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JohnnySolo
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Where should I start, new to gardening.

Hi,

Newbie here to gardening.

I’ve never had a garden but always wanted to try, so a little help would be great. Do you have a suggestion for an entry level gardening book or web site? Perhaps the dummies books?

I live in Massachusetts and don’t have a clue about planting during the proper times of the year and for what vegetables. I’ll be starting off small by making a raised bed this spring (height 2’ over clay) 4’ by 8’. Basic plants I’m interested in are, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers.

I really don’t even know enough to ask what I probably need to, to be successful. There are a lot of books out there, anything that could help me?
Last edited by JohnnySolo on Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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JohnnySolo
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Thank you for the welcome, I’ll check out that book and looking to the compost forum as well. Yes, I’ve found a sight that is at lease 8hrs of sun light.

I should have mentioned that my raised bed will be in a frame at least 2 feet tall (2x4x8), do I still need to test the earth beneath it and till that too? I know it is mostly clay So I would be buying soil from the store to fill the frame. Is two feet not enough?

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pharmerphil
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JohnnySolo wrote:Thank you for the welcome, I’ll check out that book and looking to the compost forum as well. Yes, I’ve found a sight that is at lease 8hrs of sun light.

I should have mentioned that my raised bed will be in a frame at least 2 feet tall (2x4x8), do I still need to test the earth beneath it and till that too? I know it is mostly clay So I would be buying soil from the store to fill the frame. Is two feet not enough?
Welcome Johnny, 2 feet will be fine for the crops you mentioned in your original post.
I would remove the sod where you plan on putting your raised bed, and if you don't till it, at least work it up with a fork or spade.
A basic mix should do you well.

1/3 garden soil or top soil
1/3 peat
1/3 compost

OR:
1/4 garden soil or top soil
1/4 peat
1/4 aged manure
1/4 compost

Test for Ph, You could test the soil beneath, but I'd be more concerned with the two feet in the bed...
and you should be good to go :D

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rainbowgardener
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4X8 isn't a whole lot of room. You could put a couple of tomato plants and a couple of green peppers in there with onions all around the edges. But the cucumber is a spreading plant that takes up a lot of room. You might need to find another spot for it.

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jal_ut
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A bed that size and that tall takes lots of material to fill it.
The truth of the matter is, if there is already something growing where you will put the bed, that is probably better soil than you can buy in a bag.
Yes, even soils that are heavy in clay can grow fine crops. I would consider only going with a 4"x4" surrounding your bed, and dig up the existing soil and amend it with some compost, sand, and if you wish some potting soil. Peat is a waste of time and money. There are no nutrients in it. You can do this with a lot less expense. You don't want to spend more than you will realize in crops, or you will quickly get discouraged.

Another thing with a bed 2 feet tall, the soil will tend to push the sides out and in the end they will fall down, unless you build it with reinforced concrete.

I am thinking for your area, April for planting carrots, peas, and lettuce. May for planting beans, and corn, and late may to June 1 for planting tomatoes, peppers and melons.

I suggest planting things you like to eat. 2 determinate tomatoes, 3 or 4 peppers, and 3 cucumbers with onions around the edge may work fine.
You can also plant some radishes which will mature quickly and be out of the way of the larger plants.

Have a great garden.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

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rainbowgardener
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I rarely disagree with jal_UT who is very knowledgeable and has a huge, beautiful, productive garden (there are pictures of it posted), but a little bit I do this time.

I have 4X8' raised beds 20" high. It did take about a cubic yard of topsoil each to fill them, which I had trucked in, then amended with compost, potting soil, and other organics. Mine are made of stacked 4x4" pine fence posts with steel rebar drilled down through them and they have held up just fine now for 8 yrs, still look good. I had to do mine that way, because two of them are on top of concrete patio, but I think in bad soil situations it can be nice to just start fresh. I do agree that there's no point in putting peat moss in them.

jal_UT may know better than me, but once you have the 2 tomato plants and 2-3 pepper plants and onions in that one 4x8 bed, it's still hard for me to imagine where the cucumbers are going to go... plant them on the edge and let them trail down over the sides maybe. But then you will be tripping over them all the time when you try to get to your raised beds.

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pharmerphil
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jal_ut wrote:I would consider only going with a 4"x4" surrounding your bed, and dig up the existing soil and amend it with some compost, sand, and if you wish some potting soil. Peat is a waste of time and money. There are no nutrients in it.
Jal_Ut...I agree, peat has no nutrients in it...
But beg to differ on it being a "waste of time" as you stated

You'll be hard pressed to find, or will pay a premium price to find potting soil that is "peat Free"
most all available potting soil contains peat at some percentage.


Peat may not contain any nutrients; It does however absorb nutrients added to the raised bed or already present in the soil and like a sponge releases them as the plants require, thus saving valuable nutrients from being lost due to leaching and it prevents compaction...
and by reducing compaction...more water, air and nutrients reach the plants roots.


There are some potting soils on the market that are as bad as
"garden soil in a flowerpot" when it comes to compaction, and I was merely trying to steer this member away from that possibility.

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applestar
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I'm giggling as I write this because already, you are getting conflicting advice. :lol: You will find that this is going to be the norm. Hear us out, then think about it, and do what works best for you. :wink:

I disagree about removing the grass/sod. By the time you pile two feet of stuff on top, the grass will be smothered and die. PLEASE, PLEASE DO NOT USE ROUND UP. We have had many discussions about its negatives here. I prefer the "no-till" method of preparing a new garden bed by "sheet mulching" (please use the search feature for those words :wink: ). Only prep-work to the existing ground is to use a garden fork (get a good sturdy one) plunge it deeply by standing on it, then rock back and forth to "fracture" the ground.

Only time I dig up the sod is when I'm planting trees and need to dig a deep hole. Even then, I TURN OVER THE SOD IN PLACE surrounding the tree, then sheet mulch.

But I'm wondering WHY you plan on building a 24" high raised bed? (Forgive me if this is a personal matter -- e.g. disability, age, etc. High raised bed is definitely useful for people who cannot bend to the ground or kneel, etc. You don't need to answer.) Some authors definitively advise against raising a bed beyond a certain height. Usually 9~12" is the most beneficial maximum height recommended. Higher beds will need more frequent watering as the upper level soil dries out faster. I have a 4'x4' 18" bed that have been useful for growing carrots, but so far, other crops like potatoes and sweet potatoes have grown well in the other 6"H beds. That's not to say that plants don't grow well there, especially when watered frequently, etc. It's just not strictly necessary.

I also have heavy clay soil, but what used to be sod and clay under the sheet mulched raised beds have loosened up at least 6" deep below the original soil line, closer to 12" deep in areas where deep-rooted large plants like tomatoes, corn, and sunflowers were grown the previous year.

As for cucumbers, if you build a 6' high trellis on the north side of the garden bed, you can let the cucumbers (as well as pole peas and pole beans, pumpkins and melons, etc.) grow upwards, saving space. Just make sure to build a sturdy one. (Oh! One caveat: Some Companion Planting authors say that cucumbers and tomatoes are allelopathic - incompatible - and will retard the growth of each other. I don't know if this is true -- I planted them together last year and they did not do very well so I planted them separately this year, and they did very well. However, last year, the bed they were grown in were newly built in the spring, this year, the tomatoes were in the 2nd year bed and the cucumbers were in beds sheet mulched the previous fall. << so whatever method you use, DO prepare you vegetable garden bed this fall)

If you scroll down towards the bottom of the browser, you'll see a rotating recommended book selection. I have most of the ones for veg gardens listed there and they are all good. Many people recommend -- and I take what I need from -- Square Foot Gardening (Bartholomew) and How to Grow More Vegetables (Jeevons). I also like Elliot Coleman, though his works are tending towards commercial growers now. But I don't double-dig (Jeevons) and I prefer my raised beds to be deeper than 6" with solid bottom (Bartholomew). I fill them with organic soil mix (lots of compost and leaves/grass clipping mulch) and I prefer the bottom-less contact with the existing soil so the soil organisms can work their magic. I'm also a proponent of Permaculture (Masanobu Fukuoka and Bill Mollison, Toby Hemenway) and Edible Landscaping.

Lot's to read and learn, but you have most of the winter.... 8)

BTW: peat moss -- most people agree that shredded coir and coir mulch make fine peat substitute with less environmental impact and no pH issues. You can get them in pressed dry blocks that can be reconstituted in water.
Last edited by applestar on Tue Nov 10, 2009 2:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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stella1751
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I'm with Pharmer Phil on this one. I use peat moss as a soil conditioner. I love the way it makes the soil feel.

I squeeze a quite a few plants into my 4'x8' beds, which are the same height as Rainbow's to prevent dog-wilding damage (SQUIRREL!) :lol: Because you don't need rows, you can do equidistant spacing. I put eight tomato plants in one, and they do just fine.

Two years ago, I had way too many Poblano seedlings. I gave away what I could but refused to chuck the rest. I squeezed 32 plants in one 4 x 8 bed. They went 5 to 6 feet tall and were covered with heavy fruit.

When I was first starting my garden at this new place and had only one bed done, I grew my cucumbers in containers. I think they were Burpee's Bush. I just lined eight containers along the fence and strung chicken wire above them. By the time the next year rolled around, I had enough beds started, and I moved my containers into the basement.

I think if you use companion planting and your soil is rich enough, with lots and lots of finished compost, you could probably start with radishes in the middle and peas at the very ends, climbing up chicken wire. We start those at the beginning of April up here in Wyoming.

Once you've harvested the quick-growing radishes, probably by or before June 1, you can refresh the soil in the center 6' and set out your tomatoes and peppers, seeding pole beans around the tomatoes. (They will climb the tomato cages.) The peas should be done by the time the tomatoes and peppers start producing, and you can pull them to give your tomatoes room to spread.

You'll be asking a lot of your soil, but if you prep it correctly to begin with, it can be done. If you put your cucumbers in containers, three plants per, you could feed a family of four with one 4 x 8 bed and two to four containers :D
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

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rainbowgardener
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stella1751 wrote: I put eight tomato plants in one, and they do just fine.

Two years ago, I had way too many Poblano seedlings. I gave away what I could but refused to chuck the rest. I squeezed 32 plants in one 4 x 8 bed. They went 5 to 6 feet tall and were covered with heavy fruit.
This is true and I've seen the pictures to prove it, but bear in mind that stella is a soil feeding fanatic [stella, this is a compliment!] , who does compost, compost teas, ACT, weekly foliar feeding, and tons and tons of repeated amendments.

How many plants you can stuff into a 4X8 and expect to have a reasonable yield depends on how hard you are willing to work at feeding them! I'm a lazier gardener than stella, so I can't get away with cramming my beds as full.

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JohnnySolo
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Thank you all for the time and knowledge you are sharing with me.

lol, I’m not new to forums and conflicting advice! I’ll take it all in and see what works best for me in my situation. Then learn for my mistakes.

I’ll be sticking around to gain more knowledge from this forum and pick up some of the books suggested for my winter reading. -Square Foot Gardening- looks great.

I’m not too concerned with getting everything I listed into the bed. If cucumbers take up to much room I may build another bed for them the following year. I don’t need to overwhelm myself so I’ll keep things simple and successful. I’m fine starting small and building from there as I learn over the years and having the basics for a good soil mix will help me greatly. Thanks for that.

I’ll look into building with thick 4â€

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rainbowgardener
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Terrific distillation of lessons learned! Sounds like you are on a great path to garden success. Keep us updated how it goes...

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jal_ut
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I'm giggling as I write this because already, you are getting conflicting advice. You will find that this is going to be the norm. Hear us out, then think about it, and do what works best for you.
Now there is some good advice.

Let me tell you a bit about topsoil. Topsoil is that wonderful thin covering of material that covers much of our planet. It is where plants get their nutrients so they can grow and feed us.

Soil consists of clay, silt, sand, sometimes gravel, organic matter, humus, chemicals, a whole community of small critters down to microscopic, (worms, insects, bacteria, molds, yeasts, fungi), water and air.


Nothing you can buy in a bag has all of these essentials of soil. Even if you buy real topsoil that has been stockpiled by the dealer, you will basically be getting sterile soil, because just stockpiling it disrupts the living organisms.

This is why I recommend that you use at least some of your existing soil, and ammend it with other things to lighten up its texture and build its organic content. The organic matter is worm food, microbe food and fungi food. Eventually the critters will reduce oragnic matter to plant food and humus. The humus improves the texture of the soil.

A mulch of plant material retains moisture and at the same time the critters will start working on it.

Also to grow plants, don't forget sunlight. Put your garden in a sunny location.

.........................................................................................

Enough on that for now. Just let me say that I grew up on a farm. We had plenty of space for a garden, and I still do. Thinking of planting in raised beds or containers is foreign to me. Thinking of planting in any other medium than that left by nature is also foreign. I do heartily believe in nurturing the soil and incorporating lots of organic matter into the soil.

So, perhaps we can say that we live in two different worlds, but the essentials of good soil will remain constant.

Lots of schemes have been hatched to grow garden produce in limited space. You will find proponents of each style of gardening. You will encounter these methods if you do some reading and research.

Applestar gave good advice, do what works for you. The problem is that for the first go around, you don't know what that is. It is going to take several seasons to start getting the idea of what works for you. I believe that those who have given you advice are growing good gardens, and I don't believe for a minute that any of them would give you bogus information. Each has shared what has worked for them. There is a lot of ways to grow things.

Just one note of caution, if you use manure or bagged fertilizer, be careful. A little goes a long ways and you can over do it, then plants won't grow at all in it. What happens is that the solution in the soil becomes denser than the solution in the plant cells and the water moves from the plants to the soil trying to make a balance. Yes, the soil just sucks the water out of the plants and they die. Don't kill your plants with kindness.

Have a great garden.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

cynthia_h
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applestar wrote: ...Many people recommend -- and I take what I need from -- Square Foot Gardening (Bartholomew) and How to Grow More Vegetables (Jeevons). I also like Elliot Coleman, ...
I second these authors. Mel Bartholomew, John Jeavons, Eliot Coleman--I've seen all three authors' works in my local public library. Look at their books in the library or check them out for a closer read before making the decision to purchase. It will save you $ in the long run.

Cynthia

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JohnnySolo
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Gardenfrisk,

Don’t know if you will see this but I didn’t want to hijack the other member welcome thread. I’ll keep you posted on the kid’s enthusiasm, understanding they need to enjoy the garden and the work first, not to make it a labor for them.

I’ll be taking some pics of the bed I’m making this weekend. I can’t work on it right now after work, too dark out by the time I get home.

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freedhardwoods
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I have a different aproach to gardening than many of the "city" gardeners here with small gardens. I have close to 6000 sq ft of garden with heavy clay soil. I use a Troybilt tiller that helps keep the soil loose and every few years I will put a few inches of sawdust on the garden and till it in to help also. The large variety of soil amendments that many here on the forum add to their gardens probably does help the soil a little more than what I do, but I grow good crops with a lot less time invested per sq ft. My point is, unless you have really bad soil, even a minimal investment in time and material can produce a decent result. Any of the suggestions so far will help your garden. I am going to stay out of the arguement of which method is better.

I have seen it suggested different times to remove sod from a new garden site. I really don't understand that. When you turn it under it adds organic matter to the soil.

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Duh_Vinci
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Soil - you will figure out, you have many great suggestions here!

I've started with the raised beds too, due to not owning a tiller, and my soil is a very hard, dense clay. Size - almost as yours, 2x4x10 (two of those, and two 2x3x4)
rainbowgardener wrote:...jal_UT may know better than me, but once you have the 2 tomato plants and 2-3 pepper plants and onions in that one 4x8 bed, it's still hard for me to imagine where the cucumbers are going to go...
Here is an example of one of the beds, and what was in it (now - asleep for the winter):

[img]https://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i230/duhvinci/2009_garden/seedlings_tests/garden_plot.jpg[/img]

1. Black Krim Tomato
2. Cherokee Purple Tomato
3. Red Bell Pepper
4. Cherokee Purple Tomato
5. Brandywine Sudduth Tomato
6. Yellow Bell Pepper
7. Valencia Orange Tomato
8. Yellow Boy Tomato
9. 10, 11. Boston Pickling Cucumber
12, 13, 14, 15. Red Leaf Lettuce
16, 17, 18, 19. Red Onions
20, 21, 22, 23. Radishes (Champion, Icicle)
24, 25. Eggplants Ichiban
1 plant of Sweet Basil under each tomato plant too


My soil ended up being very very loose, and allowed tomato, eggplants and pepper roots to travel throughout the bed, while onions (4 per square) didn't need much, radishes 16 per square felt like very much at home, and red leaf lettuce with 4 and 3 alternating per square did not mind at all the "space sharing"

Cukes - the netted trellis provided plenty of support for them, and allowed me to direct the three vines where they needed to go, up, and over to the other side with no interruption for anything else. And the great part about the trellis - frame from 1/2" conduit poles $1.60 for 10' pieces, $10 for entire trellis - you can expend the trellis for cukes beyond the bed at any time for next to nothing!

Here is a snap of the early season, just a week or so after planting:

[img]https://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i230/duhvinci/2009_garden/boxes_5-1.jpg[/img]

Maybe my plan was a little aggressive, but it worked, I fed plants biweekly with fish emulsion, small amounts of liquid bone meal every 4 weeks and kelp every other 2 weeks (mostly foliar spray).

Play with your garden, experiment and enjoy it!

Regards,
D

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