A couple years ago, I got the homesteading bug. My kids called me Amish, it was so bad. Some days, it still is, and they still call me Amish. I put everyone to work hand sawing and nailing old boards into raised beds. (Hubby wasn't home and I didn't know how to work the circular saw.) Also, I couldn't find the wood saw, so we ended up using a metal saw. It was tough work, but it did work! However, there is something to be said for the right tool for the right job, lol. Anyway, the first year, we ended up with some pretty nice raised beds and used the rocks from digging and leveling the ground to border the edges. Donated fencing was used around it, but I splurged on mulch as a reward for all that digging!
This year, I wanted to add a few more beds, but save some labor. Since we broke a couple of dressers during the winter, we used the rest of the drawers as premade raised beds after the boys drilled holes in the bottoms. (Make sure to use real wood, not pressed or treated board.) It is best to set them out in the fall and use leaves and other raked debris to fill and break down over the season. By spring, the compost will decompose and you will have a good start of soil mix to plant in. My drawers never made it out last winter, so I used all my clippings from clean up this weekend to fill them. I will mix this with potting soil and keep refilling it with compost over the growing season as it breaks down. I do this every year in the raised beds pictured above and they work fantastic.
Hollow concrete cinder blocks make great planters as well as a raised bed edge in place of boards (or drawers!) I will use 6 of them to plant green beans that will climb over a hog panel. This is going to act as a trellis when placed on its end with one side bent to sit under my porch edge. It's easy picking beans when they can hang down overhead.
Old mini or venetian blinds work well when cut to size and used as plant/seed markers in the ground. Use permanent marker and take in after the growing season or the writing will fade with the snow.
Cut up pantyhose or knee highs work terrific as plant ties as they give a little without harming the plants.
Cardboard pizza boxes and newspaper work wonders to start new beds or kill weeds in larger areas.
Place the cardboard over the area and weigh it down for the winter season. I even started new flower beds over established lawn by covering the area with layers of newspaper, wetting it down well and allowing it to kill the grass off. You can wait for this to happen over a season or use it right away. Just dig holes through the newspaper and ground beneath, then tuck the plants in. Finish by placing mulch over the newspaper. Last year, I had tall perennials (involuntary spilling over from my neighbor) growing in the area I wanted to plant in this year. I cut them all down to the ground as best as possible, but because they left a couple inches of stubborn and sharp stalks, I placed cut-open black plastic garbage bags over the whole area. I was at a loss what to keep it down with though, when I remembered all the mason jars my friends gave to me. They held it all in place most of the summer until I could rake leaves and other yard debris over it in the fall. By planting time, I should be able to remove the plastic out from under it and turn the soil.
Conservation centers, colleges, and County Extension offices usually offer soil testing to see if your area is safe to grow in, better suited for other kinds of plants, or missing critical nutrients. If you are not doing raised beds or making your own soil mix from scratch, then testing your ground is an important step. It is cheap to do, usually $10-15 a sample, and easy. They usually instruct you to dig about 8 inches down for vegetables and collect samples from 8-15 areas within the area you want tested. I took this pile of samples, mixed it together, took out a couple cups of it and dried it on newspaper for a day. Then we mailed it in a plastic sealable bag with the appropriate form, and of course, the fee. They send the results back within a week or two.
I mentioned this before, but your compost pile and beds will benefit if your kids have any small pets that do not eat meat. It counts as the dry component, especially if you use shredded office paper like we do. Rat, hamster, rabbit, mouse, bird, and guinea pig litter can be applied directly without aging right onto your beds, as well as chicken poo. Use caution when using bird litter as the uneaten seeds will probably offer a few volunteers in your garden.