navajo
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HELP FOR NEXT YEAR

Hello all!

Let me just start by saying that I seldom post but read all of the forums almost daily and you folks are GREAT!

I live in Zone 6b and started "seriously gardening" about 3 years ago. I have about 1/2 acre so went with Square Foot Gardening and the first year it went very well. Last year, things went a bit worse and this year, I have to say the garden was quite the failure!

Tomatoes (when they ripened) were the size of a quarter or silver dollar at most. Okra grew about 12 - 18" tall and got no fruit, cucumber, zuke, and squash never produced anything and died almost immediately.

A bit of back story, I added a lot of composted horse manure and worm castings to the beds this Spring but left the plastic sheeting on the bottoms of the beds (as per SFG), and my thingking is that the 6" or so of soil along with the drought was just not enough.

Now, I live in the mountains so my soil is very rocky and clay(ey?). I am thinking next year that I should strip off the plastic sheeting bottom and recharge the soil with compost (I made 2 bins this year), vermicompost and composted horse manure but the plants will still only have 6" or so of ammended soil before they hit the red clay zone.

Can I get some suggestions on anything else that might help? I mean, I bought canning jars and the Ball book this Spring with hopes of canning, but didn't even get enough to munch on throughout the Summer.

Thanks for reading this "Novel" and any insight you can give.

Tom

DoubleDogFarm
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First I like to say, post more often, we'll both learn more that way. :D
Square Foot Gardening and the first year it went very well. Last year, things went a bit worse and this year, I have to say the garden was quite the failure!
Lets try to figure this thing out. Did you do anything differently. You said you add compost and manure this spring. What did you do year one and two? Also has the weather changed over the past three years? Watering habits?
Now, I live in the mountains so my soil is very rocky and clay(ey?). I am thinking next year that I should strip off the plastic sheeting bottom and recharge the soil with compost (I made 2 bins this year), vermicompost and composted horse manure but the plants will still only have 6" or so of ammended soil before they hit the red clay zone.
Yes, I would remove the plastic barrier. The transition between the fluffy mix and clay is a barrier also, but worms and roots will break it up over time. You could help it along with a rock bar. Poke a bunch of holes into the clay.

About 25% compost to soil is recommended. It maybe to rich a mix.
but left the plastic sheeting on the bottoms of the beds (as per SFG),
I find this interesting, may I have the author of this idea.

Eric

cynthia_h
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I've used Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening methods for three years also. I don't remember anything at all in the book about a plastic barrier in the bottom of the raised bed.

What I used were several thicknesses of newspaper so that there would be a weed barrier. They've worked pretty well! I pulled the first "invader" out yesterday from a bed that was constructed in September 2008. It was a runner of kikuyu grass, so I know that the birds/other creatures weren't responsible for transferring a weed seed to the top of the soil.

Plastic barrier? [still wondering :?: ]

After my first growing season in Bed #1 (there are now either two or five beds, depending on how they're configured), I decided that Mel must have very nice, cooperative soil. I have California adobe clay, the kind the Spanish missions were made of--many of the missions still have those original walls standing, with those adobe bricks visible. Yep, that clay.

Well, I can attest that 6 inches of even the most wonderful Square Foot Garden mix of vermiculite, composts, and peat (never again the peat--gak! hydrophobic in the extreme!!! :x) were not enough. I went with 10 inches for my fall garden in 2008 and did much better. I tip-topped Bed #1 for Spring 2009 with 12 inches, the most I could get into the bed without losing track of the tops of the cinder blocks, and did a little better yet.

So I agree with Eric/Double Dog: away with the plastic barrier. Also deeper planting mix. *And* it may have been too rich.

You might also benefit from using a broadfork/U-bar to help punch holes in the clay underlayer. This tool uses your own body weight to punch/create those holes, but they're only "starter" holes for the worms, plant roots, etc. so that they can do the actual work.

Hope this helps somewhat.

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

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rainbowgardener
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Agree with above-- no plastic and 6" is not enough soil ESPECIALLY in drought conditions. Also were you keeping everything mulched? Always a good thing to do, but even more important in drought.
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cynthia_h
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Ah...RBG...Bartholomew doesn't mention mulch very much, if at all. A new gardener reading his book, and only his book, won't be mulching. Sad to say.

Cynthia

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engineeredgarden
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I agree with the others, deeper is definitely better. I started out with sfg and a raised bed with only 8" of soil in it, and needless to say - my results were far from ideal. However, now that the depth has been increased to 14", things grow really well.

EG

navajo
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DoubleDogFarm wrote:First I like to say, post more often, we'll both learn more that way. :D
Square Foot Gardening and the first year it went very well. Last year, things went a bit worse and this year, I have to say the garden was quite the failure!
Lets try to figure this thing out. Did you do anything differently. You said you add compost and manure this spring. What did you do year one and two? Also has the weather changed over the past three years? Watering habits?
Now, I live in the mountains so my soil is very rocky and clay(ey?). I am thinking next year that I should strip off the plastic sheeting bottom and recharge the soil with compost (I made 2 bins this year), vermicompost and composted horse manure but the plants will still only have 6" or so of ammended soil before they hit the red clay zone.
Yes, I would remove the plastic barrier. The transition between the fluffy mix and clay is a barrier also, but worms and roots will break it up over time. You could help it along with a rock bar. Poke a bunch of holes into the clay.

About 25% compost to soil is recommended. It maybe to rich a mix.
but left the plastic sheeting on the bottoms of the beds (as per SFG),
I find this interesting, may I have the author of this idea.

Eric
All righty! I don't know how to break things up into multiple quotes :oops: so I'll just jump in from here.

As far as posting more, I just don't have enough knowledge on anything gardening wise to share and I feel like I am just "taking" if all I do is ask questions. HA! I'll try to do better. If nothing else, I can tell people what NOT to do!

As for the ammendments, it was pretty much the same the past 3 years. Mix more compost with the existing vermiculite and peat moss (I HEAR YOU Cynthia! Never again!). However, the weather here has been very strange this year. We skipped Spring and shot straight from the mid 40's to the mid 90's and just kind of held there with very little rain.

As for the plastic bottom, I just went through Mel's SFG book again and did not see it mentioned. I pulled up my old notes from when I was planning all of this and it was a suggestion from some website for keeping out weeds. I stand corrected and was going to remove it anyway. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy! :wink:

As for the depth, I used 1x6 boards for the beds (I know, but it was just an experiment so didn't want anything too permanent or expensive. So if I decide to stay with that, should I remove the "soil" I made and get out the old pick and shovel and dig down below that another 6" or so then refill with my soil and add more?

As for weeds, even the plastic doesn't really help anyway. We have very aggressive crabgrass here and the wind is constantly blowing other weed seeds around so I do spend a lot of time pulling weeds from the beds anyway.

I must admit that I didn't mulch as I just can't decide exactly what to use. Hardwood? Straw? I grew up with a Dad who always had the most beautiful productive garden be he NEVER mulches (also uses ferts and sevin...).

Thanks for all the replies! This place is overflowing with kind helpful PATIENT people and I am thankful for every one of you!

Tom

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engineeredgarden
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As for weeds, even the plastic doesn't really help anyway. We have very aggressive crabgrass here and the wind is constantly blowing other weed seeds around so I do spend a lot of time pulling weeds from the beds anyway.
Navajo - crabgrass was my nemesis too, and kept me from gardening in the native soil for about 10 years. All of the hoopla about sfg'ing being weedless was really what intrigued me about the method, and I used the best landscaping fabric you can get at Lowes to line the bottom of my box with. The results were phenomenal, and continue to be impressive after constructing it 3 years ago. Yes, the occasional seed gets blown in from the wind, but a quick scan of the 4ft x 25 ft raised bed reveals any weed that has sprouted.
If you used 1x6 boards, then your actual depth was only 5.5 inches. After settling, you were probably only growing in about 3.5 - 4 inches by mid-season.
The plastic will have to be removed, but there's no way i'd try digging down into the native soil beneath. Crabgrass will take over the raised bed. Try the professional grade landscaping fabric, and make your box deeper - I guarantee your results will be much better.

EG

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applestar
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If you're going to prep the beds this fall -- highly recommended BTW, though you CAN get away with making new beds in spring, and I've done it -- put down corrugated cardboard. Look up sheet mulching in the search. I'm on the iPad right now and can't post an extended text, but I've described the process several times, and it works great. I lay sticks and branches underneath the cardboard along with half finished compost. some people use manure. I do not dig, but use gardening fork to make holes and fracture the clay as described by others. Look up no till gardening. :wink:

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rainbowgardener
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Don't dig down, but do take cynthia's suggestion and punch some holes down into the clay after you have gotten rid of the plastic. Then build your box higher. THe first time I built raised beds, I used 1x12" boards, but I found that, even though I braced the corners and middles, after just a few years the boards warped. My current beds I built out of 4x4" stacked fence posts pictured here:

https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=105961&highlight=raised+beds#105961

They've now lasted about 9 yrs and are still very solid/

Personally, I hate landscaping fabric and would just go with the newspaper. Sounds like your weeds aren't necessarily coming up from the bottom any way. If you mulch well you won't have trouble with weed seeds coming in.

For veggies a mulch that breaks down easier than hardwood would be better - straw, grass clippings, fall leaves. even shredded paper. Suppresses the weeds and then breaks down and feeds your soil.
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engineeredgarden
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Personally, I hate landscaping fabric and would just go with the newspaper. Sounds like your weeds aren't necessarily coming up from the bottom any way. If you mulch well you won't have trouble with weed seeds coming in.
I'm struggling to understand why anyone would hate landscaping fabric. Crabgrass is really invasive, and it always attempts to penetrate a raised bed from underneath - or the sides. Cardboard would probably keep it at bay for a few years, but newspaper wouldn't have much of a chance against it. Here's my main raised bed as it was originally constructed, but since has been made deeper...

EG

[img]https://i54.tinypic.com/16a2o8n.jpg[/img]

navajo
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engineeredgarden wrote:
As for weeds, even the plastic doesn't really help anyway. We have very aggressive crabgrass here and the wind is constantly blowing other weed seeds around so I do spend a lot of time pulling weeds from the beds anyway.
Navajo - crabgrass was my nemesis too, and kept me from gardening in the native soil for about 10 years. All of the hoopla about sfg'ing being weedless was really what intrigued me about the method, and I used the best landscaping fabric you can get at Lowes to line the bottom of my box with. The results were phenomenal, and continue to be impressive after constructing it 3 years ago. Yes, the occasional seed gets blown in from the wind, but a quick scan of the 4ft x 25 ft raised bed reveals any weed that has sprouted.
If you used 1x6 boards, then your actual depth was only 5.5 inches. After settling, you were probably only growing in about 3.5 - 4 inches by mid-season.
The plastic will have to be removed, but there's no way i'd try digging down into the native soil beneath. Crabgrass will take over the raised bed. Try the professional grade landscaping fabric, and make your box deeper - I guarantee your results will be much better.

EG
I hear you. I have lived here 10 years and have pulled truck loads of the stuff but it just doesn't do any good. Oh well, at least I can grow SOMETHING! :lol:

Questiong though, if I am punching holes in the clay for the roots of my garden plants to eventually take hold in, wouldn't the weed cloth prevent this as that is kind of what it is designed to do?

navajo
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applestar wrote:If you're going to prep the beds this fall -- highly recommended BTW, though you CAN get away with making new beds in spring, and I've done it -- put down corrugated cardboard. Look up sheet mulching in the search. I'm on the iPad right now and can't post an extended text, but I've described the process several times, and it works great. I lay sticks and branches underneath the cardboard along with half finished compost. some people use manure. I do not dig, but use gardening fork to make holes and fracture the clay as described by others. Look up no till gardening. :wink:
Hmmm, it never really occurred to me to prep the beds the fall before (except for cover crops I have been reading a lot about here). I asked in my other thread, but will again here if you don't mind. Since I WILL NOT be using any more peat moss as filler, what should I mix with the compost to topp up the higher beds?

Thanks for taking the time to help out!

navajo
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rainbowgardener wrote:Don't dig down, but do take cynthia's suggestion and punch some holes down into the clay after you have gotten rid of the plastic. Then build your box higher. THe first time I built raised beds, I used 1x12" boards, but I found that, even though I braced the corners and middles, after just a few years the boards warped. My current beds I built out of 4x4" stacked fence posts pictured here:

https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=105961&highlight=raised+beds#105961

They've now lasted about 9 yrs and are still very solid/

Personally, I hate landscaping fabric and would just go with the newspaper. Sounds like your weeds aren't necessarily coming up from the bottom any way. If you mulch well you won't have trouble with weed seeds coming in.

For veggies a mulch that breaks down easier than hardwood would be better - straw, grass clippings, fall leaves. even shredded paper. Suppresses the weeds and then breaks down and feeds your soil.
Those are really pretty! What kind of treatment is on the outside of the wood? I LOVE natural wood and am putting it everywhere in the house as I get to it during the CONSTANT repaire/remodels!

Also, the crabgrass most definately come up from the bottom (DEEP!) and will also find any crack or crevice to invade. It is very persisiant stuff!

Straw and grass clipping I have and Fall leaves I can get. going to be some changes around these here parts next year! HA!

Thanks again for the time and effort you all put in here. It truly is a wonderful and friendly place!


Tom

navajo
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engineeredgarden wrote:
Personally, I hate landscaping fabric and would just go with the newspaper. Sounds like your weeds aren't necessarily coming up from the bottom any way. If you mulch well you won't have trouble with weed seeds coming in.
I'm struggling to understand why anyone would hate landscaping fabric. Crabgrass is really invasive, and it always attempts to penetrate a raised bed from underneath - or the sides. Cardboard would probably keep it at bay for a few years, but newspaper wouldn't have much of a chance against it. Here's my main raised bed as it was originally constructed, but since has been made deeper...

EG

[img]https://i54.tinypic.com/16a2o8n.jpg[/img]
MAN! That thing looks like one of the obstacle courses I had to do in Boot Camp! HAHAHA!

Just kidding! Looks very nice. Is it still the same basic configuration now that it's deeper?

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applestar
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I'm not worried about crabgrass. they don't like shade and they get shaded out by the crops. Or buried under mulch. What grows AROUND the beds are cut and used for mulch or as GREENs in the compost pile.

Personally I would not use weed barrier cloth for the reason you stated -- it blocks root growth -- as well as natural soil organism activity. Also, to me, the fact that they break down over the years mean SOME KIND of breakdown chemical substances are getting into the soil, and they're not natural.

navajo
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applestar wrote:I'm not worried about crabgrass. they don't like shade and they get shaded out by the crops. Or buried under mulch. What grows AROUND the beds are cut and used for mulch or as GREENs in the compost pile.

Personally I would not use weed barrier cloth for the reason you stated -- it blocks root growth -- as well as natural soil organism activity. Also, to me, the fact that they break down over the years mean SOME KIND of breakdown chemical substances are getting into the soil, and they're not natural.
OK, now I am starting to wonder if crabgrass is what I have. You say that it doesn't like shade but when I removed the dirt and plastic from one part of my bed to replant my fall lettuce and raddishes, I found some LONG thick grass roots right under the plastic and when pulling them they "zipped" around a bit then wound up being the bottom of the weed I have. I've been told it is crabgrass, but might need to do some research to verify.

I have used the barrier cloth before in flower beds and it was a pain in the rear when it started breaking down but I might try some deeper and running up the sides in some of the shallow root crops next year to see if it helps.

Thanks again.

Tom

tedln
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Some of you have been talking about how to prevent crabgrass from coming up from below the garden soil in raised beds. In North Texas, we fight crabgrass all the time, but it grows from seed left from plants that died in the first freeze the previous fall.

Crabgrass
[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2010%20Garden/crabgrass.jpg[/img]

The grass that invades my beds is Bermuda grass which reproduces both by wind blown seed and by tendrils which send roots into the soil. It will send tendrils below my raised beds and then new sprouts emerge after penetrating upwards through 12" of soil.

It really isn't that hard to control. I simply pull it root and all when it pops up in my beds. It's like a morning ritual to pull eight or ten tiny weeds and grass shoots every morning. Gardening fabric on top or deep mulch will accomplish the same thing.

Ted
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navajo
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tedln wrote:Some of you have been talking about how to prevent crabgrass from coming up from below the garden soil in raised beds. In North Texas, we fight crabgrass all the time, but it grows from seed left from plants that died in the first freeze the previous fall.

Crabgrass
[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2010%20Garden/crabgrass.jpg[/img]

The grass that invades my beds is Bermuda grass which reproduces both by wind blown seed and by tendrils which send roots into the soil. It will send tendrils below my raised beds and then new sprouts emerge after penetrating upwards through 12" of soil.

It really isn't that hard to control. I simply pull it root and all when it pops up in my beds. It's like a morning ritual to pull eight or ten tiny weeds and grass shoots every morning. Gardening fabric on top or deep mulch will accomplish the same thing.

Ted
DING DING DING DING

WE HAVE A WINNER!

OK, so I looked up pics and descriptions of crabgrass and bremuda grass and what I have is definately bermuda grass.

SHEESH! How are you people supposed to help me when I give you bad info to go on? :lol: :oops:

OK, so no more listening to the neighbors about yard stuff! HA!

Thanks Ted.

Tom

tedln
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Yep, Bermuda grass can be your friend or your foe. I pull a few sprigs from my raised beds every day. At the same time, it is our lawn grass and Coastal Bermuda grass is the forage grass our cattle eat (high protein). It dies back at first frost every fall and re emerges from the roots every spring. In the fall, I sow annual rye grass seed into the Bermuda grass for a winter lawn. As I look out my windows right now, the place looks like it is covered in fine green hair from the emerging rye grass. (We have had two days of gentle, but steady; rain. which is exactly what the rye grass seed needs to germinate and not wash away.)

Ted
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engineeredgarden
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Ah! crabgrass and bermuda are completely different, and be thankful that what you actually have is the latter of the two.
Yes, landscaping fabric in the bottom of the box does keep roots from penetrating the native soil below, and instead tend to grow horizontally throughout the soil mass. In a sense, it's kinda like growing in a really big container, I guess.

Oh, and I too - think my main raised bed looks like hurdles from the summer olympics. Heh. Works great, though! The configuration is still the same, just 6" deeper....

EG

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Re: HELP FOR NEXT YEAR

navajo wrote:... but the plants will still only have 6" or so of ammended soil before they hit the red clay zone.
Yep, there's the main problem that I can see ... 6 inches for the plant roots to operate in, is just not enough.

There are lots of different ways you can go, whether it be using deeper raised beds... or continually amending the clay soil, slowly improving it's depth and tilth over the years.
Both methods have their Pros and Cons.

There are some crops that I prefer to grow in my clay garden soil (which I am constantly working to improve); and, other crops that I prefer to grow in raised beds. Don't be afraid to use multiple techniques. :)

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