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So we finally moved onto our 4 acre lot :nanner:

I've pegged my spot for the vegetable garden, but I have no idea how to start this project! It has a little dry grass on it right now, with dry, hard soil. I want to prepare the soil with a cover crop this fall, but all I have is a couple of shovels and rakes, and a 22HP John Deere mower.

Should I be tilling or disking before planting the cover crop? And what equipment would I use? Can a person rent the equipment? Or is there a fairly inexpensive attachment for the mower that could help dig up the ground? It's a small area, less than 1/4 acre, but too large to dig with a shovel.

I am thinking of planting a vetch/ oat cover crop, based on the Univ. of California Davis recommendation.
 

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Dry,hard,soil. I'd suggest to till to turn under the grass you have so it will compost. And then start pileing on to the area any manure, grass clippings, leaves, ect. as long as you can, to build the soil.
It would be even better if you could fence it in and add a few animals that will add to it and
mix the whole thing together.
 

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I agree with 7th swan. Till it in then add your cover crop. My concern is WHY is it dry and hard? Is it stoney? You might want to dig down a bit with your shovel and see what you find. What kind of soil do you have there?
 

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Oats/vetch would be a good cover crop. The best source of information for a beginner is your Co-operative Extension Service, which will have ties to UC-Davis, your land grant/ag university. Here is the lookup site for them to find the office in your county, and the phone numbers to call. http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/

Before you do too much tilling(which will be necessary) talk to your extension agent and get yourself set up for a soil test. You should also dig a straight-sided hole in your soil, and observe its texture and composition from the side walls and to see just how compacted it is, if the hardness is due to just dryness (drought) conditions, or whatever.

It's getting a bit too late here in Michigan to plant oats, since they will winterkill when it starts freezing. An alternative for you to plant--depending on your own climate, might be winter rye, which will germinate even down to freezing weather, and won't winterkill. You should probably rent a rear-tined rototiller--the best to me would be a Troy-Bilt Horse, to do a couple of passes in your new garden plot. Then you can just hand broadcast your rye or oats, so you get an approximate coverage of one seed for each space the size of a quarter. You should then use your garden rake to try to get them covered up with soil. Then you can purchase a spinner-seeder(about $30) to use for the vetch seeds., and I would sow them in two passes 180 degrees to each other--and at about the rate of one and a half times the rate recommended. Watch your seed as it sprays out to see how it covers. You may have to block the seeder slot/hole. Then gently cover those seeds with a yard rake(springtooth leaf rake) to get some soil coverage over the seeds. That's all there is to that....

Hopefully, you will get a good growth, and in the Spring, you can rent another rototiller to incorporate all that good biomass into the soil. At that point you'll be good to go on your first garden experience.....No doubt you will have a learning curve............

One place to get some good information is the "Fireside" sticky in the gardening forum. There are lots of posts there that you can study while you relax by the fireplace this winter, to increase your knowlege. Another site, is this one: a college course (no, no tests, no fees...just lectures and demos) from North Carolina State University. You might like it. http://mediasite.online.ncsu.edu/online/Catalog/Full/f5a893e74b7c4b7980fd52dcd1ced71521

In time, you will need to know about fertility and composting, and many other ways to improve your soil and vegetables. You'll find plenty of ideas here and on the gardening forum...lots of varied opinions, too, and you will want to choose a few, modify some of them, and find out what works best for your soil and conditions. Best of luck, and, oh yes, buy a good weed hoe, and a good pair of gloves.... :)

geo
 

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http://www.faroutflora.com/2010/09/28/diy-soil-type-testing/

Do the above before you do anything with your garden. You need to find out what type of soil you have in order to manage it properly with the least amount of work.

Do you have enough water to keep up 1/4 acre of garden with California's drought?

1/4 acre can produce a lot of vegies. How do you plan on preserving them? Do you have the time?

Soil preparation is the most important part of having a garden. Take your time. You may want to start smaller and grow as you get a handle on this. Make sure you don't have seeds or weed roots so you don't continually pull weeds yearly.

And visit the Gardening Forum here constantly to glean lots of knowledge.

My best to you! Have fun!
 

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OP is in central California so I would think it is dry and hard from the prolonged drought. My first suggestion would be is it near to a water source? The long range forecast is for continued drought for your area, I believe, so you won't have much luck with a cover crop if you aren't able to water it. If you start getting rain, I would layer it with newspaper and start piling on all the leaves, grass clippings, manure, etc. you can get your hands on. Then in late January, early Feb till that in and then try a cover crop that is drought tolerant. Your county ag agent can probably give you some suggestions on that.

Good luck with your new garden! If there hasn't been a garden anywhere close around there before, you will have a honeymoon season before the bugs and disease know where you are :)

Kitty
 

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As said. Fence it hog tight. Look for sales of farm stuff and buy used hog panels and fence it. Put a steel stake at each end and one in the middle. Get 3 6 month old pigs, gilts, and put them in it. Get a pair of post hole diggers, and dig a hole a foot deep. fill it 1/2 full with shelled corn. Do that all around your garden, and they will bust it up near that deep. They will bring up any rocks, so you have to be on the lookout for them and get them out, as they will also bury them again. Roots also. Dig all the holes your going to need first, then take the corn and put in them. Sell the hogs when they get to big and start again. By spring, youll have a worked up garden, fairly well fertilized, all rock and roots brought up. any good sized bugs ate, and have made money on the hogs.
 

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Congratulations on moving to your land! There is nothing better! Just be careful of the type of grass you use for mulch in your garden area. Out here we have Bermuda grass and let me tell you, all parts of it root. Actually just the nodules root, but if you could see our garden area you would think that all of it roots! We are in the process of rehabbing the garden and it will take us time to get it ready for Spring. It will all be worth it, and that keeps us going. Wish we could get some pigs, but it seems that no one out here has any available right now. Hope to get a couple in the Spring, but that is another dream to come true. Good luck with your garden!
 

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Always use AT LEAST 3 pigs. IF you use only one, it will take its time getting to the food. As long as its resting, it will nearly seem to be starving before it decides to get up and eat. That's cause, it would rather rest than move, and so it relys on its own body fat to sustain it, for as long as possible. It is a slow gainer, and the meat can be tough
Two pigs/hogs will fight constantly over the food, which will break up the ground well, but they too will be slow gainers.
Three pigs/hogs, will realize that any one of them cant out fight the other 2, and so, with this thought collectivly amongst them, they live and let live. As much or more ground gets broken up as theres another to the mix, and they gain steadly. And the meat will be the best you can get.
 

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Pigs are excellent garden preppers.

My biggest concern if I were you would be the drought situation. Your ground being hard and dry is most likely strictly from that. You will need to heavily mulch when you plant it to get anything to produce. Anything you can add that will help it retain water long term is a good idea.
 

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Wow, thanks for all the great advice and resources. Yes, the ground is dry and hard because of the drought, and because nothing has grown or grazed on it for many years.

Now I have a plan.
Firstly, to start thinking a little smaller (especially because of the drought). Then to have my soil tested and contact the UC Davis extension. And then to consider pigs. Kind of scary and exciting at the same time- we were not planning on having anything bigger than chickens for a good few years.

So, if I did decide on pigs, with the holes full of corn, that would preclude a cover crop, right? If the pigs are rooting up and fertilizing the soil, I wouldn't really need a cover crop, right?

I know I'm not going to get any good vegetables without good soil, so I'm prepared to put in the work to improve the soil first. I started a compost heap today, but it looks so small, it's going to be a long time before I have enough to cover my garden.

Pigs, huh... never really thought about them. Definitely going to look into this...
 

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You could put them in NOW, and keep them in till they have the ground broke up, and if it still hasn't frosted, take them off and plant a cover crop.

AFTER the pigs have gone through the garden, if you decide THEN that you don't need to, or want to keep digging the holes cause the ground is either hard or frozen, the pigs will eventually pack the ground down hard again. They used to use pigs to pack the insides of a dam to keep it from leaking, OR to patch a hole in one.

Long as your willing to keep digging the holes and filling them 1/2 full therebouts, they will keep on breaking up the garden.
 
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