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Getting your Urban Garden Ready for Spring: Cleaning Your Soil & Building a Raised Bed

I couldn't have Backyard to Table without a backyard (obvious, I know). And I couldn't have fruits and vegetables without a place to plant them, (once again, obvious, I know) which is why I spent this weekend building a raised bed and cleaning up the yard.

Recently we moved to a new apartment, and lucky for me, we have a shared backyard with our neighbors downstairs. After learning that they have never used any of the land to do any gardening, I asked if I could dig in. I would have used pots if I couldn't have, but there is so much space to use, it would have been a shame.

They were thrilled to learn that I would be cleaning up the yard and starting a garden, so this past weekend, my girlfriend and I were able to convert the previously abandoned yard into a soon-to-be urban garden.

I started off by removing all the rocks and brush from the top of the soil (thank you Jen for all your help!), and then using my shovel to turn all the soil.

Once all the soil was turned over. I removed all the weeds, and mixed in any dead roots and leaves that were left over on the top of the soil to form compost.

(The start of a beautiful garden.)

Now onto the second step. There were a bunch of old bricks laying around, so I decided to use them to make an elevated bed of sorts, and keep the soil from getting all over the yard.

(Not bad for some improvisation.)

You'll notice that adjacent to the tree there is another small plot of land that has some exposed stones. The previous homeowners had the entire yard filled with these stones. I decided that I wanted to make use of that space, because as we know, in NYC space is limited, which leads us to step three.

Building a raised vegetable bed

There is roughly 5' X 7' of space in the rear plot. I took a quick trip over to the nearest Home Depot, and bought 4, 2 X 4 X 8 beams. They cost 3.47 each. I was fortunate enough to find a helpful Home Depot employee who cut them down to size for me. I also picked up a small box of long drywall screws to fasten the bed together.

I began by marking two holes with a pencil, and then pre-drilling two holes into the end of one piece and into the connecting piece of wood (from the 7 foot piece into the 5 foot piece).

PROTIP: Be sure to use a size smaller bit than the actual size of your screws.

Now switch your bit over to a screwdriver bit and place two screws into the side. You will now repeat the process for all four corners.

When you're done, you should end up with something that looks like this!

After laying down the frame, I now spent some time digging around each corner to make sure the frame was sitting as level to the ground as possible. Once I got it as close to level as possible, I then placed down some cardboard at the base.

"Wait! Doesn't that prevent the roots from growing down, Fabio?"

As a matter of fact, it does not! As it turns out, the cardboard prevents weeds from growing up through your soil, and eventually decomposes and provides a great base for your soil.

PROTIP: Be sure to remove any tape and adhesives!

I now used my shovel to throw a bunch of soil over from the adjacent plot to start the base of the soil, and then filled in the rest of the raised bed with some Organic Raised Bed Soil. I was able to get a great deal on it at Home Depot.

After spreading it around evenly, I was left with the finished product (below). It was a quick project, looks great, and should hopefully work as a great home for all the seedlings that have begun to sprout.

If you want to raise the bed even further, (which I may end up doing) simply buy some more 2' X 4's of the same size and drill through the top for added depth.

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