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Newbie prepping garden- SO MANY problems last year! Pls help

Hello! I am pretty new at this. I am hoping somebody with more experience can help me plan ahead to try to avoid the many problems I had last year with my little garden!

I live in NC near Greensboro and have a 4 x 16 ft raised bed (8-12 inches tall) that I would love to grow herbs and veggies in. Last year I just moved here and started late (July) with filling the beds with a soil mix of 35% "top soil" mystery mix recommended by a garden center on top of 35% aged fines, 30% cow manure. I planted 1-2 of various plant type just to experiment and see what would grow most easily since I was new to this.

I ended up having a LOT of problems- first nutrient deficiencies (not surprising given the soil mix)- with the help of HGs on here I identified those and treated with organic blood meal and greensand.

Then PESTS! First striped cucumber beetles, followed by what I think were squash vine borers- lost every single squash and cucumber plant eventually :( Then cabbage worms- lost cabbage to that but was able to hand pick them off and save some broccoli. Then after stopping by a garden house I introduced some newer plants to inside and outside only to later realized they were overrun with aphids! I am still battling those in my houseplants, sadly.

In the end I did well with most herbs (til the basil was overrun with fungus!), beans, kale, arugula, carrots, brussels, broccoli. I got tomato/peppers but they were suffering from some sort of rot that came from inside the fruits, and some even had large worms inside! :eek: I expected the first year to be rough. I learned a lot. I will NOT be trying the "square foot" method this year because I think with my climate here and humidity it was just too much for my little beds to handle.

My questions are:
-What can I do to pretreat the soil? Given the bacterial and fungal rot, beetles, worms, borers, and aphids I'm very nervous about what's lurking in there ready to sabotage my plants again.
-Any particular plants I should avoid this year, or definitely should try? I'm open to anything!

Any other general suggestions about planning out plants / spacing / timing / seeds vs seedlings would be much appreciated! I'm using the forums on here to try to learn about this as well. My main concern is just what remains in my soil as a result of all the troubles last year and how I can avoid the same this time around. It was quite frustrating and hard to keep up with!

Greener Thumb
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Hi there,
First of all, forget the top soil. In my opinion, top soil just makes planting harder as it gives the plants a border between the two soils. Just regular soil is good. So don't over think about the soil type :)

Next, try planting the following herbs (they should be sown directly into the garden beds):

Also, try growing tomatoes. To prevent diseases and pests, it is better to grow them from seeds indoors and then transplant outdoors. Don't buy seedlings from the store, instead extract seeds from store bought tomatoes and plant them. They will germinate better, be healthier and most likely won't have any diseases or pests.

And one last tip: After drinking coffee, dump out the left over coffee grounds into your tomato bed soil. The reason why is because coffee will attract helpful worms, but keep other bad pests away :)

Good luck :-()

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It takes awhile, Lavalampy.

I have started gardens on new ground several times. Land that had been cultivated but had been fallow for years. Land that had been conifer forest but was a field of stumps by the time I got there. Land that I thought had just been part of the forest but, as it finally was revealed to me, had a dirt driveway through it! Land that had been a lawn.

I claim that it takes 3 years to turn soil into garden soil but it probably takes longer. After about 7 years, I'm still working on that driveway ...

I don't know much about bringing in soil for raised beds. I've used raised beds but it was mostly native soil, gathered together - my paths didn't need to grow anything - and heavily amended with compost. Both water and plant roots may be "inhibited" by layers and, probably, it would be best to incorporate some of all layers with each other. I'd do something like that with a spading fork. That would loosen and do some mixing of soil and organic matter to about 11".

After the stumps were pushed off that one piece of ground years ago, I'd read that turnips were good on new ground. Boy was that right! I had next to nothing other than those big beautiful turnips! The next year, things were better. By year 3, I had a pretty nice garden :).

Pests? I'm not sure when the last year was I got through without spraying. I doubt if it amounts to 50% of the vegetable garden but something was being overwhelmed at some time and place. My gardens amount to nearly a half acre so certain plants are there in good numbers. If pests find a couple, the next bug generation will find lots more to chew on. The sprays don't have to be especially toxic but you are out there to rid the plants of the pests or, at least, give them a chance to resist and recover from damage. I use insecticidal soap quite a lot, Bt for cabbage worms, and spinosad for beetles. There are good and bad years. Fortunately, there hasn't been vine borers here but for many pests, there are species and varieties that have more resistance to certain pests. Look through some seed catalogs for ideas on varieties.

The best thing I can think of for a garden and gardener is to grow something! Turn it into the soil if it isn't good enough for the kitchen. You may decide that some things do well for you and that they will contribute a lot to your menu. Have fun with those!

Here's wishing you the Best of Luck.


Greener Thumb
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Location: Gardening in western U.P. of MI. 46+ N. lat. elev 1540. zone 3; state bird: mosquito

I have several areas this year that will be new ground. Thanks for the tip on turnips, can't wait to put some there!

Last year I had an infestation of cabbage worms on a couple of plants. I mixed up some neem oil according to the directions and sprayed it on. It worked beautifully. Worms came crawling out and died.

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Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M(11/B)

It's true gardening is a balancing act, and there are several key influences that you will need to be aware of. I hope you won't let last year's experience deter you. It's rough when all your efforts are ruined by bugs and diseases and animals. ... But it's true, there are always bugs and fungi and bacteria in the soil and air.

I like to add or encourage the GOOD kind. So I think compost is an essential ingredient. You can make your own or buy some. If you live on the east coast northeast or mid-atlantic area, BumperCrop is a good one. It's not actually compost but a garden soil amendment that contains compost and additional mycorrhizae to inoculate and condition the soil.

Plan on growing not just crops but herbs and flowers that attract beneficial insects. Set out birdbath, etc. to attract and encourage nesting birds. Don't spray without thoroughly learning about their effects, and only use as necessary.

Choosing crops to grow that are generally easier will set you up for success. You actually mentioned several that need extra care to protect and grow -- crucifers (cabbages and broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.) as well as C.pepo and C.maxima squash (Summer squash, winter pumpkin, etc.) are two groups that I have to really brace myself to grow and have been experimenting with different techniques every year.

Knowing the right time in the seasons to start and grow -- early spring cool-weather crops, after frost warm weather crops --this is dependent on your location, too. Wrong crop grown at wrong time will be stressed and prone to succumb to diseases and pests.

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Super Green Thumb
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Top soil? What is top soil? to me that is the thin covering of the earth where plant roots reside. It varies a whole lot so no telling just what top soil is? Usually soils contain clay, silt, sand, water, organic matter and a host of small living organisms.
Your local sand, gravel and ready mix concrete company likely has soil available. They are all the time moving soil.

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Super Green Thumb
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I agree that the best thing you can do for your soil at this point is compost. Make a compost pile and compost everything! Grass clippings, leaves, pulled weeds, garden trimmings, kitchen scraps, paper towels, shredded junk mail ....

If you aren't familiar with composting, read the composting basics and composting 101 threads here: The idea isn't just that you add nutrients and tilth to your soil, but that you add a whole living community of soil organisms.

And then you can up your game a notch and brew some of your compost into compost tea. There's a huge aerated compost tea thread here: ... 35&t=17097 This just uses oxygen and food energy (molasses) to grow the microbial community of the compost and make it very biologically active. Also it helps a little bit of compost go farther in your garden.

Learn to think of your garden as an eco-system that needs to be balanced. So that's what applestar was saying about growing herbs and flowers that attract beneficial insects (pollinator and insects that prey on the pests) There's a nice listing here ... enefi.html of what those beneficial insects are and what plants attract them. And have bird baths, bird feeders, etc. to make your garden welcoming to birds.

There are two things that are handy to keep around to help you deal with pests. Diatomaceous earth works against any insects/pests that crawl over it, especially soft bodied things. This includes slugs, snails, aphids, thrips, earwigs, flea beetles, ants, etc. It needs to be used correctly and reapplied frequently, since it doesn't work once wet.

Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) is a disease that affects only certain caterpillar type pests. This includes cabbage worms and cabbage loopers, tomato hornworms, and others.

As has been said, your garden will keep getting better as your helpful community and balanced eco-system gets better established. And you will learn what works best and grows best for you in your garden. Personally, I have given up on growing summer squash / zucchini because of the squash vine borer. And I don't know about my new garden yet, but I am not expecting that moving south improved that situation any.

Best Wishes!!!

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Super Green Thumb
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Lavalampy, if you will put your location and zone on your profile, it helps us to help you.
Things vary around the country and it is important to get things right for your area.

Diatomaceous Earth is a good thing to have handy. It is a powder, the shells of diatoms
and they have sharp pointed bodies. Anyway, not a chemical insecticide, but it sure
discourages a lot of crawly bugs.

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Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2013 8:32 am
Location: Hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

You have gottten good advice on improving the soil. Just remember, if you are doing this organically, time and patience is required.

For pest control.
Squash vine borers are the bane of the Eastern gardeners. They are difficult to control
You can plant butternut, melons, and cucumbers which the SVB don't usually bother or do not have a preference for. .
The larva emerge around June and July so that is when you have to be on the lookout for them and destroy any infested plants. Some people surgically remove the borers. If it is possible you can plant out of season to avoid the worst of it, but that only works if you have the time to do it.
You could try a physical barrier like row covers or insect netting but you have to secure the bottoms well to make sure they can't get under them.

Cucumber beetles usually have to be controlled with insecticides, you can also try a phsical barrier like a row cover.
Soft bodied insects like aphids and mealy bugs are a little easier to control with alcohol, insectidal soap, or horticultural oill. You can encorage predators by growing nectar plants and providing habitat. I like fennel. It lasts a longtime and stays in bloom for most of the year, and it is edible. Aromatic herbs usually repel pests but not all of them.
Fennel, alyssum, yarrow, lavender, cuphea, cilantro in bloom, Queen Anne's lace, and sunflowers to name a few. Basil and onions in bloom will attract beneficials also. They also need a house, so fallen tree logs, empty pot turned down or on its' side.
Get a soil test and it should tell you how much fertilier you need to. You can ask for organic recommendations.

I would plant more dill, thyme, carrots, fennel and alyssum. Leave a shallow tray filled with water and pellbles
Until you get the predatores established it would be best not to plant the things that were hit hard last year.

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A lot of good advise for the OP. I would NOT suggest taking seeds from a store bought tomato though. Known viable seeds are available many places and are not expensive. Store bought tomatoes are probably a hybrid so you don't know if you will get fruit worth eating. Don't take that chance. JMO.

Mr green
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Meatburner wrote:A lot of good advise for the OP. I would NOT suggest taking seeds from a store bought tomato though. Known viable seeds are available many places and are not expensive. Store bought tomatoes are probably a hybrid so you don't know if you will get fruit worth eating. Don't take that chance. JMO.
Second this, most commercial grown tomatos are F1 hybrids and seeds from them are rarely stable, and may become anything from the genetic lines of the "mother" or "father" plant.

Some people are stating that they get stable F2 and F3 generations of Sungold tomatos, for example, so its not all black and white. Buying seeds is a good practice, and in the future saving your own seeds.

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Super Green Thumb
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Yes, buy labeled seeds. Many of the plants we grow in our gardens today are hybrids and if seeds are saved, next year you will get a variety of things.

I previously wrote: "Usually soils contain clay, silt, sand, water, organic matter and a host of small living organisms. "
When looking for soil for your planter the things you need most are: clay, silt, sand. Start there. You can add organic matter, the "small living organisms" mentioned find their own way to your soil.

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HUGE thanks to all gardeners out there for their thoughtful responses! I am going to use as many of these ideas as I can. I got some parsley and dill seeds and have started tons of veggie seedlings inside from seeds I got mostly online. I also have planned out how to better plant the seedlings for the right weather- last year I definitely planted some veggies at the wrong time and that probably contributed a lot to my problems. I got some neem oil handy and will try to get some diatomaceous earth next.

I actually have been composting a while and I recently started adding that to my soil, and to my surprise when I was mixing it up the soil was full of earthworms! Those are always good, right? I hope that means the manure from last year is breaking down and I won't need to add so much nitrogen. I also was reading about nasturtiums and marigolds to help with pests and was thinking about planting some of these near tomato/pepper/squash/melon plants.

Regarding row covers- I have been thinking about using those to try to protect the seedlings since last year so much of the cucumber beetle damage happened to young plants. As a bonus I thought I could get material that can also be used for shade cover for those hot days in the upper 80s-low 100s. Since I had the beetles last year, though, wouldn't a cover just trap the overwintered bugs that are hiding in my soil inside with the plants? Or do they overwinter nearby but not necessarily directly in the soil?

I'm going to hold off on zucchini, cucumbers, and straightneck squash this year given the huge failures last time. I have some vining baby butternut and sugar baby watermelon seeds though and think I will give those a go in a separate area from where the squash was last year. I'm also going to try to trellis them up more extensively. Would it be helpful to cut off a lot of the lower branches of these plants as they develop so that there is just one "main" stalk initially? I read about that somewhere with zucchini..

So excited for round 2 with this garden!

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Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2013 8:32 am
Location: Hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

Earthworms are good. However, adding compost and nitrogen is something you have to continually do. Compost helps build the soil web and nitrogen is very difficult to get enough of organically. Nitrogen is constantly changing and recycling so it needs to be constantly replaced. Planting inoculated legumes will help the next crop by fixing nitrogen.

Row covers only work if you can keep the bad bugs on the outside, it is a barrier. It still takes diligence and scouting regularly to take care of any issues early on. I have a garden full of lizards that like to eat beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, and mosquitoes so I don't have much issues with beetles. I have a different beetle problem Chinese rose beetles that like the same things as Japanese beetles. I actually use a Japanese beetle trap (floral lure) to trap them and I grow most of my roses under a street light and I only have minor leaf damage to my roses in the back yard that are not near a light. Since the lure of the trap is very effective, I locate the trap as far away from the target plants as possible. I have to take the floral lure out in the mornings and replace it after dark since the trap will also trap bees.
I don't have squash vine borer, but it looks like if you remove infested vines early and sanitize the area it helps. It also helps to grow other types of vines that they don't like instead. Unlike my beetles they are most active in the day.
There are commercial traps available ... _borer.htm

It is always a good idea to boost the garden patrol. Attract birds that like to feast on insects by providing habitat. I warn you though that some birds also love young seedlings so use the row covers. Grow nectar plants like alyssum, dill, fennel, carrot family (let it go to seed), sunflowers, achillea to attract beneficial insects ... enefi.html ... /8103.html

It sounds like your soil was not balanced to start with. It is not just the mystery mix, but also that you were dependent on organic fertilizers and a new bed may not have a fully developed microbia to convert the fertilizer fast enough and the plants were probably deficient because of that. It takes years to build a good organic garden. Continually adding compost, and organic fertilizers. Nitrogen is really hard to get organically and the best sources will be animal sources like blood meal or scotts nature's choice organi lawn food. 11-2-2. You can add tomato tone or a balanced organic fertilizer like 10-10-10 or 8-8-8. You have to add it earlier than synthetics because it can take months or years before it is broken down and available to plants. fish emulsion, compost or manure tea would have to be supplemented weekly. Nitrogen is needed to get young plants to grow but it is also feeds the soil bacteria as they decompose organic matter. Your plants last year were starved nutritionally and so they were weak. Weak plants are better targets than healthy plants. Your garden should be better this year but you should add your organic fertilizers and compost 6-8 weeks before you plant so they have time to release their nutrients and once you plant out, feed the plants with fish emulsion weekly to grow strong plants.
Butternut squash, cucumbers, melons and watermelons are a different species of squash that SVB do not like as much.
I have all kinds of pests what we do is cover cucumbers, young gourds, bittermelon, and watermelons with newspaper or bags to keep them from being stung by fruit flies. Tomatoes get bagged too, not only from fruit flies but they need bird netting to keep the birds from going after the tomatoes. They especially like big tomatoes and small upright peppers. I like to grow large peppers that hang down, it makes it harder for the birds to get to them. Birds will go after small tomatoes but it is more productive so they don't get them all. Birds would rather go after the papaya anyway.

Bt takes care of caterpillars on the cucumbers and cabbages. Row covers may work for you. They hold too much heat for me so I use insect netting instead. Barriers only work if you have a good seal.

My garden patrol does most of the work so I do scouting and I have nectar plants and habitat to support them. I cut the hibiscus to control white flies and shoot water under the leaves of the peppers to keep white flies away from them. And I plant corn to attract purple lady bugs which really like to eat white flies. I put out ant bait to control aphids and scale. I still have problems with peach scale that is resistent to pesticides so I control that with a brush and soapy water, or if it is really bad, the plant gets culled. I have no good control for snails, so they are out of control despite all the sluggo I throw at them. I still go out early in the morning on snail hunts.

I rarely have to resort to chemicals, but if I do, I use the least toxic and most effective first.... alcohol.

I do get mites April-June on the hibiscus. Since, I don't want to get rid of the plant, I do disbud and use a short acting systemic on it. It is in a pot so it can be isolated.

Keeping plants growing as healthy as you can, scouting and controlling pests with the right method or just building the garden patrol up and giving them a chance to keep things under control helps a lot. Frankly the garden patrol does a better job of it. It is not 100% but damage will be tolerable. I definitely wish I had a couple of toads in the yard to take care of the slugs and snails.

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