New gardener, help wanted!

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by Unregistered-1427815803, Feb 3, 2004.

  1. OK. Having recently decided that our family needs to become as self sufficient as possible, the first, obvious thing to do is to plant a garden this year. We live on a large, double, city lot, so there is plenty of room. I got the recent issue of Mother Earth News last week, and read the article in there about mulching. So, this weekend we are tilling, and laying a genrerous portion of hay down (which was given to us, since it got wet, or something). My main problem is that I have the exact opposite of a green thumb. I am very nervous about starting a garden, and spending money on seeds, etc, and then having everything die! Can anyone suggest websites that have gardening basics, from scratch? Dumbed down, so I can understand it? Feel free to suggest books, also, but it's not in my budget to buy any for about a month or so. And if it's any help, I live in Oregon. :) Thanks in advance for any help.

  2. mousecat33

    mousecat33 Well-Known Member

    Jan 9, 2004

  3. TXlightningbug

    TXlightningbug Well-Known Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    Marcy, Your first move in getting the Mother Earth News was an excellent one. They have a section on their website on books that you can buy which contain some excellent books for people like you and my sister (she suffers from a Brown Thumb too.) Get a subscription to Mother Earth News. Go to your library and look at the gardening books before buying many of them. Look for back issues' articles of Mother Earth News at their website on Lasagna Gardening and pairing up veggies so that they help each other to ward off insects. DO go to for organic defenses for your garden. For organic manure, check the phone book for breeders of cattle, chickens, rabbits, sheep, and other animals as well as boarding barns for horses, etc., for manure for free or for sale cheap - you haul. Check with your local agricultural agent under the government pages of your phone book for hand-outs that are free or just a $1 or 2 at the very most. Even big cities like Dallas has an ag agency. They can help you figure out what pests you are likely to have to battle, (including rabbits?!), ways to do it without killing your crop and yourself, and prevent it if possible. Also, check for a Master Gardener's Program in your area. they usually deal with ornamental gardening, but they are good at identifying pests and making suggestions on where to find what you may need. For your family's sake, try to stay organic. Saucers of beer kill slugs. Don't use salt. It'll kill the plants too. Good luck. Judi
  4. kathy H

    kathy H kathyh

    Dec 9, 2002
    If this is your first year buy already started plants. Alot easyer then starting from seeds.
  5. MT Marcia

    MT Marcia Guest

    Have you read Ruth Stout's books on permanent mulch? Although I've never used the permanent method, I do mulch *everything* after it comes up. I find that here in northcentral Montana, if I mulch too soon the ground doesn't warm up fast enough to get the early things going, and stays cool too long for heat lovers like tomatoes, etc. So I mulch some time in June, when everything is off to a strong start.

    Perhaps laying mulch as soon as you finish tilling may cause you the same problems?
  6. snoozy

    snoozy Well-Known Member Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    Kitsap Co, WA
    And if they die -- so what? Some will. Some will get et by slugs or whatever critters you've got, but it doesn't matter. Just replant. Keep going. Try, try again. Seeds are cheap.

    Like arugula? It is impossible to not be able to grow arugula. Chard -- get rainbow/bright lights chard -- it grows and grows and looks gorgeous. But DON"T depend on your garden to provide all your veggies the first year or two, because you've got a lot of experimenting to do. And if you've used weed-evils (pesticides or whatever) on your lawn, then you may have some soil-fixing to do. Are you on the dry side of OR or the wet side? Mulching is not so important on the wet side, since we don't worry too much about conserving all this rain -- and I think it harbours slugs...but that's just my opinion.

    Shoot for covering your salad needs -- lettuce grows fast. Sweet Cherry 100 or Million tomatoes in a big container next to a south facing wall -- you can't fail! (Get tomato plants already started from the nursery.)

    Sunlight is the key thing determining what you can grow.

    Read everything you can!
  7. JJ Grandits

    JJ Grandits Well-Known Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    New york
    If I could give advice to someone just starting out, the best thing I could say is keep it simple and take your time.Your local library wih offer all the information you will need plus a lot more. Personally, I recommend the Rodale books. There is a phenomenal amount of methods and technques, and they all have their advocates. The situation in which they are applied determines which is best. Your best advice will come from other gardeners in your area. Don't try to do it all at once. Some people get turned off to gardening when they get to ambitious and create more work than they are willing to handle.
  8. Hank - Narita

    Hank - Narita Well-Known Member

    Aug 12, 2002
    If the library has Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living, read it over and over. Lots of helpful information and sources for obtaining seeds. Check the internet for free catalogs. Does your community have a garden or senior center with garden space? A church we used to attend also had lots of gardeners and helpful advice. I'm not sure if the schools have garden plots but you might ask there also.
  9. All the advice was great. I've been reading everything I can off the internet, especially the back articles available on the Mother Earth News website. It is so wonderful that they make all those articles available for free!

    I also discovered that one of my friends loves gardening, so she is helping me.

    Marcy in Oregon
  10. Aohtee

    Aohtee Well-Known Member

    Aug 26, 2003
    I recommend John Jeavons books, "Backyard Homestead" and "How to grow more vegetables" . These books take you step by step thru the process of bed preparation,seed selection,propagation,adding animals,fruit trees, small fruits and even low-technology tools. You'll find answers for questions you haven't thought of yet. I would be hesitant to add any hay to my garden unless it had been composted enough to kill all the weed seeds hay contains.
  11. southerngurl

    southerngurl le person Supporter

    May 11, 2003
    It seems like I always get diseases when I purchase plants, especially with tomatoes and peppers.

    Growing from seeds isn't that hard, and you have more choices that way.

    Good that you started out with mulch, it's the greatest! In my opinion, if you have a healthy, live soil (with funguses, microorganisms, worms ect), you will not need to till other than the first year.
  12. diane

    diane Well-Known Member

    May 4, 2002
    South Central Michigan
    Lots of great advice. The thing I try to impress upon new gardeners is...keep it simple......especially that first year. If you have previously had grass in that lot, you are certainly going to need lots of mulch to keep the grass out and even then it will be a great deal of work. Been there and done that. Maybe this year you will be rather small with lots of stuff in containers while you kill the grass with lots of tilling and heavy mulch. Don't forget to plant some flowers for color and joy :) is lots of fun.
  13. Hi, Marcy (this ended up a bit longer than I originally planned, so bear with me!)

    I, too, seem to have a black least for indoor plants. My main suggestion is not bother with starting your seeds indoors...that almost always failed for me. Instead, I usually direct-seed right in the soil, except for the two or three tomatoes plants, which I buy young. Some places sell tomatoes as six-packs, but my plants tend to get so big that we don't even need the extra. If you do decide to buy tomatoes and find you don't need that many plants, you can split the six-pack with your gardening friend.

    I live in the Kansas City area, and I found tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, and zucchini very easy to grow, even in the horribley hot and dry weather we have been having lately (my corn completely burned up last year). In better years, I can get some good broccoli, too. I can't seem to get huge heads of lettuce, but you can harvest just the leaves themselves while the plants are very young. "Baby Greens" is the hot ticket lately, anyway. Here's a few little tricks that I do...

    Zucchini: Dig a shallow hole, completely fill it with compost, dead leaves, or grass clippings (so it mounds over), and then cover the top with the dirt you removed. All in all, the hill you create should end up being about a foot across the middle, and about 3-6 inches tall. Then plant 4-8 seeds around the edge of the hill. One word of caution...zucchini don't like to get their feet wet, so make sure the ground is dry before you water again (My first year, I made the mistake of using the hose to clear some bugs off...) Last year I had such great success that I'm going to try other kinds of squash this year.

    Tomatoes: Believe it or not, you can bury part of a tomatoe's stem...up to the first set of leaves (Other plants tend to not like this). My favorite master gardener on HGTV suggests this as an extra little step to help keep the tomatoe plant safer. Watch out for Horn Worms...they are a light green caterpillar with orange and black markings down their sides (it looks like a bunch of orange eyes). I caught one a couple of years ago and kept it as a "pet"/science project for the kids...and let me tell you, they eat a lot! They can do a lot of damage to a tomatoe, their preferred food. (They do make a pretty moth, though). Just take it off and kill it. Spring and early summer, you need to watch out for little tiny red or pink bugs (you have to look very close to see them, they often aren't much bigger than a pencil point, and often hide on the underside of leaves). You could get a whole infestation without even seeing them. These are mites (velvet mites, if I'm correct). Although I try to keep my garden as organic as possible, I will pull out the bug spray whenever I see more than two, since water doesn't seem to get rid of them.

    General: Personally, I don't bother with "rows"...I gave up on them a long time ago. I have "patches", sections of garden 3 feet wide. I don't walk or put any pressure on the patches, and being only 3 feet wide (and however long as you want), I can easily reach every plant. I used some rocks that I rescued from a construction site for pathway's in between the patches. This gives plenty of room to larger plants, like broccoli and tomatoes, and creates a little "broad cast bed" for smaller plants, like lettuce and green onions. (Broadcast, in case you haven't heard the term before, is just sprinkling the seeds over the entire spot). I guess today this is called "raised beds", even though mine aren't exactly raised.

    Always plant more than you think you will need. Always, always, always. Every year, a little rabbit comes into my garden and picks on a single tomatoe plant, leaving everything else alone (except the lillies in the front yard). I don't know why...he just does. (Sometimes I wish they allowed rabbit hunting in the suburbs). Some master gardeners suggest planting two to four times what you think you'll need to allow for nature and other little "oopsies" (like children and dogs). If you have extra, family and neighbors are always happy to get fresh-grown produce, plus stuff can always be frozen, canned, or dried.

    You don't really need to go through the rigours of composting. Just put leaves and grass clippings directly on the garden (you can even grab your neighbor's bags...they tend not to mind). It will act as a mulch, and at the same time compost itself right there. Just turn it under in the fall. I always felt bad that I didn't compost the correct way until one of the master gardener's on HGTV said that it was okay to do this. However, I do have a "compost bin" where we hold a lot of our stuff waiting to be used as mulch...I simply used three shipping pallets that, otherwise, would have gone in the trash. (I don't know if you know what a shipping pallet is...its a wooden base that some companies put underneath their boxes, allowing them to use a fork lift to move them...If you shop at SAM's or some place similar, you will see what I mean.) I just nailed three together to make a cage.

    Use plastic milk and pop bottles to store water in case of a drought. Last year, the drought got so bad that our city threatened to jail or fine anyone who watered their lawn or garden. My corn "burnt up", but I was able to save my tomatoes and several other plants by having that extra water on hand. (The Red Cross suggests keeping stored water in the case of other emergencies). Just replace the water every six months. Pop bottles can also be used as an underground waterer...when you put your plants in the ground, also "plant" a pop bottle or milk jug, with holes punched in the sides. Plant it deep enough so just the top sticks out. Just flip off the top and stick the hose in the hole. It also soaks up excess rain water, redistributing it back into the soil as the soil dries up.

    Hope this helps you and anyone else!

  14. momma

    momma Member

    Dec 5, 2002
    Laurie... I'm also a first year gardener, but I happen to be in KC! I have a garden plot from the Kansas City Community Gardens. Please PM me or e-mail me ( if you feel up to giving another newbie some more localized advice. Thanks!

    Oh, and Marcy, I feel your pain. I feel just as lost as you with my first garden. But it's exciting, isn't it?!
  15. Mutti

    Mutti Well-Known Member Supporter

    Sep 7, 2002
    Keep it will get more off a well-tended small garden than an over-ambitious first effort that goes to weeds. It will much more satisfying to have a pretty garden that invites you in instead of a weed patch that depresses you just looking out the window!! There are many years ahead to perfect your gardening techniques and get bigger. Don't waste time the first year growing stuff that is cheap all year round like cabbage,carrotts,potatoes. Green beans,tomatoes, peppers are easy if you don't try to plant too early. Keep it simple. Always plant flowers!! Many many satisfying to have bouquets in everyroom that you grew. DEE
  16. Don Armstrong

    Don Armstrong In Remembrance

    May 8, 2002
    central New South Wales, Australia
    As said, keep it small at first. You can be preparing the rest of the soil for subesquent years, but that doesn't take constant work so it doesn't grind you down.

    Read up on "lasagna gardening" and "square foot gardening" - they can coexist. Lasagna gardening cuts work, square fot gardening maximises return from your space (and hence can also cut work).

    Use snail & slug killer in a wet climate, and scatter it thinly enough that pets aren't tempted to eat it.

    Plant radishes. Little hot globe radishes, and long cooler white French brakfast radishes. Radishes almost can't fail, so no matter what else goes wrong you won't totally lose heart. Swiss chard and cale are good for similar reasons. You can learn to eat them if you don't know how at first, and even if you end up mulching them they'll still give you encouragement.

    Broad beans are a good green manure crop. Buy cheap seeds in bulk - maybe even as food from a grocery store. Plant thickly, eat fast and young while they're growing pods, then cut them down and let them rot when they come close to maturity.
  17. The main thing to remember is Never get discouraged and give up. Every year is a learning experience even to us old timers. (I'm not really and old timer but I have been gardening ever since I was a child back in the 60's)