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Please help a newb permie with first garden patch

 
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Hello, I'm new to permaculture and gardening in general, but I've been reading Gaia's Garden so I know the basics. While clearing out some thorny shrubs on my land, I've discovered that the soil where they were growing isn't bad at all, as opposed to heavy clay almost everywhere else. So  I picked two spots, a shady one for arugula and a sunny one for tomatoes. I've started removing grass and weeds and the plan is to cover with mulch until planting arugula next week. I have a couple of questions:

What would be good companions for mentioned plants? I'm completely unprepared and I haven't planned to plant anything, but now I've changed my mind. Something easy preferrably since I'm a complete beginner.

Should I remove the thorn roots? They are big and deep and it would disturb the soil more than a bit. In fact, by pulling out a couple of them I've discovered that the soil is good.

Would it be a good idea to dig a small swale above the planted spots? It's on a small slope, how do I know if the slope is too steep?

I started digging in a keyhole shape for the tomato patch along north-south axis. Maybe that's a mistake, should it be along east-west axis?

I may have many more questions tomorrow, and I can put up some pics. Thanks in advance to anyone who tries to help.
 
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If you leave the roots crowns the weeds will sprout back up, so I recommend removing them.

Start simple, don't be afraid to just plant random things, it's more art than a science. In a space that is only 10ft by 10ft companion planting isn't really that critical, there is already enough interaction from nearby on a 100 acre by 100 acre monoculture farm companion planting obviously makes a huge difference.

Companion planting normally follows the one from each family  rule:
Legume/bean family,
Onion/Chive family,
Mint/Thyme family,
Celery/Carrot family,
Cabbage family
Spinach family
Lettuce family
Tomato family
Squash family
 
master gardener
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Welcome to Permies Albert!

A picture of the slope you mention, and some indication of your ecosystem would be helpful.

Albert wrote:

I started digging in a keyhole shape for the tomato patch along north-south axis. Maybe that's a mistake, should it be along east-west axis?

Normally they put the "hole" part of the keyhole on the north side because sun is normally the limiting factor, and tomatoes like heat and sun. Tomatoes like carrots and basil if you want them to have some friends.

I agree with S Bengi that removing those roots would be good if you can. Have you identified the thorny shrub? There are some which won't grow back, but where I live we have Himalayan Blackberry, and it will grow back with a vengeance! If you didn't want to plant right away, smothering the roots with mulch and watching and pulling sprouts would work - but you'd be needing to do that all summer instead of growing something.

Where I live, arugula is a very short-season plant. You may want to plant it several times - like every two weeks put some fresh in. That does depend on your weather. You may find it doesn't grow in the summer heat, but bush beans tend to like the heat, so adding those in the middle of June or so could make sense.

Good luck!
 
Albert Cross
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Thank you for the replies! Here are the pictires. I guess this is a gentle enough slope now that I'm looking at it. The spot is in an overgrown old cherry plum orchard. The trees are big and unpruned and there's lots of patience dock growing around. Apparently my great grandfather kept his pigs in this spot, so this may be the reason for the good soil.

I'm pretty sure arugula is gonna love the shade. I am currently mapping out the sunny spots, it's open in east and south, but in the southwest are some old buildings, and in the west there's a walnut tree, so it's most likely shady in the late afternoon. Less than ideal, but it is what it is. Summers here are super hot and dry anyway.

I already have basil in plan, I have the seedlings ready since I've already planted my herb spiral. Now that I've thought about it, I think I'm gonna try zucchini, spinach, lettuce, maybe peppers. Not sure if I'll be able to fit all of that!

Concerning the thorns, I've no idea what they are, they haven't flowered yet. There's still a couple around so I'll find out eventually. I'm gonna pull out as much of the roots as I can.
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Albert it sounds like you've got an excellent starting plan! Permaculture is all about observation, so if you're up to writing notes on your computer about sunny locations based on the time of day and day of the year, you may find that helpful as you continue on this journey.
Yes, where it's really hot, shade from the west can be very helpful - I've had many plants that look fine all day, suddenly look droopy at 4 pm, but then look fine again the next morning. Actually, that observation applies to houses I've lived in also.
Keep us updated as the summer progresses if you can - it's fun to hear about things that go right, and it's a learning experience for all of us when things go sideways!
 
Albert Cross
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I'll try to keep this updated as I progress for sure.

It seems that the soil isn't as good as I thought. top 2-3 cm were fine, but underneath was clumpy clay mess like everywhere else. But as I was pulling the roots out, I practically tilled those places, so that's where I'm going to plant. It's a patchy mess and I'm already being criticized for it, but I don't care.

I mulched the ground with dried grass, the plan is to remove it when planting time comes, pull out any weeds that survived, get the seeds in (or on) the ground and then put the mulch back. Sounds good?

I'll spend tomorrow pulling out some more roots and on tuesday I'll get some seeds and seedlings.
 
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Albert,

There is some very good information here.  I especially want to echo what S Bengi already said and start small.

Regarding weeds, I would eliminate every last trace of weed roots and/or smother the weeds with newspaper/cardboard etc. and a layer of leaves, grass clippings, woodchips, straw, or some other type of organic mulch.  Mulch is amazing.  It cuts down on weeds, helps control moisture, and generally does wonders for the soil beneath.  I really don’t like weeding, but I put down mulch each year and that takes care of weeds.

I have a thought for you for next year.  Consider making a fall compost pile *in* your tomato bed in the fall after the plants are done.  It doesn’t matter if it is all balanced and perfect, just rotting on the soil surface does wonders for the soil beneath the compost pile.  Even if your pile does not look all perfect come spring, the nutrients left over from decomposition will work their way into the soil over winter.  More importantly, the *life* in the soil will work into the pile and life in the pile will work into the soil.  Most people make compost piles behind a shed or someplace other than the garden.  Now, thanks to a fortuitous accident, I *only* make compost piles in my garden beds.

Anyhow, this is just a tip, and in the end the garden is yours so you do what you think is best.  BTW, do you have a chemically untreated yard?  If so, fresh grass clippings make a fantastic mulch.

Happy gardening and please keep us updated.

Eric
 
Albert Cross
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Thanks for the tips, Eric, I really like the compost idea. I thought about that myself, it's definately something I'm gonna try. I have these metal tubs without a bottom that can be easily moved around, they should be perfect for the job.

I can see why you hate weeding, the roots of these thorn shrubs are massive. They either go deep or wide, I pulled less than half and I'm already exausted. I may take on your advice and just mulch them and keep trimming as they sprout.

I only cleared a small part of the orchard from the weeds, the rest is overgrown with wild cherry plum saplings. I can't decide if I should just clear them all, or let them grow. Or maybe something in between, clear only around the trees so I could pick them come harvest time?
 
Eric Hanson
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Albert,

Those metal tubs should work great for you.  Compost is great stuff, but the act of composting is amazing.  The life generated will help for years.

Eric
 
Albert Cross
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After some research and meditation, I think that all of the bushes I cut down were actually cherry plums. They were in the shadier part behind the buildings so they still hadn't flowered, while the rest of them already had leaves. Also, the thorns had turned into sprouts, so they looked considerably less thorny.

I am going to cut all the saplings except a couple on the edge of the orchard. I had an idea how to put the crappy clay soil to good use - make balls out of it and cover the stumps of the cut down saplings with them to attempt to stop them from regrowing. Good idea, or downright dumb?
 
Albert Cross
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I planted some zucchini, lettuce, carrots, arugula and spinach today. Too late for spinach perhaps, but who cares. Hopefully I'll at least get to eat some baby spinach. I plan on getting a few tomatoes and peppers as well once they start selling seedlings here.

I planted way more arugula than I'll ever need, but the plan is to let most of it go to seed and establish itself in that part of the garden if it likes it there. I tried transplanting some wild garlic as well yesterday, but accidentally dug up half of it while digging the beds. >.< I need to start paying more attention to what I plant where and mark it out better.

Anyway, the plan is to have that part of the garden as a semi-unkempt area, with patience dock already being a resident.
 
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Hey Albert, how’s it going?  Removing those saplings sounds like a whole lot of work!

I’m not familiar with cherry plums. Are they good to eat?  Have you found out if they sprout after being cut down?  It seems most deciduous trees do, but I don’t have any expertise so I’m not sure.

Anyway, hello from a fellow newbie!
 
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Albert fence a pair of geese in your orchard and they will keep it trimmed for you. They also love the wind fall fruit. When it comes to companion planting, Day lilies, mustards, and for some strawberries, planted around the base of your fruit trees is a winning combo. You can't go wrong with basil and marigolds with all your veggies. Add dill to your cucumbers. Roses and garlic love each other. Put nasturtiums with your squash.
 
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