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Working newly acquired garden beds, how to proceed  RSS feed

 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Hi all ~

I have two garden beds formerly worked by others in a community plot, and I'm hoping for some help in where to begin with them. I'm in (I think) zone 7b on the western slope of the Cascades, but we've had a freakishly warm winter, and since nothing's currently buried in snow and we're getting a little frost only a night, I'm wondering what I might do to get started. I've done a lot of fun browsing around this and the other forums but haven't found info that I think pertains to my exact starting point.

My annual vegetable gardening experience is pretty slim (which is more than my permaculture experience, although I'm hoping to find an urban plot within a year, take a PDC and eventually start designing it). I'm a perfectionist who tends to get overwhelmed by a lot of info and have difficulty sifting through it well to extract what would most likely to work for me. I feel like having a reasonably abundant vegetable garden this year would go a long way towards self-assurance in this respect, though (i.e. "yes, you actually *can* plant seeds and useful things will grow"). With intermittent low energy from some health issues, and two small children, I'm looking for semi-low-labor ways to encourage edible things to come out of these beds. Here's where they're at right now:

They're each about 3' x 18' or so, east-west orientation, pretty decent summer sun. I think the soil's fairly good - at least, I've seen other gardeners grow good-looking veggies in them. When I look at them right now I see dry tomato stalks sticking up, as well as 2nd year thick kale stems, buttercup, some leaves piles on part of one of the beds, and I know there's (perennial, I think) white clover starting or about to start in places.

No-till has a really appealing ring to it - fork it a little, chop and drop the sticky-uppy things like stems and whatnot, cover with compost and then plant stuff? Or am I missing important steps? Will long-rooted things like carrots grow well if I do that, or do they need the ground to be more tilled?

Any general tips for starting from this point? I don't have easy access to a lot of amendments, but I do have compost. And comfrey. And chicken poop if I wander around the land and gather it up lump by lump. But then I'd need to let it rot awhile before putting it in the garden, right?

Thanks for reading and taking pity on my kind of clueless newbie perfectionist self. Any input is *so* appreciated.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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I'm going to leave most of your questions for more expert gardeners. But what I'm doing in a similar zone is poking pea seeds into the soil. This worked well for me last year; I got a crop of snap and snow peas right about the time my soil got warm enough to plant the heat-loving crops. Plus I got nitrogen-fixing and had the pea foilage for mulching my tender young transplants.
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Thanks for the reply and the idea, Dan. Did you poke the seeds right into last year's stalks? No prepping of the bed at all?
 
Su Ba
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Anna, I teach food gardening to beginners. I can tell you that it's impossible to give you all the information you want in just a single post. It takes my beginners many months to learn how to do basic food production successfully. That's not to say that you can't have some great success early on by keeping things simple and trying just a few of the easy veggies.

First I'd suggest discarding your perfectionist ideals. Gardening is nothing that's perfect. Weeds. Pests. Disease. Weather. And Mother Nature. Gardeners see lots of things that cause less than perfect gardens and veggies. I had one beginner quit because the veggies didn't look perfect like in the supermarket. What makes it to the supermarket is only a small fraction of the crop coming out of a field. Most of the veggies have blemishes of one sort or another. So one needs to love kale with holes, crooked beans, non-symmetrical peppers. Some will be perfect, but not all.

You also mention that you're interested in low labor. Low labor and perfection may be a significant hurdle. Preparing the ground via forking will be laborious. Paying one of the other gardeners to rototill it will be quicker, easier, faster, and give far better results. Veggies prefer "light" soil for good root development. After the initial tilling, you can work on keeping the soil light by using compost and mulches.

Starting the garden early has its risks. Mother Nature may destroy your efforts. But if you're willing to take the risk, it can be fun. Your crop may not mature much earlier than a couple days compared to seeds started later since the plant needs a certain number of heat units to reach maturity. But as I said, it's fun the dive in and start gardening as soon as possible.

I always suggest to my "students" to keep it simple. It's hard enough learning about gardening without dealing with the more challenging crops and methods. Certain crops are good beginners crops.
...radishes
...bush beans
...peas
...paste and cherry tomatoes
...zucchini squash
...potatoes
Most of my beginners can also handle leaf lettuce, kale, chard, and turnips successfully. (Here in Hawaii, squash is a difficult crop reserved for experienced advanced gardeners.)

I always encourage people to try growing food. Just start something easy, anything, be it peas or beans. Radishes are a great morale booster even if you just give them away to neighbors.
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Thanks, Su Ba. When I say I'm a perfectionist I merely mean that for some reason my internal wiring has me approaching things from an "I have to get it right the first time!" angle, and the bugger is that even when I know there's no "right," the feeling persists. It's nothing rational or even really discardable - I just have to learn to work with it. I'm fine with non-supermarket veggies - in fact I prefer them - and don't expect that my garden's going to look perfect or be super productive right away. I just want to grow some stuff. The perfectionism trips me up mainly right at the beginning, when I'm like, "Hey, there's a way I should be starting out with these beds and I have no idea what it is and I'm not going to try *anything* until I know *the right way to do it!" (i.e. how would a permie do it?) *That's* what I'm trying to bypass - instead of psyching myself out, I thought, why not get some basic advice and just proceed?

Thanks for the suggestions for easy-to-grow veggies. I don't think the beds need deep digging/rototilling/lots of forking, since they've been cultivated before and aren't compacted. I was reading about no-till gardening and saw someone's suggestion to do just a bit of light forking, so I might try that and then plant into the biomass that's there from last year. Maybe after chopping/dropping it. The worst that can happen is that, um, the seeds don't grow, right? Then I'll try something different next time.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1770
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Anna Tennis wrote:Did you poke the seeds right into last year's stalks? No prepping of the bed at all?


Most of the stalks I pulled out at the end of the season and put on my compost pile. All I did was scratch up a few winter-hardy weeds that had gotten going during the late fall, using one of those three-tined hand forks. So I guess you could say that I have worked the soil, but only about three-quarters of an inch deep and probably less than 30% of the total surface of my beds and growing containers.

In my particular climate all my spring peas succumb to a powdery mildew or rust just a few days after the peas start to ripen, so I don't get much crop from them. But I do get a little and the soil seems to really benefit.
 
B.E. Ward
Posts: 79
Location: Aside the Salish Sea
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Hi Anna..

I spent a couple of seasons trying to practice "P-Patch Permaculture" in Seattle before moving out of the city. It sounds like your plots are roughly analogous to what's available at a patch.

I really tried to 'layer' the plot using different plants with different functions.. and when I used the word layer, I don't necessarily mean one was growing right on top of the other.. some were side-by-side. I began to see the layers like this:

1) The core veggies..

Think of the veggies either a) you eat the most or b) are on the expensive-end at the store. And I don't necessarily mean a lot of veggies, more like 4-5. Let those be your 'centerpiece' plants. Spread their plantings a few feet apart, without putting one type right next to each other.

2) The 'miscellaneous' veggies..

These would be plants that you could 'give or take'. If they work, great.. if not, it was a learning experience. We had broccoli and sugar pumpkins in this category. In our patch, the broccoli was meh.. but the pumpkins turned out fantastic.

3) Pollinators..

I knew it was going to be difficult to make time for our plot in its second year, so I took it as an opportunity to use my plot more as a pollinator attractor. Between the Borage, Lavender, and Bee's Friend (available at Uprising Seeds and probably some others), it was actually a risky proposition to step into the plot during the daytime! But the plants were beautiful and I loved watching the bees. I also suspect that this is the reason we ended up with such outstanding cherry tomatoes. Ultimately, I think there could be a beautiful balance between this sort of plant and one's veggie goals. Maybe pollinators at the ends, or interspersed among the veggies?

4) Herbs and flowers..

This, or course, can really be an extension of #3. But here, I'm thinking more about things that could go along the edges (like calendula) and things that can grow under your more prominent plants (like lemon balm). The upside here is not only a diversified garden that looks attractive, but you end up with a yield of medicinal herbs and flowers as well (I love lemon balm tea).

I think gardening like this could be good for beginners. Hopefully stacking the beds with these various plantings would reduce the need for weeding. You could save some money at the grocery store, without ending up with *too much* of a yield or time requirement. And next year you can always tweak the ratio of veggies to others.

One last thing.. Strawberries are lovely in a small garden.. but most spread by runners and will certainly go on the march. You'll want to have some sort of divider (could be as easy as a board across the 3 ft span) where you want them to stop. Alpine strawberries apparently don't have the same issue, so we're trying those at home this year.

Hopefully this is of some value..
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Thanks for the great ideas! I like the low-pressure sound of it, and now I can use "p-patch" as a search term when doing more research. I think I'll go into these beds with a fork of some kind and at least get the buttercup and any lawn creep out. Maybe I'll go crazy with the peas in part of it and try something more stacking in another part of it. Compare and contrast.

I've always heard from conventional gardening sources that carrots need a deep amount of loosened soil to grow well. I'm very interested in growing carrots but wondering if I really have to dig deep and disturb the soil in order to make a carrot-friendly environment, or if I can be more no-till in my approach.
 
B.E. Ward
Posts: 79
Location: Aside the Salish Sea
bee books forest garden
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For what it's worth (very little), I think this is what I would do from here if I was in your shoes..

I would definitely get the lawn creep and buttercup out. Next I'd probably put down a layer of compost.. not too thick.. maybe like 1/2" or so. I'd then go in with a fork and just loosen up the soil.. so, poke and wiggle back and forth every 6 inches or so. That'll also mix in a little of the compost.. but you want most of it on top. I like the way Stefan Sobkowiak put it in The Permaculture Orchard. When nature adds amendments, it normally does it from above.

Then, it's decision time. What to plant and when? You mentioned you're west of the Cascades and the warm winter (hallelujah!), so we're probably in similar zones. I'm putting peas directly in the ground in the next few days. The same for a first experimental batch of kale, lettuce, chard, carrots, etc. Some pollinator attractors can also go in now. Also think about staggering your sowing. If you load the bed up with seeds now, the different veggies will all be ready at the same time. So maybe a little now, a little in 2 weeks, then 2 weeks more, etc.

One note on peas.. with relatively narrow beds like that, you're going to want a trellis for them. That can be as simple as two sticks 3-4 feet tall with string running between them. The vines aren't heavy, they just need to spread and up is a good way to go.

And here is where I would suggest making a minor financial investment in 'gardening technology'. Floating row cover! I like Harvest-Guard by Dalen because it's made in the US. They make it in 5x25' and 5x50' lengths. You'll also want something to pin it down with. Rocks work in a pinch, but I like the little anchor staples even better. This sort of covering will allow light and water in, while offering a little warmth and protection from pests. It's thin enough not to crush little plants.. though you could also prop it up a little inside if you wanted. Anyway.. I've learned that it makes a huge difference for us between actually starting a garden and launching a micro-greens factory for bugs and animals.

Once the plants are mature, you're going to want to think about some sort of mulch to keep weeds down and moisture in.. I like straw, but there are a multitude of options for a small space, and maybe someone else can chime in with their preference. Likewise, if you just don't have the time and energy to try to start seeds in the beds right now (or you want to start them indoors), you could do the mulch and fork, then throw straw over the entire bed for a while. That mulching effect could make the entire bed more fertile by the time you do plant.



 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Gosh, I *so* appreciate these replies.

What're your favorite pollinator attractors? especially early-flowering ones?

How long do you keep your floating row cover on?
 
B.E. Ward
Posts: 79
Location: Aside the Salish Sea
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I haven't done a whole lot of research on early vs. mid- or late-flowering pollinators. I will say that the two that 'kept on giving' were the Borage and Bee's Friend. Both seemed to last virtually the entire season with fresh blooms. They may have died off just a titch earlier than I would've liked, but I can't complain about how they turned out overall.

Here's some info on Bee's Friend:

http://uprisingorganics.com/flowers/bees-friend.html

And Borage:

http://uprisingorganics.com/flowers/borage.html

As for the floating row cover.. You could have it on there as long as 2-3 weeks if you want to. You want it to be there long enough to get the seedlings past the stage where they're a one-bite mini-snack. You can even just water right over it (if we keep up this dry streak). For some of the plants I was especially keen on keeping around, I went from the floating row cover to Hot Kaps for another couple of weeks.

http://hotkaps.com/

A bit pricey, but definitely reusable.

 
Nicole Alderman
pollinator
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This is my second year gardening here, in a very similar zone as you. I agree with yanking out the creeping buttercup as much as you can--that stuff is evil! My strawberries seem to be just as competitive, though, so if the buttercup is only in one area, maybe yank out as much as you can and plant the strawberries there. I also second the planting of peas. Not much grew for me last year, but my peas did great! (So did green beans) Just make sure you get one of the "pea enation" resistant varieties ("Sugar Daddy" and "Cascadia" for Snap Peas and "Oregon Snow Pea II" for snow peas). My peas actually produced almost all season last year, since I kept picking all the peas. I also just poke them down into the soil and then cover them back up. They should have no problem growing through the stalks, I would think. I planted peas at the end of February and already have some sprouting up!

One word of warning, when gardening here, you are going to have slugs. They are evil. They ate almost everything that sprouted last year, other than a few beat and carrots, which were mostly hidden in the peas. This year, we have ducks, so they will hopefully keep the slugs at bay. You might want to invest in some sluggo, or make traps, or be ready for slugs eating every thing. Did I mention that I hate slugs?
 
Peter Ellis
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The "right way to do it"?
With love, joy, curiosity, optimism and abandon.
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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It's funny how giddy I get when I find I have a new reply to my post. Thanks, everyone - am taking your input to heart, especially the "love, joy, curiosity, optimism and abandon" part.

Also duly noted about the bee's friend, borage, pea varieties, and slugs. The ducks might happen up here someday. Until then I'll look into traps/diatomaceous earth. Also just read that red clover is a good sacrificial plant.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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If you want Nice, straight, grocery store looking carrots, then yes you would need to broad fork down around 14" so the carrots would have nice, loose soil to grow in. If you don't mind carrots with some bends and or twists in them, then what you have done already is enough. Multiple plantings, of companion crops is always better than mono culture, also plant things in squares instead of long rows, they grow better that way. Rows of plants are for mechanical harvesters, squares are for better plant interaction. You've gotten lots of good advice in this thread already, now it's time to get dirt under the fingernails.
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Bryant ~ yes, I would rather have twisty, interesting carrots. So would my kids. Thanks for the thoughts about squares vs. rows.
 
Tina Paxton
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Anna Tennis wrote:Thanks, Su Ba. When I say I'm a perfectionist I merely mean that for some reason my internal wiring has me approaching things from an "I have to get it right the first time!" angle, and the bugger is that even when I know there's no "right," the feeling persists. It's nothing rational or even really discardable - I just have to learn to work with it. I'm fine with non-supermarket veggies - in fact I prefer them - and don't expect that my garden's going to look perfect or be super productive right away. I just want to grow some stuff. The perfectionism trips me up mainly right at the beginning, when I'm like, "Hey, there's a way I should be starting out with these beds and I have no idea what it is and I'm not going to try *anything* until I know *the right way to do it!" (i.e. how would a permie do it?) *That's* what I'm trying to bypass - instead of psyching myself out, I thought, why not get some basic advice and just proceed?


Sounds like me! I can make myself batty trying to figure out what the "right" or "best" way is to do something until I've exhausted myself before I've even started! I'm trying to adopt Paul's philosophy of "try 100 things to find the 1 thing that works"...it would be a kinder gentler way to go for me if I could just embrace it fully!

 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 49
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Hmm, that's a good quote. I'm gonna hang onto that one.
 
It would give a normal human mental abilities to rival mine. To think it is just a tiny ad:
paul's patreon stuff
https://permies.com/t/60329/paul-patreon-stuff
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