro, etc. Grow what you like to eat. Here is how.”

Unfortunately the video is no longer available, but I’ll describe the process in a nutshell for you. And if you search for his name, Geoff Lawton, on youtube there are lots of other gardening videos available by him.

In the video Geoff Lawton shows how to make an instant garden from things he already has on hand. He lays out paper and cardboard along the area he wants the bed to be. He doesn’t worry about tilling the soil up first, he just covers the area thoroughly with paper and cardboard. He does say it would be beneficial to add compost, manure, or even kitchen vegetable peelings under the paper and cardboard. On top of the layer of paper, he adds whatever organic mulch type material he can find-think grass clippings, old hay, leaves, etc. Once he has the mulch layer down he makes a hole down through the mulch, paper, and cardboard and then using compost he plants his seedling or seed in the hole. Over time the paper and mulch break down and further enrich the soil. In the mean time, Lawton has himself an instant garden.

How to make an instant garden

After a full day of working outside I decided I wanted to follow Dean’s advice and make a no-till bed to increase our garden space. I didn’t do it exactly like Lawton shows in the video, but I think it will be ok and I can’t wait to see how the things we plant in the ‘instant’ bed do.

Since we still have several cut logs from our old mushroom growing enterprise we used four of them to contain our instant garden. Next we laid down a very very thick layer of newspaper and some old brown paper that was in the kindling box.

For the next layer we headed to the woods.

The sentence above makes it sound like we trudged up the mountain into the wilderness doesn’t it? Actually we just walked out past the chicken coop. We collected several loads of leaves, twigs, and leaf mold.

Once we had that layer down I remembered a pile left from the last clean out of the chicken coop, so we added a few buckets of that to the bed and mixed it around in the leaves.

Easy way to grow a garden in your small backyard

The Deer Hunter had brought home a truck load of mushroom compost to replenish all of our raised beds so it was really easy to top off the instant garden with a few wheel barrels full of that and call it done.

Now that I’ve written this post I don’t think we followed Lawton’s video at all! Oh well at least it inspired me to get out and make another garden bed. I hope it inspires you to do the same.

In case that wasn’t enough gardening information for you, Dean shared two more interesting techniques in his March 18 newsletter: sheet-mulching and swales.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Betty "JO" Eason Benedict
    April 7, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Oh you do make me anxious for that first “mater!!! We have a lot of space but most of it does not get enough sun. Settled for a long row along a privacy fence……..long enough for 18 tomato plants, a few cukes and Banana Peppers, Green beans I can get at the Farmer’s Market……….if anyone wants a homegrown tomato bad enough they will find a place to stick a few plants!!!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 24, 2016 at 1:38 am

    I don’t know how big your garden square footage is. It is hard to tell by the picture…
    Have you seen the square foot gardens…The idea is fantastic. Measure off the raised bed into square footage using string or some kind of tape…in other words make a square foot grid you can actually see. Then plant your seed in each square foot little block…The ones I have seen put a tomato or pepper in one square while radishes, carrots etc. could accommodate 16 per square…Now then, I think a crookneck squash and zucchini would need three to four blocks…I would plant a squash in the middle of a 3 block or 4 block section…check spacing requirements on the variety of squash. If your garden is 4′ x 6′ you might get 6 large squash plants or tighten them up to eight plants…ha
    We do this sometimes but tend to crowd our plants too much…
    We also have planted beans using the double row method…lay a row down and right beside it 4″ or 5″ lay down the next row…they grow thick and with a little help grow into each other…shade out weeds between the row and conserve moisture…leave plenty of room on either side to walk and pick…instead of 4 row sides to hoe you only have two…ha We always got lots of beans this way!
    thanks Tipper, I could talk about gardening all night and looks like I have…
    PS I planted lettuce, tall/red and green/red plant sets this evening in my Hugelkultur bed. Planted spinach last week and it is looking good despite the dry cold…Also got in Crimson Giant and Icicle, short top radishes…and 9 large Curly Kale plant sets…We still have to get in cabbage but have to turn over the raised beds…between this and that going on…Can’t wait until I can wilt some lettuce and green onions….love the stuff at least once every spring…

  • Reply
    March 23, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Leslie-thank you for the comment! I haven’t decided what to plant in the new bed for sure, but I’m thinking squash : )
    Have a great night!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 23, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    I usually have put a lot into my little garden by this time of the year, but this year there is something I can’t seem to find. Energy!
    Yesterday my wife had an accident in the carpet on the way to the bathroom. I got down and cleaned it up as best I could with a washcloth and water. Then I went back later with a sponge and alcohol and cleaned some more. It took me longer to get up than it did to clean. This morning I couldn’t walk. I feel better now but it’s too late in the day to start now. Maybe tomorrow, if nothing bad happens, I can get out and dig a little.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 23, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    That’s a nice thing to see: a family working together. One time I tried planting stuff in 5 gallon buckets nearby. Had to water everything every day, but I had more tommy toes and tomatoes than you could shake a stick at…Ken

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    March 23, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Fascinating! I can’t wait to see how yours turns out. A no till garden is right up my alley 🙂

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    March 23, 2016 at 10:48 am

    We live in senior apartments now and I really miss having my little garden and puttering around in the yard.(long drawn out sigh. Maybe a few of these too @#$%&$#@!!)

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    March 23, 2016 at 10:34 am

    I planted an Artichoke in my backyard years ago. I watched it grow to about four feet. It produced quite a few edible artichokes, but after seeing the first one “bloom” into a beautiful thistle, I chose to leave the plant alone. I’ll plant two next time.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 23, 2016 at 10:05 am

    This is another trendy way to make small raised beds. We were told it was called a Lasagna garden…In other words Italian garden, the veggies that go in spaghetti or Lasagna…We didn’t even enclose ours. It was started in the Fall…Big cardboard boxes were laid down. Piled on lawn mower clippings as we mowed the lawn along, cut up fall leaves, our compost, some good topsoil tossed around, mushroom compost…and composted light layering of manure. Keep layering it up along until it is about 8 to 12 inches high…As the cardboard decays and composts it reduces the height.It is pretty much weed free unless you toss weed heads on top…don’t do that!
    I love to plant Italian vegetables…basil, Tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and garlic grow well together….Maybe that is why it Is called a lasagna garden…I do prefer that the garden is enclosed like our other raised bed though…
    My fondest garden that the better half built me is my Hugelkultur (permaculture) bed. Since my surgery/arthritis, I can garden at waist height. This is an amazing way to make gardens. We have had this bed for three years now and have only added some leaves, compost etc. to raise it back up somewhat to the top of the enclosure…The logs and branches under all the goody top layering is slowly decomposing and keeps the soil underneath the first few inches with a continued moisture…
    I want to make another small garden bed like yours somewhere…but we are running out of room with at least 6 hours sun…maybe we can make another shade lovers garden….
    Thanks Tipper…loved this post today especially on this warming day…
    PS…I hope your Chicken poop was composted well….We burnt up some plants one year when we had 100 pullets….and somehow got some fresh stuff mixed up with our composting litter from the rabbits and goats….shewwwweeeee!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 23, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Tip, you certainly make it look easy! What are you planting in your new bed? I know the Deer Hunter likes the idea of not having to till the beds.
    Spring really is here…almost!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2016 at 9:05 am

    The video in Dean’s post is no longer available through the link.
    The wiki-how articles are up and running.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

    We have been talking about making a raised bed garden…gonna try this method!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 23, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I like your picture of your ‘farmstead’. Or would ‘homeplace’ be the better word ? Anyway, what it made me think of is that you two have taught Chitter and Chatter by example to leave things better than they found them. All of your slow ground-building work is a long-term investment in the land.
    I think about it sometimes that it is unlikely the next person who lives here will even have a garden. But the land is better for whatever use is made of it. I bless the memory of all those, in whatever fields of endeavour, who worked to make things better for posterity without regard for the trouble to themselves. I heard my Dad say so many times, “I want my kids to have ,it better than I did.”
    Anyway, that’s my take.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2016 at 8:55 am

    What are you planning to grow there?
    Your beds look so nice!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Sounds like you have the makings of a very healthy garden.
    Recently I read (can’t remember where) about families in Africa (seems it was the Sahara region) using a similar method for their family gardens. Rather than till “acreage”, they simply dug holes in the sand and depleted soils, added whatever soil-like components (especially if they would hold moisture) and put their seeds in there. They had to water each plant individually but it took much less precious water and saved a lot of work trying to dig their hardened land. Kind of like growing gardens in a bucket or pot.
    Now to go back and look at the videos refered to.
    Your garden also sounds like lasagne or layered gardening. Aren’t we lucky to have so many options for growing good food?

  • Reply
    Carol Isler
    March 23, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Do you have a paper shredder? Let the worms take care of your junk mail.

  • Leave a Reply