I have an old garden site in my back yard that for the last two years has produced nothing but weeds. And a very impressive crop of weeds too! I would like to reclaim this space for a flower,herb and vegetable garden. But dont know where to start. It is about 40 x 40 or there abouts. I have available to me a considerable amount of rabbit manure and in the late fall as many leaf bags as I care to carry home.

Its there some way to reclaim this space without digging it all by hand? The soil has been very compact in the past. So bad in fact that carrots wont grow at all and neither will onion. I would appreciate any ideas you might have. Most advice I am getting is spray the area with round up but I am opposed to that (can you tell? Thats why I am here). I would like to repair the soil so that it is mellow and holds moisture I am in South Dakota. On the eastern side near Minnesota.

If you want to raise the bed, try putting down a very thick layers of newspaper and cardboard on top off the cut off weeds. Then on top of that put dirt, leaves, etc. I don’t know about the rabbit manure, but I think it is ok to use. By next spring, you should have some very good dirt, and the weeds should have been killed under the newspaper and cardboard, which will eventually decay.  There is a great book called Lasagna Gardening that you might want to check out. It talks about building a raised bed the easy way.

Cover with very heavy layer of newspaper (like 8 sheets or more!) or cardboard. Cover that with shredded leaves (if you don’t shred, this can take much longer), piled up at least TWO feet deep (I’ve put it as much as 4′ deep). This will smother all but the most persistent weeds. Next year, pull up by the roots any weeds that make it thru the mulch. Add more mulch in the fall if you wish. By the end of the 2nd year, the pile will mostly be composted and you should have no new weeds appearing (assuming you were diligent in getting out the new weeds). The next spring, spread about ½ of the compost (now a rich, black, crumbly substance) over the rest of the garden. Leave the other half (or all if you didn’t have much to start with) on your new garden space, moving it aside to place any new plants and then snugging it back up to the plants as a mulch. No digging ever required.

I’ve done this with fairly large areas, dumping load after load of shredded leaves removed from our drive (long and lots of trees). You could probably just stack the bags there a couple of years, but then you have to attempt to get the decomposing plastic bags out of the mess and it is harder to weed out briars that grow up thru the bags. Put the rabbit manure over the top of the entire thing, or just use it elsewhere the first year or two. You could even garden in containers while waiting to have your garden area restored. If you have to spray, use a full-strength vinegar, rather than roundup. Works the same and no residual effects.

I’d combine the two methods together. Meaning, build a few raised beds so you can have a garden quicker, but also follow Karen’s advice for longer-term soil building. It can be hard, hard work. Three summers ago I rototilled (bad idea) a new garden from field/lawn and fought quack grass for that and the following summer. The following summer I expanded by hand with a digging fork, shovel, and sweat. The sod was so tough I had to pull it aside and compost for later (but robbing the soil of organics). Finally now I have better soil…a truckload of horse manure and two seasons of cover cropping later. In hindsight I think I would’ve tried some smaller raised beds while organically wiping out the rest as Karen suggested.