Maxy24
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Location: Natick, MA

Starting a New Garden

Hi all,

I live in Massachusetts, zone 6a. I have been gardening for several years but do not consider myself very well educated in gardening, we (my dad and I) mainly just wing it. We have had issues with pests and disease in the past. Our veggie garden was a raised bed and was quite small. I try to grow everything from seed if possible (starting most indoors) as that's what I really enjoy the most about gardening.

This fall we moved and would like to start a veggie garden again. We live in a condo so the garden will be at my grandparents house a few streets over. We were not planning on doing a raised bed this time, but were just going to go into the ground, so were going to rent a roto-tiller and till it this weekend, then plant. But now that I've started reading about starting gardens it seems that doing this might leave me with a severe weed problem. Plus some people are saying tilling destroys the beneficial fauna in the ground.

So my main question is, what is the best way to turn an area of backyard into a garden in a short time? The backyard has grass but it's not like a thick beautiful lawn, it's patchy, some areas are dirt. I have cold weather plants that need to get into the ground soon (like right now). Plus seeds that needs to be sown directly. In years past we have always put cold weather plants out too late, I've yet to actually get ]brussels sprouts, it's always too warm, and most of the broccoli flowers very quickly. I was really hoping after tilling this weekend we could get right to planting. So what are my best options?

I was also curious about the actual set up. Do most people do multiple beds or one plot with everything in it? I often read about people planting on mounds which we've never done (and I don't really want to), is it necessary to do that? This is not going to be a huge garden, but bigger than we had before. We haven't decided exactly how large to make it yet. We have to sit down and figure out how large it needs to be to fit the number of plants we want. I want to space appropriately as we always crowded things before and I think that led to many of our disease issues. Right now we're planning to plant:

Tomatoes (several varieties)
Bell Peppers
Eggplant
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Walla Walla Onions
Cucumber
Zucchini
Spaghetti Squash
Butternut Squash (butterbush)
Carrots
Green Beans
Lettuce
Spinach
Beets

We also have herbs but I'm not sure if those will go in the ground or stay in containers.

Any advice on getting started and preparing the ground would be very much appreciated!

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applestar
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Re: Starting a New Garden

I like sheet mulching. Method I use is loosely based on lasagna garden -- but not as high -- and a bit of pseudo-hugelkultur -- not big rotting logs but older dry as bone, easy to snap branches from my wood pile. Typically low budget with lots of weeds and clippings, leaves, etc. yard waste in the bottom and unfinished home made compost ...only a couple inches of (mostly) weed-free good stuff on the top.

I have some raised beds with sides, but mostly raised mounded beds.

...this thread might have some info you could reference...

Subject: What's best? Raised bed or non-raised bed garden?
applestar wrote:^^^
What tomc said. :D

I have subsoil clay also -- some areas are so bad that if you peel the sod off, there may be 1-2 inches of what could be called soil, then solid pack clay underneath. Working organic matter into all that is nearly futile, but sheet mulching beds and rows and scraping up every bit of (top)soil from the paths onto raised mounds for growing, and then mulching the paths with cardboard and/or woody materials like tree clippings and corn stalks, weeds, etc. to be trampled into the mud and decompose and turn into compost/soil for the season ...to be scraped up again when the beds are prepared..., etc. (I think there's another latin that could be used here something infinitum?)

For my area where we have summer drought, this also works well because the clay based paths act as swales to puddle the rare rain as well as precious irrigation water, then soak it up and sequester the moisture. Mulching the paths not only keeps down the weeds but hold that moisture and protects the feeder roots that venture out underneath from trampling.

In addition, I find that a lot of heat loving summer crops don't do well in the ground, and I'm thinking it's because the clay soil stays too cool when our typical overnight summer temperatures are mid- to upper 60's. The raised loose mounds heat up more to warm up the roots zone and encourage them to grow better.

In large areas where possible, I have been trying to alternate the growing raised mounds with the paths. I leave all the roots that have delved down to the clay pan and infiltrated it in the ground to break down as organic matter by simply lopping the finished plants at soil level. Once the bed/row has been planted for a season or two, especially with tall-growing deep rooted crops, the workable soil underneath is considerable deeper. So I find myself digging up and scraping up more soil from under previously raised mounds and digging myself a deeper trench/path/swale. All that needs to be leveled or I end up with clay lined bath tubs. And this way, I distribute the good stuff over the entire area.
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.

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jal_ut
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Re: Starting a New Garden

People talk about their beds, plots, etc. For me the garden is just a piece of the lot out back that I ran the tiller over to break it up and get rid of the grass. Then plant. In the fall the leaves go on the plot then everything gets tilled in. Have fun!
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

bri80
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Location: Portland, OR

Re: Starting a New Garden

Maxy24 wrote: This fall we moved and would like to start a veggie garden again. We live in a condo so the garden will be at my grandparents house a few streets over. We were not planning on doing a raised bed this time, but were just going to go into the ground, so were going to rent a roto-tiller and till it this weekend, then plant. But now that I've started reading about starting gardens it seems that doing this might leave me with a severe weed problem. Plus some people are saying tilling destroys the beneficial fauna in the ground.

So my main question is, what is the best way to turn an area of backyard into a garden in a short time?
People get very attached to their particular garden lore, and end up with religious-esque devotion to certain techniques or lack-of-techniques. No-till gardening is a thing, and some people are very adamant that Tilling Is Bad and will be very convincing. I'm sure they've had success with their style of no-till gardening. People have also had success with many different styles of till gardening, including myself. One thing to learn about gardening is to listen to people's advice, take it into consideration, and then see what works for you - don't treat any one person's advice as The Only Way. There are about as many different ways of gardening as there are gardeners. :)

For me, when turning a grassy/weedy area into garden, I like to till then let it rest for 2 weeks, then till again. Then I work in fertilizer and compost and plant. You'll be fighting grass/weeds the first couple years even if you wait and till again (or even if you use no-till methods!), it's just the nature of the beast. You'll be fighting grass/weeds even more if you don't rest/till again, but it's still doable. Good luck!

bri80
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Location: Portland, OR

Re: Starting a New Garden

Maxy24 wrote: I was also curious about the actual set up. Do most people do multiple beds or one plot with everything in it?
I think this depends on space available. If you're gardening a small urban plot you probably have to tuck beds all over, wherever you can. If you have a lot of space and a large, sunny area, it's probably easiest/most convenient to turn one large plot into garden.
I often read about people planting on mounds which we've never done (and I don't really want to), is it necessary to do that?
Mounding can be a useful technique in some cases. Here in the PNW, we have cool, rainy, chilly springs and mild summers. It can be difficult to get warm-loving crops like melons, cucumbers, squash to produce well. So to help get them started earlier, I will often make a mound out of dark, fluffy, well-draining compost/potting soil above my normal garden soil. This warms up faster and keeps their feet a little drier, allowing me to get them going a few weeks earlier.

Other than that, I wouldn't consider them necessary.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Starting a New Garden

Jal-ut says just plant in the ground, but notice that he has been farming his ground a long time and has been adding leaves and other stuff regularly. You can certainly plant directly in the ground, but not likely to be very successful unless you amend your soil with a bunch of organics - fall leaves if you have them, compost, well aged composted manure, etc. Put it down and till it in if you are tilling.

Ideally you would send a soil sample to be tested and let that guide you re what your soil needs. At least you need to get a pH meter and check the acidity of your soil. Many veggies like slightly acid soil. Almost any amount of alkalinity or severe acidity will cause you lots of problems. Your choices are tilling, in which case really you should till, let it sit a couple weeks for all the weed seeds to sprout and then till again. Without that, as you noted, you are likely to be giving yourself a big weed problem. Alternatively you can do as applestar suggests. My version of that is just to wet your soil down, lay down a good layer of cardboard or a whole bunch of newspaper, wet it down thoroughly again (helps the paper to break down quicker). Then pile 4-6 inches of good enriched topsoil on top of that and plant into it immediately. Seeds can go right into the topsoil. If planting transplants, you can cut a hole in the cardboard to plant into. If you buy a truckload or a cubic yard of topsoil, it is WAY cheaper than buying in bags.

Best wishes on your new garden! Given that you haven't started yet, you may need to scale down your ambition a bit. Take a little more time getting your ground ready (crucial for success!) and skip planting some of the cold weather stuff, especially lettuce and spinach. Go straight to the warm weather stuff. You can plant the lettuce and spinach at the end of summer for a fall crop.
Last edited by rainbowgardener on Thu Apr 27, 2017 1:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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imafan26
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Location: hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

Re: Starting a New Garden

A lot of people think that they can just dig a hole, plant a seed and it grows. If your soil is decent you may be able to get a good first crop. If it is not, you won't get much out of it. If you plant beans and peas as a first crop you have a better chance of succeeding than planting corn or tomatoes.

You don't need to build a raised bed, but if your dirt looks like dirt then you may have a harder time if you plant a heavy feeder and don't do much else. Garden soil should be fluffy, have organic matter to hold on to moisture, and usually has a bunch of worms and other critters running around.

You can till or use a shovel to build the garden if it is small, but you should double digl; add in organic matter, and you will have to fertilize. You should add 6-8 inches of compost and mix it with an equal volume of soil. You need to site the garden in full sun in an area that has good drainage and no tree roots.

You have to fertilize, but how much you need, really depends on getting a soil test so you add only what you need. Organic fertilizers take a while to be released, as long as 2 years for complete release. You will have to supplement with fish emulsion if you go organic. Synthetic fertilizers are available right away, but it is easy to over fertilize with them so again a soil test will help with that.

Since the garden is not at your house, you will have to figure out how you are going to water it and how often you will be able to go over to tend it.

Some of the things on your list are cool season, and some are warm. Onions need to be planted at the right time of the year for your area. The bulk of the plants are heavy or moderate feeders so they are going to need to be fed well. Tomatoes and cucumbers (vine) need to be trellised. Eggplant an zucchini take up a lot of room as well as the squash unless you let the squash trail out. Lettuce, spinach,beets and brassicas like cool weather.
This is the planting calendar for Boston. If you can find a city closer to you it may change a little.
https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planti ... /MA/Boston

It takes experience and trial an error in the end to find out what grows well together and how you can fit everything into the space. As a cheat, I like to start with a preplanned garden and then substitute plants I don't want with things of similar size. If you substitute you need to make sure it is compatible with the neighbors. You don't need to border the bed. You can just mound up the sides.

The other way to do it would be to draft it out on graph paper. Make geometric shapes that you can shift around on the paper. It is handier than an eraser. Make squares representing 1 foot blocks. Things that will take up more than a square foot, I usually use circles like for zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant. You would have to look up the spread for each plant
Lettuce = 8-10 inches
tomatoes 30 inches
zucchini 30-36 inches
eggplant 36 inches
You can also use one of the free online planners. It does not work for everything, since some plants are not listed and unless you trellis and prune some plants like tomatoes and zucchini will never stay in a 1 ft block. There are some pre-planned gardens available.
https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/kitchen ... _home.html
https://www.bhg.com/gardening/plans/vege ... den-plans/
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Starting a New Garden

RE: Do most people do multiple beds or one plot with everything in it?

There's really no most people, because it depends so much on how much space you have, how sunny the space is, what you are growing, how much work you can put in to it, etc. Over time everyone has to figure out what works for them.

I grow in separate beds, but in each bed there are a number of different plants. This is for maximum use of my (somewhat) limited garden space. Here's one sample:

Image

This 4x8 bed has peas growing up the fence on the left side, then garlic and onions down the left side of the bed, then broccoli. There are three tomato plants down the center, with a parsley plant at the back. The right side of the bed has a whole bunch of lettuce. As soon as the lettuce and peas are done (they are early crops), they will be pulled and something else, maybe beans planted in the space.

I don't understand how you do one large bed if you aren't farming with farm equipment. You need to be able to get to all your plants to water, weed, mulch, monitor/treat for pests, trim, harvest, etc. So it seems that you have to have paths, at which point you are gardening in beds...

One way to do that is just to lay out your paths, then dig all the paths out about six inches down. Throw all the dirt you dig out of the paths into what will be the garden beds. Now you have instant mounded beds, with deep topsoil. Lay down cardboard or burlap or carpet strips (carpet side down) in the paths to keep weeds out and keep them from getting too muddy.
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jasonvanorder
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Location: West Michigan zone 6a

Re: Starting a New Garden

jal_ut wrote:People talk about their beds, plots, etc. For me the garden is just a piece of the lot out back that I ran the tiller over to break it up and get rid of the grass. Then plant. In the fall the leaves go on the plot then everything gets tilled in. Have fun!

Same here only with the addition of rabbit poo too. Im starting a few raised beds this year also only because I don't want to beat the tiller up tilling a new area.

Maxy24
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Location: Natick, MA

Re: Starting a New Garden

Thank you for the advice everyone. I think my best bet for this year in order to still get my cold season stuff in the garden before it's too late is to till and then lay down paper bags. Hopefully it will give me a little protection from the weeds. Unfortunately I really have nothing in the way of compost or yard waste because of the condo living. The landscapers blew a lot of the fall leaves into the small woodsy area behind the complex, do you think those would be okay to gather up and use? Or would they not be decomposed enough? We'll have to buy some compost and/or soil.

I'm going to get some graph paper out tonight and figure out the sizing and layout.

Next year I'll have to plan ahead better and get a soil test. This year we'll just cross our fingers and hope for the best.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Starting a New Garden

If you can just give your plants/ soil (remember really you are feeding the soil) plenty of good organics and probably some added fertilizer, the soil test isn't that important. I do recommend that people get a pH meter. The acidity/alkalinity of your soil can make a big difference to the success of your garden.
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Maxy24
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Re: Starting a New Garden

What do you suggest I add for organic matter? The farm next door to us sells compost (not sure if it's their own or something they buy) so I was going to get some of that on Monday when they open. What else, manure? For fertilizer would I just go with some balanced pelleted stuff? There are so many products, I really don't know what would be best.

imafan26
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Re: Starting a New Garden

I add about an inch of composted steer manure. Chicken manure has more nitrogen but it contains calcium and I don't want the pH to go up.

5-6 inches of compost. I try to use a blended compost. I like Black Gold when I can find it. The local compost is very alkaline and has pH of 8.13 so I can only use it on my acidic plot. My other plots are alkaline at a pH of 7.8, so I used peat moss there this year. I look at the bag and most of them say forest products and pH balanced. Translation on pH balanced usually means they limed it to make it more alkaline. Gypsum would add calcium but not change pH very much. What is easily available to me is Kelloggs N rich, and Amend. For the alkaline plots peat moss helps establish a good root system and buffers the alkaline soil. It is a single source product and it is expensive but in my conditions it works better than adding more alkaline compost.
https://blackgold.bz/products/amendments/
https://www.kellogggarden.com/products/k ... ral-nrich/
https://www.sungro.com/professional-prod ... oductID=97

Some people like coir as a more sustainable alternative to peat moss. I have trouble with it. It dries out fast and when it is wet and can be too wet for too long.

I do some green manure. I have more greens than browns at my house so I usually only do vermicomposting, but I do trench composting with kitchen waste and with non-diseased leaves from my yard. I use synthetic nitrogen so planting on top of this doesn't steal too much from the plants. I wait a couple of weeks before planting becase green manures decompose quickly so the ground sinks after a couple of weeks.

I also till in garden residues and sometimes I grow green manure crops to add biomass.

Many people start their own compost pile and use that.

I grow a lot of things in pots, so the soil that is still good is put either in the garden or else where in the yard. The orchid mixes have to be trashed or used to fill low spots.

I can get get free mulch from the city sponsored sites, but those piles contain centipedes and I don't want to bring any of those things home. I do use that in the community garden, because the centipedes are already there from the mulch piles that are on the site.

Organic matter builds the soil web, but it gets used up, so you need to replace it everytime you plant. An easy way to do this was to mulch around the plants when they are growing. It helps keep down some weeds, and preserves soil moisture especially in summer. You do have to keep the mulch away from the stems of the plants. The mulch which can be grass clippings only if the grass is weed free and you don't use pesticides or herbicides on the lawn. I prefer to mix the grass clippings with leaves since grass can form a mat. Leaves and small branches chopped up, chipped tree trimmings, newspaper, nut husks like coco husks or mac nut shells. At the end of the season a lot of these will be partially decomposed and they can be tilled in or added to the compost pile. If I till in partially decomposed material, I add more nitrogen fertilizer to make up for what is stolen during the decompostion.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.



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