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starting a new garden

We just moved and I have the opportunity to start my garden anew from the ground up (literally!) I’d like feedback and input on my plans so I can improve them and have an even better garden. I know a fair amount about gardening but there’s so much more I don’t know yet. I’ve got my plans and my situation outlined below – what do you think?

My site is in full sun, with perhaps a couple hours of dappled shade on the far southern side from a large maple 25 feet away. There’s a five foot privacy fence on the north and east sides that doesn’t cast shade too far. The in-situ vegetation is grass with a moderate, not awful, amount of weeds, and it is mostly already level. The native soil is pretty balanced as far as sand/clay mix, is a light gray-brown in color, definitely lacking in organic matter and heavily compacted. Just based on looks it seems spent. I didn’t get a soil test yet. There is somewhat heavier clay a foot or so down. I believe although I’m not sure that part of the site, or somewhere nearby, was used as a septic field back in the 60’s – for sure not anytime since the late 70’s as that is when city sewer came through. I can see plenty of rabbits and squirrels to worry about, neighbors tell me there are also deer, even though I’m in the city. No one I’ve asked has yet mentioned voles, gophers, groundhogs, or any significant insect pests or history of bacterial/fungal infections. There is powdery mildew on some of the ornamentals, although I know that is mostly species specific. I haven’t seen any annual weeds I’d get too excited about – mostly oxalis and spurge. A little purslane, which I will eat. There’s black swallowwort, which I know and hate from my previous garden, and a few other weeds I’m not familiar with but I suspect may be rhizomatous. A few violets I’m trying to eliminate. No bindweed I can see, no creeping charlie, and not much crabgrass/quackgrass. The roma tomato plant the previous owner put in is clearly starving for nutrition (small size in an indeterminate plant, light green leaves, few fruits, nasty case of blossom end rot) but is not developing blight or insect problems.

What I’d like to do is build raised beds since they are so much easier to keep weeded, have no compaction issues, I can put in the soil I want, and they are easier on my back. Since I’m thinking long term, I’d like to go with concrete blocks – two blocks high instead of one. Based on the shape of the yard, they really have to be oriented east/west. I’d have them about three-four feet away from the privacy fence, with at least 15 feet of space on the west side before you get to the house and 25 feet away from the tree (30 feet to the garage) on the south side. I’ve got space for four beds, 3 blocks wide by 15 blocks long, in two rows of two. I’d like to experiment with watering systems, and can come up with the materials to make the back two wicking beds and the front two PVC pipe drip watered. I figured I’d fill the beds with half topsoil and half leaf compost, both of which are available and reasonably priced in my part of the world – and the topsoil here is usually OK at least, sometimes better than OK. I’m tracking down some lighter materials, like potting soil mixes and peat moss, to put in the bottom layer of the wicking beds to assist with the drawing up of water.

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