Danz, I thought I'd pop in with some motivational pictures for you of my garden space for this year. Ever since clearing it out in the fall, I've been raking hay that the sheep and goats drop and spreading it on the garden area, to form a deep mulch layer that is about 8" deep. Around the perimeter walkway are the wood chips that I've just spread in the past few days, also about 8" deep. In one corner you can see a deck box. I installed this last year to hold my gardening tools so everything is right where I need it, when I need it. You can also see two rows that have livestock panels spread across them. Those are semi-permanent (could be moved but haven't needed to yet) and I use them for anything that climbs. I've actually found they provide great support for tomatoes as well. I simply weave the tomato branches through the squares in the panel as the plants grow, and they are held more securely than any tomato cage I've tried. The width of the growing area is a little more than 16' and the length is 57'. It is divided into 8 beds that are each 4' wide, with a 2' walkway between each bed. The beds are outlined with stakes at each end so I always know where to walk. I try to never walk on the garden beds themselves so as not to compact the soil.
The green in the near corner of this pic is garlic. I planted it in the fall and it is looking really good now that the weather is warming up some.
Believe me, I hear you on the work involved. It has taken years to get to this point. The first year our neighbor tilled the sod under and we put the fence around it but the sod quickly tried to regrow and we spent the whole year battling grass and other weeds in our "garden". The second year the neighbors tilled it again and we had a little better success keeping some of it free enough of weeds that we were able to grow a few things. However we were still battling grasses. So at the end of the second year, I obtained a trailer load of really heavy duty cardboard and spread it over the entire garden area. It stayed there until spring, but when we pulled it up, we left the cardboard around the perimeter, where the wood chips are now. The cardboard helped to prevent the grasses growing in from outside the garden but was an eyesore. And, wind tore off pieces that blew all over the place. I wanted to get rid of the cardboard but DH was adamant it was helping with weed control and it had to stay. So the compromise was to cover it with wood chips. We went to the local recycling facility and got several truck loads, loaded it ourselves, unloaded to our lawn cart and hauled it up there, then spread it. That was really the turning point for the garden. With the cardboard covered, it not only looked nicer but I didn't have cardboard blowing everywhere any more. And it was doing such a good job of weed control that I decided to continue the deep mulch throughout the rest of the garden as well. I had always spread the bedding from chicken coop clean outs there, and after winter, I raked out the sheep/goat shelter and spread that up there as well. I start at one end and by the time I've put a layer over the whole garden, it is time to start again at the beginning as the mulch breaks down quickly, but in doing so, it not only blocks weeds from sprouting, but the decomposition provides fertilizer to the plants. When planting from seed, I pull the mulch back plant in the soil and then wait until the seedlings are a few inches tall, before snugging the mulch around their stems. Same with transplanting starts outside - find the spot, pull back the mulch, dig a hole, put the newspaper pot in the ground, then snug the mulch around its stem. The mulch helps to support fragile stems as well as keeping moisture in and making it difficult for weed seeds to get enough light to grow. The few weeds that do grow are easy to pull and I simply lay them on top of the mulch where they dry out and become a part of the mulch layer.
I'm really excited about the garden this year. I have a great plan, with some new things I've never grown before. Each year it gets easier but you are not kidding - getting it going is the hardest part.
Okay, so these photos are really not that exciting but for me they represent a blank canvas, ready to be turned into food for my family