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Building my garden in fall, for next year...

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
So, for the past few years I've wanted a garden. I have the room. I have the time.

But...I don't have the balls enough to not fail! so...that's what's been keeping me back. I posted a thread last year, but never followed through.

This year (or rather next) is the year. New Years resolution. Have a successful garden.

I'd like to get a head start on it now, in the fall. I'm going to do a small raised bed garden, (3 or 4x12 i was thinking) and start with that, and if it works well, I'll expand with another raised bed next to it.

Construction of the actual bed I don't have much issues with but I do have some overall questions I'm hoping someone could answer. I can head over the the SFG forums, etc. and what not and spend up to my ears in research and get 10 different answers but figured I'd throw it out to the folks here, who have the same goes in mind, a garden for people who love to cook, more than they maybe like to garden...and well, I'm an idiot and feel less of a fool asking here.

1. for my soil, after I build my raised bed, I planned on tilling the grass under really good. Also, I've been dumping my grass clippings over the fence for years, along with the leaves and such. I'm guessing this is some good soil/compost to use but.....how should I prep the bed this year, for next? I'm going to start a compost bin as well.

2. I've been trying to decide what I want to plant, and I want to keep it simple, but already I can see I probably want too much....how much can I REALLY cram in such a small little bed? Tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers are the "must haves". What I can I realistically expect. The bed would get mostly full sun.

3. Do to my personality, how do I keep from adding it to a list of obsessions that I spend all my waking hours researching, trying to get everything perfect, etc.(wait, this one I think is for my shrink!)

I plan on building the bed this upcoming weekend.
post #2 of 13
What you build the raised bed out of matters. Pressure treated wood leaches toxins into the soil. Normal wood rots out fairly quickly.

Start composting NOW. Fall leaves will be a good addition to the pile.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
I plan on composite or redwood.
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
will do, i have a few feet deep of grass and leaf clippings over the fence as well that I'm sure will be good use.

a picture of my yard. garden will be towards the fence (not sure if im going to make it but up against the fence yet) behind the hammock there. If i DO but it up against the fence, I'll it it 2x16)
post #5 of 13
Wheew! You've really bitten off a big mouthful. I'm sure we'll be discussing this for awhile.

First off, I disagree with Phil. Everybody says that about treated lumber. But nobody can cite studies that prove it. The studies that were done on this (and which led to changes in the chemicals used) were based on soil samples found in the driplines of porches and decks. The mechanics of leeching are totally different.

Anyway, as to size. 4 x X is a typical size because it lets you use dimensional lumber most effectively (i.e., an eight foot board gives you the two smaller sides). However, there is a practical consideration. The width of a raised bed should be no more than twice the distance you can comfortably reach. The key word there is "comfortably." In practical terms, two feet is actually further than most people are happy with. Remember, unlike an in-situ garden, you are not getting into the raised bed, and have to reach everything from the side. For most people, bed widths of 30-36 inches prove more practical.

An interesting approach is to build the bed out of cinder block. On the top course have every third or fourth block with the openings upwards. You can then fill them with soil, and use them to grow things like herbs, radishes, and even baby root veggies

Next, site prep. There is no reason to turn the existing grass at all. Instead use a biodegradable weed guard. Newspapers (at least an inch of wet paper) and brown paper bags from the market are perfect for this. Lay them down (in the case of paper bags, overlap slightly, and use a second row at 90 degrees) after first just mowing the grass.

This sort of weed guard prevents the grass from growing (and it becomes part of the organic mix in your underlying matrix), and is itself decompostable over time. And you get that nice warm feeling that comes from recycling stuff that would otherwise go into a landfill as well.

If you're a gluton for work, instead of tilling cut the grass into turves and turn them upside down. This two will destroy the grass, and add an organic base to the bed.

If possible, orient the bed in a general north/south direction. This will maximize sunlight exposure to all parts of it.

As to what you can actually plant, that depends. If you think in traditional terms, 4 x 12 is a rather small space. But if you think in terms of intensive growing, you can actually produce quite a bit---particularly if you learn about succession planting for your area. That is, you start early with hardy stuff, then replace it with delicate stuff as the season progresses, ending with hardy stuff again for a fall garden.

You have, unfortunately, ticked off preferences that are all large plants. Most standard tomatoes, for instance, grow 2-3 feet in diameter, even when caged. Zucchini as much as four feet. Etc.

For the sake of discussion, let's talk in terms of rows. If you put two tomato plants on the north end you'll use up about 5 feet of row. Then another 4 feet for the zucchini. Which leaves you enough room for two to three pepper plants. That's your entire bed.

You can preceed those plantings with early stuff; greens primarily. But that's all you'll be able to grow in that bed.

If you have the room, constructing two beds 3 x 12 feet will only be an incremental amount of work. But you could, depending on veggie choices, as much as triple your output.

Also consider this. Tomatoes, peppers, even zucchini, can be grown in containers. I've done it quite successfully in things as small as 5-gallon pails. So you could plant them that way, outside the actual bed, leaving it for other choices.

And don't forget the freehold above the bed. If you learn vertical growing techniques you can really produce a lot from a small area. For example, if you construct a trellis on the north side of the bed you can use it for English peas, beans, or cukes. Or build a strong enough overhead framework and try growing upside-down tomatoes. And so forth.

The spot you've been using for grass and leaves probably is mostly humus by now, rather than compost. I would certainly use it (essentially it's a loamy soil, low on nutrients). I'd mix it half and half with commercial topsoil as a starting point, then top it with at least two inches of compost. Organic materials can then be added directly to the top surface---no need to till them in (in fact, you should never till a raised bed). Earthworms and the microherd will take care of that for you, and the leaves, grass, etc. serves as a mulch.
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 #6 of 13
Thread Starter 
KY thanks, I believe you helped me when I initially asked last year.

So...I go to the store this weekend, what do I buy, soil/compost/etc. wise. and how do i layer it in the bed?

Also, you mentioned not turning the grass, I'm very excited about that....is that ok if my raised bed is only 12" high?
post #7 of 13
What do you buy? Can't answer that, because it depends on where you shop and how big your budget is.

I will say this, however. The bags of stuff usually available at big box garden centers are, in general, crap. They are mostly filler (no matter what it seems to say on the bags). And you don't want Miracle Grow, because it's synthetic fertilzer is much too high in nitrogen---with the result that you get bushy plants, with lots of leaves, but comparatively little flower and fruiting.

On the other hand, nurseries usually are out of the soil & amendments business by this time of year. You might check around, though, and see if anything is still available.

Assuming you will be using the humus that you've build over the years, I would get about an equal amount of topsoil. Mix the two together (just use a hoe or a rake right in the bed). Then top it with compost, if you can find any this time of year. If not, wait until spring and do it then. The compost does not have to be worked in to the soil, but it doesn't hurt to do so. Meanwhile, you'll be adding organics to the bed between now and spring as they happen.

You'll probably have to haul the topsoil yourself (assuming you can find it). A 4 x 12 bed, 12 inches high, is only 5.3 cubic yards. In your case that amounts to about 2.75 cubic yards, which might not meet their minimums for delivery. But it will fit in a pick up. And you save the delivery cost.

If all you can find is the bagged stuff at the box stores, go with the best grade of topsoil they have. But increase your humus ratio to as much as 3:2 if you have that much. This will create a light, airy tilth.

And yes, the grass thing will work fine. Just remember to mow it close, and use the weed guard. With a new bed I usually lay down the weed guard first, then put up the walls, which helps lock the paper in place.

12" is plenty high for a raised bed. Unlike a container, you have a soil base under the bed, and that provides plenty of room for deep rooted plants. They'll punch right through the paper weedguard. Even 10" is plenty.

What have you decided to use as walls?

Just as a sidenote. I know you're anxious to get going. But do not bother with other amendments such as aged manure, bonemeal etc. at this time. Some stuff you grow will need them. But if you add them now there's a good chance they will leech out (there's that word again) over winter. Instead, once you know what sort of amendments you'll need, it's best to work them in about two weeks before you actually start planting.

Don't forget, too, that many of the things you want to plant have to be started, indoors, a long time before last frost. Tomatoes, for instance, are started 6-8 weeks ahead; peppers 8-10 (or even longer, for some varieties. Peppers can take as much as 21 days just to germinate). Brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc.) are planted 3-6 weeks before last frost. So you want to back off six weeks from whatever that date is and start them.

One other thought. As you research this two things will happen. One, there's a good chance of becoming intimidated by the mass of information to absorb. Don't let it throw you, it comes in time. Second, and more importantly, there is a tendency among garden writers and members of gardening forums to be very dogmatic. They will insist that such-and-such is the only way, or the "best" way to accomplish something. That is, in a word, nonsense! There are numerous ways of achieving any gardening goal. What works for me may or may not work as well for you.

My friend Roger Postley is a well known heirloom tomato specialist (growing as many as 100 varieties annually). When he gives presentations he starts by telling the audience: "There is absolutely only one way to grow tomatoes---and that's the way that works for you!" Keep that in mind when the advice seems to become overwhelming.

Here's a real life example. When I plant tomatoes I dig the hole. In the bottom goes a handful of compost. Then a tablespoon of Epsom salts and the contents of a book of paper matches, followed by another handful of compost. Then I back-fill, and finish by pouring a circle of powdered milk around the seedling, and put my cage in place. I can, if you wish, explain why I do all that. But hold that thought.

Carolyn Male (author of 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden), whom many insist is the queen of tomato growing, says that the only things that should go in the hole is seedling and soil.

The difference is, I present my method only as one that works for me. And she insists that her way is the only correct one.
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 #8 of 13
Thread Starter 

I look at my neighbors garden over the fence, and wish, for the life of my he could even speak a lick of English, his garden is huge, has no rhyme or reason to it it seems, but it just "works" for him.....and everything grows fantastic.

My grandmother, used to have a huge garden as well, unfortunately, she seems to "forget" a lot.
post #9 of 13
RP you're doing it already----self-intimidating yourself.

Let me make one dogmatic statement (surely I'm entitled to one?): It ain't near as difficult as you're making it seem!

Gardening, at base, is very simple. You take a seed, put it in the ground, add a little water, and step back. Everything else is merely a refinement of that.

People being what they are they have to complicate things, and make them seem more difficult than they are. And, yes, there are things you can do re: gardening that will increase your yields. But, because every garden is different, with it's own unique environment, much of what works is a matter of trial and error. You start with the basics and see what happens the first year. Then adapt and modify and expand as necessary.

When I lived in northern Illinois I had 12 feet of black dirt, and if I wanted rocks I had to import them. Then I moved here where the clay is so pure I can dig it up and throw it on a potter's wheel. And what ain't clay is rock. Do you think much of what I knew about gardening in Illinois applied down here? I literally had to start over, learning all new methods and techniques. But that's the nature of the beast.

At base, gardening represents a philosophical statement. To plant a seed is to believe that tomorrow will come.
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 #10 of 13

I've got no doubt that you'll be successful with your garden, though it may take you a few years to get to the place that your happy with. Just remember that every year is a learning experience and an improvement over the previous year(s).

Even though the garden won't be up and running until next year, there's still something you could plant this fall, garlic. There's really little comparison between home grown garlic and the stuff you buy in the stores.

I haven't got alot of experience with growing garlic but I did have good results this (my first) year. I ordered from Gourmet Garlic Gardens. They've also got alot of good growing information there, just look around.

Keep in mind that you don't have to have your garlic in the garden itself. A BIG plus about garlic is garlic scapes early in the growing season. YUM!

good luck with the garden,
post #11 of 13
RPM...keep at it, but don't sweat the small stuff :) as KYH is pretty much saying. Nobody gets it right the first time and you just keep at it.

I love the idea of cinder blocks as the edging rather than wood, can use it for herbs all year round, also for strawberries.

I would suggest planting cucumbers too. Stakes in, wire/plastic gridding strapped across them, train them up as they grow. Can do the same with snow peas (mange tout). Can eat the leaves of snow peas as well so they are a dual purpose plant. They don't take up much ground space and are pretty low maintenance.

My dad always had a vegie garden - he'd have a big plot, but put a couple of planks through where he would need to walk to harvest and attend to the plants. Also plant some marigolds around the plot to help reduce pests...they add nice colour too :)

If you have a spot to plant some nastursiams get these happening too once the frosts are gone. Can be in hanging baskets even, they are pretty and hardy plants. Leaves, seeds and flowers are edible. See this link for how to prepare the seeds:

Beans, capsicums (peppers), chillis...all pretty compact and high yield. Radishes are small and always fun :) But you need to plant only one row at a time couple of weeks apart as they all come in at once and you'll have an overabundance.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

post #12 of 13
Excellent advice KYH. I've been getting slated recently for my laid back approach to my new veg garden. I've decided that a wee bit of discipline and a lot of see how it goes is my method of the year. We've simply fenced off 1/2 the back lawn to keep the dog away and i've laid cardboard boxes weighted down with soil. It survived recent gale force winds thank goodness.

Hubby insists on emptying the lawnmower in heaps in the front garden. he thinks noone will see :rolleyes: and i had thought theres nothing i can do with these festering mounds. I'm now thinking i can spread them over the cardboard too and mix into the top soil in the spring.

Your garden looks lovely RPM I can just imagine the bottom area growing your veges.
Is the fence not an ideal place for growing espalier fruit? Apples, peaches. Look forward to hearing all about it. I'll post photos of mine when i get the hang of it...
... BTW What did you do to get your photo on the thread? The site keeps asking me for a url but my pics are in a folder.
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
post #13 of 13
cool looks nice
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