Starting My Garden
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?
Recommend you watch this film.
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!
Thank you for the recommendation. I will be taking a look at it..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.