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Completely new to gardening, sorry for the long post  RSS feed

 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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I've been lurking for a few months, recently decided to start posting. We have a pretty large property (>30 acres), but it is mostly overgrown and gone to weeds. There had been a tennis court in the backyard, but it was already falling apart due to a poor foundation when we bought it 8 years ago, and we don't play tennis anyway. So this year, my wife and I decided to tear it down and maybe start a garden.

I have NEVER been interested in gardening. It seemed like madness, buying dirt every year, buying seeds every year, buying pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, etc. Then you have to spend hours a week weeding and watering. After all that, you end up with a couple of side salads. I don't even like salads!

So I thought, maybe I could plant fruit. I like fruit at least. I didn't think you needed to weed trees either. Sounded like a plan, so this Spring I went to Lowe's and bought a few cherry trees and apple trees, bought some dirt, dug a hole in the dead, hard, packed, red clay that had been under the tennis court, and planted the trees. Then I started looking around for other stuff to kill. I bought some blueberry, strawberry, and blackberry bushes from various places and planted them in holes in the clay too.

I don't even know how I stumbled across it anymore, probably searching around on Amazon, but at this point I found "gaia's garden". I was blown away. The way it explained gardening with permaculture made SO much more sense than traditional gardening.

Anyway, I realized that we started the garden in the worst possible soil, because there was zero, zilch, nada organic material in the clay. Plus it was compacted down, etc etc. BUT, this was the location that made the most sense for us in terms of zones. So, I started moving dirt. I have a UTV and a shovel, and there is a beaver dam on the far side of the property that I have to keep knocking down. After it drains a bit, there is essentially an unlimited (i.e. more than I will ever move with the UTV and shovel) amount of decent soil where the water from the dam floods, plus some soil from the dam itself. I started moving loads of dirt to put around my poor fruit trees and bushes and bought a few hundred bucks worth of mulch to make the delivery fee more reasonable in proportion.

I realized later I should aim for more depth and less square footage with each load, but I got a decent amount of that clay covered up with at least some dirt and mulch. I also found the county landfill that gives out free mulch a few times a week.

Anyway, the trees look like they might make it, who knows if they will ever bear fruit. A few of the bushes also look like they have survived. Hopefully they will take off next year. I made a few side dishes with the amaranth I planted and I somehow seem to have developed a taste for the mustard greens I planted as cover crops. They are really starting to come up, probably the first real success I have ever had with plant life. I'm planning on spending the next month or two of cool/cold months to really get a head start on moving dirt for the rest of the area. I'll try to add pictures the next day or two.

My biggest problem is being unable to identify almost anything. I certainly didn't put stuff down in rows. Is Plant A the garlic onion I planted in that general area 5 months ago, or is it just grass? Is Plant B comfrey, or is it some miscellaneous weed? I planted turnip greens with the mustard, but I don't see any turnips - could I be mixing in turnip greens with the mustard greens and not even know it? Etc.

I did miraculously manage to ID a Jimson weed, and decided to leave it in. What the hell, its flowers are sort of pretty and the insects seem to like it.
 
Marianne Cicala
gardener
Posts: 683
Location: south central VA 7B
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Morning Jim and thanks for a great 1st post!
Gaia's Garden was 1 of the first books for me too and I can appreciate the " I get it now" factor it brings to most of us
I also have clay soil and I promise you'll learn to love it....over time. 1 of the most important things when planting, other than serious soil amendment is to plant everything proud. You should plant trees' root ball 2" above ground level, bushes a good inch above. Root rot in newly planted, plants is one of the major contributors to loosing them with our soil type. They will settle over time, but the last thing that we need is for them to be below ground level, and to become a water well that will guarantee root rot with our heavy seasonal rains.

When you amend a hole, make sure that you do mix some of your natural soil aka clay in with your good soil. Your roots need to get accustom to the flavor of the surrounding soil, or they will stay in the hole you initially dug. Also, sheet mulch like crazy around your trees and plant an intensive guild, including some annuals that will die in the winter and add organic matter to that area. In the spaces between your plants, you should consider a lasagna approach to sheet mulching; I've used a really thick layer of compost followed by newspaper then straw or wood chips..repeat for 2 more layers and let it lay for the winter and then plant clover, diakon radishes, carrots and other rooty plants. It did take a few years of this approach, but now my soil is now incredibly rich and loomy.

As far as your turnips, there are varieties that do not produce a bulb, like 7 top turnips, but in the south folks love turnip greens without the bulb.
Good luck and I hope this helps. Can't wait to see some pictures.
M.
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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Thanks for the advice Marianne. Here are a few of the promised pictures:









Raccoon swimming toward beaver dam.



Dirt loaded up from under previously flooded area.

 
Troy Rhodes
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Once you "get it" after being exposed to Gaia's Garden or one of the other many fine resources, it's like taking the red pill in the Matrix. You can never look at the world in the same way, ever again.

You can't "go back" to seeing it the old way.


WAY TO GO!


But...it can be a little overwhelming. One of the permaculture principles is to make a small change, and watch what it does, or how it fails. OK, you learned something. Try another little thing, observe.

Learn from the forest (that you are planting). If all the cherry trees die, they don't like it there. Try a different tree or variety that -does- do well in your area and your soil. Or make an educated guess about why the cherry trees died, and change that. Maybe it's pH, maybe it's not enough water, or not enough organic matter, or no active microbiology. Add compost tea and some mulch to pump up the soil biology. Look what grows and looks happy on the neighbor's lot. Observe what grows well in the park, in the abandoned lot, in the woods on the edge of the farmer's field.

Observe, observe, then observe some more. That's a main tenet of permaculture. A significant part of your effort should go into just watching and observing and noticing. After you observe a 100 little unrelated things on your property, suddenly patterns will emerge and you will start to see how the system as a whole works.

Take pictures of interesting plants and then find out what they are. You can post it here, or there are several plant nerd forums around.

It's the same plan as how you eat an elephant, a little bit every day...
 
Hester Winterbourne
Posts: 219
Location: West Midlands UK (zone 8b)
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Why do you have to keep knocking the beaver dam down? We don't have beavers here, they were exterminated centuries ago. Except for a project in Scotland and one colony on a river in the south west where they were accidentally (or not?) reintroduced and have been allowed to stay after at first being threatened with removal by the government. We keep being told how their natural management of the ecosystem will have wonderful environmental benefits. So... how does it look from there? Can't you work with them?
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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Hester Winterbourne wrote:Why do you have to keep knocking the beaver dam down? We don't have beavers here, they were exterminated centuries ago. Except for a project in Scotland and one colony on a river in the south west where they were accidentally (or not?) reintroduced and have been allowed to stay after at first being threatened with removal by the government. We keep being told how their natural management of the ecosystem will have wonderful environmental benefits. So... how does it look from there? Can't you work with them?


Our upstream neighbors get upset when half their yard floods. The beavers still have several acres underwater after I knock it down.

As for the local government, the last I checked it was open season on beavers year round.
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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Troy - thanks for the response. I'm going to mostly try planting some "Ps" this winter - peach, pear, plum, pomegranate, pawpaw, pecan, and persimmon. I know the peaches at least do well around here. I'll figure out the guilds in the Spring. I know I should try to do keyhole gardens so I don't trample over everything the way I do now getting to the middle of my patch. Maybe just some type of rock path. I have enough laying around.

As for observing the surrounding area, I don't know enough to recognize what I'm looking at!

I will start posting some pics of various plants, but I don't want to take advantage of everyone here by posting huge numbers of plants.

For the poor start, it hasn't turned out too badly. As of Halloween:

 
Troy Rhodes
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You shouldn't look at it like that.

Most of us are newbies. We all need to learn.


Bring on the pictures.

Plus, a year from now, you'll be helping people just as much as the next permie.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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Jim, on not knowing enough to know what I am looking at, a suggestion. Go back to Gaia's Garden, look at some of the environmental factors Toby talks about. Topography, sunlight, water, as three profoundly interrelated examples.
When you go out to the garden next, observe the topography. Do the same going back and forth to the beaver dam. Look at your slopes and consider the direction they face. Look for ridgelines and valleys and think about where the water moves.
You don't need to be able to identify every plant to start making useful observations about your land. And as you look at it, focusing first on one feature for awhile and then on another, the connections will start happening.
And you will start seeing everyplace and everything through a permaculture design lens.
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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It's been slower going than I thought it would be, had to wait for parts for my UTV forever before I could continue moving dirt.



Regarding the advice to observe for some amount of time first, I don't agree. Maybe I'm just not observant enough, but other than the small area I have already worked on, I basically have a patch of red clay. What's to observe? I'm going to do my best to improve the soil over this fall and winter. I know that is going to be a net positive in any event. I'm going to add some fruit and nut trees in January, and after the last frost I'll try to create guilds for them. THEN I'll observe what seems to be working.

This is basically about a 1/5 of an acre, and I'm not going to be able to get even half of it worked on by spring. I'll see what works, if anything (I have always had a brown thumb). If I have success, then I have a few acres on the other side of the house that I will probably bring in some earth moving equipment to make terraces, swales, etc.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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What is to observe? Perhaps some more reading of Gaia'a Garden is called for. I tried giving you a short list of some of the things to look at and gain understanding of on a piece of land, but you seem to have dismissed my suggestions.

Hey, your life, play it as you will.
 
Troy Rhodes
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She just said, she's going to try some stuff and then see what happens. Yeah, that's observing.

To the original poster, you're doing fine. Do that some more...
 
Dana Jones
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Fresh vegetables, grown from our own land, picked fresh and prepared the same day, are just too delicious for words. No comparison to the stuff in the grocery store. Building good soil takes awhile. My previous home had a dead spot that was rock hard, not even weeds grew there. It took lots of horse manure compost, lots of deep digging, to get it to loose rich soil. Keep adding mulch and letting it rot into the soil. Sounds like to me that you are on the right track and maybe you don't have the kiss of death on plants after all!
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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Peter,

Very sorry for the tone of my reply. You were giving good advice and I denigrated it. I think that I am too aware of the scale of my ignorance, and the more I look at things, the more I am at a loss. I think I need to focus on the trees first, and from that work my way up to the forest.
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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Dana,

Thanks for the encouragement. I was always a meat and potatoes eater until I started eating paleo. I have eaten more veggies on paleo the last 4 years than I did the previous 10. I think that doing a garden will continue that progression. I'm now not only eating mustard greens that I grew, I'm liking them. Last year I wouldn't have thought that was possible.
 
Dana Jones
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If you are liking mustard greens for the first time in your life, you gotta try Red Giant Mustard! www.bountifulgardens.org has it, tried to copy the link, but new laptop, new to Windows 10, can't operate this ^&#$@# darn thing! Red Giant is the best mustard greens I have ever grown and eaten. The top of the leaf is purple, underside is lime green. When cooked, the leaves turn green and the juice is purple. I always serve them in a white milk glass bowl so the purple juice makes a pretty serving.

Please ask questions, we will be glad to help you.

Do you have a tractor? If not, look around for a good deal on one. We lucked into a 23 HP Kubota with front end loader, disc, box blade, bush hog and forks when we bought our place and I do love my tractor! A shovel will get it done, but you'll be done too. With 30 acres, I heartily recommend a tractor. You will wonder how you ever lived with out one.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 507
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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I think what Peter was getting at was that before you go throwing trees into the ground all willy nilly you should do a careful analysis of what the trees require and whether or not you proposed location will provide that. I'm sure you are probably doing that just out of instinct, but if you take a little more time and purposefully go out and home in on just those areas where you want to put the trees (I'm thinking like a small three foot area or whatever right where the tree will go) and evaluate that site specifically for what it will take to make a tree thrive there and then make your decisions from there, you will save a lot of time, energy, and money in the long run. I've seen too many people loose heart and give up on a project because of initial set backs (like killing several hundred dollars worth of trees) that could have been prevented by more careful initial observation of the site. It's your time, energy, and money... do with them what you will, just be sure to stick with it, keep moving forward and you'll eventually end up with the results you are looking for, you just can't loose motivation to keep moving forward!
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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I had planned on getting a lot more done so far, but only got about half the soil I had wanted before this year's trees got here. I planted 4 here:



I didn't dig any holes, because I thought that would just put it down in the clay. Instead I stood the trees up on the soil I had already placed, and then mounded additional soil around the roots. I also added 4 grape vines.

With the trees for which I had run out of time to prepare anything similar, I basically added a 6-8 inch high circular base of better soil and then, again, put the tree on top of that and mounded more soil around the roots:





I'm sure I need to extend the mounds on the first 4 outwards to accommodate root growth, and add a couple or more tons of soil around the rest, but does this seem workable?

Dave - I'm sure that the location I am using, as it existed a few months ago, would have meant death to anything I planted there. I think that the soil I have been adding will enable these trees to not only survive, but thrive. There should be plenty of sun, enough water and enough drainage, etc. There is IMO no compaction issue. The red clay is packed solid when dry, while the strip I prepared is springy by comparison. However, completely lacking any experience in growing anything, I won't know until I try.
 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 746
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Get *something* growing in that clay. In 7B you should have opportunities to sprout extremely cold-hardy annual crops over the next month or two.

What you need is for roots to sink into the clay, die and start rotting, setting the stage for the trees to spread their roots into the surrounding soil.
 
Tobias Ber
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Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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hey... awesome project.

i think, mullein would help:





if you do sheet mulch/lasagna mulch, then you could plant deep-rooting daikon-radishes. they ll help break up the soil.


keyhole gardens are a very good thing. you have access to mulch and that soil from the river. perfect. just start with a few herbs and veggies. read the text on the seed packages and just go for it. you ll learn as you go. just try. what plant survives, that survives. if not... no problem, that s the learning. we started our garden last year with heavy wet clay soil that has some topsoil. some stuff just did not grow. but in a keyhole garden you will start out with awesome soil and stuff will grow easily. when you don t know YET how to identify plants, the divide your beds (lay out sticks or stones). sow one seed per section. or make rows. and add labels. just sow the stuff you like to eat and go on experimenting from that. you might even buy some starts (small plants) to plant in your keyhole






composting would help. maybe order some earthworms. they would help to improve your soil.


i wish you best luck and blessings

tobias
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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Yes, I do plan to put in some root vegetables like carrots, celery root, and radishes. I'm also planning on a separate bed of sunchokes.

Tobias, I think I've seen a few of those mullein plants growing wild on the other side of our pond, though not as tall. I'll have to check that out. Having some emergency TP certainly wouldn't hurt!
 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 746
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Jim Thomas wrote:Having some emergency TP certainly wouldn't hurt!

Sure, until Timmy replaces the mullain bucket with a bucket of nettles.
 
Jim Thomas
Posts: 57
Location: SC; Zone 7B
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I'm still pretty sure there is mullein on the other side of the pond, but they are down to rosettes.

I brought another load of soil and planted the sunchokes today. From some of the things I've read about them spreading, I put them off by themselves. I'm going to wait on March to plant the various root vegetable seeds I bought.

Here is what it looks like now:



I'm planning on making a low hugelkulture/swale between the trees currently on their own "islands" in the middle of the picture.
 
It's in the permaculture playing cards. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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