newbie related questions

_todd_April 25, 2011

Hopefully you can bear with me as I attempt to provide some background. I am a complete newb to gardening and feel completely overwhelmed by my yard.

I live in the hills of Riverside (Woodcrest) CA and when we moved to our home 1.5 years ago, the yard was completely tore up and sprinkler system ruined when the septic system was replaced. Since then we've done nothing but weakly fight a losing battle with the weeds... The soil in our yard (and the whole area) is decomposed granite (or whatever it's called).

First question - The Yard:

I've included links to four pictures below at the bottom of my post, and if you look at the last two pictures, you can see my weed infested front and side yard. Is there anything I can do inexpensively with this yard without a sprinkler system? Or should I just keep weeding and wait until next year when I should have some money to get a sprinkler system put in and then try to plant and grow some grass?

Second question - Composting:

The main reason I am looking into this is because I eat an all raw fruit and vegetable diet (yes, I literally eat nothing but fruits and vegetables, and have done so for almost 2 years now) that causes me to throw away a lot of fruit and vegetable matter on a daily basis. This just seems wrong somehow when I think about it, so I am wondering if there is anything useful I can do with this waste.

If you look at the first two pictures of the back yard, you'll see that I have about half an acre (or more) of land that is on about a 45 degree angle slope with palms and some difft kinds of trees and other bushes living and/or half dead there. (Again no sprinkling). It's all pretty green right now from the relatively wet winter we had, but it'll be returning to browner soon I am sure..

Does it make any sense for me to start composting for this environment? Sometimes I get tempted to just start making a pile of my waste out back somewhere and then start shoveling it down the hill as it decays...

Eventually I'd like to start trying to grow my own produce, (I would imagine raised bed style) and of course we want to improve our yard somehow, but we just don't have much money to get started with and don't know what we're doing and don't know where or how to begin.

Thanks for any input!


Back yard 1:

Back yard 2:

Front yard:

Side yard:

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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Okay, wow, a new septic system sure did a lot of landscaping damage! My gosh, you need a completely new yard :-) Not having the ability to water where you live is going to make any new landscaping not really worthwhile in my opinion. Frankly, if I were you, I would make the investment in a landscaping plan, first. Then, save your money to get the sprinkling system repaired, and installed based on the landscaping plan, so you get water in the right amounts to the right places. If you start out with an organized plan for new landscaping, you'll end up saving yourself a ton of unnecessary work, headaches and extra expenses. You can see if your local Master Gardeners might help you out with a landscaping plan, or possibly your local college that has a Landscape Architecture program, and see if a student needs a project?

And composting always makes sense! There are so many good books on basic composting out there, and we've got a very active Composting Forum on the GardenWeb, too. Read up on how to compost, and check out the Composting Forum, where they can give you some specific pointers. But, in a very boiled down nutshell, you want to compost both green and brown materials together (you will need more brown materials, as what you've mentioned so far all fall into the "green" category), avoid dog, cat & human waste, plus no bones, grease or fat (not really an issue for you based on your diet) or diseased plants, and keep the compost pile moist and turned a few times. You might want to conside building a 2 or 3 part composting bin, so you can work 2 to 3 piles at once. One the first bin is full, you can start adding to the second bin. Once your first pile is completely composted, you can spread the compost, but I would wait until you've got your landscaping done, and top-dress you new plants with your compost. Otherwise, you're just going to end up with nuclear weeds :-) For now, keep things weeded. You can try to lay down landscaping cloth to help keep the weeds down in the particularly troublesome areas. Don't lay down black plastic. Yes, it will kill the weeds, but it will also kill your valuable soil microorganisms. So, just landscaping cloth and maybe some mulch or large rocks to hold it down to keep the weeds at bay.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 10:31PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Patty has offered several good suggestions. You have plenty of room for your septic drain field which is the only reason for digging up a lot of the backyard. Before you do anything make a map of your space with everything you will have to garden around marked. Your septic tank will require service at its openings, and your landscaping plan needs to be planned to allow access without disturbing your planting and irrigation system. You also have plenty of room for a good composting area with three active piles. Your front yard is visible to your neighbors and smaller in size, so I think I would start there, with a plan incorporating low maintenance as well as low water use. Your backyard is going to require a lot more cost, and should be done in stages as you can afford it. The plan comes first, to keep you from making costly mistakes. Al

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 9:32AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

What a wonderful yard you have. I love your back yard views.

I also recommend starting small, with the compost bins. I would put them where the neighbors do not see them and where the raccoons and possums will not do much damage when they come to dine. Don't worry too much about creating perfect compost- some people have a cold compost pile with nothing more than a pigwire circle filled with plant material. It depends on how much time you want to spend turning it, really. Mine is a small 4x4 foot raised bed where I throw my grass clippings and chicken poop. I don't have brown waste, so that's all that goes in.

Raised veggie beds can be built for almost nothing- I used scrap 2x lumber and my own compost. You need your own tomatoes. I would argue that you also need your own avocado tree. That is all I would do in the back yard for now- it's a big project.

If your entire irrigation system is defunct, and you do not even have a set of valves and timers, I would recommend eventually planting a xeric landscape in the front. For plants that need a bit of water, you could just run drip lines. That way you would not have to pay to have sprinklers installed- you could do it yourself. The main problem with these sorts of landscapes is the cost of the hardscape. Even Decomposed Granite costs money and must be maintained.

(By the way, I do my own sprinklers, and I just run the pvc on the soil surface and spray paint it flat brown. The plants eventually cover it. Sprinklers are a good do-it-yourself project.)

As far as weeding in the front yard- I use a flat shovel and just scrape the weeds off. If there is no water, no new weeds will sprout until next year. If you do that two or three times you will have nice clean dirt. I would not put anything on the dirt until you have formed a plan.

Good luck. You have a big adventure ahead of you!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 3:06PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Bins are a great idea. I use these black plastic bins with no bottoms, but composting is a lot of work, and most gardener won't do it, so try the composting forum to talk to those who do it a lot. I used to just put my food in the compost bin and it it failed, so now I have to buy bagged compost type stuff. I like Kellogg amend brand from home depot to mix in with the food scraps, and it works for me. I don't have lawn clipping or lots of leaves. But, it is worth it, if you find that is is fun for you. Otherwise, they sell all kinds of bagged compost. Try East Bay Nursery they have stuff called black gold.

Here is a link that might be useful: Compost Forum here on garden web

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 1:38PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

You have a beautiful view. You can make a beautiful garden out of this. Save your money up and terrace that slope, and then you can do all kinds of things and make something spectacular.

Slopes are wonderful places to plant. The only drawback is access. Terraces make easy access possible. In the meantime, string trim down the weeds BEFORE they go to seed, for fire safety.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 2:22PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Also ditch all the palm trees. They are like gasoline in a fire, and the embers travel long distances and cause more fires.

Don't take my word for this--go to your local fire station and ask them. In a recent bad fire around here (2007) the #1 problem for firefighters was embers from palm trees travelling and setting new fires.

Palm trees = big trouble in fire-prone areas of Southern California. The native oaks are a lot better and add value to the property.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 2:28PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

The palms are also very messy and expensive to get trimmed every year. I just had three removed because I was tired of paying the tree trimmers to "pick my dates," as Hoovb put it.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 11:36PM
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