our back yard is quite small, we have a few planter boxes, and an area that had grass. the grassy area died this year and i was thinking of just turning it all into a garden next year. how would i prepare it for gardening now in the fall? thanks
preparing garden for next year
Well, every one you ask is going to give you a different answer. If it was me, this is what I would do.
If the soil is heavy and the grass roots thick, I would start by turning the grass over. This is simple, but hard work. With a shovel dig small sections of grass, flip them over so the grass is all upside down and all you can see is dirt. This will keep the grass from growing back. It will also loosen things up a bit.
Order a mess of compost and spread it over your newly turned garden.
Spread a bale of straw over all of that and let it sit for the winter.
In the spring, simply, pull back the straw, loosen up the soil a bit and plant.
If the soil is all ready pretty loose, you can also do the cardboard method. Liberate a large amount of cardboard from your local recycling bin. Spread it all over the garden area. Dump the compost on top and cover everything in straw to mulch it in.
You can compost your veggie scraps right into the garden for added nutrients. We do this with good results. I just take a day's worth of veggie peelings, apple cores, egg shells, etc and pull back some of the straw and dump the scraps. Cover with the straw and let it go.
I live in zone 7, so pretty warm here. The scraps have mostly melted away by spring. I see you are in NM, so I would guess that this would work well in your area.
Water retention will probably be a big issue for you, so I would scout around for good ways to maintain soil moisture -- heavy mulching (straw, cardboard) or plastic sheeting are often used to retain water.
If it were me, this is what I would do:
Lay out beds about 3.5 ft wide, with enough space between them to kneel down in and to push a lawnmower or garden cart through. (You might want your beds a little wider, maybe 4 ft. It depends on how big you are; you need to be able to reach the middle easily.) I wouldn't do anything fancy to mark where they're going to be, just measure with a yardstick, eyeballing the straightness of my lines, and mark the corners by turning over a hunk of sod.
Dig up all the sod in each bed with a shovel. If there are thick roots, I'd knock off as much dirt as possible from each hunk of sod and toss all the hunks of grass and attached roots into a compost pile. If everything is dead and can easily be chopped up and mixed into the dirt, I'd do that. Once all the grass is gone, I'd loosen at least the top foot of soil by digging into it and turning it over while mixing in manure or compost.
Pretty much what Ruthiegirl said, but I would lay the straw (or whatever mulch is available cheaply in your area) as thickly as you can afford.
If you are planning on beds, I think sunken beds are best in your area. NM has a huge Permaculture community. Check it out! They'll have a lot of useful information. "Gaia's Garden" by Toby Hemenway highlights a NM garden in detail. I know this is probably beyond what you've asked advice for, sorry, but it's truly fascinating.
one other thing...why did your grass die? if you know it was just lack of water, cool. if not, you might want to take the reason into consideration in planning/preparing your new garden. for example, if it's too shady in your yard for grass that will affect what you should plant next year. or you might want to have a soil sample tested.