The Gurney’s First Vegetable Garden: Part 1

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We are dig in the dirt, lay under the stars, get lost in the woods kind of people. We first fell in love ankles deep in creek water skipping rocks. In our almost ten years of marriage we have moved several times, and our favorite homes have always been in the country. With each move I always dreamed of a vegetable garden, but there was always some reason why it never happened. Our little country plot of land has been home for over a year now. We have put down roots here and hope to stay for years to come. In our little corner of the earth, we finally have the perfect spot for a garden!

Truly, I am not sure it would have happened this spring if it wasn’t for the COVID19 pandemic. My summer is usually full of learning institutes for instructional coaching, but many of those events have been canceled. While I never wished for do many special things to me canceled, priorities have shifted, and this garden is high on my gratitude list. With a little encouragement from family and friends, I decided ignore my doubts and go for it, dragging Jonathan along with me.

The Right Spot

To be honest I imagined my garden in many different spaces. I was preoccupied by the perfect view rather than utility. Jonathan stepped in here and pushed me to think about flat land, proximity to water, and 8 hours of sun. This left me with 1 spot on our property – a front yard garden. This certainly wasn’t the spot I would have chosen, but it was our best option. Now I am use to the location and I enjoy the raw beauty of the space.

The Drama of Sod

My neighbor, born and bred on a farm suggested that I plot out the space and then cut the grass way down for a few weeks, essentially letting it dry out and die. While I was thankful for the option, I also knew tearing out chunks of grass, or sod, would be better for the garden in the long run and he agreed. Tearing out the sod at the root would make for a healthier garden leaving fresh dirt without any grass roots.

We measured the space we wanted and staked the corners. Jonathan used extra weed trimmer line to wrap around the stake and make a clean edge, but any kind of twine will do. After we had it all laid out, we got to work removing the sod.

Lord almighty sod removal is back breaking work and requires many hours. My brother in law let us borrow his sod lifter which was a huge help. This tool is similar to an edger but has the angle of the shovel. The leverage it gives made all the difference. Jonathan cut us a clean edge all around the garden making it clear where we were working. One section at a time, Jonathan would cut a piece and I would lift it into the wheel barrow. In our 22 x 14 space we probably removed 11 loads of sod. Since it’s so heavy, we just picked a low area of our yard close by that needed to be raised anyways. This is where we packed the sod, and later watered it thoroughly so it would grow in nicely.

In the end Jonathan, never a complainer, was blistered and bruised. My legs were burning from squat lifting heavy sod for 4 straight hours, but we didn’t regret our efforts. The soil underneath was rich in color, full of worms, and promised good growth.

While I could have bought or rented a sod cutting machine, the expense is greater than borrowing from a friend and rental places haven’t been a great option during quarantine. Doing it yourself brings a deeper sense of pride and greater strength from all the work. If you choose to remove sod this way make sure you stretch thoroughly before and after, your muscles will be tight!


Many people have thriving gardens without fencing. Our country land is surrounded by forest and farm fields. We see deer almost daily, and groundhogs love to hang around. I was ready to risk it, but Jonathan felt we needed a tall fence. Running a financial company, he is constantly considering the return on his investment of time and money. We just put hours into sod and he knew I was about to purchase a ton of plants. To protect the investment of the garden we put 9 – 8 ft wooden post in the ground, using fast drying quikrete to keep them solid. We used about 2 – 50 lb bags. We also purchased a simple wood framed screen door to access the garden. Metal Tpost would have been simpler, but this garden is in my front yard and I just didn’t want to look at metal Tposts.

Look! A butterfly snuck into my photo. It was so charming I had to keep it in the photo.

The wire fencing was a difficult decision. Tall fencing with larger gaps would be fine for deer, but it wouldn’t keep small critters out. Tall fencing with small holes runs about triple the price. Chicken wire fencing was an option, but the material isn’t very durable and has a lot of sharp edges. I imagined my clothes getting caught on it all summer. In the end we used two products and overlapped them. The first being a 3ft high 1 x 1 1/7 metal wire mesh to keep the little critters out on the bottom and a 6ft high 2 x 4 inch mesh fencing for the top. We also purchased fencing staples to attach the wire pieces to the posts.

Cutting and hanging the fencing required great precision and effort with a difficult product. This definitely needed two people and we were wishing for a third helper. Starting with the smaller mesh at the bottom, we measured from post to post, cut the desired amount of fencing with bull cutters then wrestled it into place. I would hold up the sheets of metal trying to keep them straight while Jonathan would hammer the edges in place with staples. We wrapped the perimeter with the small mesh at the bottom, then repeated the process with the larger mesh at the top of the posts.

Learn from our Mistakes

Put your posts at least 3 feet in the ground. when measuring the holes we dug, I measured from the higher grass line, unintentionally ignoring about 6 inches of space down into the garden. I was trying to measure based on the fence height I wanted above ground, when I should have been concerned about getting the posts deeper into the garden bed. This meant our poles weren’t as solid as I would have liked and were frustrating to deal with when hanging and hammering the fencing. When all was said and done we packed them in with stones and soil well so they should hold up just fine but I wish I would have purchased taller posts.

Walk on the wire before you try to hang it. This fencing comes in big roles. When you try to roll out the wire it rolls back and fights you. We used tools to keep it down when measuring and cutting. Then we flipped it on the grass and walked all over it to straighten it out. If we would have realized this in the beginning it would have saved us a ton of trouble and sections of our fencing would have been much tighter making a cleaner look. It’s pretty clear where we started and stopped because the last two sections of fencing look awesome!

The lines will guide you if you pay attention. Our garden is on a slight hill so trying to get the fencing straight messes with your mind. The line of the hill makes the fencing look crooked. We messed up a section and had to use a screwdriver to take out all the staples and straighten the fence. My advice is to match up the lines of fencing to the straight edge of the posts. If they are parallel the whole way down the fencing is fairly straight.

Part 2

When I haven’t been teaching online or building a fence I’ve been researching plants and drawing out their location. My next step will be a pick up order and planting! Stay tuned for part 2 of this story!

Have you been nervous to begin just like me? I encourage you to ignore those fears and just begin. It may not be perfect, you will make mistakes, but you will learn and be proud in the end.

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