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New gardener designing a backyard garden

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I just got a new house with a nice back yard (about 50 x 50 feet). Currently, the ground in the yard is very uneven, and it's covered in patchy grass and dandelions. What I'd really like to do is have someone come in and essentially wipe the slate clean: take out the grass and even out the ground so I can design the yard the way I want it.

What I'm thinking is raised beds for fruits and vegetables, then gravel between the beds (because grass takes a lot of water and maintenance), but I'm not sure as far as runoff and erosion...maybe I'm looking for validation as much as anything, but can someone more experienced than I am offer an opinion?
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Have you considered possibly reading some books on Permaculture and Food Forests. A book like Gaia's Garden might help you fine tune your focus some. I would also check to see if you have local Master Gardeners that you might be able to use as a resource for basic questions?
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Location: Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep clay/loam with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Hi, Hadley and welcome to Permies. I have never gardened with a 'blank slate' so I am not sure how to do that. But I think uneven could be a good thing to work with if you mean sloped. and dandelions as dynamic accumulators could be a very good thing for the soil.. Gravel in the paths would be hard to maintain I think...grass could grow up through. Maybe you could tell us what you plan t grow there? I am sure you will find some folks here to help you out.
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one question: are you renting or owning? you may want to consider this, if there is a potential that you may not be there for a long period of time, it may give bearing on what your garden design would look like.

regardless, you want a garden now, and despite grand designs for raised beds, gravel paths etc. you will want to have a successful crop your first year to keep the morale up.

Here is what I did last season in my rental:

I went to the local lumber supply yard and got a mess of lumber wrap (the plastic tarpaulin that they wrap bunks of 2x4 in from the mill) for free. I laid this down black side up over all the quack grass and dandelion mess that was my yard. I used a coffee can as a template and used a razor knife to cut out circles in a nice planting spacing for squash, tomatoes and peppers. I dug out the holes and mounded them up to act as resevoirs so that I could hand water and not lose all the water by spilling it onto the plastic. (use old wine or soda bottles plunged int the soil by the roots for "drip" irrigate) I filled the holes with nice compost and planted seedlings. The black plastic keeps the roots warm in the sun, retains moisture and bakes all the roots and grass in the former yard. Worms love it, and by fall when you pull up the plastic, you have a clean slate ready for planting, full of worm castings and composted grass and dandelions. I had epic cherry tomatoes, lots of summer squash and a number of thai peppers. I hand turned a smaller patch of sod for some peas carrots and lettuce, but that was really a lot of work compared to the volume of food I grew for what amounted to a single day of work(plus watering). hope this saves you some work. good luck.
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