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Starting a new garden

 
Posts: 91
Location: King William, VA
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Hi all.  I've been perusing the Permies site for a few months now, and have really been fascinated with all of these forums and posts, so I thought it was time that I posted something of my own.

My wife and I recently moved from a third acre in a neighborhood out to the country on a 27 acre farm.  Although I had a nice 9 row raised bed garden at our last residence, I am truly giddy with the opportunities that our new property presents, including the possibility of selling veggies at the farmer's market or a CSA.  

Older posts on starting gardens from pasture have really helped me in a plan of attack for starting a vegetable garden on my "old horse pasture."  So I took some advice, and am creating one 50' x 100' plot with the sheet compost method and the remainder of my initial 50' x 100' plot that I initially planted this spring with the soil solarization method. Both plots were initially tilled with a rear tine tiller, which did a sub-par to adequate job cultivating.  I am kind of regretting not cultivating the plots with a subsoiler.    

It will be very interesting to compare and contrast the two methods.  I am planning on leaving these gardens covered up until next spring.  I would be interested to hear any feedback from the community on what I could be doing better or different.

Josh in Virginia


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I look forward to seeing which works best. My garden started out as an old pasture. I wish I had mulched it for a long time, so I’m still fighting weeds. I tried contractors paper and 4 inches of wood chips in the paths, but I think that is only getting rid of the weak weeds. Live and learn.
 
pollinator
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My best garden had 18" of mulch to start. This was wood chips so N and Calcium poor. Basically a huge dose of organic matter and potassium, which we sorely need here. Then the hard part- you wait!


After a year I could grow squash and tomatos. Beans were so-so. After the mulch was degraded/compacted to 10" or so, I am getting some carrots and beets. They are not happy but alive. Next year I think will be awesome. I've been installing predator habitat this year (little ponds and stone stacks and stuff). I'm gradually adding rock dust as I get it, and compost tea.

The hard part is that the soil is only one part. You will also get an initial boom of pests following the fertility, then a boomlet of predators, and then a habitat that has some extras for you. Each year has it's own challenges.

I take stories of rapid robust growth with large doses of sodium chloride. I'm a big fan of massive mulch, my gardens this year have 24" of mulch and will probably take two whole years for any production. But I ain't got weeds!!!
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Dennis Mitchell wrote:I look forward to seeing which works best. My garden started out as an old pasture. I wish I had mulched it for a long time, so I’m still fighting weeds. I tried contractors paper and 4 inches of wood chips in the paths, but I think that is only getting rid of the weak weeds. Live and learn.



Dennis,

How long did you mulch it for?
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Tj Jefferson wrote:My best garden had 18" of mulch to start. This was wood chips so N and Calcium poor. Basically a huge dose of organic matter and potassium, which we sorely need here. Then the hard part- you wait!


After a year I could grow squash and tomatos. Beans were so-so. After the mulch was degraded/compacted to 10" or so, I am getting some carrots and beets. They are not happy but alive. Next year I think will be awesome. I've been installing predator habitat this year (little ponds and stone stacks and stuff). I'm gradually adding rock dust as I get it, and compost tea.

The hard part is that the soil is only one part. You will also get an initial boom of pests following the fertility, then a boomlet of predators, and then a habitat that has some extras for you. Each year has it's own challenges.

I take stories of rapid robust growth with large doses of sodium chloride. I'm a big fan of massive mulch, my gardens this year have 24" of mulch and will probably take two whole years for any production. But I ain't got weeds!!!




TJ, thanks for the response.  I have been trying to get wood chips delivered from loggers somewhere, but have been unsuccessful so far because we are in a fairly rural area.  

I really like your predator idea.  Do you have pictures of your rocks and ponds?  Are you talking about habitat for frogs and toads?

Haha.  Yes, Rome wasn't built in a day.  Yeah, I have cardboard and about 6 inches of straw, but plan on adding lots of shredded leaves this fall.  Are you forming your raised beds by hand?  How tall and wide are they?
 
Tj Jefferson
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I don't have pictures. The "ponds" are pocket ponds, which in my clay soils means I dig until I don't want to dig anymore. They are generally around 20CF capacity. I want to biggify them this winter, the idea being to hold water for the breeding cycle of the frogs. It worked this summer with small ponds because it was quite wet earlier, but I prbably need double or triple the capacity, and deeper is better than wider. If I had access to a small backhoe, I'd make a bunch of them a la Mark Shepard.

Stones are whatever I can get. I throw a few in the truck each time I come back from the river, but I will use broken cement and have one wall made out of granite countertop chunks from a remodel. One pile is a jumble of bricks. To keep the better half happy i normally put some actual rip-rap stones on top.
 
Dennis Mitchell
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Joshua LeDuc wrote:

Dennis Mitchell wrote:I look forward to seeing which works best. My garden started out as an old pasture. I wish I had mulched it for a long time, so I’m still fighting weeds. I tried contractors paper and 4 inches of wood chips in the paths, but I think that is only getting rid of the weak weeds. Live and learn.



Dennis,

How long did you mulch it for?



I put it down this spring. I planned to put more on, but my plans were high jacked. It does make it much easier to pull the weeds. I originally wanted to do the whole garden in chips, but I’ve been using them to keep weeds down instead. They have worked great on the goat heads, and cheat grass.
 
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Joshua LeDuc wrote:  I have been trying to get wood chips delivered from loggers somewhere, but have been unsuccessful so far because we are in a fairly rural area.



Joshua, we are in a rural area too. For wood chips, check with your electric company/public utility. They have to brush roads and clear trees from power lines. Means they chip a LOT of brush and trees into large dump truck... but have to drive all the way back to their place of biz.

Our electric company covers most of two counties... and they are happy when a land owner gives them permission to dump a load of chips so they can save gas and time.

I would caution everyone tho... it’s a LOT. Better to make a huge compost pile, let it cook, (add nitrogen grin) then have some great compost.

We’ve never tried putting it directly down as mulch. (The tree trimmings round us are 60% pine/fir and 40% maple/oak.). Been thinking about Hugel mounds using it, but HM needs hardwood logs, then branches then chips so it breaks down slowly...

But yeah... chat up your line trimming crew chiefs and see what they say...
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Kim Wendt wrote:

Joshua LeDuc wrote:  I have been trying to get wood chips delivered from loggers somewhere, but have been unsuccessful so far because we are in a fairly rural area.



Joshua, we are in a rural area too. For wood chips, check with your electric company/public utility. They have to brush roads and clear trees from power lines. Means they chip a LOT of brush and trees into large dump truck... but have to drive all the way back to their place of biz.

Our electric company covers most of two counties... and they are happy when a land owner gives them permission to dump a load of chips so they can save gas and time.

I would caution everyone tho... it’s a LOT. Better to make a huge compost pile, let it cook, (add nitrogen grin) then have some great compost.

We’ve never tried putting it directly down as mulch. (The tree trimmings round us are 60% pine/fir and 40% maple/oak.). Been thinking about Hugel mounds using it, but HM needs hardwood logs, then branches then chips so it breaks down slowly...

But yeah... chat up your line trimming crew chiefs and see what they say...



That's a great idea, Kim!  I will contact them!
 
pollinator
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How are things growing? I started a new garden this year and some things just look so puny in it. I know it'll improve but this years garden is pathetic!
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Update on the garden - The soil solarization method didn't work that well for me.  Every time it rains, the water will settle into the low spots on the plastic and form puddles.  I was concerned that these little puddles would start harboring mosquito larva, so I removed the plastic and laid down cardboard and straw, like I did with the other plot initially.  As you can see by the pictures, I have now spaced out my rows.  I am creating permanent no-till raised beds!  I raked the grass clippings after mowing the lawn, and added a nice layer of clippings to the rows.  Next I am going to add some horse manure that I found on Craigslist. Basically I am lasagna gardening.  

The cardboard and straw method is working awesome by the way!  After almost 7 weeks, there have been very few weeds that have managed to poke their way through and find light.  As you can see, I made a few holes in one of the plots and started some butternut squash seeds.  They will have free reign of the plot this year.

As of this post, I would definitely reccomend the cardboard and straw method to suppress weeds when starting new garden plots!
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Kim Wendt wrote:

Joshua LeDuc wrote:  I have been trying to get wood chips delivered from loggers somewhere, but have been unsuccessful so far because we are in a fairly rural area.



Joshua, we are in a rural area too. For wood chips, check with your electric company/public utility. They have to brush roads and clear trees from power lines. Means they chip a LOT of brush and trees into large dump truck... but have to drive all the way back to their place of biz.

Our electric company covers most of two counties... and they are happy when a land owner gives them permission to dump a load of chips so they can save gas and time.

I would caution everyone tho... it’s a LOT. Better to make a huge compost pile, let it cook, (add nitrogen grin) then have some great compost.

We’ve never tried putting it directly down as mulch. (The tree trimmings round us are 60% pine/fir and 40% maple/oak.). Been thinking about Hugel mounds using it, but HM needs hardwood logs, then branches then chips so it breaks down slowly...

But yeah... chat up your line trimming crew chiefs and see what they say...



I wish that was the case here.  I must be more rural than that  Here the companies just leave the chips where they are.  Services that do tree removal from a person's yard take them to a common area that the city maintains.  You can get chips there but you have to load them.  That's where I get most of mine.  Otherwise, I chip my own.  It takes a lot of material to get a meaningful amount of chips, but the upside is that they are far better quality chips with much more green in them.
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Update on the makings of a permanent bed no-till garden:

I have pretty much laid to rest the garden for the winter, after having harvested my butternut squash, so I wanted to share the finished product of all of my hard work this year.  The beds are all in really good shape and for the most part still weed free.  A few dock plants and wild garlic pushed right through the cardboard, but that is pretty much it.  I would definitely recommend this method when starting a garden from scratch in a pasture.  It is now time to start adding organic matter into the beds, which as you can see has been accomplished in the first few.  With the leaves falling right now, it is time to add shredded leaves in abundance.  I'm thinking about getting a broad fork, so I can fork these beds next spring prior to planting.  I am really looking forward to what 2020 will bring in the garden!
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Joshua,

Your beds look very nice!  Great job.

I think that the cardboard barrier method is great and I use it frequently, or a slight variation.  Being a teacher, I have a LOT of paper at the end of each semester and I frequently use that paper as a barrier in the same way you use your cardboard.

I can see that you are really piling on the organic matter.  Again, great!  And by all means, pile in as many shredded up leaves as possible.  They can do wonders for the soil, but don’t expect them to add much volume to your beds.  For many years I raked my neighbors .5-1 acre of oak leaves from his huge oaks.  Every year I would haul over multiple 4x8’ trailer loads to dump on my beds.  Every year the beds piled up at least 3’, but leaves break down so thoroughly that they almost disappear!  But they do help out the soil.

Have you considered wood chips?  They can really add nice volume to your garden beds.  And if you were so willing, adding mushroom spawn will make the garden beds fertile like nothing else.

Great job so far and please keep us updated.

Eric
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Thanks Eric!

I like the paper idea.  I'm in construction, so I think I will start utilizing old blueprint drawings in my paths between the garden rows.

Yes, I like leaves because they break down so quickly and add rich organic matter.  Before we moved last spring I lived in a suburban neighborhood.  I would go around the "hood" and pick up all of the bags of leaves that other homeowners would drip off on the curb for the county to pickup.  I would then shred them and use them to cover my raised garden beds.  This worked wonders for weed suppression and  by the next spring I could lightly cultivate the leaves into the soil prior to planting my early season crops.  We shall see how this method works without the fancy wooden raised beds.  I miss my old garden some days.  

When we moved, I signed up for a couple of "chip drop" services, and called several local loggers, but nobody has been willing to drop off wood chips at my property as of yet.  Reason being is that we are pretty rural and on a small, windy road five miles off the highway.  I have thought about purchasing a chipper, however that is not a main priority right now.  Also, I can see the value of putting chips in the rows, letting them break down into soil, and then pulling the humus into the beds.  I'm not so sure about putting wood chips directly into the planting beds.  I feel that they would be a big obstacle when trying to rake, furrow rows, and plant seeds.  I could see this working with rows where you would, for instance, transplant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in however.  

I really don't know anything about mushroom spawn.  Please expound!
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Eric Hanson
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Joshua,

Your beds look great by the way!

So I am a tremendous advocate of utilizing wood chips inoculated with mushrooms.  In particular, I advocate Wine Cap mushrooms, but others work as well.  Also, even though I love my tractors, I cannot imagine actually owning a wood chipper as renting one is so much more affordable.  Just my 2 cents.

But back to the woodchips.  What I have done is to rent a wood chipper, chip up enough chips to slightly overfill one garden bed (my beds are bordered by 2x10 lumber so my beds start out 12-15 inches thick or so).  Once the bed is full of chips, that bed is then dedicated to large plant crops for the next 2 years as well as mushrooms.  I dig fertile holes in the chips, save the chips dug out of the holes for a bit, and fill the holes with bagged topsoil, manure, plant bedding, etc.  I then mark the holes with a stake to find later.

Now it is time to mix in the spawn.  Simply break open the spawn kits and mix in with the woodchips.  Now take those chips you saved from fertile holes and cover the bed.  Ideally, spread a layer of straw 2-4 inches thick across the surface.
Water thoroughly and don’t let it get dried out.

Now your bed is inoculated.  I plant tomatoes in the fertile holes for 3 reasons:

1). Wine caps like to have some contact with soil and fertile holes do just that

2). Wine caps grow best in conjunction with plant roots, tomatoes do this job well

3). Wine caps prefer dappled shade but some sunlight.  Tomatoes grow nice and tall in the heat of summer exactly when wine caps need sun protection the most.

You could use peppers, or other plants in place of tomatoes, but tomatoes are my personal favorite.

My first mushroom bed took 1 year for mushrooms, but I really wanted the mushroom compost and that took about 8 months and only got better with time.

The second year I would suggest planting another larger crop in the original fertile holes.  Maybe top off with some chips.  By year 3, the original chips should look like a fine garden bedding.  

And oh what fertile bedding it is!  I grew summer squash in the fertile holes left over from tomatoes the year earlier and they were the healthiest, fastest growing, most prolific summer squash I have ever grown!

Each year I am adding in one new mushroom bed like this.  Your sides must be made of something rot resistant (but not treated lumber) or the fungi will consume it wholesale, but this is not difficult.

This is just a starter, and if you want more information, I will gladly help out.

Best of luck,

Eric
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Those are some really good ideas, Eric.  I seriously need to try this.  

Does it matter what type of wood to use for the chips?  I have several trees of paradise growing at the edge of my field that I need to exterminate.  I wonder how those would work for chips?  Also, a lot of tulip poplar and sweet gum.

Why the wine cap mushrooms?  I love mushrooms, but I have never eaten these.  Is it ease of growth, or extraordinary taste that makes these your favorite?  Where do you buy your spawn?  As a side note, I have flagged a couple large oak trees that have recently fallen back in my woods, and am wanting to inoculate these with Shiitake plugs.  I'm a little concerned that critters will eat them though!

The building one bed per year seems like a great plan!  What do you use for your sides?  I'll be honest - I have heard some things about not using treated for raised beds, but you can see from the picture of my old garden I used treated.  In the 8-9 years I had that garden, I never saw any deleterious effects.  I have also heard Jack Spirko echo my sentiments.  

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Eric Hanson
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Joshua,

Posting from my car (don’t worry, not driving) so this might be a disjointed, multi part response.

First off, the wood.  Pretty much any non-conifer will work, so all the trees you mentioned should work.  Oaks are great, especially in that they last a bit longer than other woods.  Personally, I would chip all that wood, but if you like, it is possible to drill plugs into logs, but it is a bit harder to make the wood do double duty like chips do.  So basically, all the trees you mentioned should work,

Secondly, the mushroom.  I use wine caps first and foremost for their ability to quickly make amazing garden bedding.  The mushrooms are a tasty bonus.  They taste like a woody/nutty portobello.  Wine caps are an ideal starter mushroom, almost like having training wheels for mushrooms.  They aggressively break down wood.  They are not especially picky about growing conditions.  Their compost is amazingly fertile and the chips feel almost like moist coffee grounds after about a year.

Other mushrooms can work, blue oyster mushrooms being notable, but it is really hard to beat a wine cap for your first attempt.

I can recommend two sources of spawn.  The first and best known is fungi perfecti and they have an excellent reputation.  I order from fieldforest.net and they are very helpful and also excellent.

Eric
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Thanks for all of the great tips, Eric.  Do you have any photos of your operation to share?

I will continue to post updates on my progress!
 
Eric Hanson
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Joshua,

I started a thread almost 2 years ago HERE:

https://permies.com/t/82798/composting-wood-chips-chicken-litter

It chronicles my journey from being an utter, complete fungal neophyte up to today.  While certainly not an expert, I have had some good success and I keep this thread updated so others can learn from my experiences, success and failures.  I just updated with current pictures.

Hope this helps, and by all means, if you still have questions, fire away!

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Also, I added in a sort of step-by-step set of procedures in this thread HERE:

https://permies.com/t/130092/mushroom-newbie

Scroll down and I give a 10 step program with some optional steps in there as well.

Eric
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Awesome, I'll take a look!
 
Joshua LeDuc
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The past 2 years have been my most challenging since I started gardening at our old house 14 years ago.  Creating the garden in a weed infested horse pasture last spring was a major undertaking to say the least.  This spring brought a hard frost 2 weeks after the average last frost date, which killed my tomatoes, peppers and many other seedlings of all varieties.

But after finally finding some straw mulch this past Saturday and laying it down, I have to say that I am finally beginning to appreciate what I have accomplished.  My neighbor even complimented me on how nice the garden looked when he stopped by yesterday afternoon.

Thanks to everything that I have learned through the permaculture community, I am now convinced that the sheet mulching method works.  Although there are still plenty of weeds, and even some that poke through the cardboard, the weed pressure is way down.  I expect that this trend will continue as long as I don't till the soil, keep weed seeds in and around the garden to a minimum, spread compost, and mulch, mulch, mulch.  There are tons of earthworms below the cardboard breaking down organics and leaving worm castings which is helping too.  

Insect pressure is definitely worse here than our old house as well.  I have to continue to find ways to keep insect damage at a minimal level without using chemicals.  This will be by implementing row cover and other methods, such as tolerance for damage, and encouraging beneficial insects and other critters to hang out in the garden.

Finally, I am excited about my new trellising system using the T-posts.  This string trellising for tomatoes and cucumbers will allow more air flow around the plants, and in turn hopefully reduce diseases like blight and powdery mildew, as well as growing larger fruit.   So far it's working well for the peas and pole beans too.  Anybody that's interested in this method can check out "A Trellis to Make You Jealous" from Josh Sattin on Youtube.

One of the coolest (and sometimes most frustrating) things about this hobby is that there are always new challenges that one can learn from.  Happy gardening!
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Thanks so much for the update Joshua!  I've built several raised beds this year but need to get started on some market beds for next year.  I had considered plastic in the past but after seeing how quick the cardboard breaks down I'll be utilizing that for all my future garden areas.  

Also love the trellis idea as I'm currently running out of materials to repurpose for them.  I do have a few T-posts and twine though I think my PVC fittings are too small so will put that on the list the next time we venture to town.
 
Joshua LeDuc
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Michelle Heath, you are welcome.  That's correct, by this spring I could tear right through the cardboard with my hands to make a row.  the ground underneath is teaming with worms!

Yes it is 1.25" pvc tees with .5" electrical conduit and couplers.  Works like a charm!
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