Stourme
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Creating a healthy garden from scratch

I usually have a very healthy looking garden. I don't really consider myself to be a hobbyist. Mainly because I spend hours every day, except Sunday, working my garden. I take it very seriously. And I was able to make a dent in how my family eats this summer.

Next year it will be even better. I plan on growing enough green beans to can and literally very few veggies bought from a store next year. I can't help but have a lot of pride in that goal.

I have friends and people visiting that will stop and stand there staring at my garden. There is a bit of a shock and awe factor. My stuff gets big and a deep green color that most people aren't used to seeing in the average garden or yard.

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Zucchini by the 2nd week of June.

Now I say that, in order to say this, I got totally humbled and schooled hard this year too.
The company that my brother-in-law works for has a very large building and has land around the building that goes for probably a mile. They had the great idea of giving the employees space to grow on. About an acre all together.

They had the land professionally prepared. They brought in tons of compost, tractors and the works. They divided this acre in to dedicated rows covered with thick commercial grade tarp and landscaping fabric. Under the tarp on each row they put in a dedicated drip system.

All the employee has to do is request space and they are giving a section of a row. The employee just has to go to their section and punch a hole in the tarp and plant their seedlings. Perfect sun, perfect soil, and perfect water. And all maintained by professionals.

At the beginning of this season I had started just about everything under lights and had given my BIL all my extras; tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, etc... he took them all to work and plugged them in.

One Saturday afternoon, BIL and I were standing out in my garden talking about how beautiful everything was looking...he invited me to drive over to his office and see his garden. Well, I ate humble pie that day and went back for seconds.

His tomatoes were easily 4x the size of my plants. Cherry tomatoes so big you couldn't put two in your mouth at the same time. His zucchini plant was gigantic. The leaves extended almost 5' off the ground. He got 20lbs of green beans off of one picking off a short row of like 10 bush bean plants.

I looked around at rows of perfect corn, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe,... it was like being in a different world. I was in shock. :shock:

His plants were from the same batch of seeds as were mine. Same altitude and same temperature conditions. But on average his are growing and producing 2 to 4x better than mine.

My new raised beds were built last fall. I trucked in 8 tons of topsoil and compost. The biggest bed is 16'x10' the second is 12'x7' at it's widest point.
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He's probably getting about 3hours more direct sunlight than me, but there's nothing I can do about that.

I believe the biggest issue is the soil.

It takes years, IMO to get the soil to optimally produce. Therefore I started with the first grass clippings I could get and start mulching the whole garden. When my onions, lettuce, carrots, and pumpkins were done, I tilled all that green matter back into the soil.
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If you click to enlarge the image you can see the brown composting matter in the soil.

As soon as the beets, squash, and cantaloupe are done I'll put them on the pile too.
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Then after the last mowing of the lawn I'll add probably 6-ish bags of sheep manure, and then till it all under for the winter.

I'm going to transplant those lavender out of that bed and put in 8 rows x 16' of bush beans in there. With a row of cantaloupe and honey due that will run to the right and up the trellis. Leaving a 3' space on the right as a "no mans land". The sun doesn't hit that area until around 1:30pm. Well I might put the lavender in that space though.

I think with that effort I will soon close the garden gap. :)

By the way, my BIL came by this morning and dropped these off saying he had extra: *sigh :shock:
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dtizme
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

Sounds like your gonna have a tough time competing with that. He has more sun + better watering system + better soil I'm assuming. Not to mention it's all maintained by professionals. When you say his tomato plant are 2 to 4 times bigger than yours how big are they? Best i've managed here with cherry tomato plants is about 10 feet tall. I plant directly in the ground, not raised beds. Not sure if that really makes a huge difference or not as long as your raised beds are deep enough. I'm no expert by any means but the drip system that they use might be a bigger difference than the soil. Obviously you have to have good soil but water is very important as well.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

Yeah, 3 hours a day more of sun plus drip irrigation is HUGE. You are never going to catch up with that.

But it does look to me like your soil could use continued work on enrichment.

If you want a good garden, you need to invest the effort in the soil: Turning it, breaking it up, hoe-ing it, adding lots of compost, peat moss, and/or other organic material, turning and hoe-ing again, then mulching deeply after planting. Good soil is dark and loose and crumbly and slightly moist:

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https://www.hoosieragtoday.com//wp-conte ... y-soil.jpg

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The soil in the garden beds I have worked for some years, I can just push a trowel all the way down into easily, it is so soft and fluffy.

Buying compost in bags is just not the same as having your own home made fresh compost any more than buying a tomato in the grocery is the same as having a home grown fresh tomato! Start composting everything you can get your hands on! (Read the stickies in our Compost Forum if you aren't real familiar with composting; everything you need to know is there.)
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Stourme
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

I won't catch up, but what it did do was open my eyes to what is possible in a home garden.

In other words I'm no where near reaching my potential.

Stourme
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

rainbowgardener wrote:Yeah, 3 hours a day more of sun plus drip irrigation is HUGE. You are never going to catch up with that.

Buying compost in bags is just not the same as having your own home made fresh compost any more than buying a tomato in the grocery is the same as having a home grown fresh tomato! Start composting everything you can get your hands on! (Read the stickies in our Compost Forum if you aren't real familiar with composting; everything you need to know is there.)
I will definitely be adding a ton of powdered leaves to the garden as well. I shred leaves, let them dry out, then crush them to powder then add them to the soil. They break down very easily after that.

It takes time to turn soil black though. This planting area isn't even a year old yet.

I'm starting to see worms, but not a lot yet. Right now the soil is heavy clay. When I finally till all that plant matter into the soil it should loosen it up substantially.

I live in an urban area... and having a compost pile isn't an option. So I can only do what I can do.

Stourme
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

dtizme wrote:Sounds like your gonna have a tough time competing with that. He has more sun + better watering system + better soil I'm assuming. Not to mention it's all maintained by professionals. When you say his tomato plant are 2 to 4 times bigger than yours how big are they? Best i've managed here with cherry tomato plants is about 10 feet tall. I plant directly in the ground, not raised beds. Not sure if that really makes a huge difference or not as long as your raised beds are deep enough. I'm no expert by any means but the drip system that they use might be a bigger difference than the soil. Obviously you have to have good soil but water is very important as well.
The best example I can give is a more descriptive example of the tomato I talked about in another thread.
I'm in Colorado which is fairly dry and has a relatively short growing season.

This plant is very close to 8ft tall.
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Here's the front
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Down inside from the top
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Right side
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Left side is actually grown down into a window well
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Back side, the best angle I could get
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I pruned it back a couple days ago and pulled probably 5 or more pounds worth of branches and suckers off of it. It didn't grow in a bed, it's in a drainage area for a rain gutter... How it got this big I have no idea, it certainly wasn't anything I can claim credit for...unfortunately.
My regular tomatoes aren't even half this size, it's an oddity for this area. What I pruned off this plant is bigger than some of my regular plants.

My BIL's tomatoes, the ones I was describing, are a good third bigger than this plant. No exaggeration.

But, it's an eye opener. A learning experience. I now know what can be potentially grown in this area if I get it right. Before, I didn't think it was possible.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

I have always lived in urban areas and I have always had compost piles. I'm not sure why you think you can't.

Properly managed compost piles (which is not hard to do with a little basic information) have NO odor, except a slight (pleasant) earthiness when you stand right next to it. It does not have to be ugly and it does not have to take up a lot of room. See this thread: https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/vi ... le#p361515

for examples of compact, attractive compost bins.

But you are definitely right about it taking time to create good rich garden soil and it isn't going to happen in the first year or two. The leaves are a great addition. Personally, I wouldn't powder them, shredding is fine and then adding directly to your soil. For composting, I don't even shred them, just throw them in the compost pile. Leaves are at their most nutrient rich right after they fall from the tree. You are pre-decomposing them and in that process, they are losing nutrients.
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applestar
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

I think in addition to the sun, one of the conditions that is helping the company community garden is the plastic mulch. That is the method recommended to grow melons and sweet potatoes in areas that don't get warm enough summers. Gardeners in cooler summer areas like Michigan and northwest high elevation areas report good results for tomatoes.

The plastic mulch warms up the soil.

A crop that I have always had trouble with here -- that I have been suspecting warmth as the issue -- is eggplants. I already knew some peppers especially smaller hot pepper plants -- another crop that wants warm root zones -- grow better in containers. This year I'm getting fantastic results from eggplants and sweet peppers by growing them in SIPs (self irrigated planters). Eggplant SIP is where it gets full sun. Sweet pepper SIP actually is only getting part sun but is growing well. I might have seen better production if they had been in just a little more sun, but maybe not.

I don't really want to spread plastic mulch all over, so my answer to this is still going to be raised rows and raised beds for most of my garden, with the paths doubling as irrigation swales.

It's always fun to come up with new techniques and methods to improve your garden. Next year is going to be better than this year. Good luck with yours -- sounds like you already have some ideas. :D

...I do have to wonder how they "professionally" control pests and diseases, and keep out any wildlife. I imagine the project would seem successful if all the crops grow amazingly and all they have to do is go and pick the harvest, but this could get a bit Disney World and botanical gardens.
Learning never ends because we can share what we've learned. And in sharing our collective experiences, we gain deeper understanding of what we learned.

Stourme
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

applestar wrote:I think in addition to the sun, one of the conditions that is helping the company community garden is the plastic mulch. That is the method recommended to grow melons and sweet potatoes in areas that don't get warm enough summers. Gardeners in cooler summer areas like Michigan and northwest high elevation areas report good results for tomatoes.

The plastic mulch warms up the soil.
Oh I definitely think you're right. Also a good combination of full sun, a wide growing area filled with nutrient rich loose soil, and drip system sends everything into over drive.

I'm originally from the south. The hills of North Carolina. When I was growing up all the old timers had big gardens. It was just something you did. And anything you didn't grow you got from somebody else or bought it from an open air market. We bottled green beans...well pretty much everything really. We stored onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes and that's what we ate all winter...My mom is in her 70's and still cans at least 110 to 140 quarts of green beans every year.... anyways.

Growing big plants was normal in the south. I'm sure all of you will agree with that statement.

I'm shocked and quite excited to see that it's possible in Colorado. Which is something I had never seen before this year.

Because people here really struggle growing. All the commercial growers have elaborate irrigation systems in place. Even so we had a cold and very wet spring and a later start to the growing season this year. It really screwed up the corn harvest. Shoot we got 200 acre corn fields out here where the tallest corn stalk is 3ft high right now... And we have had blizzards hit in the first week of October before. Several of those fields have already been plowed under.

Anyways I'm excited about the possibilities for next year! :-()

Susan W
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

Sorry, had to laugh when I first read this! No offense, just shakes head situation.

Having done most of my adult gardening in southern Illinois and now Memphis -midsouth, can't imagine dealing with CO. (yes have lived there). You mentioned being from NC. What we have that CO doesn't, is warmer and wetter. Ground doesn't freeze solid and we have rain. Stuff decays and is part of the soil on-going 12 months.

I would be foolish and out of place to even suggest anything for your situation.
Have fun!
Susan

Rairdog
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

I was of the same school. It don't happen in the first year or 2. Well I was wrong by a longshot. The combination of hugelkulture, lasagna and topped with aged leaf compost and alpaca manure was the key. Basically build an aged soil on top of a future aged compost. We had a good rain year so that helped. I just started watering the last couple weeks.

I can honestly say it was the best I've done in 30 years. I have 5 ft tall sweet peppers that are flush with green fruit coming into color. Never seen that this late. I have 8 ft tall tomatoes that are still putting on new BIG fruit. I have never beat septoria and if the plants got to 10 ft they didn't put out this late. I picked 1.5 lb Cherokee purples yesterday. My other gardens are stubs of septoria ridden toms despite a regiment of treatments. The hugel combo got septoria but seemed to outgrow it.

I have pulled most of the tom, cuke cages from the other gardens and wrote them off. I will be building them up the same way I built the new garden for this year. All my efforts of compost and no til were a waste in comparison. Best part is most of it is free and all around us. I could never supply the compost needed because it takes too long to mature. You can always find dead leaves, rotten trees and grass clippings.

I won't lie....I'm not totally organic. I have not problem foliar feeding with MG (high k low n tomato), seaweed and Epsom this late if they need it. The goal is to give them everything organic they need upfront but sometime the fruits suck it all out and they need top dressed. It's hard to give them a good dose of organic K quickly at the end of the season.

These are super hots and twice the size of most. I have sent out over 50 bucks worth of shipping at my expense to those that helped me or those stuck with limited grow area, balcony's etc.
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Here's a shot 3 weeks ago. I can't even get in there and peppers were planted 2-3 ft apart. Close plantings shade the root zone, keep soil cooler=less water and suppress weeds. I will never go back to rows. I just need to reach from both sides.
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This was bulls horn off 2 plants in one day
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Big toms
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You can spend the money, put down plastic, drip irrigation and such. I got 40 bucks and a days labor in a 10x30 bed. I schooled myself in disbelief. I never expected it to work the first year. This aint me braggin but trying to help others from what I've learned here and on other forums. I apologize in advance if it offends anyone...but like you said at the get go. We think we got it figured out and bam...we learn more.

Stourme
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

Rairdog, thanks for sharing. That's definitely something new for me. I will look into it. Very intriguing gardening method.

Those peppers look amazing.

Taiji
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

I googled the hugelkultur gardening method. It looks like it does give really great results. Around here though we have a really major subterranean termite problem. Leave a piece of wood laying on the ground for a week and they move in and make short work of it. Maybe a termite colony won't bother the vegetables, I don't know, but the idea of them swarming around down there by the millions isn't too appetizing!

We also have lots of gophers, pack rats and big field mice. Once they moved into that underground wood haven, I don't know how I'd ever get rid of them.

The concept of the rotting wood feeding the soil for years is good, but I don't think it's for me around here.

imafan26
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

Ditto for me in Hawaii where one termite colony can actually have multiple queens and stretch 20 miles and no winter cold to slow them down. Untreated wood in the ground is a big no no. My mother's avocado and ficus bonsai were both infested with termites eating the woody cores of the living trees. The avocado roots invaded a section of the vegetable planter and the potatoes were riddled with tunnels from the termites. I had a trellis in my communitiy garden that was supported by untreated 2x4's and an pick that I used and forgot to take home. The trellis collapsed and the pick handle were both eaten by termites.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

Stourme
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Re: Creating a healthy garden from scratch

Here however, the wind chill in a blizzard can push the temps down to -40 and the ground freezes solid. The last big rain we had this year was back in May. So pests aren't that big of a deal. I'd be interested in trying this method.

I actually have some old logs left over from a tree that was cut down in my back yard last year. My wife and I were talking last night about how we could make it work.

It is possible to have a super charged garden here... I have a pile of grass clippings I've built up and in another month there will hundreds of pounds of leaves everywhere... I could do this. :)

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