Gardening for Life!

Site Preparation

First check for the location of buried utility lines by calling Alberta One-Call at 1-800-242-3447 or Alberta Click Before You Dig .  Both services are free.Once you've decided what elements to include in your garden and how you'll configure them, the next step is preparing the site.


First you'll need to decide whether or not to remove the existing sod.  It's not always the best idea.   You may uncover an area with poor drainage that may be difficult to deal with.  If the ground for the garden has been grassed for a long time it will likely be very hard, compact and depleted of soil nutrients.  Leaving the sod undisturbed will give a strong, drainable base to the garden and avoid releasing carbon by tilling and exposing the land below.

If You Remove the Sod

  • Have a plan for the sod you remove. It is very heavy and expensive to transport and relocate.
  • Once the sod is removed, install a weed barrier such as non-woven landscape fabric, clean corrugated cardboard, moistened overlapping layers of newspaper, or plastic tarpaulins staked to the ground.

If You Leave the Sod Intact

  • Have a sheet mulching party as a site preparation event .  It helps to build community cohesion around the garden construction and all ages can participate. 
  • Avoid the temptation to pour gravel over sod.  There will be weeds poking up through the gravel by mid-summer of the very first growing season. 
Model A: Most affordable Garden Bed:  Spending Your Funding on Soil

Mounded beds with Edging: Sod Remains in Place

  • Call Alberta One Call to get map of buried utilities.  Place garden beds well away from buried utility lines
  • Mark out the boundaries of the entire garden.
  • Plan and invite residents to a sheet mulching party.

Sheet mulching makes the weed barrier of heavy corrugated cardboard or multiple layers of newspapers overlapped and sprayed with water.
Layer on straw, soil and compost over entire site. (Do not use animal manures!)


  • Layer on pathway material according to measurements on the garden drawing.
  • Place garden edging and secure into ground firmly.
  • Move soil into areas within the edging
  • Complete the layer of pathway materials
  • Mark boundaries and label garden beds
  • Assemble a container food garden near the water source, accessible pathway,  parking and seating area.  Use large containers that are 22 to 24 inches high for accessible gardening from lawn chairs and wheelchairs.

In addition, this model of garden construction can give a structured appearance to create a beautiful food forest style garden using permaculture methods.   Residents may choose this garden bed construction style because they dislike the look of wooden raised beds in rows.  The edging around the mounded soil is appealing to residents who are concerned about a garden being disorderly in a residential neighbourhood due to soil erosion and lack of garden rental bed boundaries.

Model B:  Wooden Garden Beds Large Garden Year 1 Construction

Example: The South Garden: Community Crop Society

Low-Rise Wooden Raised beds with Tarpaulin under Footpaths & Sod Removal [insert Community Crop South Garden build photos and PowerPoint]

  • Arrange order of wood cut to specific lengths, garden mix soil and footpath materials
  • Construct the wooden frames for the garden beds ahead of the build day
  • Purchase weed barrier material
  • Book a bobcat and trained operator
  • Rent a sod cutter
  • Mark out the perimeter of the garden.
  • Remove sod with sod cutter
  • Have a plan for berm gardens made out of sod turned upside down, covered with  loam and planted with perennials
  • Have lots of strong volunteers to build the berm gardens
  • Order extra soil to cover the berm gardens
  • Place very large tarpaulins or nonwoven landscape weed barrier fabric on the ground with overlaps.  Secure into the ground.
  • Construct wooden garden beds with screws and braces for corners and mid-sections
  • Place the completed garden beds according to the garden drawing measurements
  • Measure carefully so footpath areas are wide enough for a wheel barrow to travel and  for 2 gardeners to be comfortable working at beds on either side of a footpath.
  • Cut the tarpaulin within the beds in an X, bring it up and staple to the inside of the bed to protect the wood from moisture and to permit drainage to the ground below within the garden bed.
  • Set up the accessible gardening areas so that a gardener in a wheelchair, walker, scooter or lawn chair can move and turn around easily to get water, tools and supplies.
  • Accessible pathway material here needs to be firm so wheels can roll easily.  You may wish to use tamped down powdered rock Trail Mix over a bed of weed barrier and gravel for drainage. (Woodchip mulch is not satisfactory for accessible footpaths.)
  • Fill garden beds with loam that has 50% compost.
  • Place a minimum of 4 inches wood chip mulch on pathways between garden beds.  Each year this will be added to because the wood chip mulch will break down naturally.