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Author Topic: Beginners' Gardening?  (Read 9743 times)
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« Topic Start: January 23, 2009, 01:34:50 pm »

I can't decide exactly how to phrase this, so I hope y'all will bear with me if it gets a little confused.

I would love to have a garden; every year I think what a wonderful thing it would be to Grow Stuff.  Problem is, I find it intimidating.  Our soil is frankly pretty scary for plants--it's almost clay--and turning even a small space into a bed I could grow something in seems like such a big task that I just kind of cringe and back away.  Container gardening makes me a little nervous too, though, since trying to do that is how I managed to wind up killing mint.  Twice.  (MINT, people.)  Among other plants.  Any time I try it, things seem to wind up dead.  Quite aside from all that, my days are pretty full already and I'm a little short on time or energy to devote to caring for a garden.

Any ideas on how a total novice might sort of ease into gardening under these circumstances?  I realize this probably sounds kind of like, "I wanna garden but I don't wanna work, wah," but that's not really how I mean it...   Embarrassed  What I'm trying to do here is find a way to maybe fit growing some of my own food (even if only a very little) in around the rest of my life, and the most likely way to make that happen is to find a way to reduce the amount of time and energy that have to be put into it.
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« Reply #1: January 23, 2009, 01:57:42 pm »



What about building raised beds?  You could could build a small (or large, if you're ambicious) frame out of landscaping timbers and fill it with the appropriate soil.  You'd still probably have to water it, but not nearly as often as pots.  (Don't feel bad, I kill anything in pots too, cuz I forget to water them.)  If you mulched it, you'd have to water even less often.
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« Reply #2: January 23, 2009, 03:07:23 pm »



I second the raised beds idea. Also mint is pretty easy to kill when it's in a container because it needs plenty of water, so don't be scared off by that. I would also suggest a good 'intro to gardening' book - there are hundreds out there. Alan Titchmarsh is always pretty good, though you might prefer someone who's writing for your area. You could start watching programmes and reading magazines too.

Gardening is easy really - the big secret is.... dum dum dum.... plant things which like the conditions you have. If you have shade, don't go planting sun lovers. If you have clay, don't go planting things which need free draining soil. Etc etc. If you plant the right things in the right place you don't *need* to feed or water (unless it's in a container), though feed and water can make for extra specially happy plants. Most decent nurseries will include a little guide to the plants preferred conditions on the label.

If you'd rather not make raised beds clay soil can be greatly improved by digging in organic matter (well rotted manure, leafmould or compost) and grit. Though IMO the organic matter is more important than the grit. Clay has some good points - it retains water well and is chock full of nutrients - so it's not all bad.

Easy veggies to grow.... lettuce, carrots, leeks, chard (I love this stuff, especially the rainbow variety), beetroot, potatoes. Veg will do better in a raised bed in your soil, unless you want to break your back digging it. You could start with a planter with a mixed salad seed scattered over it, and move on to a proper raised bed from there.
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« Reply #3: January 23, 2009, 03:22:54 pm »


You sound like me Roll Eyes My mother-in-law is one of those people that looks at a plant and it grows a foot. I, on the other hand, not so much. So she told me to do raised beds and put in a drip-irrigation system. Raised beds because my soil is clay, and drip irrigation because I never remember to water. Mulching is very important because it helps hold the water in the soil, and as it breaks down, it improves the soil.
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« Reply #4: January 23, 2009, 03:58:50 pm »

What I'm trying to do here is find a way to maybe fit growing some of my own food (even if only a very little) in around the rest of my life, and the most likely way to make that happen is to find a way to reduce the amount of time and energy that have to be put into it.

If you decide to go with the raised bed idea, I suggest getting a copy of the new Square Foot Gardening.  It shows you how to build your own soil, rather than trying to rehabilitate what you have. Because you plant things very close together, it also virtually eliminates weeding.

To see what sorts of plants will grow best/easiest in your climate, a call to your local extension office is a good idea.  They should be able to give you an idea of what varieties would best suit a beginning gardener.  You might also talk to the folks at local nurseries for ideas.  I would recommend that you buy plants instead of seeds where practical because letting other folks start your tomatoes and peppers indoors is going to save you a lot of time. 

Also, don't be discouraged because of the mint thing.  Everyone says sage is ridiculously easy to grow and I've never been able to get it to come up.  But I have successfully grown a host of vegetables, flowers and other herbs. 

That's what I have off the top of my head...will add if I think of anything else.

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« Reply #5: January 23, 2009, 05:16:19 pm »


I fourth (or whatever) the raised beds. 8' x 4' is about as big as you'll manage. We have 6 8x4 beds and then 4 4x4 beds. (That comes out to around 300 sq. feet and is quite large. ONE 8x4 will keep you all in salad for the summer.) You can do some tilling by hand or rent a rototiller and rototill it. Or skip it, it'll work itself out. Anyway, then you buy some nice topsoil at the store and fill the raised bed with topsoil and that's deep enough to raise most things. Square Foot Gardening is very good for keeping yourself in salads.

Lettuce is dead easy to grow and grows fast. Radishes are fast and easy too. One way we started was going to historical gardens and finding out what was grown in the colonial/frontier era. If it was grown in 1804 with no fertilizer or store-bought topsoil or improved varieties or anything else, I can probably grow it today. Smiley

And I've never been able to grow lavender, despite it growing like a weed here. Smiley Some things are just like that.
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« Reply #6: January 23, 2009, 07:48:00 pm »



Raised beds are a great way to go!

If you want one step easier, go to Target and get a few of those rubbermaid tubs - the shallower ones that are maybe 18" tall or so - punch some holes in the bottom, put in a layer of gravel, and fill with topsoil.  Then plant!  We did this when we lived in an apartment and had lots of lettuces, cherry tomatoes, a squash, onions and snap peas.  And they did great!!!  If you decide to do this again next year, you should replace the soil or really fertilize/compost it as the plants will suck the nutrients out quickly.

For great tomatoes, get a 5-gallon bucket.  Cut a hole in the bottom maybe 2 inches in diameter.  Put the tomato plant in the hole so the plant part is hanging down, and then fill the bucket with potting soil.  Hang it up.  The tomato will grow DOWN, and boy will it grow.  It's so neat to watch and you get a great yield!

The thing with container gardening is that you have to get big enough containers so you're not constantly watering.  But, even if you have to water everyday, you'll never have to weed, so it all evens out in the end.
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« Reply #7: January 26, 2009, 02:38:41 am »

Any ideas on how a total novice might sort of ease into gardening under these circumstances?  I realize this probably sounds kind of like, "I wanna garden but I don't wanna work, wah," but that's not really how I mean it...   Embarrassed  What I'm trying to do here is find a way to maybe fit growing some of my own food (even if only a very little) in around the rest of my life, and the most likely way to make that happen is to find a way to reduce the amount of time and energy that have to be put into it.

I'm not going to dissuade you from the raised bed idea, but I find cultivating soil to be one of the most rewarding parts of gardening.  I have the opposite problem from you--my soil is lean, dry, and sandy/silty.  It needs near-constant amending.  Despite what you might hear, there are benefits to clay soils:

  • They hold water well
  • They hold nutrients well
  • They can be easily amended with fairly modest annual additions of organic material

Clay soils don't require annual tilling.  In fact, you're much better off amending just the top of the soil and letting the soil critters do the work.  There's a whole school of thought on the subject called no-till gardening.  It does take time, but it's not labor-intensive once established, and it's ideal for clay soil.

If this seems like too much work, you might also try straw bale gardening.  This method also builds the soil, while allowing for a more accessible garden.  Straw bales can also be used as frames for raised beds, if you have soil to fill them.

Brina
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« Reply #8: January 26, 2009, 09:55:43 am »


If this seems like too much work, you might also try straw bale gardening.  This method also builds the soil, while allowing for a more accessible garden.  Straw bales can also be used as frames for raised beds, if you have soil to fill them.

Brina

There's also lasagna gardening.  You should start that in the fall, so it might be too late for this year, but it looks really easy!
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« Reply #9: January 26, 2009, 06:48:02 pm »

There's also lasagna gardening

   If only i could grow Lasagna....*sigh* !!!    Cheesy  Cheesy  Cheesy

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« Reply #10: January 27, 2009, 09:45:21 am »

I can't decide exactly how to phrase this, so I hope y'all will bear with me if it gets a little confused.


I am growing directly in the ground, but will probably be switching to raised beds of some kind in the spring, b/c of gophers and moles in this area. I would recommend you talk to your neighbors and local nurseries and/or university extenstion, and find out what critters are around before you plant. We installed chicken wire two feet under the garden area, which deterred them a bit, but they still found a way in and ate nearly all the broccoli and quite a few other things this winter.
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« Reply #11: January 29, 2009, 01:00:53 pm »

Our soil is frankly pretty scary for plants--it's almost clay--and turning even a small space into a bed I could grow something in seems like such a big task that I just kind of cringe and back away. 

Potatoes are often mentioned as being a good veggie to grow in clay - not least because growing them will actually help to break up the soil.  That might be something to consider as a start.  Another thing which might be surprisingly low maintenance in comparison with veg are some types fruit bushes - they can be cheap if you buy them bare-rooted at this time of year.  (I don't know if they're sold in the US that way, they are in the UK through about November-March).  I planted whitecurrant the winter before last and although it wasn't a big crop the first year, it was trouble free and the berries were sweeter than redcurrants, so I'd recommend those. 

I have fairly clayey soil and roses grow well in it, should you have any interest in those.  The downside is their tendency to get blackspot (and I don't like spraying, so I pretty much put up with it).
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« Reply #12: January 29, 2009, 06:20:57 pm »

Potatoes are often mentioned as being a good veggie to grow in clay - not least because growing them will actually help to break up the soil. 

Gotta disagree.  Potatoes don't grow well in heavy clay.  They barely tolerate it (and don't produce well when grown in it).  All root crops do better with light, sandy/silty/loamy soil that's free of most rocks.  I wouldn't really recommend them as a cover/soil loosening crop, either.  They're too prone to rot when grown in soil with poor drainage, which can spread disease to other nightshade and some squash crops.

Brina
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« Reply #13: January 30, 2009, 02:11:55 pm »

They're too prone to rot when grown in soil with poor drainage


Ugh and the smell of rotting potatoes....  give me cat crap any time.

I've never grown Potatoes in heavy clay (I have silty sandy loam) but I have also read they're good as a breaking up crop. I suspect they're a good breaking up crop in loamy soils - really tough clay is just going to be too tough. We did ok with them at the last place I worked in a worked and well augmented clay.
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« Reply #14: January 31, 2009, 02:46:30 pm »

Gotta disagree.  Potatoes don't grow well in heavy clay.  They barely tolerate it (and don't produce well when grown in it). 

I had it growing in two places, one was very heavy clay and the other was slightly amended.  They didn't rot and managed ok - though I would agree I didn't get very high yields in either area.
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