Starting My Garden

eaviles
By eaviles on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 - 2:25pm

I am just starting my own vegetable garden in my back yard in Northwest Washington. However, I am new to gardening. Any tips on getting started?
How to prepare soil?
What type of techniques will help production?

20 Comments

khuber's picture
khuber
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GARDENING IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Recommend you watch this film. 

http://www.backtoedenfilm.com

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robshepler
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Soil test

A soil test is worth the money you will spend on it, find out what you have and what you are missing.

As organic growers we need to feed the microbes, it is the microbes that break down the nutrients and make them soluble for the plants. There is a synergistic relationship between fungus and plants, the plants exude sugars through their roots to attract the fungus, keep something planted at all times, be it your garden plant or a cover crop.

We brought in 6" of compost for our market garden and tilled it in to start with, we have since gone no till and we use a broad fork to aerate the soil between plantings. We add about an inch of compost at each planting.

Consider growing a cover crop for the first year for soil improvement and weed suppression.

We got a lot out of "The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman, we have gardened most of our lives and Eliot's methods took us to a new unexpected level.

Best of luck! 

 

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eaviles
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Thank you

Thank you for the recommendation. I will be taking a look at it..

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eaviles
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Will make adjustments

Thank you for the information. I do plan on getting enough compost to layer at least a few inches.
I had never heard of cover crops and will be doing some research of what those are, especially here in the PNW.
Will also be taking a look at the New Organic Grower.

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Tall
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Instead of digging or tilling initially

As I get older, I appreciate techniques that allow me to back off on the heavy physical labor.

To get new raised beds started, you can set down a foot or more of good compost or materials to compost such as leaves, vegetable waste, manure, etc. Keep an eye on it. Plant cover crops on it or mulch it if it needs weed suppression as time passes.

In a year, in most soils, the invertebrates and microorganisms will have done most of the soil conditioning for you, and you should be ready to plant in a rich, friable soil. Still need to check results of a soil test to know for sure that you have everything you need. Soil pH in particular is important. Plant needs (for optimum pH) will vary based on what you plan to grow.

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Kim L. Law
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Some great techniques of Soil Preparation

Over the last year of my study, I have found out that the best way to prepare soil is:

1. Sheet Mulching

The basic principle here is to use a layer a cardboard to suppress any weed, and then add different forms of mulch depending on need and grow directly on this mulch. The benefit is that this is the fastest, most fool proof, works everywhere method of improving soil. The downside is heavy capital intensive, you need a lot of material for a small space. It is the preferred way for a small garden.

2. Occultation

Occultation is to kill off the weeds by cutting off sunlight. Then the dead matter will decompose and add to soil fertility. At the same time preventing the soil from harsh sun exposure. What you need is a breathable piece of tarp that blocks sunlight completely. Water the area to start weed seed germination and to maintain some soil moisture, then put the tarp on top of it. Try to make it so it has some air circulation to prevent solar heat from cooking underneath. This method is very low capital, can be used in a large area, but takes a few months to prep the area (for the stuff to decompose). But done well you should have a very nice bed with almost no weed pressure. It is also a great way to remove weed in pathways by folding the tarp into the appropriate shape.

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Wendy S. Delmater
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welcome!

A hearty agreement on the soil testing. Your local agricultural extension service can probably do it at very little cost. Also agree on killing weeds by cutting off the light; a lot of folks cover them with cardboard and just let it rot in place, under the raised bed or compost.

A few more tips:
1. Try to buy non-hybrid seeds and get into seed saving. It saves a tremendous amount of money on annuals.
2. Try to buy locally for seeds and perennials, as you will have the best results with things that will grow well in your area.
3. Perennials are your friend. Example: Perennial greens like arugula are much easier to grow; practically maintenance free. Asparagus, likewise.
4. Avoid buying "starts" (small, pre-started plants) from big box store like Lowes or Home Depot. Many of our group have brought home diseases to their gardens that way!

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Bytesmiths
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Acid Soil

If you're in Northwest Washington, your soil is probably acid. Especially if you're breaking ground that has been under evergreens.

Do you have a wood stove? Stove ash (not too much!) is good for buffering acid, and also adds potassium and phosphorous.

The PNW is a great place for greenhouses! And you can make "mini" greenhouses for one tomato or pepper plant (cloches) with a simple skeleton of sticks and a dry-cleaning bag, or some other salvaged big piece of clear plastic.

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Kim L. Law
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To obtain high yeilds
From my many tours to Singing Frogs Farm & other Permaculture Sources, the biggest factor to good vegetable yield is:
1. Good soil management
Good soil management practices can be summed up in 3 points: Disturb the soil as little as possible (avoid tilling); Always keep it covered, to protect it from the elements; keep a diversity of plants on it to feed the soil.
 
2. High intensity farming
Vegetables are annuals. They start out slow, then have a rapid growth spurt and finally stop growing and and bolt (then die). If the plants in the field are always in the growth spurt phase, you get obtain a higher yield.
 
The trick to doing this is using nurseries and transplanting (not all vegetables can be transplanted e.g. carrots). Using a nursery for the initial slow growth (sprouting) phase can avoid having these slow, small and weak plants in your beds. Which means more space in the field for fast growing adolescent plants - more yield. Once they slow down, harvest them and cut it off at soil level (avoid disturbing the soil) and transplant another young adolescent plant next to it.
 
The rapid succession of fast growing adolescent plants will give you a lot more vegetables in a small space and shorter time (avoided sprouting phase). Most root vegetables (potato, carrot) are not suited to this method, however.
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Grover
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TANSTAAFL
Kim L. Law wrote:
2. High intensity farming
Vegetables are annuals. They start out slow, then have a rapid growth spurt and finally stop growing and and bolt (then die). If the plants in the field are always in the growth spurt phase, you get obtain a higher yield.

Kim,

Fast growing vegetables take their toll on the garden soil. You need to replenish what was taken or subsequent crops will suffer. It reminds me of what was written on the chalk board on the first day of ECON 101 - TANSTAAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.) This is particularly true in the garden.

Grover

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khuber
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Singing Frogs Farm

Definitely worth a visit and when available, a class. Neither Kaiser nor his wife were born farmers. In 5 years they've built a thriving business doing $100,000 gross an acre from 3 productive acres supported by another 5 with bamboo for predator habitat, a small nursery, home, etc. They have just one full time employee and spend their time planning, marketing, etc.

Kim L. Law's picture
Kim L. Law
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High intensive farming not necessarily bad
Grover wrote:

Kim,

Fast growing vegetables take their toll on the garden soil. You need to replenish what was taken or subsequent crops will suffer. It reminds me of what was written on the chalk board on the first day of ECON 101 - TANSTAAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.) This is particularly true in the garden.

Grover

There are definitely nutrients that are removed from the soil with high intensity farming, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals. Singing Frogs Farm regularly replace these necessary nutrients with quality compost (NPK), chicken feather meal (Nitrogen), pulverized oyster shell (Ca & trace minerals), lava rock (trace minerals). What inputs are necessary depends on your specific soil - hence the importance of soil testing. If you use humanure, and do not export your garden produce, I don't think that consistent external inputs are even necessary.

High intensive farming isn't necessarily bad for the soil. In fact Singing Frogs Farm believe that high intensive farming actually improves soil. More plant growth means more photosynthesis and exudates that feed the soil. Consistent ground cover and feeding the soil will keep soil organisms happy and so your plants.

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Michael_Rudmin
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Humanure

what about using humanure to grow kudzu and other carbon crops, then sterilizing the carbon crops, and exporting that for compost?

khuber's picture
khuber
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Singing Frogs Farm

The Kaisers produce 7 harvests a year and actually increase the humus content and volume of their soil. After every harvest they lay down a layer of compost. Very intensive. Really worth a visit to their farm.

See: https://www.peakprosperity.com/podcast/92727/paul-elizabeth-kaiser-sustainable-farming-20?utm_campaign=weekly_newsletter_181&utm_source=newsletter_2015-05-29&utm_medium=email_newsletter&utm_content=node_link_92727

 

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Michael_Rudmin Asked: "what

Michael_Rudmin Asked:

"what about using humanure to grow kudzu and other carbon crops, then sterilizing the carbon crops, and exporting that for compost?"

I would NOT recommend growing Kudzu because it can get out of hand quickly and spread everywhere. Its a pest plant species.

As far as humanure, I would avoid it since there is a real possiblity of transmitting human diseases. If you want to grow something for carbon capure, grow trees, preferably a non monocrop of trees. Some tree can also provide secondary resources: friuts, nuts and sap. Tree leaves will slowly add to soil compose.

 

 

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Bytesmiths
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As far as humanure, I would

As far as humanure, I would avoid it since there is a real possiblity of transmitting human diseases.

Let me rephrase that:

As far as eating in restaurants, I would avoid it since there is a real possiblity of transmitting human diseases.

There. Now the two phrases have about the same statistical likelihood.

Grover's picture
Grover
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Perspective
Kim L. Law wrote:

There are definitely nutrients that are removed from the soil with high intensity farming, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals. Singing Frogs Farm regularly replace these necessary nutrients with quality compost (NPK), chicken feather meal (Nitrogen), pulverized oyster shell (Ca & trace minerals), lava rock (trace minerals). What inputs are necessary depends on your specific soil - hence the importance of soil testing. If you use humanure, and do not export your garden produce, I don't think that consistent external inputs are even necessary.

High intensive farming isn't necessarily bad for the soil. In fact Singing Frogs Farm believe that high intensive farming actually improves soil. More plant growth means more photosynthesis and exudates that feed the soil. Consistent ground cover and feeding the soil will keep soil organisms happy and so your plants.

Kim,

I didn't say that it was bad, just that you need to replace what you took out. I bolded the inputs you listed. All of this takes energy to transport to the farm, process, and spread over the garden. If you've ever made compost you know that you end up with a small percentage of the raw ingredients. Unless you are totally full of [raw ingredients for compost], you can't generate enough compost this way to supply basic minerals. Before you sing the praises of these organic ventures, do some research into their inputs and the amount of embedded energy involved.

I have chickens and horses on a small acreage. Most of it is pasture for the horses. The chickens get to roam the yard and orchard during the day. At night, the chickens go into their coop and the horses generally stay in the barn/sacrifice pen. We clean these areas periodically and make compost from them. My garden grows wonderfully from these additions. I don't bother with soil tests. The plants will tell you when something is missing - if you know what their symptoms are telling you.

I imagine from what you've written that you are on a small plot of ground in a suburban area. You won't have the area to grow your own compost. We have a ratio of compost generating ground to compost using ground of about 30:1. That doesn't mean that it must take that high of a ratio, but you won't make it on humanure alone. Even with my situation, we import lots of external inputs (grass hay, chicken feed, crushed oyster shells, municipal water, etc.)

I don't want to discourage you from learning what you can now about gardening. Experience is the best teacher. Just don't fall into the trap of thinking you can do it all on your own on this small plot without external inputs. Also, put Singing Frogs under the same microscope.

Grover

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Grover you are right

I find that we import much of our inputs for our half acre market garden, although we produce a good bit of compost ourselves. Like you we have chickens, horses and cows that come into play but in the winter we need to buy in food for them and the resulting waste is where our compost comes from.

To my dismay even organic ag might be unsustainable in my opinion! When we need to, we will have to cut our foot print quite a bit to feed fewer animals from what our land can generate. That will also reduce the amount of compost we can generate.

We humans are consumptive critters, even when we are doing our best not to be.

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aj54
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new garden plots

I am going to put in a new raised bed this winter to use next spring.  I am going to do a hugelkultur, as I have a source of well rotted logs to use as the base.  I will remove the grass and put it upside down on top of the logs, so the logs will be in the earth.  And then I think I will try my hand at putting together a mix resembling terra preta to put on top of the grass roots.  I had good luck this year with a new bed where I just killed the grass, put up a perimeter of boards, and used organic topsoil, manures, peat moss and some minerals, mixed right on top without turning the base.  After I put in the plants, I topped the soil with mulch, and it produced very well, slowed during the hottest month, and regenerated new growth as soon as it cooled off a bit.  We just ate the last of our tomatoes and cucumbers mid December.  But now I am thinking of turning it and adding some height to the boards and more mix.

Has anyone done the hugelkultur or used charcoal in their soil mix, and what source did you use?

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mntnhousepermi
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I dont import additives for the garden

There is no reason to import additives for a home garden, markets gardens often have to because they have to grow what they believe they can sell, and may not have the room to rotate crops in that the other rotated crops do not have sale value. Home garden can make sure to follow the rules for amunt of space for each type of crop. Most of the space (if you dont keep animals with stall cleanings) needs to be in crops with alot of matter ( grains, for example)

Look here, for an introductory self-teaching video series ( free) http://growbiointensive.org/Self_Teaching.html. Grow your own compost crops, and/or rotate crops.  And, if it is a home garden, nothing for sale, remember that diluted human urine is a great source of nitrogen. Wood ash has potash. Manures of some type has the other mineral. 

Keep the soil covered. Feed the soil. Many things have carbon for your soil. Paper, weeds, leaves. Sheet mulch.

I dont compost anything anymore, I mulch with the waste carbon and animal stall cleanings, directly around trees or on garden beds.

I grow alot of my own food, including calorie crops, not just green veggies.

 

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