I don't even know where to start...Advice please!

msfuzzMarch 11, 2009

Firstly....TOTAL gardening noob. :) I did grow up in agriculture (cattle ranching) so I'm not completely hopeless, but I don't know where to start when it comes to this sort of thing.

I am hoping to start a vegetable garden this year, but I have never done any gardening at all. I need some advice on stuff that's fairly easy to grow & fairly hard to kill.

But I don't even really have a "garden," so any advice on how to start the beds, etc, would be great. I've looked into lasagna gardening, and that seems like a really good way to do things, but I don't have ANYTHING on hand as far as materials go. I do have an old sandbox that I thought might make a good place to start, it's at least got log ties as a border, and is maybe...10'x10'. I know that sand probably isn't the best thing to try to grow veggies in, but maybe the lasagna idea on top of it?

I would love to try to grow some common herbs, 'maters, cukes, carrots, lettuce....Those all strike me as fairly common and easy. :)

Anyway, I really apologize for the incredibly broad spectrum of my post. I don't even really know what I don't know yet. I thank you all in advance for your advice.

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Hi, might I suggest you try some of these questions over on the 'new to gardening' forum - using the search feature at the bottom of the page, and I think there you'll find quite a bit of information at this stage -

Here, we can help with more specific stuff, like where to get supplies and so on, once you have a better, general idea of what you wish to do.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: new to gardening

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 10:03PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi MsFuzz,

Have any cattle manure left laying around! That would be a good start! ;-)

The first thing you need to do is to decide where the garden is gonna be. With veggies, the more sun the better. Once Youve decided where, kill, eradicate, removeÂget rid ofÂany grass or weeds growing in the area.

With the sand, this has come up around here before, but when you mix sand with the clay you probably have in your yard, youÂve got the fixinÂs for adobe bricks! Best to lose the sand! IÂm thinking a sand box would probably be too shallow to fill with soil and plant in, so if you want to use the "outside" of the box as a border for the garden (if IÂm understanding you right), I recommend removing the bottom so youÂre working down into the natural soil. IÂve never done any lasagna gardening, but IÂm thinking that if you donÂt already have, or have easy access to the "ingredients," it will probably be just as cheap to incorporate a bale of Canadian peat into your existing soil. If you turn over the soil in that area about 8" deep, then spread a bale (the biggest size  used to be 3 cu. ft.  itÂs not that big anymore, but IÂm not sure what size it is  about $15 a bale at Lowes or HD) of moistened and thoroughly "fluffed up" Canadian peat on top of the soil and turn it over a couple more times to mix it completely into the soil, you should be ready to go. You could buy a bunch of bags of an organic compost to use instead of the peat. Because youÂd be loosening up the existing soil and then be adding a bunch of organic matter, IÂm guessing your "sandbox" will be pretty much filled to the top. If you decide to go without the sandbox, I recommend the same soil prep wherever the garden is gonna be. (BTW, before you try to turn over the existing soil, water it thoroughly about 24 hours before youÂre gonna start working with it. If itÂs dry and hard packed, itÂll be almost impossible to dig in it!

The veggies you picked are all good to start with. Lettuce and carrots would be planted first, and in a month or a little bit more, so now is the time to get your project started. Basil is very easy to grow, and I recommend trying a couple kinds. The red basil is pretty as an ornamental too. Rosemary is "less easy" to grow. I'm gonna post a link to the "when to plant what" site I just linked on another thread. There's some good info on top, and the chart is on the last page.

I also recommend you find somewhere in the yardÂa corner, or build a box/binÂwhere you can start your own compost pile. Homegrown compost is the best stuff youÂll ever have to improve your soil. ItÂll probably take a year before you have enough of a "pile" that youÂre getting "finished" compost you can use, but you need to start somewhere/sometime. I wish I had taken a picture of the pathetic little pile of stuff I had when I started mineÂbut itÂs BIG now

I saw your post on the swap thread, and if something should change that you can make it after all, just let us know in time that Charlene can send you the directions to her house. ThereÂs nothing at all "official" about the swap, and "last minute" works as well as anything!

I bet by next year youÂre gonna want twice as much space for veggies as you have this year!


P.S. If IÂm talking about anything that doesnÂt make sense to you, just ask.
P.P.S. Apologies arenÂt accepted around here! ;-)

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 10:38PM
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I started my raised bed garden last year. You've got time to get it built. I found lumber free on Craigslist and filled it lasagna style with horse manure as the bulk of the material. I requested leaves, pine needles, hay & straw on freecycle and I found enough to get them filled. I also watched offers on Craigslist. Check out the link below.

Most veggies are fairly easy. There are always ways to improve and that's a lot of the discussion you read, but overall, it's not so hard :-) Green (& yellow) beans and peas are easy to grow too

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 12:03AM
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I have something to add. I'm guessing you already know this, but, just in case:

I would make sure you know what zone you are in. Also, the USDA zones are not the same as Sunset gardening books.

Well, that was my big and exciting addition to the replies!

I hope you have fun!!


    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 12:25AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

I've done a lot of 'training the trainers'. IME your choices are read a ton and get out there and make mistakes. Or take a formal INTRO HORT class at the community college and get a 10-year head start on avoiding the mistakes. Next optimal would be the $10 classes at the Rec Center.

The main idea is that the minute your hands are plunged into the dirt, your cares and stress is sucked out via your fingers and dispersed across 1,000,000,000 cubic miles of topsoil. Whoosh! Then your heart can open and you do wonderful things for people.

IOW: don' worry 'boudit. Have fun. Plant some stuff. Enjoy it.

You will soon learn that gardeners loooooove to share their knowledge. And plants. And cuttings. And extras from the garden. And fert. And bug goop. And. And. And. One of the reasons I learned German when I lived there decades ago was to share people's gardens.

No problem. Dig some dirt.



    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 12:37AM
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Thanks so much for the head start, guys. Everything said makes sense. So now I just gotta get out there and DOOOOOO EEEEEEEEEEEEEET. I like reading, and I have a couple of books, but I'm more of a "getting hands dirty" kind of gal.

Skybird....I would really like to start composting, but my fiance has a big no-no on large piles of rotting stuff sitting in his yard. :D Do you know of any good commercial or more "containerized" ways to compost? I've seen a few things here and there, but I don't even know where to start in evaluating whether they're worth the money.

Dan, I laughed regarding the stress-sucking effects of gardening. :D Thanks! That's part of what I want it to do.

Anyway, I will go explore the new gardeners forum, then come back to pepper y'all with more questions. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 8:54AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

but my fiance has a big no-no on large piles of rotting stuff sitting in his yard.

If it stinks, you're doing it wrong. Composting bins are $100.00. Cheaper and they aren't worth it. You can do your food scraps by using a 30-gal garbage can - drill 1" holes in it, sink in ground, put soil in it, food scraps, cover.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 10:42AM
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xray(Zone 5)

I'm in my 5th year of tomato gardening, here's a quick recap of my methods and what I've learned so far :

Year 1 : I used terra cotta containers about 1 gallon in size. I used gardening soil from the local Home Depot. Given our dry air and the small, breathable containers, I found watering twice a day was a requirement - which I didn't always achieve. My plants suffered but the taste of my first homegrown hooked me hard.

Year 2 : I used white, plastic 2-gallon buckets which were better for moisture retention, but still required daily watering and weren't very pleasing to the eye. My plants did better, but were prone to tipping over in gusty winds.

Year 3 : Using small landscaping bricks, I built a planter / raised bed on my patio, dimensions roughly 7ft x 2ft x 16in. I lined it with rubber pond liner to reduce moisture loss, control drainage and prevent staining my patio. This improved my results and cut watering to every other day during the height of summer. I re-used one of the buckets from the year before and tried a hanging / upside down technique for a cherry tomato variety. It was a neat experiment, but again the small size meant mucho hydro maintenance.

Year 4 : Moved to a house with a yard! Built a raised bed on one end of the back lawn. The planter was a hell of a project. Three conjoined circles, each about 4 feet in diameter (picture the circles on Led Zeppelin's Stairway album). I tapped into the sprinkler lines for a drip irrigation system - highly recommended. I probably should have removed the grass / sod underneath, but instead I turned the soil with a shovel, covered with several layers of newspaper and filled it in with about 20in of gardening soil from the local nursery. I was pleased with the results, but fruiting was delayed because I didn't have any way to mitigate the excessive heat last July. I learned high temperatures can sterilize the pollen. It was frustrating to see a multitude of blossoms never come to fruition.

2009 : I'm adding a second raised bed (3ft x 13ft x 16in) where there is currently a patch of boring landscaping gravel. I believe this new planting area will be appropriated by DGF (darling girlfriend) for flowers. The tomato garden bed will get some wrought iron shepherd's hooks for another attempt at hanging tomatoes and to provide support for a shade cloth.

In short, unless you have mountains of time and money, don't try to accomplish everything in your first season. I have learned (and love) patience thanks to this fantastic hobby. The mistakes you make and the successes you have can contribute nicely to next year's project (and the following year and the year after that, ad infinitum) Welcome aboard and have an awesome day!


    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 1:16PM
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MsFuzz, it takes a long time to "start" a garden. There's all the details of the process that you will need to gain some understanding of. That mostly takes experience and since there is only one gardening season each year, gardening becomes a lifesyle as much as anything else.

One thing you can do is to get down and look closely at things. Have you ever noticed these chefs on TV and how they prepare and present their dishes? I just don't trust the few of them that don't get right down there and focus, focus, focus on what they are doing.

I'm kind of tall and don't bend too well - what's that about a gardener needing a "cast iron back, with hinges?" But, one of the most important lessons I learned was to get down and spend some quality time with the plants, as individuals. Look under their leaves; scratch around in the soil that they are growing in.

You don't have to get neurotic about it but nurturing is a little hard to learn.

And about that compost pile: It doesn't have to be much of a pile. If you have a need for soil, you may be able to find some of it right in your yard. Dig out one bed and put most of that soil, perhaps with store-bought amendments, on a 2nd bed.

You are left with a bed with nearly twice as much top soil as it had before and a . . . trench. And, maybe there's a small pile of soil nearby.

Now, you can fill your "trench" with your compostables. As the trimmings from the kitchen, lawn clippings, and such go in - a shovelful of soil can cover them up. You are "composting" underground and nobody's the wiser!

The next growing season, that bed will be fertile and ready for gardening.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 1:20PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

What Dan says! Lots of people have the misconception that compost piles stink! Not! If it stinks, somethings wrong with it.

Mine is the absolutely easiest kind you can do! (Im lazy!) Its on the veggie garden side of the house, which isnt visible from inside the house (wish it was!), and I just attached the largest sheets of galvanized steel that I could find to the inside of the fenceto keep from composting the fence!and then started throwing "stuff" in the corner!

I dont have time to be long-winded right now, but heres a link to one of those times when I was VERY long-winded! Its my Reflections on Compost thread from last year. Make some popcorn, pour yourself a cold one, and pull up a comfortable chair! Its LONG! And has lots of good comments from everybody to help you learn.

Whether you make a "let it rot" type pile like I have, or a "politically correct" one, where you layer all the proper ingredients and turn it all the timeit shouldnt smell! If it does, somethings wrongand you can probably correct it pretty easily.

Try it, youll like it,

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 1:20PM
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phloxy_mary(5 Lafayette)

What fun! I'm doing just what you are. The family looks at me funny when I tell them the stuff they're putting in the trash can go into the soup pot on the counter top instead. We built a box from scratch and lined the sides with plastic to help keep in heat (and so the wood woudn't compost). It doesn't have a front yet but it'll get there. In the meantime, since Sunday I've emptied the soup pot once into a plastic trash barrell. It's almost ready to be emptied again - and I've put the cut branches from the honeysuckle vine I cut back on Sunday in there. I (like you) have a place for the bed, but haven't started it yet. I plan to move the bark, pull away the plastic sheet, water thoroughly, add cardboard over the top and replace the bark in hopes of creating a workable garden. I have no idea what I'm doing either, but it sure is fun. We're going to add sides for raised beds. And my lettuce seeds planted on Sunday (indoors) have sprouted! Good luck and have fun!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 4:18PM
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phloxy_mary(5 Lafayette)

OK msfuzz, you got me excited again. After Sunday's work cutting back vines and pulling weeds, I got a huge blister in the center of my hand. Today it felt good enough to go use hand tools again. I pulled back the bark and plastic. The ground was wet and full of red worms (which the dog felt needed to pulled out of the dirt and toyed with). I laid some newsprint-style paper down, covered it with cardboard and put the bark back. A lot of the bark has broken down over the years so it's a lot like dirt. Now I'm waiting for the snow to come and help me with breaking all of this stuff down. Did I forget anything? Am I doing this right? Don't know, but time will tell. AND I put some pavers on top of the plastic in the compost bin and threw all the stuff from the past 4.5 days into the compost bin. My nephew (20) must have asked 5 times if I knew what I was doing. (See above.)

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 7:48PM
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Wow, Phloxy! Sounds like you've got the bug. :) I'll be curious to hear how the composting goes.

Digit, Xray, thank you for the words of wisdom. You make a good point that a "good" garden doesn't come together all in one season, or even in many! I need to put my perfectionist streak to bed, and just play around.

Thanks for all the info on composting, everyone. I really LIKE the "let it rot pile" idea, but we do have two inquisitive (hungry) dogs, and that type of approach will likely require fencing. :) There IS this really nice little unused tucked away corner that might work. *plots & schemes*

I'm going to go read the Compost post (HAH! I made a funny...) now. :)

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 11:02PM
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Interesting practical and philosophical responses here . . . and I didn't even know that Skybird, Ray and me posted within 4 minutes of each other. Wasnt until I came back to read what Mary & Ms. Fuzz had to say that I discovered this fact.

Of course, it's that David who suggests going over to New to Gardening with questions like these. I try to stay out of that forum. They ask tuff questions over there!! Maybe someone like David could answer them but I'm sure that anybody that has any expertise wouldn't put up long with my rambling.

I think David's sitting down there in a stew about what he might be able to harvest in 2009. What's that Dave? Think you might have to start off with venison??


    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 10:16AM
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Steve, I'm working on a new culinary technique, here: pre-stuffed venison - feed 'm fresh carrots and beets and flowers and rose hips and clover 'til they just sit down and stay there all summer until hunting season comes along. Just bursting with that home-grown-garden goodness that makes a venison roast so memorable. Rachel Ray will have me on her show this fall - be sure to watch.

My deer, known affectionately around the '52 household as "The Gang of Five" are back to their clever habit of crawling on their knees under the barbed wire fence down in the cat tail swamp, then creeping up through the weeds, branches, and assorted stuff I throw there to intimidate them, then scampering up into the garden for a midnight snack. This is the first time they've dug up the carrots.

This goes to show that good gardening techniques, with an eye on soil improvement, improves the native clay into a friable, soft, easily dug gardening bed. Before, they never could do it. Progress!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 2:41PM
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