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How should I prepare?

 
Nick Herzing
Posts: 13
Location: Battle Creek, MI
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I am thinking that I will try my hand at a small garden this year. I've done very minor work with gardens (a little weeding, digging, etc.) but really don't know much about gardening (conventional or otherwise). I have some land I can use, but I won't be planting a lot. This is mainly for educational purposes. My long term goal is to grow all my own food, but I am very far off from that, so I really just want to get my hands in the dirt and try somethings out. Right now I am interested in trying huglekultur, but other than reading on here I don't know much. It seems like a simple first step, but correct me if there is a better method to start with. Here are a few questions that have come to my mind, though I'm sure there will be many more:

- I see talk on here about the give and take of different plants and how planting mixed plants (as opposed to the traditional "rows") works really well. How do you know which plants will help/hurt each other, is there a book or database or something that tells attributes like root depth and nutrient intake/output? I have a few ideas of plants I would like to try, but I'm willing to just select the ones that will grow best with each other.

- Weeds. Everyone I know who does gardening or farming pulls weeds and/or uses weed killer, but they all use "conventional" methods. From my understanding there are a few ways to minimize or even eliminate the problem of weeds. What methods for this work with huglekultur? I am not opposed to pulling weeds but if there is a good method to take care of this for me I sure would be interested.

- Water. I know huglekultur is great because the wood acts as a sponge so it requires less water. Does this mean that I will never have to water or just water less (this probably depends on my area, and in Michigan we usually get pretty decent rainfall, if that helps any)?

- This is a silly question, but where do I get seeds? I know there are a bunch of different stores I can go to in my area, but I just want to make sure there aren't any problems with regular seeds I would get from a standard gardening store. I'm assuming I would only have to order them online or by-mail if I was looking for really particular types, but I am not too picky with what I grow right now. Eventually I would like to save seeds to use from year to year so I don't have to keep buying, but obviously I need to start somewhere.

- When should I be planting/harvesting? I am assuming I need to be getting started within the next few weeks.

So those are just a few of my questions. I am not necessarily looking for specific answers to those (although it couldn't hurt) but more just to give you guys a general idea of my experience level (or perhaps inexperience level). So now the real question of this post: what should I do to prepare? I'm sure there are books or websites or something that I should be looking at, but it's really just to much for me to sort through with my oh so limited knowledge. I'm just not sure where to begin, so if some of you more experienced permies could give me any advice for my experiment that would be great.

I know area comes up a lot, but I am not sure what details are most important. Here is some of the information I think might be helpful. I am in zone 6a/5b. Average rainfall in the summer looks to be 3-4 inches per month. Honestly not sure what the soil type is. I'll be planting in a grassy field area, but it's surrounded by a woods and some swamp.

Thanks for any help. I know these "newbie" posts probably get old, but it is super helpful!
 
Rob Lisa
Posts: 13
Location: North Carolina, Zone 7B
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You could have a case of, what we call in the IT industry, "Analysis Paralysis." I get this myself quite often so I know what you are going through. You see a grand vision and you know it is a ball of yarn, and right now it all looks like a tangle.

I suggest you tug at one thread and pull it until you start to see how to unloosen the knot. That thread could be hugelkultur, or buying some seeds, or what I suggest is container gardening. I have never been disappointed with growing veggies in containers. Get a couple earth boxes, or just large plant pots, put soil in, and plant some seeds and/or smaller plants from a nursery. Learn how plants grow, how to tend them, how to harvest them... low pressure, learn as you go. While your container garden is flourishing (or even failing if that occurs) you can learn about the other aspects.

For me the starter thread was actually composting. I composted for 6 months or so before planting a modest garden. It was very rewarding to watch the plant matter break down and see steam rising.

Hugelkultur is a pretty solid start IMO. Just dig the hole. Then find the wood. maybe next year, put seeds in it. Or sooner if that happens.
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 3774
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
142
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Well Nick I am gonna give it a go here. Others may not agree with my advise.

I am going to assume that you are a real beginner so do not be offended if I say something that you already know.

The first thing that pops into my mind is how will you know what is a weed and what is not a weed? Baby plants can all look alike. So planting in rows, with some sort of markers will help you learn what the plants look like. As the plants grow you will learn more about them, and it will be easier to weed. Do not worry about doing polyculture or companion planting this time. Get some experience and then change things up next year.

As a beginner I want you to have a good experience with your garden so you won't give up, so I think you should start out in a more traditional way.

Prepare your garden. Till the soil, I know that is frowned upon, even by me, but again, lets make this easy.
You can rent a tiller or buy a garden fork or shovel. You want to break up the soil enough to have a relatively smooth, airy, bed. This is a good time to add compost, leaves, or sand if the soil has to much clay. ( have you seen the Jar test thread? You can do a jar test to see what you are starting with.)

Rake the beds smooth. You can make raised beds or just walk through the garden to make beds and paths. You will want to be able to reach to the middle of each bed from the paths on each side of the bed. I tend to make beds about three feet wide.

Look at your seed packets to see how deep to plant your seeds.( By the way you can buy the seeds from a local store. If you want to try keeping the seeds from one year to the next look for heirloom seeds.) You can use your finger or a stick or a hoe to make your rows in the soil. Based on how deep your seed needs to be.

Drop the seeds in, again the packets will advise you about spacing. Thing about what you think the plant will look like when fully grown. Radishes are smaller than beets so can be spaced closer. Squash spread out and need a little more space, etc. Cover the seeds. You can pat down the soil a little or you can use a fine spray of water to be sure the seeds and soil are making contact. If you get some real heavy rains you may want to cover the whole thing with dried grass clippings or straw. Not to thick, this will also help hold water in.

Then just water a little each day or two, to keep the soil damp and watch for growth. The packets will tell you how long each seed usually takes to germinate.

Hows that for a start?

 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 3774
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
142
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Nick Herzing wrote:

- I see talk on here about the give and take of different plants and how planting mixed plants (as opposed to the traditional "rows") works really well. How do you know which plants will help/hurt each other, is there a book or database or something that tells attributes like root depth and nutrient intake/output? I have a few ideas of plants I would like to try, but I'm willing to just select the ones that will grow best with each other.

There is a book called "carrots love tomatoes" that might help for this.


- Weeds. Everyone I know who does gardening or farming pulls weeds and/or uses weed killer, but they all use "conventional" methods. From my understanding there are a few ways to minimize or even eliminate the problem of weeds. What methods for this work with huglekultur? I am not opposed to pulling weeds but if there is a good method to take care of this for me I sure would be interested.

Mulching will help with weeds, Straw or woodchips in pathways. In the end there will be some weeding involved. Just pull them and smile at the free fertilizer!


- Water. I know huglekultur is great because the wood acts as a sponge so it requires less water. Does this mean that I will never have to water or just water less (this probably depends on my area, and in Michigan we usually get pretty decent rainfall, if that helps any)?

Mulching will also help with water. Protecting the garden from wind will help too. Until the roots get down into the spongy hugel they might need some water.


- This is a silly question, but where do I get seeds? I know there are a bunch of different stores I can go to in my area, but I just want to make sure there aren't any problems with regular seeds I would get from a standard gardening store. I'm assuming I would only have to order them online or by-mail if I was looking for really particular types, but I am not too picky with what I grow right now. Eventually I would like to save seeds to use from year to year so I don't have to keep buying, but obviously I need to start somewhere.

You can buy them from the store. Look for heirlooms if you want to save seeds. Start getting caqtalogs delivered. Go online and request them. The catalogs will teach you a lot about the plants too.

- When should I be planting/harvesting? I am assuming I need to be getting started within the next few weeks.

Are there other gardeners around you? Are they planting yet? What do the native trees and flowers look like? Some things come out very early some wait till it is good and warm. These are good things to be aware of for clues to planting. Seed packets will say something about when to plant also.

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