Need help starting a garden

suzanneoswald(7)December 9, 2008

I am relatively new to gardening, I've played around with a few tomatoes and beans in the past, but to no great success. Well, now with 5 children and a downturning economy I need and want to get into this seriously, but I really don't know how to start.

I have a 1 acre backyard and while I have no intentions of turning this all into a garden, there is plenty of room for a sizeable garden to get started. I have access to a tiller (several neighbors own them) and use of some slave labor (oh, sorry that should be child labor). I would love to be able to grow most, if not all of the basic vegetables we eat in this house (broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, maybe corn, lettuce, cabbage, beans etc.)

I guess what I am looking for is a mentor, someone who would give advice about getting started, when to do what and how much, how to find resources etc. It looks to me that in AL I should be starting in Jan for things like cabbage and broccoli and sprouting plants. Maybe someone would be willing to trade emails as I get started this first year and help me get off to a good start. If not I will just pester the whole group and see what wisdom I can glean.

Suzanne Oswald

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daffodillady(7b/8a central AL)

I am not a gardening expert by any means, but there is a winter sowing forum on GardenWeb. It will be time to get started right after Christmas. There are several offers for free seeds, including vegetables. I tried it last year for the first time, and had good success, and a lot of fun. I am excited to WS again this year; although I will not be growing so many varieties of plants- I had a jungle last summer- LOL!! Feel free to contact me- I probably donÂt have the answers, but I will help you find them- LOL!!

Here is a link that might be useful: winter sowing info

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 10:53AM
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The county extension office would help you. They will even test your soil to see what it needs. Depending on your type of soil you may need to add mulch and till it in for over the winter. The extension office has always been very helpful to me.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 2:33PM
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Suzanne, please send me your email address. I'll send you a copy of a planting guide from H.G. Hastings' catalog. There used to be a Hastings on 2nd Ave & 22d St. in Birmingham and for years after it closed they were open in Atlanta. They supplied all types of seeds and plants.
Hastings used sell all kinds of seeds and plants. The guide gives fall, winter and spring planting times for everything from asparagus to watermelons (no, no zucchini listed). I'll scan it tomorrow and wait for your email address so I can send it to you.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 11:43PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Suzanne, welcome to the Alabama forum! And to vegetable gardening, too.

I'm going to stick to soil issues right now. That's what comes first and foremost. What kind of soil do you have, and what's your opinion of it's 'behavior'? For example, is it red, sticky clay like so many of us in Northern Alabama have (I'm in Huntsville) or are you blessed with something you can actually stick a shovel into?

I have red clay, but it drains well on our property. Frankly, I've become quite fond of it. Even with all of the rain we've been having (over 4 inches yesterday....haven't looked at the gauge yet today.)there is no standing water in our yard. There are some definite steps you should take to ready your soil, no matter what kind, for a hard working veggie garden.

Lynn's advice to visit the extension office is important! They will have brochures and leaflets that will help you, for one thing. You need to learn about all of the fun critters (4 and 6 legged, mostly) that will pester you, as well as some of the common diseases that plague garden plants. Be sure to come home with some soil testing information and bags.

With a wonderful and BIG family, you'll need to learn to garden without pesticides. I'm sort of a quasi-organic gardener myself: I'll use standard fertilizers along with soil-building organic components, but will never use chemical pesticides.

Get back to us with your soil information and we'll be happy to get you started. And you're more than welcome to email me, and I'm sure the others feel that way, too.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2008 at 2:49PM
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tedevore(7b Al)

Besides whats already been said, my only advice,

*don't try to start out with too big a plot your first year. I'm still surprised
how much you can produce from a 6' by 10' or so planting bed. You want
it to be fun while your learning, not overwhelming. You can always plant more in containers if you want more space during the growing season.

*consider making a raised planting bed, so that the soil level is maybe eight
inches higher than the surrounding ground. You can do this my amending compost, small bark chips, rotted leaves, and other organic matter into your clay soil, and you can border the bed with whatever you like. The improved drainage of raised beds make life easier.

* start gathering leaves and save your vegetable scraps and compost as much as you can. You will need compost to improve your soil and as mulch, so you don't have to buy other fertilize stuff that doesn't improve the structure of your soil. composting is easy, but there are good books in the library as well
and books about what to plant when.

*have fun. grow some crazy gourds or something.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2008 at 6:31PM
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Hi Suzanne!

I have to admit I'm a little bit suspicious of your post, since you didn't list fried okra, turnip- or collard-greens on your list of potential veggies! Although on second thought, one doesn't "grow" fried okra, do they?!

Anyway, just wanted to say "Welcome!" and take Todd's last advice to heart: "have fun...grow some crazy gourds or something". Mostly have fun!!

Nelson ;-)

    Bookmark   December 11, 2008 at 10:23PM
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Hey Suzanne,
I second all of the above posts and may I suggest that you look into taking the Master Gardener course at your local extension office. It is a great way to learn something about all aspects of gardening. Be careful of ordering seeds and plants from mail order companies in the North. Not all varieties will grow in the Deep South so read the descriptions carefully. I try to buy from local nurseries so that I know the varieties won't freak out during our summer. Good luck and post often. Linda

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 12:42PM
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My biggest lesson was that of plants for sale in the area showing "full sun". After losing a lot of plants, I realized that if it also showed partial shade, it was not a full sun plant in my zone 8.
I have learned through the years that I can learn more from people than a book. Their experience was priceless. If you have gardeners in your neighborhood, find the ones that do the work themselves or you see giving detailed directions as their body can't do the work anymore. You will learn the basic soil in your area and hopefully information on your property as to whether the soil was worked or not - composted, tilled, fertilized, etc.
You can also find out what grows well in your area. Keep in mind some will only recommend types of plants they are partial to. Just remember what they have to say. Take walks and see what is growing around you. People are proud of their plants and most will talk your head off.
Again, as I recommended before, talk to the extension office for information and possibly getting the soil tested if necessary. They will also be able to tell you a little bit about the nurseries and whether a good source for quality plants at a good price. Hopefully, they may even give you some names of gardeners in the area you can talk to.
Now last but certainly not the least - PLANT SWAP. In the spring and in the fall there is a plant swap usually in Birmingham. Great people, caring, giving, understanding and lots of hugs. You will see posts here about it. We trade plants for numerous items besides plants. People always need for their garden what you need - soil, potting soil, garden gloves, plant tags, compost, pots - ceramic, clay and plastic nursery pots, garden decor, windchimes, birdhouses and even had a lady trade jewelry she'd made, jams, jellies really just about everything.
Just watch the forum around March for info on the spring swap.
Now that I've put you to sleep, perhaps at least something I've said helps.
WELCOME, sit down relax and have some tea.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2008 at 12:57AM
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catbird(z7 AL)

I second the recommendation to sign up for the Master Gardener classes. You'll learn a lot and, even more important, you'll get to know lots of other gardeners who will be glad to help you out. The Extension Centers and the Master Gardeners programs operate through Auburn. For information about the extension centers, check:

Extension Center Locations

Information about the MG Program is at:

Master Gardener Program

For a wealth of information about Alabama gardening, plants, pests, soils, and lots of other things, check out Auburn's Home and Garden website:

Alabama gardening info

One of the best things to do now is to start saving newspapers. When you set out your beds, line the area between rows with 10-20 sheets of newspapers, then cover them with organic mulch (wood chips, pine needles, etc) to keep them from blowing away. These will keep down weeds, hold moisture in the soil, and will decompose to provide wonderful compost for the next year. The more organic matter you add to your soil, the better it will be.

If you live anywhere near Gadsden, watch for the MG plant sale in April. There will be lots of vegetables and herbs for sale, along with lots of perennials.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 10:28PM
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Linda Ross

My only advice and I am new to this is berries. I put out blackberries and inherited some large blueberry bushes. I added additional blueberries. I have bags and bags of frozen berries in my freezer. I made lots of jam, have them on cereal, I put the frozen blueberries in the bottom of a bowl then put hot oatmeal on top and in a minute the blueberries are perfect, made lots of cobblers, and lots of other things. I found blueberries and blackberries so easy to grow. I am going to add raspberries this year but just haven't had much luck with strawberries. I also bought a dehydrator and make dried snacks which would be healthy for your children. Good Luck.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 12:59PM
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My advice...find an elderly neighbor. They have all the knowledge you need in their heads and it would do them a world of good to help you. If this particular person does not know the answer I can guarantee you that they know someone who does. Have fun.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 12:53PM
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