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Jared Mason
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Hi all,

This site came up several times in my travels, while cramming on how to start a backyard garden. Finally, I've signed up hoping to get some advice more specific to my situation.

I'm a complete beginner gardener, but would quite like to create something food-foresty in my smallish courtyard. So far I've created some raised beds using left over pavers. And I have a pile of left over dirt...

I'm really not sure what to do next. Do I buy compost and mulch? What kind? Any particular method to filling the beds? Do I buy seeds or seedlings or plants? And what kinds? And how do I position them?!?!?!

I know it probably looks like I haven't done any research, but I really have. There are just a lot of different approaches out there and I'm struggling to apply the established 1/2 acre permaculture philosophy to my modest empty backyard.

Thanks for any and all advice!

 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Welcome to Permies, Jared!

It would help if you would let us know kind of where you are; in the northern tier of states, you won't be starting anything until April, if you are in a southern clime, you can be starting cold tolerant things like brassicas, beets, carrots, chard, and lettuce. Even in a warmer climate, things start better indoors this time of year, but when they get about 4" tall, you can be moving them outside and acclimating them for transplant. Some things like spinach can be direct sown, as they prefer lower temperatures to germinate.

You can buy compost and mulch, but if you look around, there's probably a lot of material that can be had for free. It just takes a little more work, that's all.
 
Dillon Nichols
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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Hi Jared, welcome to permies!

Good news, I can answer all your questions with one short sentence!

Also some bad news; the answer is 'It depends!'


As John mentions, location would help people help you. Beyond that, characteristics of your site; a sat photo perhaps? And finally, examining your goals in much greater detail would be a good thing.


Raised beds sounds like a great start especially for annuals and smaller perennials..

As far as buying compost/mulch, only if you must! Free sources may exist; for mulch, deciduous trees can produce a ton, and sometimes bags are conveniently at curbside awaiting municipal pickup around this time of year in my area... very accessible!

As far as sourcing plants go, for annuals I'd suggest buying seeds where possible; they are so much cheaper, and you'll often be able to use the same packet for 2+ years. If your starts don't work out well you can always buy some seedlings then.

For perennials, take your time; seek out existing plants(in the wild, and in orchards and food forests) in your area where possible. The cultivars that the nurseries sell are not necessarily the best, or even moderately good. Plus, you may be able to get free plants from cuttings etc, if you find appropriate sources!
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 978
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Congratulations on taking the first step! You're actually ahead of some of my beginning students who haven't even decided where to put their garden yet.

The first thing I usually ask new students is what do they like to eat that they think could be grown in a garden. From there I suggest the easy veggies and fruits for starting out their new project. You mentioned "food-foresty". I'm not exactly sure what you mean. Any foods....or just forest oriented foods? I have found that easy annual type veggies give the best reward for beginners. Tree and bush types, and perennials, are often slower to establish and produce, thus giving slower results. Slow results often equates to a beginner losing interest.

I often advise my students to plant something, anything. I ask them not to focus on their ultimate, perfect, future garden. It takes most new gardeners a few years to attain that, if ever. And gardeners like myself are constantly experimenting and trying new things, so we never have the perfect final product. The goal is not to create the ideal garden, but to learn to grow food.

What to try first? Well that depends upon your climate and soil. In general, radishes, onions from sets, green beans, and peas are good first time veggies. Cherry and grape tomatoes are fairly easy.

Depending upon where you are located, you may or may not be able to grow things in your garden right now. So you need to let people know where you are located if you expect suggestions.

You have left over soil? I should think that would go into your raised beds. Depending upon the type of soil you have, you may wish to mix compost, leaf mold, manure, or mulch material in the soil as you fill the beds. Back in the days when peat moss was cheap, people often mixed 1/4 peat moss to 3/4 soil when filling beds. Commercial compost is often a good substitute for peat moss, but not always. It depends what it is made from. I agree that most beginners need to start out with purchased soil amendments, such as compost, mulch, and manures, but over time you will learn how to make your own.

Give us more information about your project and folks here will make suggestions for you. Welcome to gardening!
 
Jared Mason
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Thanks everyone for the swift and thorough replies. Especially seeing as I forgot to mention my location!!!

So actually I'm in Auckland, New Zealand (hope that's ok). It's a temperate climate currently in late Autumn/early Summer.

As mentioned, the site is a smallish courtyard around 6m x 8m. It's fenced on all sides and used to be paved, but I pulled the pavers up and made beds around the outside. I'm going to leave the middle open for now so the kids have somewhere to play, but I would consider another middle bed if the outer ones are successful.

In terms of goals, by food forest-y I mainly just meant a permaculture style kitchen garden - sustainable, no-till, high-density etc. I've seen lots of cool food forest vids online. This ( [youtube]http://youtu.be/iX9mQNswJrw)[/youtube] is probably closest to the balance I'm trying to strike and even this is waayy bigger than my space.

Based on what little I know, my hope would be to get as many fruit varieties into the space as possible, whatever's easiest out of apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, grapes, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, lemons and mandarins. Then whatever gaps that leaves I'd fill out with veggies, herbs and companion plants.

Now that I'm getting to the point of planting, I'm eager to figure out an appropriate long term plan. I definitely can see the need to not just plant perennials with limited short term reward. But at the same time, if there are any plants that will take a particularly long time to establish I would like to get them running in the background as early as possible.

Hopefully this is all the background you need. Let me know if you have any other questions. And thanks again.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Here's another video of Angelo's space: http://geofflawton.com/videos/urban-gardens-microspace/


I have fruit trees in my vegetable garden, so I think you can go ahead and plant your fruit trees around the perimeter of the space, trying to place them according to how much sun they require - those that want more heat, such as mandarins, peaches, grapes and figs should be on North-facing positions, preferably with a wall behind to reflect heat. Perennial vegetables such as various onion relatives - Perennial Leek (Elephant Garlic), Garlic Chives, etc can be planted right around the bases of these trees. I have onion relatives around all my Apple trees. This would be a good place for strawberries, also. Then you can put your annual vegetables toward the front edges of the beds, again paying attention to sun position.

Hope this helps!


 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I agree with the suggestions that you begin with annuals the first year.
They will provide short term success, which tends to encourage new gardeners.
At the same time, you can begin getting the perennials started.
As the perennials get larger with age, they will begin shadowing out the understory annuals.
But, in the mean time, you are still producing annual crops in that space.

For small spaces, I have mixed emotions on things like lemon trees. Eventually, they will get large, and the question becomes 'How many lemons do you really need?' I love lemons, but I have to think if that same space could be better utilized by plants that provide more nutrition for the year. An apple tree in that space would probably provide more food, and that food will last a longer portion of the year through preserving.

Here in the U.S., it is common to plant strawberries and other berries in the future orchard. In the years that the fruit/nut trees are maturing, you will still be producing berry crops in that space.

Good luck with your future food forest.


 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I think that the most important thing to being a good gardener has nothing to do with soils, or mulch, or bugs, or molds, or sunlight, or varieties... As far as I can tell, the most important thing that all great gardeners have in common is that they spend time in their gardens. Even if they don't do any work in the garden, they walk into it every day. Or they sit in a chair at the edge of the garden and they observe it while drinking a cup of tea. People that plant a garden and then ignore it for weeks or months on end tend to get bad results. People that are in their gardens every day see the weeds, and they see the ripe fruits, and they notice the moisture levels. For even better results, take a bucket and a hoe into the garden every day. Even if the bucket is used as a chair instead of as a harvest basket, and even in the hoe is used as a cane instead of for weeding, they are still immediately avaliable for use if the mood is right.

That's the most common point of failure I see among beginning gardeners. They simply don't develop a habit of being outside in the garden. Their gardens suffer because of it.

The next most common point of failure that is see is taking on too much all at once.

I'm sure you'll get lots of people telling you lots of things about how to garden. I think of gardens as way more intimate than that. The best gardeners are intimately tied to the land: the varieties they grow, and the methods they use are part of their soul. That can't be learned from the Internet, it can only be experienced in person, as an interactoin between a particular location, and a particular individual, interacting with their particular plants, climate, animals, soil, and society.

 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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Location: northern northern california
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since you said the space is all fenced, i would be thinking about vines - grapes, kiwi, passionfruit, and/or berry canes for the very edges. peas, beans, nasturtiums are some different annual climbing vines. using the vertical space, with some kind of trellis or just the fence as is, will give you more total room to plant.
i really dont know what your climate is like, but some of the plants/fruit/trees you mentioned wouldnt go together easily in the same space.

blueberries are very particular about the climate and conditions, they wont thrive unless they have those specific conditions. very acidic, very wet, and cool is better than hot. hot and dry is not going to work for them. berries usually prefer acidic conditions too, but its not as important as with blueberries. if you want to get blueberries you probably need to find one thats good in your local conditions, something people around where you are at have had success with...and since i imagine its mild in winter/hot in your climate, you probably need a very specific type -a "southern highbush" type or other type that doesnt need as many chill hours. then you would probably need to create a specific area away from other planting to get the correct conditions, well if my assumption is sound and you are in a hot and dry place.

strawberries, grapes, plum, peach and apricot are (IMO) the easiest of what you mentioned, well except cherry tomatoes which are very easy. grapes prefer dry and hot, much drier than the rest.
lemon and mandarin can be easy, if you live in the right hot/no freezing climate. i find that citrus needs a lot of fertilizer, thats been my vague findings, otherwise they just look sad, yellow leaves. give them some fertilizer and they perk right up. most of the time i use very little to no fertilizer, i make the soil good, and make the plants work for their nutrients.
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 463
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Strawberries and blackberries are the easiest perennials to grow. They are a high value crop and high yielding for the amount of space they take. They can produce a good crop the year after planting. Some varieties can produce a little the first year.
 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Around the perimeter of your area plant fruiting shrubs/dwarf trees and vines, next to them plant some onion relatives and some mint/thyme/oregano/rosemary family and some dill/carrot family +dutch white clover for grass.

For your raised bed plant the usual vegetables that you love the most, such as kale, spinach,
 
Linda Edwards
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Jared Mason wrote:
In terms of goals, by food forest-y I mainly just meant a permaculture style kitchen garden - sustainable, no-till, high-density etc. I've seen lots of cool food forest vids online. This ( [youtube]http://youtu.be/iX9mQNswJrw)[/youtube] is probably closest to the balance I'm trying to strike and even this is waayy bigger than my space.



Hello Jared, I'm pretty new to all this too, and I found the youtube video really inspiring. I've been fumbling around in the dark being generally overwhelmed by where to start, and have had a garden full of weeds and a few fruit trees and ornamentals for a while. My space is bigger than yours at about 680 sq metres. Now I want to really get into food gardening and like you have started with some raised beds. I'm in the Southern Hemisphere too, so now in the end of spring/beginning of summer. NZ is a lot cooler than where I am (South Australia), but you probably need to make sure seeds/seedlings don't dry out. We've had almost no rain this spring and won't get any during summer. I'll have to use some kind of shade over the beds before long and have built a shade house so I have somewhere to start off seeds.

Radishes, rocket, mitzuna and things like that seem to do really well. In one bed I have lots of rocket and some comfrey, and will probably add a tomato or two in there. I eat the rocket all the time like lettuce, but it's easier to grow and doesn't wilt so easily. The comfrey is supposed to have medicinal uses, and is also supposed to go well in the compost. The chooks seem to like it too. I'm trying to get away from the ideas of rows. I'm not sure what to put in the other raised beds when they're ready, but I've started seeds of sweet corn, capsicum, tomatoes and pumpkins for the winter. I've also bought in some seeds of old vegetables like salsify and mangel wurzel (from http://www.4seasonsseeds.com.au/) because one of the things that concerns me is the almost total lack of diversity in vegetables in this country (and probably in NZ too).

Good luck with your venture. I'll be following with interest.

Linda
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Don't forget that raised beds dry out faster than ground level beds, and are mostly suitable for cold climates where raised beds will warm up faster in the Spring, and very wet climates where better drainage is needed. In warm climates with no Summer rain, raised beds don't make any sense, in my opinion.
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 463
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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We usually have really wet springs and sometimes really dry summers. I like raised beds just 4-5" tall. They get dry enough to plant earlier but are low enough that the plants can get their roots down to the moisture when it gets dry.
 
Linda Edwards
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Don't forget that raised beds dry out faster than ground level beds, and are mostly suitable for cold climates where raised beds will warm up faster in the Spring, and very wet climates where better drainage is needed. In warm climates with no Summer rain, raised beds don't make any sense, in my opinion.


Hello Tyler, Thanks for the information. It's really interesting because raised beds are pushed constantly here as being the ultimate aim for gardeners. All the magazines recommend them (probably TV too but I don't watch it), all the community gardens use raised beds, etc. etc. Hmm. I may need to re-think then. It might be the usual story of somebody somewhere wants to make lots of money out of idiots like me. I'd better go and do some research, but I also have a good area for a non-raised bed too, so will set about planting that out and see what the difference is. Interesting.

Linda
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 463
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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There may be some other, more local reason for raised beds in your area. Maybe you have a hard clay subsoil or very acidic or alkaline soil. I think it'd be easier to ammend or even replace the soil in a raised bed. On the other hand, I wouldn't build them just because everyone else is.
 
Dana Jones
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Jared, do you have a front yard where you could plant fruit trees? If so, then that would save more of the sunny areas in the back yard for planting vegetables. We recently moved to 8 acres, but before that, I gardened successfully on a tiny city lot with beds in the front yard. I covered the beds with paper feed sacks to keep moisture in and weeds out. I cut a small hole in the paper and planted my vegetable plant. Since you are just starting out, I recommend using started plants, seedlings. They are easier to get started with than starting from seed. We really, really want to encourage you to continue gardening, even though you may experience garden failures. We all have failures, no matter how good we might think we are, so don't become discouraged if something dies on you.

Study your permanent plantings, make sure that what you plant will give you the most bang for your buck. Plant trees, berries and grapes that will produce well for your area. Also, look around and see what is readily available. For instance, we love blueberries. Blueberries are picky about PH and moisture levels. I am not prepared to babysit blueberry bushes right now, so what I plant has to be tough to survive. There is a huge blueberry pick-your-own farm 20 miles from us and it is so easy to go pick 7-10 pounds several times during the season and freeze them. And--I don't have to take care of the blueberry bushes all year. So if there is a peach farm down the road from you, plant plums. What fruit or nuts cost the most in your area? Why? And if you planted it, would it grow in your area?

Is it possible for you to have a few chickens? I kept hens in a coop in my backyard. They got kitchen trimmings, garden trimmings, raked leaves piled 3' deep, what they didn't eat, they scratched and pecked to pieces and pooped on it, making wonderful dark, crumbly compost which went back on the garden. Win-win. Note I said hens-you don't need a rooster crowing at 3 AM, waking the neighbors! What are the laws/rules for your town? And if you do get hens, be sure to gift neighbors with fresh eggs now and then, they won't mind the hens at all!
 
Jared Mason
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Dana Jones wrote:Jared, do you have a front yard where you could plant fruit trees? If so, then that would save more of the sunny areas in the back yard for planting vegetables. We recently moved to 8 acres, but before that, I gardened successfully on a tiny city lot with beds in the front yard. I covered the beds with paper feed sacks to keep moisture in and weeds out. I cut a small hole in the paper and planted my vegetable plant. Since you are just starting out, I recommend using started plants, seedlings. They are easier to get started with than starting from seed. We really, really want to encourage you to continue gardening, even though you may experience garden failures. We all have failures, no matter how good we might think we are, so don't become discouraged if something dies on you.

Study your permanent plantings, make sure that what you plant will give you the most bang for your buck. Plant trees, berries and grapes that will produce well for your area. Also, look around and see what is readily available. For instance, we love blueberries. Blueberries are picky about PH and moisture levels. I am not prepared to babysit blueberry bushes right now, so what I plant has to be tough to survive. There is a huge blueberry pick-your-own farm 20 miles from us and it is so easy to go pick 7-10 pounds several times during the season and freeze them. And--I don't have to take care of the blueberry bushes all year. So if there is a peach farm down the road from you, plant plums. What fruit or nuts cost the most in your area? Why? And if you planted it, would it grow in your area?

Is it possible for you to have a few chickens? I kept hens in a coop in my backyard. They got kitchen trimmings, garden trimmings, raked leaves piled 3' deep, what they didn't eat, they scratched and pecked to pieces and pooped on it, making wonderful dark, crumbly compost which went back on the garden. Win-win. Note I said hens-you don't need a rooster crowing at 3 AM, waking the neighbors! What are the laws/rules for your town? And if you do get hens, be sure to gift neighbors with fresh eggs now and then, they won't mind the hens at all!

Hey Dana, unfortunately my space is probably pretty different to your own. The front of the house is small, shaded, fully paved, and typically populated with cars. The back yard would not easily accommodate chickens without them becoming a major inconvenience and chore. One day I hope to have a larger space that many would probably still consider small, and I will be keen to do something like what you describe. But for now I'm working with a very modest courtyard, that still needs to serve a variety of other purposes

Anyway, thank you everyone for the ideas and encouragement! To give a quick update, I took the plunge and decided to just get on and plant SOMETHING. So I prepared a couple of sections of my raised bed with dirt, a few inches of store-bought compost lightly dug in, and some pea straw on top for mulch. I grabbed a bunch of different veggie seedlings from the store and just planted them. I have lettuce, peas, beans, mesclun, silverbeet, and also a couple of marigolds, nasturtiums and lavendars as I've heard they are good general companions.

This has been a really good step for me since the cost of seedlings was next to nothing in the scheme of things and it has given me a chance to practice planting and see what works and what doesn't. Everything is growing well, particularly the lettuce. The mesclun was initially getting murdered by some covert bug, but has started to pull through. I've also learnt that plants on one side of the yard are growing much faster than the other, which confirms there is probably better light there where I was previously a bit unsure. All in all, I'm really glad I took the first step and got some skin in the game.

I ultimately ended up putting my fruit tree ideas on hold. Well going about the plant shops I got the distinct feeling it's the tail end of the fruit tree planting season. Limited variety, disheveled plants, clearance sales etc. I had heard that either Autumn or Spring was an ok time for planting fruit trees, but it's really pushing into summer now, so instead I'll use the next few months to plan and will look to put in some fruit trees in Autumn instead.

Thanks again everyone for the support.
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 463
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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When you get around to planting fruit trees, I wouldn't buy from anywhere that can't tell you what rootstock is on each tree. I'd research each variety of tree and rootstock to find the best for your site. I learned this the hard way. One example is that the hardest fruit to get started here is peach because they often die from root diseases. Plums and apricots are often grafted on to peach trees. At least one source here also grafts them on plum-Raintree. Should be much better for our wet springs and hard clay subsoil. With apples you have to find out the exact kind of apple rootstock. They have different disease resistance and produce different sized trees. I don't like full dwarfs for here but you might not have room for anything bigger. They can't stand up to as much drought or wind
 
Chris Badgett
pollinator
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Location: Whitefish, Montana
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Hey Jared,

Here's an example of what Michael Pilarski did creating a food forest on 1/8 of an acre starting with a field. The video below is taken 4 months after planting.



This video is part of Michael's video course on how to start a food forest from scratch

You can do a lot with a 1/2 acre. Good luck!
 
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