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Starting a garden, for dummies....(like me)?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Behind my garage (gets sun most all day) I want to do a nice 12x12ish garden for next year but start prepping it this year.....

Don't have a good picture, but behind my garage there...

everything I put back there, grows (I have a long bench back there that I put some what i thought were dead flowers, and they magically come back....same thing with my herb pots I thought were toast due to cat peepee)

where do I start?

an area of 12x12....I'd probably fence it in a little bit..for looks. I don't want to grow anything crazy, just your normal herbs, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and such...I have no clue how to "lay out" or where to procure good plants/seeds, etc.

help a guy out.
post #2 of 14
well, 12x12 is a wee bit on the small side. you've got the space, so go for 20x30 as an opener.

reason: starting with sod, there's a whole raft of prep work involved - may as well whack it once and be done with it.
if you have any success and happiness with 12x12, it'll take 0.0034567 seasons to decide "I want bigger"

next, decide how much back breaking killer labor you want to do yourself and are you willing to pay for the required tools to do that?

starting with sod, you'll want to break up the soil down to a depth of at least 8 inches.
12 inches for really good carrots, but that can wait.
unless you one luckie duckie and live in a land of loam, you'll need to add _tons_ of organic matter to begin the process of making a good tilth to the soil.
you cannot do this in one season - it take 3-4 years of repeated attention to detail before you get there - so just embrace an approach of "I'm working on it . . ."

if you want to DIY, invest in a 5+ HP tiller with counter rotating tines. this is a $1k +/- gadget; I'm partial to Troy Built.
otherwise find a reliable dude with the ability to till your patch "as needed" - twice a year actually, spring and fall.

organic matter: mushroom soil is a really excellent starter - if you are staring in the fall, you can contemplate "fresh" manure products, since they'll "age" over the winter. otherwise, avoid manure additives that have not been thoroughly composted.

bust up the sod, multiple passes with tiller. option: find a guy with a small tractor w/ tiller attachment - way easier on the back....)
spread on 4-6 inches of mushroom soil / composted manure
till it in
spread another 4-6 on top
watch the pretty snow flakes.
in the spring, till the patch again.

save your fall leaves - chop up and put in pile
save your grass clippings - personal decision time on "chemical lawn treatment" in yer tomatoes, if you have a lawn service

there is no "magic" to a garden layout
in fact, you'll want to change it every year (carrots and crop rotation... explanation to follow....)
start a notebook, make notes - layout, what worked, what didn't . . .
good soil makes for killer veggies.
after I till up the garden in the spring, I "do my layout" - then scoop along the pathways with a long handled coal shovel to make mini-raised beds/rows.
why? well, I dump the grass clippings in the footpaths, in the fall I first rototill the pathways - that "digs a bit deeper" (see"carrots") than what the tiller will normally reach.
clippings/whatever - add organic matter and till it in. once upon a neighborhood I had four acres of non-treated grass clipping for mulch / organic matter going into my garden. in the end, I had to _push_ a tiller thru the soil - it was so "fluffy" . . .
next year I move / relocate the paths so at the end of the seasons I'm tilling "down deeper" in another area.
crop rotation is important not only from a soil nutrition viewpoint, but also with regard to soil borne / resident pests.

nadda problem. they are everywhere.
you'll find many mail order sources that offer heirloom and / or small qty packs - substantially more "economical" that Burpee, for example.
there is one crop I'd venture to opine is a "don't bother" at this point in your garden's career: corn
sweet corn is a real treat, but it takes up a lot of square footage for its ear count. I've found it much more satisfying to buy it from a good local stand <g>

recommendation: find a copy of Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening - lots of good "background" info whether you choose to go organic or not.
post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
thanks for taking the time, great info there.

I 20x30 is a little too big , I definitely can't go wider than 12, length I can maybe go 20, but id rather not.

I don't plan on living here forever, a couple of years, so small is ok, I don't plan on planting much.

grass clippings, leaves, not a problem, I actually have a giant pile of grass clippings "finely aged" about 3 years composting behind the fence too.
post #4 of 14
I made a garden once in the back yard of the house I rented. I mixed peat moss and steer manure into the soil to a depth of about a foot. I moved out of that house over 20 years ago and I've looked over the fence a couple of times lately and it's still obvious where it was--a distinct rectangle of lusher, greener grass :D. Kinda funny looking. And I'm not talking about the desert where I live now, and the soil is so-so; I'm talking about western Oregon, where the soil is great. Mixing organic matter into the soil makes a lot of difference just about anywhere.

If you're not doing it long term, you may want to do a raised bed or 2 instead. It's easier IMO. Maybe get a recommendation on good quality loam and order a few yards (cubic yards). Make a bed for it about a foot high, ready to shovel the dirt into. Mix your peat moss and/or bs into it and there you go.

There are different choices for mulching. For me, mulching is basically easy weed control. You can use bark chips, or even cardboard. The cardboard wouldn't add much for the looks but does a great job controlling weeds--my point is that weed control is much easier with some kind of mulch. I grew some collard greens in a spot that people hardly ever saw. I used paperboard from half-cases of beer as a mulch and it did a great job. For an area that people would see a lot, maybe use Hoegaarden Witbier six-pack cartons only. :roll:
post #5 of 14
busting up the sod is the hardest part of the entire excursion - if you hire somebody to come in a do that with a heavy duty tiller, it'll not cost you anything more, or only slightly, to go "biggest practical" - so that's a 'your choice' option.

raised beds per OY is certainly an option but I would advise to bust up the sod under the area - I've seen folks try to just plunk down a raised bed over compacted sod/top layer and it does not do especially well. the sod seems to act as a "hard pan" layer.

mulching is I totally agree the only way to go - "weeding" is totally the way _not_ to go <g> I use fresh grass clippings to mulch - and I mean mulch to like 6-8 inches deep (heh, it "settles") and at the end of the season it all gets tilled under and improves the soil structure.

I saw trees. got leaves? chop 'em up and compost them over the winter, use the "leaf mold" in the spring for mulch and/or potatoes - plant the seed potatoes in the soil ala "normal", then pile on a foot of leaf mold and you'll have "no dig" taters. you've had "new potatoes?" - well, "big new fresh outta' the garden" potatoes are just as 'special' taste wise - a real treat.

of the things a gardener can grow that outshine anything you can buy I'd put
carrots - right out of the ground
lima beans - right off the vine
fresh dug potatoes
as _the_ "not available unless you know the gardener" treats.
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
thanks, not worried about the tiller, I have access to one that will surely do the job. :D

thanks for the suggestions, I think I'm still going to do a raised bed, but will till the sod/grass as well of course. for mulch, I'm covered,between piles of grass clippings, and leaf clippings.....I knew there was a reason I dumped them right over my fence into the woods (right by the garden) for years......

yeah, I'm going to make a better list of things i want to grow soon, still thinking about it....i'd like to do some root....carrots, beets, and maybe horseradish.
post #7 of 14
deep root crop - carrots & horseradish, parsnips - will be tricky unless you have soil like cotton candy.... if the soil is kinda' hard/compact you'll get stunted ugly things and getting that much fully decomposed organic matter into a patch of soil will take 4-5 years. turnips, onion, kohlrabi, "bulb" type shallow root crops will be a good bet.

you can "sorta' fake' it by digging the soil and adding by volume 70% non-soil mix (Peters Metromix 350 et al) to 30% "dirt" but because the stuff is not completely incorporated on the micro level, you get striation and it may or may work out all that well - season/moisture/TLC apply . . .

also - get a soil test of the native "goop" - all states have a soil test program - you buy a kit, put the dirt in a baggie, mail it off. can be extremely instructive with regard to serious soil deficiencies (pix indicate this is not probable, but...) and pH, etc.
post #8 of 14
For deep root crops, there is the option of having a deeper raised bed, though I haven't tried that myself. I'm sure it would at least help.

One good thing about a raised bed is that if/when you have lasting heavy rain, it still stays well drained. Organic matter in the soil holds moisture, and gravity keeps it from turning into a swamp.

I'd add a few herb plants if I were making a garden. Oregano, rosemary and sage are some that you hardly have to do anything to, and they don't take over the garden (as mint does, for example).

Do take notice of the amount of space each plant will need. This is usually indicated on seed packets, or on the marker in the little container when buying young plants. You can plant more seeds than you need, and then thin out the seedlings.
post #9 of 14
I love gardening. Where I live is a beautiful place, but I miss being able to have a garden full of stuff I love. There's a really short growing season here. Last night it got down to 33 degrees.
post #10 of 14
>Do take notice of the amount of space each plant will need. <

OY, the info on that given on seed packets and the like is not based on the plants' needs, but, rather, on the assumption that you are using mechanical planting/culturing/harvesting tools and artificial fertilizers. For instance, row spacing recommendations assume that you are using a mechanical cultivator. And, if you're using synthetic fertilizers, you are feeding the plants, rather than the soil, and the plants need more personal space from which to draw nutrients.

If you're growing in raised beds, or otherwise using intensive gardening techniques, you can pretty much ignore those recommendations.

Although particulars vary, there are a couple of rules of thumb to keep in mind:

1. The way to grow great plants is to grow great soil. Take care of the soil and the plants will take care of themselves.

2. With rare exception, and providing the soil contains the necessary tilth and nutrients, plants can be set the width of their crowns apart in all directions. You have to modify this depending on ambient conditions, of course. For example, if you live in a very muggy environment you want to give plants like tomatoes more space to breathe. But almost never do you have to space plants as far apart as seed envelopes and seedling containers suggest.

3. The oft-given advice to plant more seeds than you need, and then thin, was, and remains, a marketing ploy by the mainstream seed houses to sell more seed.
Germination rates are set by government regulation, and range from the low 70s% to the 90s%, depending on type of vegetable. Most times, seed will exceed those standards.
By heavily overplanting, all you're doing is upping the cost of seed, without much real benefit.
Let's look at an example. You're setting tomato seed. The oft suggested litany is "one for the critters, one for the Mother, and one to grow." You want ten plants. So, following that advice, you set 30 seeds. If you get as low as 72% germination, that means you'll wind up with 21-22 seedlings, and will be discarding more than you keep.

The fact is, if you have a lot of space, and are planting using traditional row crop methods, all this is less important. You won't hurt tomatoes by planting them three feet apart. And cucumbers will be very happy spaced a foot apart. But for people growing in raised beds, for whom every square inch is important, it's good to know that you can grow very intensively without loss of productivity.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #11 of 14
Ok Ok KYheirloomer, I give :crazy:

From my own experience, I've planted stuff and not given it enough room and had to decide what almost-mature plants to take out. Breaks my heart. Just make sure to give a pumpkin plant more than a square foot :lol:

If you're not sure how many of the seeds will germinate, plant some extra. Honestly, I was hoping you would reply. I respect your expertise. At least give me some credit for saying that taking care of the soil is really important :D And note that I did not suggest using synthetic fertilizers, just peat moss and bull crap.

We're not talking a commercial crop here, and cost of seeds is probably not a big deal.
post #12 of 14
"I was hoping you would reply."

I did, to the basic message, but privately to RP.

>From my own experience, I've planted stuff and not given it enough room and had to decide what almost-mature plants to take out.<

I'm sure you have. And, as I thought I'd indicated, rules of thumb have to be modified by specific local conditions. That's where hands-on experience comes into the picture.

As I keep telling gardeners, especially newbies, there is only one right way to grow anything---and that's the method that works for you. The only wrong way is to be dogmatic, and insist that a particular method or technique is right for all people all the time. It doesn't work that way.

But, opening up the space between, say, tomato plants, to give them breathing room is not the same as separating them by three feet of row space in the beginning. I think you'll agree that's a bit much. But those are typical directions for tomatoes: Set the seedlings 24" apart, in rows 36" apart. That's an incredible waste of space, IMO.

> Just make sure to give a pumpkin plant more than a square foot :lol:<

Actually, that's a pretty good example of what I mean. IIRC, general direction for winter squashes is to space the hills four or five feet apart. Who are they kidding? While the pumpkin vines need room to run, the plant is growing from the root ball. If there is enough nutrition in the soil for the roots to draw on, you really don't need much more than a foot for a pumpkin plant.

Well, a little more. I generally plant them two feet apart, then train the vines to go where I want them to. Indeed, with raised beds this is about the only way you can grow winter squashes and most melons. The plants are started inside the bed, but the vines trained to grow outside it.

>If you're not sure how many of the seeds will germinate, plant some extra. <

Again, there's a difference between "some extra" and three times what you need.

Have you ever made a seed tape? Try it sometime. Take a strip of newsprint about an inch wide, and mix up a flour & water glue. Then space your seeds along the strip at the spacing you need. Let's say the directions say "plant two inches apart, then thin every other plant," which is typical for many greens. Instead, space them at four inches on the tape.

Meanwhile, set seeds for the same plants in cell packs. Intead of thinning you're going to fill-in any spaces with new plants.

Then keep track of how many you have to fill in along the line.

I think you'll be rather surprised at how few of the cell-pack starts you'll actually need. And it's a lot easier on your back and knees to plant those few than it is to "weed" an entire line of, say, spinach.

>And note that I did not suggest using synthetic fertilizers,...<

I didn't mean to imply that you did. If so, I apologize. My point was that there are all sorts of reasons for the space-wasting recommendations on the backs of seed packs. Assumed use of mechanical equipment is the big one. But use of synthetic chemicals is another.

>and cost of seeds is probably not a big deal. <

Personally I agree with you. But the fact is, one of the commonest complaints I hear from gardeners is how much seed costs. So it's a real issue for many people.

What I don't understand is why they carp about the cost of seeds, and then plant two and three and four times as much of it as they need to.

On my end I've never paid attention to seed prices. But, to be fair, I only grow open pollinated varieties, and save my own seed. So any seed purchases (frankly, I can't rememember the last time I actually paid for seed) are a one-time event. And the return on investment is so high as to make the purchase price irrelevent.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #13 of 14
OY, your private message box is filled to capacity and won't accept any more messages.

You need to take a moment and clear some of it out. Don't forget that the limit includes records of both recieved and sent messages.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #14 of 14
this is my current project - a "raised bed" of a sorts <g>
there's about 35 ft additional to the right of the steps.
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