Preparing a Garden Bed in Arizona

I was recently asked if I compost.  In a world were composting often means making a pile of vegetative waste, keeping it moist and turning it often, I would have to say no.  I am much too lazy for that.  However, I do save all my organic kitchen waste, as well as my vegetative yard waste, and I recycle it back into the soil.  This post will discuss my method.


Authentic urban compost can converted from city trash cans. Only $5 at the Phoenix Dump. Choice of colors and sizes. Complete with graffiti!

I use a combination of “double-digging” and “layering” to make vegetative waste disappear in just a few months.  But first, before I start digging, I usually accumulate quite a bit of waste.  This I store in large converted trash cans that I purchased from the City of Phoenix.  These come with holes drilled out for aeration and the bottoms cut off.  Pick up yours today at the dump.  Click here for more information.


Here is my method.

Click on the pictures to see them full size.


Ready to become garden.


First step is to wet the ground.

Preparing Garden Bed at TESLI

Then I scrape out the wet surface to create a basin.


Basin filled with water. The scrapings go in the wheel barrow


I fill the basin a couple of times. Once the water has soaked in I am ready to dig.


The soil is much easier to dig when moist. This shows that only a couple inches down, it is bone dry still.


Dig out soil until the hole is two feet deep


21 inches is close enough for me.

gardening at TESLI

Here are some fresh weeds and dried leaves I need to get rid of.


Doesn’t matter how you put it in. Here I put the leaves in first.


Then I put some fresh weeds next.


I added fresh kitchen waste next.


Then more leaves.   The dog is looking for that kitchen waste.


Now comes the dirt. I start digging the next section and put that soil on top of the compostables.


I buy mulch or compost from my local landscape supply.


The compost is the next layer


Then I alternate dirt with compost.



The first section will end up mounded. That is fine. You will pull the soil back later onto the second section.


I enjoy mixing the top layers of soil and compost together by hand. I break up clods and remove any large rocks.


When the second section is deep enough I start the process over.


Here the first and second sections are done. The next area is being scraped and getting ready to be soaked.


This is the finished bed at the end of the summer season.  All that vegetable material is done rotting and often times the bed will settle and be lower than ground level.  Nice basin for moisture.

I am into keeping things simple and efficient. I like to garden about an hour a day. My method is conducive to this. Wet it one day, dig some the next day, fill in the next day, dig some more the next day, etc. However, I’ve also done this at a recovery center where hard core workers dug out the entire (rock solid) bed in a couple hours. Definitely harder work than I want to do. If you are trying to remove Bermuda grass at the same time, the ground definitely needs to be moist or pieces of the rhizomes will break off and sprout later.

I’ve used this method in a variety of ways.  Sometimes I just dig one big hole and slowly fill it with kitchen waste, etc.  Other times I use a smaller hole to get rid of a smaller amount of kitchen waste.  If I am replanting a bed, I usually do not go down as deep.  The deep hole is best when you are starting a garden to maximize the aeration and nutrition of the soil.


I was delighted yesterday afternoon to look our my living room window and see a  giant swallowtail butterfly flighting around my Gelsemium vine.  At first I thought she was newly emerged from her cocoon, since she was flying in a drunken pattern, but it turns out this species of swallowtail has a characteristic pattern of flying that looks like hopping.  Isn’t she lovely?!
Swalowtail on Gelsemium in phoenix arizonaSwallowtails are dear to my heart.  Last year the fennel I planted was completely decimated by dozens of the swallowtail caterpillars.  Any other creature would have gotten the boot, but I was willing to sacrifice the plant for my favorite butterfly.  Luckily the plant survived and this year is boasting a full crop of seeds.

Fennel is one of the host plants for anise swallowtails and black swallowtails.  Perhaps I love the swallowtails simply because if I plant fennel they always appear in my garden.  Such a reliable friend!  Pretty stunning caterpillars as well.  Hungry little guys though!

Black Swallowtail caterpillars from Wikipedia

Black Swallowtail caterpillars from Wikipedia

While I am familiar with the larvae (caterpillars) of black swallowtails, I was surprised to see the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail. It is designed to look like bird droppings.


Not exactly attractive.  Also, it doesn’t host on fennel, but prefers citrus.  I’ll have to keep my eyes open for this one.  My citrus are too small to support a group of gluttons!

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar

“Papilio cresphontes larva” by TokyoJunkie (Wikipedia)

Sweet Potatoes

Last year a bag of sweet potatoes started to sprout before I got around to eating them.  They ended up as mulch in shaded area at the back of TESLI.  Apparently they like Phoenix weather, as they have taken over.  I keep having to pull them out of my shade garden and direct them towards the open space to the west.

Sweet potatoe Vine at TESLI in Phoenix az

I was surprised this morning, when I went to pull out a vine, that a couple little sprouts came up. Since the vines cover about 20 feet of ground I am curious how many pounds of potatoes are down there.  I think of it as my disaster survival fund. Sweet Pototes in Phoenix