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Need Help Preparing for My First Garden (Next Year)

Posted by thomasa510 NY (My Page) on
Sun, Jun 16, 13 at 7:30

I'm not exactly new to gardening, as my parents always have had a garden (with fanatical composting habits) and I always knew when I finally bought a house I would start one as well.

I am buying my first home (Long Island) but won't move in until late September. Luckily this home has a huge yard, with areas in full sun and shade. The old owner had a decent size vegetable garden already and I am looking to expand it significantly. I have room to expand the full sun and shade spots.

From my gardening experience I know certain plants do well on LI; particularly berries and the tomato/pepper/herb staples. Am considering a host of other fruit trees and vegetables as well. I love to cook and eat and trying to get a really productive garden going with tons of fresh fruits and vegetables that I can preserve or simply consume.

My question is, what would you recommend for me to do in the initial year when I move in? Since September will be a bit too late for the current season, I would like to start getting prepared for next year.

Would you dig up grass for next season's garden or wait till the spring thaw? I will certainly test the soil for ph content as soon as I can to see. Should I work on improving the soil quality over the winter or should I just wait for next year?

Any tips would be great and well appreciated.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Need Help Preparing for My First Garden (Next Year)

I recommend that you head over to the Soil, Compost & Mulch forum here at Gardenweb to repost your question - it's a much more active forum than this.

RE: Need Help Preparing for My First Garden (Next Year)

I wrote this for someone else who asked a similar question, hope it helps you get a handle on how you think you should get started, depending on your circumstances... sorry if some of it doesn't apply, I didn't read it through again just now.

If you've got more time than energy, like I do, smothering and lasagna is the easiest way to start a new garden bed for free, or almost. Sooo much easier than digging up grass. Just spread newspaper (about 10 sheets thick) or cardboard, overlapping well, until the area you want to be a bed is covered. Then cover the paper with 4-6" of finely shredded mulch and wait for the grass to die, usually 4-6 weeks but could be longer for some grasses. I've done this many, many times.

My latest one is really ugly but I'm just trying to make lemonade out of lemons with this one... drought (probably aided by grubs) killed the grass here so I decided that would be the new sunny front bed I was considering. I did dig out a little spot that had hardly any grass and put some Cannas and Gladiolus there, a tiny baby maple tree, some Hibiscus cuttings which still just look stupid 'cuz they're "dead" sticks in the ground, then kind of working around it with smothering, and bark chips, which aren't my preference but I had them available. They don't stay in place if it ever rains really hard. Anyway, with this, I'm not planning to leave the bark chips there, they're just making sure the newspaper is held firmly to the contours of the ground to block the air and light from reaching the grass, which is what is needed to kill it. Whenever I can find more shredded hardwood, I'll replace the bark chips.

Anyway, the newspaper decomposes and does not need to be removed later, just dig through it to add plants in the ground.

I've also smothered grass with stuff that was handy, but does have to be removed to use the bed, like sheets of metal, old egg crate mattress topper, the bags of mulch that will cover the spot, whatever's handy. I think it's easier to wait for the grass to die than dig it up, and I don't mind if it has to get more ugly in the process of getting more pretty.

One other benefit of smothering with a leave-in-place substance like paper or cardboard is that the weed seeds that may be in the ground are unable to germinate as they might be if you just dug up the grass and/or tilled.

The lasagna comes into play if you add amendment layers to your smothering. For example, you could put the paper/cardboard, then kitchen scraps, ready to use compost, leaves, yard trimmings, whatever organic material (OM) that is handy, then the mulch (or not, if the other stuff is a thick enough layer to hold the paper in place and block the light.) It's not necessary to have lasagna layers when smothering, but when planting later, there's a huge improvement if a lot of
OM was placed there.

AND, while you're waiting, you can set potted plants there...

I wrote this for someone complaining about clay, which you probably also have in ID so will paste it here also. Some of this is redundant...

Before I moved to AL, I started many new gardens in OH, in the sub-clay they leave after removing the top soil, when making a housing development, and always where there was grass growing, which exacerbates the problem. It's either muddy or concrete, packed hard from bulldozers and giant trucks. Clay is wonderful stuff, just not by itself. Sounds like you have soil with no organic matter (OM) in it, which is much easier and quicker to fix than you might think.

The more OM matter you can add, the better the soil will become, and more quickly. After two springs of doing nothing but adding a few inches (3-5) of finely shredded harwood, and all of the fallen leaves over the intervening winter, you should notice a difference in texture, drainage, color, tilth, fertility, ability to moderate both excess water and periods of no rain, by the next summer. By the second fall, you should be able to put 18" of leaves on beds and there should be enough decomposition for them to be completely gone by spring.

Now imagine how much you could improve on that by also occasionally adding other OM like compost that you can buy or make from kitchen scraps and yard waste, and/or other materials that can compost in place w/o being composted first, like (confidently seed-free) lawnmower bag trimmings, pine needles, small amounts/pieces of yard trimmings, coffee grounds, weeds you pull before they've made seeds (I lay them with the roots in the air, to make sure they die,) just never a huge amount of one particular thing on a particular spot. If it's dead plant material of a dry type that won't attract fruit flies or other pests, doesn't look too odd, I use it for mulch.

If the ground is really hard, it can be helpful to till initially, but after that, I don't believe it's beneficial because it disrupts the natural soil layers and the critters therein, which are very important for the soil to be healthy, and negatively affects the drainage. The microscopic critters on up to worms and such are all that is needed to distribute the particles of decomposing OM to where they are naturally intended to be, which is where they are most useful to plants. That's why the ground in a forest is so wonderful - spongy, moist but well drained, fertile, sweet-smelling. Nobody tills, the falling leaves and sticks are naturally decomposed and the particles distributed throughout the soil layers. I've found the improvement in being able to dig in these areas as soon as the 2nd year to be dramatic, no thoughts that "It's too hard to dig here unless I till."

RE: Need Help Preparing for My First Garden (Next Year)

September is actually a perfect time to plant trees, shrubs and bulbs. They are less likely to be burned by the summer sun and drought, and the cool air encourages to focus their growth on roots. Many garden stores have sales around then, because despite all of the above, people stop thinking of gardening.

Avoid chopping down anything or pulling anything out the first year. A lot of people chop down things that turn out to be rare bloom ornamentals or fruit trees.

Also a good time to start a compost heap. It will smell less and you can fill it with Fall leaves.

RE: Need Help Preparing for My First Garden (Next Year)

It might sound simplistic, but have a plan. Spend some time with organization so that you know all the whats and wheres before you get too involved and try to make snap decision.

Locating quality plants in September or October might be a bit much, so spend some time now going around to the various vendors to inquire what they intend to have available.

You should be able to do bulbs this autumn and you might be able to locate some other things. My experience has been that spring planting of fruit trees yields better results.

There is a lot to be said in a favorable way about planting in after Labor Day, a lot depends on what you intend to do and where you want to plant it.

I will mention something that always sticks in my mind. Observe first, plan second, plant third. There might be some spots in your yard that snow will not cover or might be there all winter and that can make a difference with whatever you plant there.


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