Getting started

jussaumm
By jussaumm on Wed, Mar 9, 2016 - 8:03am
Hi, 
 
I am just getting started on a permaculture veggie garden. I am reading Elliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest and I am excited about the year round possibilities.
 
I have the garden area marked out as 5 beds that are 30 inches wide by 20 ft long. If those beds are divided into quarters, that gives me 20 smaller areas for planting. 
 
My question is how to get started. I would like to do succession planting but is the 5 ft lengths too big or should I be using the 5 ft lengths for a single veggie and plant a few at a time? 
 
Many thanks,
Matt 

24 Comments

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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There are no rules!

Don't over-analyze things at this stage.

Go out, get dirt under your fingernails, take notes, figure out what works and what doesn't and why.

The size of your beds seem fine. What was there before? Grass?

In any event, you're probably needing to build soil. Do you have a source for manure? Work two wheelbarrows full of aged compost and/or manure into each 20' bed, more if you're growing hungry crops (potatoes, squash, etc.)

jussaumm's picture
jussaumm
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There is certainly a bit of

There is certainly a bit of overwhelm coming with this new adventure and also the illusion of choice. 

I don't have a manure source. We started composting this week but that takes time. Can I purchase compost somewhere? 

There is currently grass when I intent to plant. I guess I'll be tilling a bit at a time with each little bit that I plant? It is still early here in Massachusetts so I will have to start with seeds indoors and transplant. 

There is a bit to this but you are right, I do just need some progress. 

 

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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Steps

If you are planning annual vegetables, you need to work the ground. You need to either purchase a rototiller, or hire the tilling. Perhaps your local CraigsList would be a good place to get either.

There are other ways, but they take longer. You need to kill the grass, which you can do with "sheet mulching," using cardboard or even multiple sheets of newspaper. Then you can cover the mulch with finished compost or manure, or purchased garden soil. This is also called "lasagna gardening" by Permaculturalists.

If your goal is food this coming season, I'd go with tilling, though the second method has lots of aesthetic appeal -- except for the part about importing all your soil!

Find a farm and garden store in your area. You can buy soil amendments (like finished compost and/or manure) there. But better yet, bend their ear! Keeping in mind that they're gonna want to sell you something, they'll have a lot of good advice.

Avoid chemicals. If they say "Burn down the grass with RoundUp," find another garden store. :-)

For starting seeds inside, I highly recommend soil blockers. The 1.5" one is probably the best to start with. You can get them from Johnny's.

Starting from grass, I'd avoid root crops for a few years, and don't let the grass grow in-between rows during that time. You're gonna have lots of wire-worms, the larvae of the click beetle. They ruin root crops, although if you are patient and just gotta have home-grown carrots, you can cut their tracks out, leaving some carrot behind.

Any farmers or ardent gardeners in your area? You might consider volunteering some time on their farm. You'll learn a lot quicker that way, and will avoid common mistakes!

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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WWED

"What would Eliot do?" Another great book is "The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman, to the best of my knowledge he imported the soil blockers originally. We LOVE ours, it really made a big difference in seed starting for us.

There are a lot of places that make compost commercially, give that a shot if you need a bunch.

Think hard about a high tunnel, we are binging  on salad every night, they are an amazing tool.

Rob

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Wendy S. Delmater
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Welcome, jussaumm!

Suggestion: Start a compost pile. It may take a while to mature but compost is insanely expensive to buy by the bag, and you will need a lot at first. I got my starter compost, and any extra I still need, from a county recycling facility. Be aware that although that is a super-cheap option, they mainly want to get rid of wood chip waste so mixing that with manure is essential. Bagged manure from a big box store is also expensive but not as bad as compost. See if you can find someone local with a horse stable or someone who raises chickens. Just be aware that chicken manure has to sit a year or it will "burn" your plants.

 

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Thrivalista
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Compost sources, starting new beds

Jussaumm, congrats on starting your compost pile last week. Lucky you, there's a strong NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmer's Assoc.) chapter in Massachusetts. You can call or email them to find local sources for organic compost, to give your new beds a robust start. They might also have a search feature on their website for finding products, at http://www.nofamass.org/

Our experience here in our Western NY gardens has been that annual beds started using Jeavons' double-dug method have outperformed those started using other methods, including lasagne and square-foot techniques.  It's a good opportunity to hire local youth to help if it's too much manual labor to do all in one spring yourself. Tilling gives you a short burst of productivity, but it also kills off much of the "micro-herds" (as Toby Hemenway calls them), ultimately setting back the soil health so necessary for long-term productivity.

Since you're starting a good-sized area, you could rent a sod-cutter to make sod removal go more quickly.  Stack the sod upside down, and it will eventually decompose and create compost suitable for adding back to the beds.

I'd also throw down a spring cover crop as soon as those beds were dug, to keep the soil microbes fed while they await your seeds and transplants to do their symbiotic dance with.  A multi-seed mix covers temperature variations during germination, one or another of them will sprout and grow.

Good luck! Growing food is a wonderful mix of frustration and satisfaction.

 

jussaumm's picture
jussaumm
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Thank you!

Hi everyone! Thank you for the responses. Lots of questions swirling. 

When is the right time to create the beds? May 1st or sooner? I was thinking that the sod cutter sounds like a good solution. I was concerned about tilling because of what Chris has mentioned on his podcast. It sounds like double digging loosens the soil quite deep. Is this accurate? 

I'm looking forward to veggies from the cold frame all winter but that is a project for later this year. 

I have a whole mess of seed that I bought online a Johnny's and I'm working on figuring out what to start first inside. Lots of info to gather and notes to take. I'm also expecting potatoes to be shipped around the beginning of April. Is that the right time to create the beds? Any resources for a potato tower?

Thanks again,

Matt 

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Michael_Rudmin
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Matt, could we collaborate on a double digger?

Matt. double digging is incredibly labor intensive. I think there might be a better way if you're looking at a large garden. Same double digging, but a ton less calorie output. could we collaborate on a double-digging machine? I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and might have some valuable inputs.

Aside from that. double digging is garden suicide unless -- this is as per Jeavons -- you get incredibly serious about your composting. I have some thoughts on that, too.

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Uncletommy
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There are alternatives.

I've been using a combination of techniques that require little in the way of soil disturbance. Opening up the soil for increased oxygenation and water penetration does have immediate benefits, but proper rotation of crops or inter-cropping seem to a better option over the long haul. Soil life is the critical factor; a good mix of the beneficial life forms working in harmony are essential. Consider some of these applications:

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Anybody using a broadfork?

A broadfork seems to be pretty popular now, seems like there are a lot of benefits. Soil aeration without inversion and disturbing the mircrobiota. Thoughts?

Rob

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pinecarr
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I was unfamiliar with broadforks...

And so looked for and found a site that gives an idea of what they are and how they are used.    https://www.milkwood.net/2012/08/30/cultivating-soil-food-and-life-with-a-gundaroo-tiller-broadfork/  They do seem like an interesting tool, robshelper!

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Broadfork

We have pretty much given up tillage in favor of the broadfork. It is a good workout in the sunshine and requires no fossil fuel.

Just got our soil test back, in two years we have increased our organic matter by 2%, our nitrogen is up and so is our phosphorus. I have read that for every 1% increase of organic mater it means an additional 16,000 gallons of holding capacity of water in the soil. Our soil is improving, great fun to see what we will be able to grow in the future.

Hope you have a great spring and struggle to can it all in the fall.

Rob

Doug's picture
Doug
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rotted wood

I took out a couple of old tree stumps, so have a pile of rotted wood. Any ideas how I can use it?

jussaumm's picture
jussaumm
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Starting with Broadfork?

So if I have grass where the garden is going to go, what do I do to get started with a broadfork? 

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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Avoid root crops!
jussaumm wrote:

So if I have grass where the garden is going to go, what do I do to get started with a broadfork?

I'd do a "lasagna garden," where you layer cardboard to kill the grass with manure.

Also, avoid root crops for a few years. You're gonna have wire worms something fierce when planting where grass was recently. I'm still trap-cropping with turnips in some places, three years after getting rid of grass. We are finally mostly rid of them in the permanent raised beds.

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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depends on the wood
Doug wrote:

I took out a couple of old tree stumps, so have a pile of rotted wood. Any ideas how I can use it?

What kind of wood?

If walnut or cedar, you can spread it in aisles and paths as a weed supressant, but don't use it on plants you want to keep! These trees contain juglin and thujone respectively, both potent herbicides. Other trees that are high in tannins might also cause your bedding plants woes.

Otherwise, you can incorporate it into compost. It tends to be acidic, and will draw wood lice, which will mow down tiny seedlings, so I'd avoid putting it around any but established plants. Good for rhodies, laurel, blueberries, and other acid-loving plants.

Consider getting a wood chipper if the remaining bits are too big and solid. You can turn a lot of slash into compost in one year instead of five if you chip it first!

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
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You can bury the rotted wood to make Hugelkultur beds

You don't have to dig down to bury the wood, you can start at grade level if you don't mind or want to make use of contouring. Hugelkultur beds are a great way to get perennial food plants established. We only had to water our new blueberry bushes once the summer we planted them, and that year it was drier than usual.

All the usual cautions re walnut or cedar apply, of course.

Meanwhile, DH uses a broadfork every time he replants an annual bed.

Doug's picture
Doug
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Thanks Bytesmiths and Thrivalista

It is Norway Spruce.  Using it as bedding for my blueberries is a good idea.  Also, I already have a hugelkultur bed, so can just add some of this wood to the bed.  I have plenty for both purposes.

Wildlife Tracker's picture
Wildlife Tracker
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Push cultivator

I bought one of these a few of years ago. It's extremely fun to use.

It might be easier than a broad fork for light tillage? I don't have a broad fork.

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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look out for wood lice on young herbaceous plants
Doug wrote:

It is Norway Spruce.

I think that would be fairly innocuous in most situations. Just keep it away from new herbaceous transplants, or the wood lice will drive you crazy!

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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Wildlife Tracker wrote:It
Wildlife Tracker wrote:

It might be easier than a broad fork for light tillage? I don't have a broad fork.

COOL! I want one!

But I think they serve different purposes. A broadfork goes deep, and aerates the subsoil. A wheel hoe is great for weeding tilled ground, but do you actually use this successfully with no-till?

Wildlife Tracker's picture
Wildlife Tracker
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bytesmiths

It rips out well-rooted grass fairly easily. It does not really go too deep so the soil structure is still there. You sort of have to go back and forth between the three prongs and the one prong, but it goes fairly quickly. Certainly not nearly as quickly as a mechanical tiller, but faster than anything else I've experimented with that is not mechanical.

To be honest, I've never planted using just this tool, but in theory I think it is possible. It's Amish made and it's durable. I call it a push "plow."

I purchased mine off Lehman's, but I'm not sure they sell that model anymore.

newsbuoy's picture
newsbuoy
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Farm From A Box

Innovative and efficient. 

http://www.farmfromabox.com

Found via Permaculture - Google+

newsbuoy's picture
newsbuoy
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A New Paradigm for Pre-Columbian Agriculture in North America

ABSTRACT:

Indigenous farmers in Pre-Columbian North America have frequently been characterized as shifting cultivators whose agricultural productivity was marginal and unstable, and whose actions were damaging to the environment. In this article I challenge this assessment. The presence of large tracts of highly productive soils in eastern and central North America suggests that farmers here would not have engaged in shifting cultivation, but rather practiced permanent, intensive cropping. The lack of plows, often cited as an impediment for Native American farmers was in fact an advantage. Agricultural systems with hand tools cause less destruction of soil organic matter and reduce soil erosion; they enable sustained crop yields over longer periods of time compared to plow-based systems. Indigenous farmers in North America also grew a highly productive cereal grain, maize, uniquely suited to no-plow conditions. Maize yields of 25 to 50 bu/acre were both realistic and stable, allowing indigenous farmers to support modest populations for extended periods of time. This combination of access to fertile soils, a cropping system that preserved soils, and a high-yielding grain crop enabled agriculture that was largely productive, stable, and with limited negative effects on the environment.

https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/early_american_studies_an_interdisciplinary_journal/v013/13.2.mt-pleasant.pdf

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