Building a Garden from Nothing

Garden entrance

We live in a wildlife corridor. This includes rabbits, ground squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, and gophers (as well as coyotes and more) – all who live around the property and eat any seedlings I’ve tried to get started. Gophers come in beneath established plants and eat their roots. When I seed, the birds come in and eat them. This is a problem when you want to grow food.

Working on the raised garden bed walls.

I chose the ‘back yard’ area as that is the flattest, and had a two-fold goal. I needed to plan out a yard for our giant tortoise, Gil. He’s very large and has – in the past – literally flattened and eaten raised garden beds I’ve built. So I wanted to figure out how to build this fence wall, and create garden beds all around it. He’s a Sulcata and needs lots of room to wander, but building garden walls high enough can keep him from getting out or seeing what’s growing.

Original side of yard.

I decided to try a Gabion Wall idea, using rocks from around our property. Gabion uses a cage technique to hold rocks, which is an easy and almost free way for me to build quickly. With a double-sided fencing and chicken wire on the inside to keep critters out (hopefully), I am sliding flatter rocks in between them. On the outer wall, I put in fencing, then over that I attached hardware cloth dug down a bit to keep out snakes, rabbits and any other critters who might want in.


Fences in place and rocks being slid in.

At the bottom of each bed, I rolled out half-inch hardware cloth and tucked it into the edges to keep the gophers and moles from digging into the gardens.


I stacked 2 X 4’s from old buildings on the property for the backs of these beds. Once the outer shells of the beds are made, I began to add layers of cardboard, compost, Gil’s poops, horse manure from my neighbor, straw – anything that is organic that will break down and feed the soil – into the beds.


Layers of materials that break down and build soil are added to the garden beds.

Beds are finalized in the Fall to over-Winter for Spring planting. I did not get a chance to cover-crop them, which means to seed a Winter crop to also build soil and then seed over that in the Spring. I do plan for that this Winter.



Spring and Summer, 2018 photos… Using straw and branches to keep the beds moist, and targeted shade systems where the Sun gets too hot. I like to seed and also add seedlings, and build a small forest of plants so they can keep themselves regulated throughout the day. A large amount of diversity is also helpful to keep critters and bugs at bay.

Garden from June to August, 2018


MRichards_DIYGardenHacks_Gil-the Tortoise

Here’s Gil enjoying his yard!

Next is beginning beds on the other side of the yard…

Adding food to the next beds.

August, 2022. Below are a few shots of the garden with multiple beds, and shade systems, using branches and shade cloths to get through the Summer. A great deal has been built since the beginning, all fortified for Gil! You can see all the burn scarred hills beyond.