The Barefoot Gardener: From the Ground Up, Part 1

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It’s easy to remove grass—just cut it out with a shovel, slice under the roots with a sickle, then relocate it. Photo courtesy of J.M. Buck.

Building a Big Island garden from the ground up, part 1 of a five-part series.

One of the things I have rarely ever seen in any gardening column is a step-by-step how-to for creating a garden where none had previously existed, so for the next several weeks I will do exactly that.

This series is aimed primarily towards weekend warriors and working people with families, so the intimidation factor should be rather low.

We will also take into consideration limited yard space, pets and children, and the number of different climates and soil types on our island.


So, without further ado, let’s get this  garden started!

Plotting it out

Let’s say you have a small lot, or a rental with a tiny yard. You also have a spouse and two children, a dog and a full-time job. How can you possibly have a garden that will feed a family of four with minimal work? Well, you can.

The first step is to plot out your garden. Start by writing down what you would like to grow—and be sure those plants are not ones that will take over the garden space, like watermelon. A sunny, gently sloping spot with minimal wind is optimum; however, other types of landscape can be worked with.


Select plants that are compact or can climb. With squash, choose bush varieties. Japanese eggplant as opposed to Black Beauty will also save space. You get the idea.

Also, choose prolifically producing plants, like Roma tomatoes and Russet potatoes. Choose as many vertically growing plants as possible—cucumbers and Kentucky Wonder green beans can climb, thereby saving space.

Based on how much space the plants will take up and adding in the square footage of narrow paths to walk between rows, you can get a rough idea of how much space you will need for your garden.

Using sticks and mason’s line, twine, or whatever kind of string you may have around, lay out where the garden will be. You may have grass growing in the area, and this will have to be removed.


In many areas of the Big Island, your yard may be nothing but rock or cinders, so you may want to consider building a raised garden bed. The general instructions for plotting out your garden are still applicable to raised beds.

Removing the grass

Using an o‘o or a shovel, cut about 8 inches (deeper if you can) into the ground around the perimeter of the new plot. Once this is completed, repeat the procedure in a tic-tac-toe pattern across the plot, creating sod squares.

Now, get your wheelbarrow ready. Using a sharp sickle, cut below the grass roots (if possible) and peel the sod square back as you cut. Set square aside once it is free from the ground and move on to the next one, repeating the process until the plot is free of grass.

I use the grass I cut out of new plots to fill in areas of my yard that are sparse. Just toss them down with the topsoil that is on their roots, water well for a couple of weeks, and you’ll have a relatively instant lawn.

Next week I will begin to go through the tilling and amending process to get your garden, large or small, ready for planting.

Happy gardening!

J.M. Buck
J.M. Buck has been a Hawai‘i news writer and columnist since 2003. She has extensive writing experience and has served the media industry in a variety of capacities, including news editor, investigative reporter, online publisher, columnist, web content writer, graphic designer and photographer. She has lived in the Hawaiian Islands for most of her life and is a graduate of University of Hawai‘i.
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