Newbie SOS: How can I get an early start on the season?

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

There are many options for season extension, but if you are just starting out in farming keep it simple. Don’t bother with it. Take, for instance,  this situation.

I have 4 – 8×4 raised (18″ high) beds here at home that I can easily cover with hoops and plastic (and will probably add more). I’m thinking I should get them covered to warm and use to start carrots for early baby carrots perhaps? Or cucumbers? Or what is best use of them?

I would not recommend covering them. It’s an unnecessary hassle. I am not a big user of season extension structures. Structures are an expense and add to your workload because you have to trouble shoot them. Your beds should warm up quicker than soil, and as soon as you can turn them over with a spade, I would put in two 18 inch wide SPIN beds, and plant onion sets and garlic. These can be planted early, and do not need to be covered.

Onions would be harvestable late May for use as scallion, and then beds can be replanted to warm weather crops, such as cucumbers, which would not need to be covered that time of the year. Garlic can be planted closely, to be used as green garlic. Once harvested, say by mid June, they can be replanted to something like tomatoes.

SPIN photo book Wally watering


My backyard in the city gives me the micro climate advantage so I can work beds in early springtime and get to market with crops like green onion and garlic before lots of other farmers. I use greenhouses to start transplants, but I don’t bother with season extension structures to produce my crops.  

Growing on Concrete

Courtesy of James K., Virtually Green, San Francisco, CA

If you’re planning to bring in topsoil and do raised beds I suggest you consider putting down a layer of heavy duty woven weed cloth over the entire 20K sq. ft. site.

First do a thorough weed wacking of the existing weeds over the entire site. Rake up the wacked weeds. Scour the site looking for sharp objects, such as concrete chunks, glass, etc, that might pierce the cloth. Then lay down the weed cloth. Some people lay down a few inches of coarse sand before laying the weed cloth down to help prevent piercing it, especially where there’s foot or wheel traffic.

Next frame up your raised beds on top of the layer of weed cloth.

For added insurance, lay down another layer of weed cloth on the bottom of your raised beds. Then put down the topsoil in your raised beds. I recommend at least 18″ of topsoil if possible, and 24″ is
better: deeper of course if you’re going for root crops, like potatoes. It’s wise to lay something down over the weed cloth visible between your raised beds, to protect the cloth from puncture from feet or wheels as well as from sunlight UV damage. A soft bark mulch is good.

Protected from sunlight UV and gardening punctures the weed cloth approach described above could last 20 years with little or no problems. You might have to do minor occasional repairs to pathways but that should be all.

Here’s a couple websites that discuss weed cloth installation:

Keep in mind that not all weed cloths are not created equal.  Many of the 3 oz or less weed cloths on the market are understrength for handling dock or ailanthus.  You’d need a heavy duty cloth.  Check out Dewitt Weed Barrier Pro.  It’s a multi-layer cloth with some great industrial strength specs.

It’s from a company that’s been around for a while.  You’ll no doubt enjoy hearing they have a 100% No Weeds guarantee on their weed cloth.  You might buy a small roll of Dewitt Weed Barrier Pro and test it on a few spots around your property.

Use the Mantis for Tilling Raised Beds

Courtesy of James K., Virtually Green, San Francisco, CA

It’s still possible to rototill in raised beds if you use an electric tiller like the Mantis. Rototillers are major labor savers. I have one that I’ve used in beds for some years. Incredible torque. Good depth: up to 10″, though with a limiter I usually use it at
just a few inches depth for prepping beds for replanting. A set of simple L-shaped brackets bolted to the tiller tine shield front, back and sides can help prevent the tiller tines from gouging the raised bed frame sides or ends. The tiller is light too: I carry it one-handed over my shoulder.

Make Raised Beds With a Tiller


Courtesy of SPIN Farmer Kevin A, Ontario

To make raised beds, you can use a walking tractor with an attachment called a Berta Rotary Plow. This can make a raised bed from a grass covered field. This means you could avoid pressure treated wood or worse railroad ties. No worries about leakage or kids