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My Gardening Journey

 
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Hello, my name is Amay and I am new to gardening. All my life I've grown up in a city and I'm pretty far removed from nature. As I got older, I became worried that I knew next to nothing about my food and where it came from. What magic do I need to be able to grow something simple like a potato?

So I decided to put some potatoes in my backyard and see what happens if I watered that spot every day. A few months later, I harvested my first batch of potatoes. This was around November 2020. The experience fed my soul and I wanted to do more. But the amount of material online was overwhelming because everybody had a different way to do things and I gave up because I was afraid to fail.

Fortunately, I found out about Wheaton Labs and January of this year (2021) when I took off 2 weeks from work to be a boot. The experience taught me that I need to think holistically about nature and its not just about putting potatoes in the soil. It's about the soil, the insects, the system, and the people. Delicious potatoes should be a result of a healthy system otherwise I would be gardening unsustainably.

Then last month in June, I took the 2021 PDC with Alan and I feel like I have learned enough to continue my gardening journey. I have the lease at my place for another year and I hope to post daily(ish) updates on this thread as a journal for myself and anyone else interested.

If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share because I know very little. I'm currently in San Jose, California. Zone 10a, really dry. Annual precipitation is 17 inches but I don't believe it. It felt like it rained 8 days last year and 3 of those days were drizzles.

My goal for the backyard is to create more life. Currently the soil is dry (hard like rocks).

Today is day 1, here is a picture of my backyard, it is about 4500sq ft, measuring about 65 by 70 ft.

On the left, there's a blue umbrella. I'm reading Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature and he talks about having a spot to be intimate with and I'm dedicating 3-5 hours a day to just hangout around the umbrella to listen to birds and whatnot.

After my 2 weeks as a boot working with Josiah and Dez on the greenhouse I became comfortable working with tools so I built a pull up bar. You can see it if you look for a white chair.

There's a bunch of corn growing. When I was a boot Josiah and Jen gave me some corn seeds and mullen seeds to take back. I sprayed them on the ground and to my surprise they grew. I dug a hole to poop (far from the edibles) to test out using mullen leaves to clean and it felt great (that was the only reason why I wanted to bring back the mullen seeds).

My plan for this week is to romp and trample down all the yellow weeds like an animal, throw pour buckets of water all around the backyard, then cover up all the soil with amazon cardboard boxes so the soil is protected from the sun.
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[Thumbnail for IMG_1537.jpg]
 
gardener
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Your garden does look parched, however, the trees look healthy.  I do find it interesting how people in different parts of the world overcome climate and soil difficulties to grow food.
In my damp climate cardboard breaks down pretty quickly.  It keeps the light off the weeds so I can clear ground of weeds, or keep an area around new plantings clear of competition for about 6 months before it breaks up too much.  How long lived would cardboard be for you?  Are you able to get any more organic material to feed the soil organisms under the cardboard?  Are there any pioneer plants that might start breaking up the soil and create biomass for you?  Would it be practical to use greywater at all to water your plants?
Thanks for sharing, have fun!
 
Amay Zheng
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Nancy Reading wrote:Your garden does look parched, however, the trees look healthy.  I do find it interesting how people in different parts of the world overcome climate and soil difficulties to grow food.
In my damp climate cardboard breaks down pretty quickly.  It keeps the light off the weeds so I can clear ground of weeds, or keep an area around new plantings clear of competition for about 6 months before it breaks up too much.  How long lived would cardboard be for you?  Are you able to get any more organic material to feed the soil organisms under the cardboard?  Are there any pioneer plants that might start breaking up the soil and create biomass for you?  Would it be practical to use greywater at all to water your plants?
Thanks for sharing, have fun!



In Februrary, I naively put a piece of cardboard into the dirt thinking it would break down and provide nutrients for the soil. 5 months later, it still looks like cardboard (pics attached).

As for greywater, I'm all about reuse! All shower / dish water / any other used water gets collected in a bucket and dumped out the window into a bigger bucket, which we use to water the plants! (pics attached).

There are alot of "weeds" but I haven't gotten to know them yet. I have seen dandelions when pop up. But to fill the backyard with dandelions I think I may need more water than I can manage. I think I will cover patches with cardboard on some parts and water the other parts and do an experiment to see which method breaks down the soil fastest.

IMG_1541.jpeg
cardboard that has a hard time breaking down
cardboard that has a hard time breaking down
IMG_1542.jpeg
greywater bucket
greywater bucket
 
gardener
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Location: Gulgong, NSW, Australia (Cold Zone 9B, Hot Zone 6) UTC +10
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I have the lease at my place for another year and I hope to post daily(ish) updates on this thread as a journal for myself and anyone else interested.  



This is a lot of work.  Can you extend your lease?  If this is a limited lease then you may be better to do potted gardening so if you need to move, you can take your garden with you.
Congratulations on starting your journey.  Vegetables such as peas and beans can be grown with corn.  Corn is a gross feeder. Peas and beans put nitrogen into the ground and will grow up the corn storks.

After the crops are harvested, just do a chop and drop to protect the soil and increase the soil vegetation.
 
Amay Zheng
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Paul Fookes wrote:

I have the lease at my place for another year and I hope to post daily(ish) updates on this thread as a journal for myself and anyone else interested.  



This is a lot of work.  Can you extend your lease?  If this is a limited lease then you may be better to do potted gardening so if you need to move, you can take your garden with you.
Congratulations on starting your journey.  Vegetables such as peas and beans can be grown with corn.  Corn is a gross feeder. Peas and beans put nitrogen into the ground and will grow up the corn storks.

After the crops are harvested, just do a chop and drop to protect the soil and increase the soil vegetation.



Can I extend my lease? Yes I probably can, but I go where my wife goes (she's the breadwinner). At this point I'm just experimenting for a year to see where I end up. I don't mind starting over when I move.

Thank you I bought some pea (yellow pea - cover crop seeds) and bean (alfafa) seeds from trueleafmarket.com. I will plant them next to the corn when I receive them in the mail. The pea packet comes in a 1lb bag, I think I may end up sprinkling them everywhere in the backyard.

I'm looking forward to the chop and drop!
 
gardener
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Congratulations Amay, I think you are on your way.  It's great to learn as much as you can to help you be successful. I would like to tell you not to be afraid to fail.  When it comes to gardening, no matter how much knowledge, and experience you have there will be failures along the way.  Since most of us learn more from failures then success, it's not really a fail, but I learning opportunity. Though it probably won't feel that way when you are going through it.
I was wondering how you plan to keep the cardboard in place?  I would like to suggest wood chips.  You can get them free, and they do wonders for hard dry place like ours.  I live in Northern California zone 9 b.  Since you are renting, I don't know if this is aloud. Maybe just the areas you intend to plant.
As far as growing with minimal water use, top of the list would be a hugelkultur. If this isn't aloud, or possible, maybe a hugel beet.  It looks like a regular raised bed, but has the benefits of a hugelkultur.  I have both, and both work great for conserving water, and build amazing soil.  There are also ollas. (A clay pot you put in the soil. Only the top for filling is above ground.) They make it so easy to keep plants watered with less waist and evaporation. You can use them in any garden application, even in pots.  You can buy them, or YouTube how to diy them, it's pretty cheap and easy.
The main thing I want to say is just do it. Experiment, play around, try different techniques, find what works for you.  For me gardening nurtures my mind, body and soul.  Even the times when my hands are cracked, my fingernails are disgusting, my back is killing me and I exhausted, there is a feeling of well being, peace, and joy.  
Good luck, I look forward the reading about your journey.
 
Amay Zheng
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:Congratulations Amay, I think you are on your way.  It's great to learn as much as you can to help you be successful. I would like to tell you not to be afraid to fail.  When it comes to gardening, no matter how much knowledge, and experience you have there will be failures along the way.  Since most of us learn more from failures then success, it's not really a fail, but I learning opportunity. Though it probably won't feel that way when you are going through it.
I was wondering how you plan to keep the cardboard in place?  I would like to suggest wood chips.  You can get them free, and they do wonders for hard dry place like ours.  I live in Northern California zone 9 b.  Since you are renting, I don't know if this is aloud. Maybe just the areas you intend to plant.
As far as growing with minimal water use, top of the list would be a hugelkultur. If this isn't aloud, or possible, maybe a hugel beet.  It looks like a regular raised bed, but has the benefits of a hugelkultur.  I have both, and both work great for conserving water, and build amazing soil.  There are also ollas. (A clay pot you put in the soil. Only the top for filling is above ground.) They make it so easy to keep plants watered with less waist and evaporation. You can use them in any garden application, even in pots.  You can buy them, or YouTube how to diy them, it's pretty cheap and easy.
The main thing I want to say is just do it. Experiment, play around, try different techniques, find what works for you.  For me gardening nurtures my mind, body and soul.  Even the times when my hands are cracked, my fingernails are disgusting, my back is killing me and I exhausted, there is a feeling of well being, peace, and joy.  
Good luck, I look forward the reading about your journey.



Thank you Jen! My back is killing me and I feel exhausted today! Regarding failure, I think the more emotionally attached and the harder I try, the more I'm afraid to fail. So I'm starting my journey with half-assed effort into the things I'm doing.

Today I went on craigslist and I found someone giving out rocks so I drove over and picked them up (picture attached). As I move the green bucket of rocks back and forth slowly, I suddenly remembered a memory where I was at Home Depot wondering what a wheel barrel was used for. Now I know.

Then I kept a cardboard in place by putting the rocks on top of the cardboard (picture attached). I think I may need alot more cardboard and rocks, but perhaps I could substitute the rocks with woodchips to hold the cardboard in place, I will go look for them sometime this week. My landlord wouldn't mind what I do, she shared with me her plan to cover the backyard with concrete one day and build an additional unit so she does not care what I do in her backyard. My zone is 9b and 10a.

I think Hugelkultur is too intense for me atm, I would need to get a truck and get some logs and I don't know how to start searching for logs. Do I buy them? I've never heard of Hugel beet before and I can't find anything about it.

Also, I found some green netting in the ground and pulled some out. Anyone know what they are called or what they are used for? I can't imagine what the previous owners must be going through to cover their entire backyard with such thin plastic that breaks down so easily. (picture)

Random note: I finished reading Coyote's Guide to connecting with nature today. It gave me alot of ideas for activities and games to play with my future kids to connect them with nature. What a great book!
IMG_1545.jpeg
rocks I got from craigslist
rocks I got from craigslist
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rocks keeping the cardboard in place
rocks keeping the cardboard in place
IMG_1546.jpeg
weird plastic netting in the ground
weird plastic netting in the ground
 
Paul Fookes
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The green netting is from turf.  It is what is used to hold it together se when it is rolled and transported it does not break up.  There has obviously been an effort to turf the area but it ended up as not such a good idea.  
Failure is a stepping stone to success.  That is the difference between failure and quitting.  Failing or seeing how someone else failed is the best way to find out it does not work in your environment.  We have hard packed clay which when wet becomes too boggy to walk on with an average zero organic matter per square metre.

In the last post, I was referring to climbing beans/ peas as a partner crop with your corn and not a cover crop.  If you are watering the corn, the peas and beans get watered at the same time.  One of the things in developing a garden or the like is to try to get things to do more than one thing.  Back breaking gardening is no fun so it is about little bits often and work on one small area at a time.  After 20 years, we have 3 20'X 20' gardens that a standard spade goes into easily. I aerate it annually and just throw mixed vegetable and flower seeds into it.  Thought that it was not working but 2 seasons later, we have a great crop of root veges and spinach.  I noticed yesterday, that the beetroot is starting to come up.  I now chop and drop.  The plants find their way up through the mulch inspite of minus 3. I am a very happy lad.  No pain and plenty of gain.

Cheers
 
Jen Fulkerson
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To get free wood chips I call my local tree trimming company.  They drop them off so they don't have to pay a dump fee, it's a win for them and the people who want them.  

This is my version of a hugel beet.  I decided how big I want the raised bed.  I dig 18" to 2' into the ground.  Then I fill the bottom with the largest wood I can get my hands on.  We had some old fire wood that was punky, then, I did a layer of native soil I dug out of the hole, then small branches, sticks, stalks from sunflower, you get the idea. Soil again, then a layer of wood chips, then I did stuff I was going to compost, then soil, then I add organic compost, organic chicken manure, and organic soil. I mix that, and it is the top layer. I used cement blocks for the above ground part of the raised bed.  

The important thing to remember is it doesn't have to be what I do, or someone else does.  It's really about working with what you have, or can easily get.
I don't want you to think I'm saying you should make a hugel beet, I only offer it as an option.  I have been very happy with the plants I grow in what I call my wood chip garden.  It looked a lot like your yard. I spread wood chips about 9 to 12 inches deep. A few months later I made holes in the chips, filled the hole with compost and planted.  Everything did very well.  The down side is the wood breaks down, and has to be replenished once a year.  I didn't get to mine this year, and now it's my weed garden.  Maybe I should have put down cardboard first.

I was thinking if you put the cardboard down. Circle it with rocks, if you decide to throw compost in there and plant, you my want to poke a few holes in the cardboard for drainage.  If you don't, when you water it may just run out the sides.  

Anything with wheels is helpful when doing a project like this.  Besides the wheelbarrow I have used a hand truck, and an old wagon my niece was talking to the dump because her kids didn't use it anymore.

Good luck
 
Nancy Reading
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I would second the idea of not being afraid of failure.  Gardening programmes, 'blogs and websites seldom show the dead pest eaten plants, or the weed swamped vegetable gardens.  They happen, that's life.
I also agree with the start small idea. If you try and start with everything, then chances are the workload will become too much, or everything will ripen at once and (for example) you will have more lettuce than you can manage for a week then nothing.
If you can, connect with experienced gardeners in your area and see what they recommend as an easy crop.
Keep it fun.
 
Amay Zheng
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Paul Fookes wrote:...I was referring to climbing beans/ peas as a partner crop with your corn and not a cover crop.



I didn't know there was a difference! Ordered some climbing peas (Oregon Sugar Pod II). What you said about getting things to do more than one thing, I like that and I'd love to see plants working together that would be a beautiful thing to see!

Jen Fulkerson wrote:This is my version of a hugel beet.  I decided how big I want the raised bed.  I dig 18" to 2' into the ground.  Then I fill the bottom with the largest wood I can get my hands on.  We had some old fire wood that was punky, then, I did a layer of native soil I dug out of the hole, then small branches, sticks, stalks from sunflower, you get the idea. Soil again, then a layer of wood chips, then I did stuff I was going to compost, then soil, then I add organic compost, organic chicken manure, and organic soil. I mix that, and it is the top layer. I used cement blocks for the above ground part of the  raised bed.



Jen, your process for making the hugel beet makes alot of sense to me. I was excited and got started right away. As I dug into the ground to make my trench, I realized I should probably find the wood first before I continue digging otherwise I would just have more exposed dirt in the sun. Haha. Next week I'm borrowing a truck and I'll be looking for wood.

Nancy Reading wrote:Keep it fun.



Thanks Nancy, that's the plan!

 
Amay Zheng
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Day 2 update:

Today I woke up and I was inspired by Jen's process for making a her Hugel beet. I went to craigslist and bought some tools for $55 (picture attached). The guy was nice, I didn't know what most of the tools were used for and he explained each tool to me. I primarily wanted a shovel so I can start digging a hole for the hugel beet.

I wanted to get started right away so I started digging (picture below). As the dirt came up, I realize that I should probably get the wood first before I continue digging otherwise I'll just have an empty hole. So I put this on pause and started looking for a truck. I'll have a truck next week to go around town to pickup some wood blocks and wood chips and rocks and whenever else I need. Should probably make a list.

I relaxed and took my time today, covered another patch of ground with cardboard so the soil doesn't get sunburned. Now I have 2 cardboard patches!
IMG_1550.jpeg
I went to craigslist and bought some tools for $55 (picture attached). The guy was nice, I didn't know what most of the tools were used for and he explained each tool to me. I primarily wanted a shovel so I can start digging a hole for the hugel beet.
I went to craigslist and bought some tools for $55
IMG_1553.jpeg
I started digging (picture below). I realize that I should probably get wood before I continue
I started digging (picture below). I realize that I should probably get wood before I continue
IMG_1552.jpeg
covered another patch of ground with cardboard so the soil doesn't get sunburned. Now I have 2 cardboard patches!
covered another patch of ground with cardboard so the soil doesn't get sunburned. Now I have 2 cardboard patches!
 
Nancy Reading
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I notice a fruit tree in the foreground of the last picture.  Is that a lemon tree? Green with envy here!
 
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Ask around all the local Cafes whether they will save their spent coffee grounds for you. So long as you commit to collecting them regularly, most Cafes will happily allow you to take them. If they don't tie the bags they can be folded into triangles and tucked in so that they don't unravel. I have been collecting from the same cafe for over six years and their bags get multiple reuses to the point that the staff often duct tape any tears.

All the photos are on another device so will edit this post or add another with photos of the beds that I spread the grinds over. The cardboard base is excellent and the worms love the grinds and as Jen has suggested, I alternate layers of coffee with leaves, chicken manure, comfrey, sawdust, wood chips, whatever is on hand. It also helps to suppress weeds and create a nutritious growing medium.

Planting chop and drop crops as suggested by others will also help build your soil and improve moisture retention.

Your lemon tree is gorgeous, please don't waste all that fruit. It is too cold in our home garden to grow any citrus so I rely on visiting friends from the north island to bring me fresh fruit. They are all grown without the use of artificial pesticides so the skin is great for zeta get and dehydrating.

I squeeze them all and freeze in 100ml blocks.

Do local by laws allow you to keep chickens or rabbits - something that produces manure that can be added to your garden.
 
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I have two thoughts that haven't been mentioned:

1) Tepary beans. They are good as a dry bean, make chili or soup or whatever. They kinda climb. More like reach for light, then sprawl over whatever was in the way. I grow mine with plenty of water and they don't mind, but they have a reputation for laughing off drought. I once read you can plant them after a one inch rain, then harvest with no more water. (Mine may be a little wimpier than that, since they've had plenty of water for a few generations, but I bet they grow well with little water.) PM me an address if you want some.

2) Brad Lancaster. He's considered a water harvesting expert. He lives and gardens in Tuscon with only rainfall, no city water.
His webpage.

A good video introduction:

 
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Amay Zheng wrote: So I'm starting my journey with half-assed effort into the things I'm doing.



I think this, plus the time you are spending under your blue umbrella may be the most important features of your approach. Having a vision and letting it manifest naturally without the added friction of any urgency or expectations is probably going to pay off. Spending time observing your yard and envisioning your goal are equally important. I really like how you're doing this.
 
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Ernie and Erica Wisner's Rocket Mass Heater Everything Combo
https://permies.com/t/40993/Ernie-Erica-Wisner-Rocket-Mass
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