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Starting a Market Garden- Looking for advice

Jim Curley
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I am in the process of starting a market garden, and I want to go no-till but I have a few questions about the practical aspects and how to make it all work out, and also I am looking for some reassurance and validation since most people tell me they have never heard of no-till.. I have been converting my small (read tiny and in the shade) backyard garden to no-till for the past two years, and it is just getting better and better. I found a neighbor with a big garden (almost an acre), who can't handle the work because of health issues, and their old gardener just had a baby so now I get the opportunity to grow on it. My goal is to produce as much of what the landowners and I eat as possible, and use the overages to build relationships with possible CSA shareholders for next year. I will also try to direct market to local restaurants, and farm stands, with the hopes of growing the business to the point where I can eventually acquire my own land. The people are totally on board with the concepts of permaculture, but have little or no knowledge of the modern advancements made in that area (they have no computer) so I am really blowing their minds with some of the stuff I am showing them.

The spot I am planting has two large sections that were tilled last year, and they used plastic mulch. I decided to remove the plastic, and sewed winter rye last fall. There is a ton of space on the perimeter that has not been cultivated. Lots of blackberries in the "wild" area just outside the garden, and they have blueberries, and raspberries established in the garden. I want to add some apple trees, but there is a lot of cedar with rust in the adjacent woods, so I need resistant varieties. I was considering getting a few tasty apples and planting seeds (as per Paul's advice) but I want to get an established tree or 2 so I can have apples at some point this decade. Anyone know good eating varieties that are cedar rust resitant? I am thinkking Williams Favorite.. I already have some bocking 14 comfrey to plant under them..

Despite being a rich jet black from having a remarkably high humus fraction, and hence a high field capacity and CEC, the soil has it's problems which will need to be addressed, but most can be solved by restoring depleted organic matter. The use of plastic ground cover has caused a chain reaction of issues to arise. First and foremost, the plastic has blocked the return of organic matter back to the soil. The result is compaction, slow drainage, and an overall increase in bulk density, and reduction in populations of earthworms and other macro organisms. After removing the plastic, we found the smell of undigested manure, indicating low levels of soil microbes (probably from the heat of the sun on the plastic). I have concerns about erosion if we get heavy spring rain. The areas that have not been grown in have better drainage and worm populations, and the weeds growing there have stiffer stronger root systems. I tested the field capacity and it is about 60%. That sounds ridiculously high, but they don't even have to water their crops on a dry year, so it makes sense. All the water from the property drains towards the garden. The bulk density was 1.52..

I removed the plastic last fall and sewed winter rye after a light surface cultivation. There were 2 beds covered in plastic, one 20'x40' and the other 20'x50'. . We still have plenty of room for more beds on the perimeter, I am going to let the goats remove weeds there, then lay down wood framed raised beds I got from a friend who was moving, and fill them with soil topped with compost so there is an extra layer to smother weeds. I also want to do hugelkultur beds.

My biggest concern is how to best prepare the beds. I have access to chickens and goats, so I plan to let the chickens at spot with the winter rye to tear it down and work it into the soil. I am thinking they can handle it in a couple weeks, as the rye won't be too big, then I can plant transplants into it. I want to put some goats where there is thick native vegetation, unfortunately we can't have pigs (swine free town). I plan to use cardboard mulch on the walkways, and use a blend of alfalfa and clover as living mulch under the veggies, or maybe straw or hay, or some combination of the above on different beds.

So on to my questions... I can see no-till working for seedlings that were started ahead of time, just plant and use mulch to suppress weeds, but how do I prepare the soil for direct seeding? How can I control weed growth? I figure I will have to hand weed until they get going. Once the plants are established, I can add mulch in the form of hay, straw, compost, etc, but my main concern is getting them established, is there and easier way? I am thinking raised beds will work best for direct seeded stuff, is this correct, or can I do direct seed into an untilled soil, and if so what do I need to do to prepare the seedbed?

I want to interplant and utilize guilds. I am not sure yet what will go with what, so any guidelines or suggestions will be appreciated. I know I am doing the three sisters, but other than that I am still looking for advice on what works together. Here is what I have bought for seeds so far:

*Cross Country Pickling
*Golden Gopher
*Burpee Butterbush Butternut
*Early Summer Yellow Crookneck
*Midnight Lightning Zuchini
*Blue Hubbard
*Small Ornamental
*Early Jersey
*Ruby Perfection
*Pink Brandywine
*Honeydrop Cherry
*Amish Paste
*Chadwick's Cherry
*Scarlett Nantes
*Purple Haze
*Detroit Dark Red
*Walla Walla Sweet
*Red Marble
*Prisma Shallots
*Purple Peacock Broccoli
*Roodnerf Brussel Sprouts
*Oregon Sugar Pod Peas
*Blue Lake Bush Bean
*Black Kabouli Garbanzos
*Blue Coco Pole Bean
*Golden Bantam
*Hopi Black Dye
Cooking Greens
*Bright Lights Swiss Chard
*Variegated Collards
*Donkey Spinach
*Aurora Orach
*Mixed Cooking Greens from Horizon
Salad Greens
*Early Mizuna Japanese Mustard
*Royal Oakleaf
*Oscarde Oakleaf
*Buttercrunch Bibb
*Freckles Romaine
*Rocket Arugala
*Freedom Lettuce Mix from Fedco
*Mixed Salad Greens from Horizon
*Zataar (middle eastern variety for falafel)

Horizon Herbs Lifeline Medicinal Herb Pack
Holy Basi (Kapoor Tulsi)
Gobo Burdock
Mixed Calendula
German Chamomile
Echinacea purpurea
Evening Primrose
Brown Flax
Lemon Balm
Official Motherwort
stinging nettles
Cayenne Pepper
Garden Sage
Official Valerian
Wood Betony

I have high hopes for this season, and I plan to take a bunch of pictures and keep this thread updated so you can all enjoy the ride. So get some popcorn, this should be a doozy.

Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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First off, where are located? And what's the microclimate in the spot you'll be farming (orientation, altitude, etc)? I find the folks on here to be a wealth of knowledge, but the more information you give them at the start, the more specific they can be.

I'm just beginning my no-till journey as well, but from everything I've read and from my experiences growing on variously tilled or dug soils, it's very difficult to get good root crops direct planting into "virgin" ground. Last year I used a fork to loosen and turn over the top 12" or so of my bed before seeding my carrots, beets, etc, and to a lesser degree I forked up the beds for other direct seeded plants like lettuces, beans, etc. I raked the bed smooth and planted like I always do - but I'm coming from a history of working on organic farms, not permaculture. This also was my first year in this garden, a spot that had been worked before, but not the season before we bought the place, so it was pretty overgrown and compacted.

I think it takes time to work up to a no-till bed, unless you have the resources to build raised beds and start with uncompacted soil.
Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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Oh, and welcome to Permies!
tim Trammell
Posts: 19
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sounds like an awful lot of different kinds of plants for only two small plots.
Jim Curley
Posts: 7
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Jessica- Thanks for the warm welcome. I am in Middlesex County, MA, elevation is 96 feet. The microclimate is somewhat cool and moist in the morning.

Sounds like my plan is about right; build raised beds on the areas that are virgin ground, and do a little surface cultivation to get the no-tills up and running.

Here is the soil profile from the soil and water office:

Middlesex County, Massachusetts
315B—Scituate fine sandy loam, 3 to 8 percent slopes
Map Unit Setting

Mean annual precipitation: 45 to 54 inches
Mean annual air temperature: 43 to 54 degrees F
Frost-free period: 145 to 240 days

Map Unit Composition

Scituate and similar soils: 85 percent
Minor components: 15 percent

Description of Scituate

Landform: Depressions, hillslopes
Landform position (two-dimensional): Toeslope, summit
Landform position (three-dimensional): Base slope, head slope
Down-slope shape: Linear
Across-slope shape: Concave
Parent material: Friable loamy eolian deposits over dense sandy lodgment till derived from granite and gneiss

Properties and qualities

Slope: 3 to 8 percent
Depth to restrictive feature: 18 to 33 inches to densic material
Drainage class: Moderately well drained
Capacity of the most limiting layer to transmit water (Ksat): Moderately low to moderately high (0.06 to 0.20 in/hr)
Depth to water table: About 18 to 24 inches
Frequency of flooding: None
Frequency of ponding: None
Available water capacity: Low (about 3.1 inches)

Interpretive groups

Farmland classification: All areas are prime farmland
Land capability (nonirrigated): 2w
Hydrologic Soil Group: C

Typical profile

0 to 8 inches: Fine sandy loam
8 to 20 inches: Sandy loam
20 to 27 inches: Loamy fine sand
27 to 65 inches: Gravelly loamy sand

Minor Components

Percent of map unit: 5 percent
Landform: Hillslopes
Landform position (two-dimensional): Toeslope, shoulder
Landform position (three-dimensional): Nose slope, base slope
Down-slope shape: Concave
Across-slope shape: Concave


Percent of map unit: 5 percent
Landform: Hillslopes
Landform position (two-dimensional): Shoulder, summit
Landform position (three-dimensional): Nose slope, head slope
Down-slope shape: Convex
Across-slope shape: Convex


Percent of map unit: 5 percent
Landform: Depressions, drainageways
Landform position (two-dimensional): Footslope
Landform position (three-dimensional): Base slope
Down-slope shape: Concave
Across-slope shape: Concave

Tim- I went a little nuts ordering seeds, but I only got a small pack of each one, except for Swiss Chard, because I know that grows well in my area and my chickens love it (loaded with calcium) so none goes to waste. The two small plots are all that is cleared so far, as that is how much they were growing in last year. There is almost an acre total. I also have a small garden in my own yard, and greenhouse to setup. I figure I will see what grows best, and save seeds from that, so I will be that much farther ahead next year.. Going on the idea that if you throw enough stuff against a wall, something is bound to stick..
Jeremy Elwell
Posts: 9
dog trees urban
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Hello, That is quite a list of seeds already purchased.

I'll tackle some of the bed prep issues. No-Till is great, in theory, but in practice is takes time and patience.
Do not be afraid to till your first season to break the land.
If you are looking for no-till as you do not have access to tiller/tractor then lets explore options.

I have tried cardboard, layered with hay, straw, and compost. This failed because I planted into quack grass that wasn't going to be smothered. If you have non-invasive plants it could work.
If I were starting over I would use black plastic, a tarp, or landscape fabric. Leave it in place for 2 weeks minimum. Remove, turn in compost with the layer of decomposing vegetation. It may be helpful to mow everything rally short with a flail mower (chops it up very tiny).

A more labor intensive tactic I use in my own backyard: use a spade and turn it all by hand. Let rest for a few weeks, top with amendments and compost and rake in the top few inches.

Someone else mentioned a soil test. I will second this idea. Package up the dirt and send it off to some place online. I recommend "the intelligent gardener" by Steve Solomon for details on how to amend your soil and how to read the soil test.

Lastly, to get an idea of what to inter-plant: Google the area you live in with the following phrase "companion planting guide". I do that every-time I move. There shouldn't be much difference between zones, but you'll get a unique viewpoint on your specific climate.

Hope this helps,
Jeremy Elwell
Elwell's Supplies-A Farmers' Market Supply Store

Jaime Cameron
Posts: 11
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A Broad fork will allow yoy to break up the compaction without tilling the.
It is very minor disturbance.
See books.
by Elliot Coleman the four season harvest.
and The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier.

Complete no till with veggies is difficult. So far I have found it to be more along the lines of. Minimum till.
But then I am also building up our garden after it was years without anything done to it.
Joseph Lofthouse
Posts: 1646
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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I'm not qualified to write about no-till nor about guilds, so I'll skip over that part. And every market is different, but here's what I have noticed about my market.

You might consider adding a pepo winter squash. In this area spaghetti is most popular. (I'll never understand why!)

You might consider adding a short season saladette tomato... Something with about 55 DTM. So it can be producing fruit while you wait for the Branywines to finally start ripening. The paste tomatoes are more of a canning tomato, so I'd expect to get lower prices for them than for a good fresh eating tomato. If you are growing luffa, that implies a long/hot growing season, so you might also put in a fall crop of short season tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are a ton of work to pick. I much prefer larger saladette tomatoes for the reduced labor requirements. Sungold is the runaway favorite cherry tomato around here. Not any of the knock-offs, but the one and only expensive Sungold.

Ornamental gourds were among my favorite crops to grow, and to set on the table at the farmer's market. They were also the last thing anyone wanted to buy. And luffa? Is that eaten as a summer squash? Used as a decorative gourd? Used as a scrubber? If it's a summer squash, how about growing lagenaria summer squash as well?

It's hard for me to sell something like chives when few people know what they are or how to use them.

In my climate, people plant Brussels sprouts all the time. I have yet to see anyone harvest any.

There isn't much of a market for sunflower seeds around here...

The market for medicinal herbs is quite limited around here. I grow medicinals and take them to market, even though I lose money on them, because I think that it is important to support the few medicine women that are learning and practicing alternative healing methods. We might need their wisdom some day. We might need locally adapted germplasm, and farmer's that understand how to grow medicinals. This year, I added about 60 species of medicinals to my farm. Some of them won't grow well enough here to produce propagules for next year, but many will do fine.

Before adding the medicinals, I was growing 55 species and about 70 varieties, including growing seeds for all of them, on two acres of ground. I have never yet planted all available space...
Raf Brown
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Hi, I'm not sure if you had occasion to see podcasts made by Curtis Stone who have his urban market garden in Canada he tried to use no-till in approach and shared some really good practical tips here:

I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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