veggie mama
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Getting soil ready for first veggie garden

Hello, I'm starting the planning process for my first vegetable garden and was hoping to get some advice. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where the weather is mild and summer extends through September/early October. We have clay soil but the plot I will be using for the garden was a vegetable garden about 5 years ago with the previous homeowner. Since then the plot (8ft x 8 ft) has become overgrown with weeds. I used a weed whacker to cut down the weeds.

My plan was to use a rototiller to break up the hard dirt, add amendments, then plant, but I have several questions.

1. Does anyone have a recommendation for a good rototiller? I'd like something light (I'm only 5' 2"), practical for a small garden, yet durable enough to withstand clay. I'd like to spend less than $350.

2. When is the right time to prepare the soil? Should I till and amend immediately before planting?

3. What should I use to amend the soil?

3. When is the right time to start planting? Late summer or early fall?

4. What about the weeds? I'll do my best to pull out what weed roots I can, but I'm sure there will be some I miss, plus seeds that are hiding out. I read one recommendation that said to water the soil after tilling/amending to germinate remaining weeds, pull weeds, then plant veggies. Should I do this?

Thanks so much for your help! I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

:)

tedln
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Re: Getting soil ready for first veggie garden

veggie mama wrote:Hello, I'm starting the planning process for my first vegetable garden and was hoping to get some advice. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where the weather is mild and summer extends through September/early October. We have clay soil but the plot I will be using for the garden was a vegetable garden about 5 years ago with the previous homeowner. Since then the plot (8ft x 8 ft) has become overgrown with weeds. I used a weed whacker to cut down the weeds.

My plan was to use a rototiller to break up the hard dirt, add amendments, then plant, but I have several questions.

1. Does anyone have a recommendation for a good rototiller? I'd like something light (I'm only 5' 2"), practical for a small garden, yet durable enough to withstand clay. I'd like to spend less than $350.

2. When is the right time to prepare the soil? Should I till and amend immediately before planting?

3. What should I use to amend the soil?

3. When is the right time to start planting? Late summer or early fall?

4. What about the weeds? I'll do my best to pull out what weed roots I can, but I'm sure there will be some I miss, plus seeds that are hiding out. I read one recommendation that said to water the soil after tilling/amending to germinate remaining weeds, pull weeds, then plant veggies. Should I do this?

Thanks so much for your help! I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

:)
I've gardened a plot like yours for many years. I have now been gardening in raised beds for many more years. When I gardened a small plot like yours, I simply turned the soil over with a shovel and broke the clumps up with the shovel. Rototillers are good to have when you have a large plot, but in an 8' X 8' plot, it just seems like a lot of work turning the tiller around constantly.

If you really want a tiller, I've heard a lot of good reports about the Mantis tiller (https://mantis.com/home.asp). It is small, and lightweight and seems to do a good job in small gardens.

In the Bay area, I would think you can plant now. I don't really know what you mean when you say the Bay area because you don't have to travel far from the Bay to get really hot temps. If your temps are moderated by the cool air from the bay, you can plant now.

I would not worry to much about the weeds. Once you have the garden tilled and planted, you will have weeds growing no matter how well you prepare the soil. Just be prepared to spend a few minutes a day pulling weeds when they are still small.

I can't recommend amendments for your soil because it depends on a soil analysis to determine what is needed. Considering where you live, you might have access to some of the sea weed compost. You always need some organic materials in the soil and a good compost worked in is usually best. I usually hand applied some 10-10-10 or other commercial fertilizer. In an 8' X 8' plot, I would scatter maybe three good handfuls and water it in real good.

Good Luck!

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

veggie mama
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I can't recommend amendments for your soil because it depends on a soil analysis to determine what is needed. Considering where you live, you might have access to some of the sea weed compost. You always need some organic materials in the soil and a good compost worked in is usually best. I usually hand applied some 10-10-10 or other commercial fertilizer. In an 8' X 8' plot, I would scatter maybe three good handfuls and water it in real good.
Thanks so much for your advice Ted.

Regarding the amendments, is it usual to add fertilizer in addition to compost?

cynthia_h
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I wouldn't bother with a tiller, either. I have 96 square feet of veggies in some raised beds, plus two very small plots in the ground. They've been either mixed from scratch *or* double-dug with square shovel & pitchfork.

The combination of knowledge that clicked for me was

--long term: Sunset Western Garden Book. This is the only place you'll find a detailed description of the gardening differences between, say, Berkeley, San Jose, and Lafayette (just picking 3 at random). The Sunset climate zone system is what works this magic. :)

--medium term: John Jeavons How to Grow More Vegetables... I originally purchased the 2nd edition; last year I purchased the 7th. Terrific explanations re. soil building, composting, weed control.

--most recent: Mel Bartholomew, Square Foot Gardening (2005 edition). By combining the best of what worked from SFG and Jeavons' recommendations for my specific situation, I've made (I think) the most of my minimal soil area.

Weeds: solarizing will help a LOT for a small investment of time/labor. Depending on where the proposed veggie bed is, cover it with multiple layers of newspaper weighed down with rocks or bricks; cover it with landscape fabric secured with ground staples; or cover it with black plastic sheeting (non-biodegradable, unfortunately) and secure with ground staples. Keep in place for 6 weeks or so to deprive weeds of sunlight, air, etc. They will die. :twisted:

I've used well-aimed boiling water to kill weeds in pavement cracks, along the edge of the driveway, or to weaken weeds in soil which have proven recalcitrant to removal with my weeder (aka asparagus knife, weeding stick). Bringing the seeds of some weeds to the surface will only prolong the agony, as some plants' seeds will wait for up to a century to germinate. :shock: Other gardeners report success with vinegar. :twisted:

I've been hand-pulling, using boiling water, using the weed stick, etc. for a while now. I find that it usually takes a 3-year campaign to completely remove a given species, but vigilance is the price of victory b/c my next-door neighbor uses a weed whacker, which simply spreads the seed pods, root fragments, etc. back to my place. They grow again when the conditions favor them... *sigh*

I've removed Yellow Star Thistle, prickly lettuce, redstem filaree, burr clover, dandelions, wild onion, and a couple of weeds whose names I don't know. I'm in mid-campaign on foxtail grass and oxalis. Getting out as much of the root as possible is key to long-term success. Due to personal health problems, I can work only for 15 or so minutes at a time, so persistence over long periods of time is the *only* way I can succeed with weed campaigns without chemicals.

So you're looking at a low-cost, non-toxic effort here, so far as I can tell. :D Whereabouts in the Bay Area are you?

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9
Last edited by cynthia_h on Mon Jul 06, 2009 10:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

tedln
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veggie mama,

It probably isn't necessary if your compost has a lot of readily available nutrients. If your soil was a garden previously and the soil is rich in nutrients, you may not need additional fertilizers. If the weeds were growing well in the garden area, but not as well in other areas of the yard; it is an indication the soil is rich in nutrients. I typically use the 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 frugally to simply give the new plants a head start with available nutrients and minerals.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

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gixxerific
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To get rid of the weeds, somewhat. Till the ground if that is what you are doing and spray the hell out of it with roundup. (You can plant roughly 24 hours after using Roundup). But than as suggested before use solarazing after the roundup to finish anything else off.

Add everything you can at first unless it is already in good shape minus the weeds.

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Gary350
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A tiller is a nice tool to have. It is hard to find a good NEW tiller these days the quality is very poor. I was going to buy a new one myself this summer I looked at Lowe's, Home Depot, TSC, Farmers Co-op and all the places I could find that sell tillers. The new stuff is over priced junk. As it turned out I rebuilt the engine on my old tiller. A used tiller would be a good choice for you I have seen very good used ones for $100 on Craigslist.

I have friends that lives in San Fran area they were big time gardeners when they lived here in Tennessee. They said they had to add a lot of organic material to the soil, sand so it would not dry out so hard and fertilizer.

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applestar
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There's been a lot of discussion here about Roundup and possible toxic residue. :eek:
I'd think twice about applying it where I'm planning to grow what I intend to eat.
My favorite method for prepping a new veggie garden is sheet mulching. I've posted about it at length several times in the past. :wink:

veggie mama
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I plan on investing in a tiller even though the size of my plot is small. After being a bedside nurse and carrying around my toddler, I'm running into some back problems. Hopefully after a sucessful first veggie garden I can expand the boundaries and make good use of the tool!

For political and personal reasons I'm choosing not to use Roundup. The thought of using chemical that kill vegetation to grow food seems unsafe to me. And the deceptive business strategies of Monsanto turn me away.

Thank you for all of your advice. I'm just getting into gardening and it is so exciting to watch things grow! My toddler loves to play next to me while I pull weeds, and he "helps" me water our container plants. It's a joy to see how growing teaches us all valuable life lessons.

tedln
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veggie mama,

I agree with you about the chemicals on the garden. I once believed the gardening chemicals were good, but I always peeled my vegetables or washed them with soap before we ate them. I haven't used any herbicides or pesticides for a few years and enjoy picking vegetables in the garden and taking a bite without worrying about chemical residue.

If you are going to buy a tiller, the suggestion about checking Craigs list for a good used one is right on. No one makes quality equipment anymore, so the used ones normally are better built but may need some repairs. The little Mantis tiller seems to be a good one for a reasonable price. I think I would spend the extra $100.00 for the one with a four cycle engine. The engine will be more reliable and it will not emit as much exhaust smoke as the two cycle one. The extra weight of the four cycle engine should help keep it from bouncing when it is tilling. I think some communities in the Bay area now regulate the use of two cycle engines because of the air pollution and noise they make.

If you do buy one either used or new with wheels on it, I suggest you get one with the tiller blades on the front end with the wheels between you and the blades. With the wheels in the middle, you can lift the tiller blades from the soil by pressing down on the handles. The center wheel models also don't beat you to death by bouncing up and down.

I've also bought a lot of equipment like tillers at auctions. In Texas, you can look on the Internet and find an auction almost every night of the week in some little local town. People bring their equipment and tools to the auction to be sold. I've found some really good deals at local auctions.
You might also check eBay for a local seller.

I hope this information helps.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

tedln
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veggie mama,

I think I told you wrong about getting a tiller with the tiller blades in front of the wheels. I used to have a really good Troy Built Horse model tiller and I forgot the tiller blades were in the back and the engine was on the front and it didn't bounce.

I looked on ebay and they have a lot of tillers for sale at nice prices.
You might find a local seller where you can pick it up if you win the bid.
Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

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