first real garden, I need help

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by leigha, Jan 23, 2004.

  1. leigha

    leigha Well-Known Member

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    I'm in North Alabama, zone 7. We will be moving to our new place the first part of April. We would like to put in a garden, about 20' by 40', after we move in and get a little settled. The area for the garden is total sun, good drainage, and used to be the previous owner's garden site five years ago. I've chosen my seeds from Baker's Creek Heirlooms. The problem is that I've read so much my head is spinning. I just want someone to tell me what to do. Do I bushhog the garden site then plow it up? Do I need to get 100 styrofoam cups and start my seeds as soon as they arrive? I don't know how to do this. Anyone have any good websites? In my earlier attempts at gardening, we always got started plants, but I want to do heirloom to save the seeds later. I guess this garden will be our first experimental garden. I know we will make many mistakes, I guess that is how we will learn. Any advice anyone?
     
  2. I would suggest starting only with a few varities and then expand each year as you learn. I'm still learning and I have basically been gardening all of my life. Start with only 3 - 5 of your basic veggies such as corn, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, green beans, etc. and then add a couple new veggies to your garden each year. If you start out trying to raise everything you like you may end up with a big disaster. Also try planting different methods to see which you like better or what works best for your type of gardening. Or grow one type of a veggie one year and then grow a different a different type next year. Some varieties don't grow well in my area while others thrive. Don't get fustrated, every year is a new learning experience no matter how much experience you have.
     

  3. westbrook

    westbrook In Remembrance

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    how exciting a garden! I would like to say further down the main page is a gardeing discussion group ..but here is the short cut..(I hope)

    http://www.homesteadingtoday.com/forumdisplay.php?f=19


    have you drawn an overview picture of what you are planting where? decided yet how many tomato plants you are growing <smile> I always plant way more then I need expecting the gophers to get half of them..and then I get surprised and all the plants survive! which is why I originally learned to can and love it.

    Prepare your soil, that may mean you have to get a tractor in to break up the ground or use a shovel and do a little at a time, work in compost or fertilizer.

    mark out what you are planting where (I do this with string), and plant away! some seeds you may want to start early like tomatos but others like beans or peas you can sew directly.

    Have you decided how you are going to water your garden?

    and just go for it! as long as you feed, water and keep weeds form choking out your seedlings, your garden will thrive.

    You can extend your cool weather vegetables like lettuce or peas by providing some shade cloth over them or use other palnts to keep them in the shadows.

    another site the may help with the zone you live in is http://gardenweb.com/forums and check out regions and climates. Find your area and talk to others that live where you do about when they start certain plants.

    Think I will go out and plant peas, lettuce, beets, jerusalem artichokes, radishes, rhubarb, asparagus, black berries, and strawberries today. Oh, and sow some wild flower seeds on the hillsides.
     
  4. fin29

    fin29 Well-Known Member

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    Eliot Coleman's book, "The New Organic Gardener" was my bible when I had my first garden, which was 50x60 feet. It was large but not overwhelming, so don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. Rodale (publishing company) put out a few good beginner books. You want the nuts and bolts: starting and caring for seedlings, transplanting, watering, etc. Coleman's book will give you info. about site preparation, mulching, etc. as well as planting help.
    Your county extension office will have all kinds of pamphlets for your specific area, so give them a call.
    Finally, my big trick was to visit the Johnny's Selected Seeds website. If you find the varieties (or similar ones) there, you can copy and paste the culture instructions for each variety into a Word document, print it out, and put it in a 3 ring binder. That way you have a custom handbook for the varieties you grow, and if you format your Word document well, you can leave spaces in it to make notes throughout the season. Their culture instructions will tell you when to start them (based on your last frost date), when to transplant, when to harvest, etc.
    www.johnnysselectedseeds.com

    Good luck-it'll be great.
     
  5. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

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    leigha,
    I can't imagine moving to a new place and all that entails PLUS trying do daily diligence to seed sprouting AND to put in a beautiful garden.

    I think april is a bit late. Can you visit before april? I suggest you go to meet your new neighbors and check their gardens to see what they have in the ground. Ask them what plants they are going to be planting in april. Buy them as seedlings.

    Keep it simple. Keep a notebook. Study your skilled gardening neighbor's routine.

    Each garden at your new home will be an improvement on the first. Don't try to do too much.

    Make a calendar on the computer just for the garden -- I think almost all computers come with a free simple calendar program. Put specific seed data on the calendar.

    Get a printed copy of Johnny's Seed catalog.
    http://www.johnnyseeds.com/catalog/
    It's one of the best resources I have. There is very good data on specific seed start dates, soil temperatures, etc. Use this data and your seed packets to fill in on the calendar.

    Take pictures so we can see. Good luck. gobug
     
  6. Hammer

    Hammer Active Member

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    To address the seeds saving part of your question.. If you plan to save seeds you need think about what you are planting and where. For example if you plant squash and pumkins or different types of tomatoes or anything that can cross pollenate in the same area you are probably better off not saving seeds.

    Also I live in your zone and I believe gobug is wrong about April being too late to plant. I have planted on April 15th and had it frost after that. Also since we have a long growing season there is time for most of the stuff that does well in the warm months. April may be a tad late for the cold crops depending on how late in April and what the weather does.
     
  7. leigha

    leigha Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all of your replies. Anyone know where I can find a planting calendar for North Alabama, I'll check with my local extension service. I'm just a little confused. I just read something about female and male plants, do I need to worry about that?, oh my!! I think I'm just going to get in there and see what happens. I'm sure it will be a lot of trial and error, but I'm going to have fun!!!
     
  8. heelpin

    heelpin Well-Known Member

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    Leigha, if you have a lot of heavy overgrowth you'll need to remove it in order to have a garden this year, if you have large bushes they will need to be pulled out with a tractor. I would rake the ground clean and proceed according to the condition of the soil, if it's loose and easy to cultivate you can do it all with hand tools but if it is packed hard you will need to break with a tractor or cultivator. Its very easy to start your seed indoors, just get some sterile soil mix from a local nursery (I use Sunshine mix) and get some plastic trays with fillers. To start the seed, moisten the soil mix and fill a tray then wet the soil down well and place in a place to drain for 4-5 hours, smooth out the soil (I just use a small board) and make depressions with the board (I put mine in rows), use your own judgement for debth ( for tomatoes I plant about 1/4 inch), sow the seed in the depressions and press into soil and sprinkle dry soil over them, you can spray this lightly with a fine mist but its not necessary, place the tray inside where the temp is warm, when the seeds start coming up place the tray in good light, you can condition the plants by taking outside during the day and bringing in at night (keep the plants away from flowers, especially roses to prevent disease), when the plants are about a week old you can transplant to cups.
    Please try and make your garden organic, I've been gradually shifting to organic for three years now and wish I had done it sooner, the vegetables are so much tastier and healthier and its not that hard once you get into it, one of the most important things you can do is make sure you have the trace minerals available, I've been adding mineral rock dust and lime and composted animal manures and the result is astounding. I shaped my garden (40 X 60) with a box blade where it is high in the middle and will drain to both sides, I have a walkway down the middle made out of readymix and lots of gravel. I plant on raised beds and then lay the composted manures in the middles with a heavy grass mulch on top of this, when the plants come up and growing good I'll pull the grass in around them. I will alternate the beds and middles from one planting to another. I'm now in the process of building a small tool and storage shed next to the garden and fencing it in to keep the wild critters out, don't forget about this if you live in a rural area. I've had one of the most beautiful and productive gardens in my entire life this last fall and winter, greens of every kind running out my ears, its like walking down the produce isle at the grocery, I love it and I'm saving a bundle on groceries. My plans now are to learn how to grow something other that the standard fare in the South and I don't plan on trying to preserve anything, I'll take whats in season and enjoy it and appreciate it more that way. Good luck with your garden, if I can help you let me know.
     
  9. mary,tx

    mary,tx Well-Known Member Supporter

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    hi Leigha,
    Gardening is such fun. The important thing is just not to get discouraged. I've been gardening for years, and I still am looking each time at what to do differently next!
    First, as to the male and female issue. Your garden plants will have male and female blooms. For instance, on the squash plant, some blooms will be "long-stemmed". These are the males, and will not produce fruit. You'll learn quickly enough what is what, and honestly, it doesn't matter since you won't be doing the pollinating yourself. You do not have to worry about male and female plants in the garden. (With some trees, etc., you do.)
    As to starting your seed: Most seeds can be planted directly into your garden.
    Notable exceptions are tomato, pepper, and broccoli. I would suggest buying starts, locally, if you want these, at least for this year.
    As soon as you can after you get moved in, begin clearing the ground. Plan your tilling by the rains. If the ground is too dry, it'll be extremely difficult. If it's too wet, you also have to wait. It depends on what type soil you have how long you will want to wait after a rain. With my clay soil, I wait about a week.
    If you have sandy soil, 2 or 3 days after a rain might be ideal for tilling.
    We are in zone 8, and plant mid-March. I would think zone 7 May might be good, but check with your locals.
    mary
     
  10. Hank - Narita

    Hank - Narita Well-Known Member

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    Definitely use lots and lots of compost. We experimented last year with our first garden. It was an acre of ground with mostly sandy soil in zone 8 in AZ. We used lots and lots of water. The second most important thing we learned was to plant later in the summer when the nights were warm. It didn't seem to make much difference to start early in the year as the seeds sprouted and grew best then (warm weather).
     
  11. Shrek

    Shrek Singletree Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    Considering that our soil here varies somewhat across the valley , I would suggest that you contact the county agent for your county to find out the particulars for your area. You may want to consider SFG raised beds while you prep the red clay that is prevalent here.

    Only headache I've had with this Tennessee Valley red clay is growing carrots and I learned to amend my carrot patch with sand. Of course the rest of the garden got amended with topsoil, manure and peatmoss. Now I have switched to SFG raised beds and vermicompost to eliminate the majority of weeding. I prefer starting my seedlings under adjustable height florescents and wait for Dan Satterfield on ch 19 to give his opinion of the last frost.

    The county agents office sells the Auburn extension gardening and canning books and will have a wall display of almost 50 free handouts for the area.

    The website for the Auburn University cooperative extension service is

    http://www.aces.edu/

    and has links to all the county agents websites for each county.
     
  12. SueD

    SueD Well-Known Member

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    First off, if you haven't yet ordered, go over to the Pinetree Garden Seeds site. They will save you a ton of money. They also sell smaller packages, yet I got enough produce out of my garden last year to not only feed us (had the freezer not quit on us) but to save and sell/barter seeds. We had over 100 pounds of tomatoes alone, and so much zucchini that I not only sold the fruits, but also stuff I made with them besides canning and freezing. And, all Pinetree seeds are open-pollinated unless it specifically states otherwise. Lots are organically grown and harvested, too.

    Pinetree Garden Seeds

    Now... If you have an old shop light, a table big enough to house whatever flats you are going to use, some old newspapers and a sheet of clear plastic (cheap at home centers) you are all set.

    I always use Miracle-Gro soil (I know... for shame, but gram used it and she's still kicking) for the flats, which can get expensive, but Wally World sells it for under $6 for the big bag, and I get all my flats from one.

    Here's how I do it: cover the table with a couple layers of newspaper, cover that with a dark colored old sheet or a black plastic garbage bag. Set up your flats, using even a butter knife to mark 'rows' and plant the seed. Cover simply with the soil moved to make the rows.

    I plant my seeds about 3/4 to 1 inch apart, in rows about 2 inches apart. In a standard discarded flat, I get five rows of 16 to 18 plants each.

    Hang your shoplight so that it is about 2 - 3 inches above the soil and centered (I usually start four flats of various stuff) over the flats. Mist with water from an old spray bottle (make sure of what was in it!). Cover this 'tent-style' with the clear plastic, leaving the ends open for ventilation.

    Turn on the light and visit daily to make sure the soil hasn't dried out, misting, but not watering is best till plants are well established. Other than this, just watch and wait. I have NEVER lost one seedling during this phase - and that's pretty good considering seed loss of 0% is all but unheard of even with professionals.

    After the seedlings are up, keep the light about 3 - 6 inches above the tallest. Never let the soil out, but don't over water. If the water stays on the surface - STOP.

    When there are TWO sets of true leaves, transplant into paper pots made from the rest of those old newspapers, or into plastic/styrofoam cups, dixie style cups, old milk cartons the kids bring home from school (they will complain - I did when Grams made me do it!) - whatever.

    My light stays on 24/7 from the time I put seed in the flats until about 2 weeks before I'm going to plant out. Then, if I don't have a sunny window, the light is on about 10 hours a day. No, the electric doesn't skyrocket on me, either.

    When you decide its time to start hardening off, try to pick a calm, sunny day for the first few hours outside. Make sure they are all protected from direct 'noon' sun, and from breezes and drafts for the first few days. After that, begin to put them in slightly more open spaces and leave them out longer each day. Within a week and a half to two weeks, they should be ready for the garden.

    As for the garden itself, I put on as much fresh horse manure as I possibly can between the middle of October through about the end of January. I live in the burbs but have a friend with three horses, so I haul 2 55 gallon drums of the stuff home about twice a month when I see her. I toss about 2 bags of sand in, and sprinkle lime over top of that and just let it sit all winter. Then I hand-dig the dirt (for big ones, I'd say do it with a tiller!!). I don't fertilize with anything other than rabbit doo after that - I raise rabbits, so its free.

    Now, in a spot that is mostly shaded, heavily clay, and on a slope to the west, I did pretty well last year. My garden is 30' x 25' these days. I had 3 different cukes, 2 different broccolis, corn, 4 kinds of tomatoes, beans, peas, cantaloupes, zucchini, spaghetti squash, 2 kinds of okra, watermellon, 3 types of sweet bell peppers, jalapenos, cayennes, carrots, beets and nasturtiums.

    Flower beds and planters, pots etc. housed such things as garlic, onions, herbs, and other edible flowers.

    On my quarter acre, I am STILL eating from last years' garden, even though I lost in total about 150 pounds of produce when the freezer blew. I have more than enough seed to plant for myself, have just sent out a donation to another lady here, and have some barter offers up elsewhere. When I see what happens with those (they were to individuals) I'd be happy to share with you, as well.
    Email and I'll send a list to anyone that would like to barter or send a single stamp for a few seeds.

    Good luck!

    Sue
     
  13. tacomee

    tacomee Member

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    After years of hit or miss gardening, I settled with the Square Foot Method. You can read about it here in past threads and then go buy the book. It's all you need-- really. It's just that easy!
     
  14. Shrek

    Shrek Singletree Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    It can be bought at www.squarefootgardening.com and theres some great articles there too.
     
  15. syringaweb

    syringaweb Well-Known Member

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    Ditto here on the Eliot Coleman book, bible really (has more dirt on it than my most used cookbooks have food!).

    Don't bother with the styrofoam cups. Research using soil blocks (no container). I finally became truly efficiently successful at seed starting when I used soil blocks and a heat mat. Start them in mini blocks on heat (with light too of course), then transfer to larger blocks after the seeds sprout.

    Oh, and go ahead, throw practicality to the wind! I was in your shows 6 years ago: new house, new garden space, and I had a new baby on my hip as well. Of course my big plans shrunk quickly that first spring here, but big planning sure is fun.

    good luck!
    Michelle
     
  16. erikland

    erikland Guest

    Greetings. I just started the seedlings for my first garden and have been using peat pellets. they are really nifty and easy to use, you just soak them then put the seeds in them. Now I'm in now way an expert since this my first try but I really like it so far and my seedlings are doing well. Hopfully some seasoned gardeners will post any downsides to the peat pellets

    erik
     
  17. Shrek

    Shrek Singletree Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    I make soil blocks by filling paper lunch sacks with soil and worm castings.
     
  18. LWB

    LWB Well-Known Member

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    If the deer are as plentiful in North Alabama as they are in Central Mississippi you can kiss your peas and beans goodbye if you don't do something to keep the deer out. Last year I used Deerbusters Deer and Rabbit Repellant with great success. It costs about $50 for a gallon. It will make up 30 gallons when mixed with water in a sprayer. Spray in on the plants. It will be effective unless you have a heavy rain. Then you spray again. There is no oder that humans can smell but there is something there that deer don't like. They will walk around in the garden but will not eat anything that is sprayed. I odered mine from Master Gardeners online.