• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

New land, beginner gardener, advice needed!  RSS feed

 
Chris Korangy
Posts: 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello!
I'm currently renting a place in Topanga in Southern California. Without spending a fortune I'd like to grow veggies and also use all the resources I can. This is my first garden so excuse the nature of the following questions.

Firstly, there are many fallen twigs and dried leaves, mostly surrounding a pine tree and oak. (Pic1 and 2) how can I use them in my garden? Mulch in my raised garden? Is there issue with pine?

Second, the area by the barn is patchy and is growing weeds, some spikey! (Pic3) I'd like this as a "grassy" area with perhaps clover or wildflowers added in. Not too high because we get rattlesnakes here. Should I chop and drop here or what would be the best option?

IMG_6254.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6254.JPG]
IMG_6253.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6253.JPG]
IMG_6255.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6255.JPG]
 
James Freyr
pollinator
Posts: 436
Location: Middle Tennessee
50
books cat chicken food preservation cooking toxin-ectomy trees
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Well, I believe you a challenge ahead of you. I do know pine needles will acidify soil, and pine trees have other exudates that inhibit growth of other kinds of vegetation. If you've ever been in a pine forest, there's not much else but pine growing. One pine tree won't have that much affect, but if you're renting this place and that pine tree has been shedding needles for years or decades, the soil pH will be lower than desirable. I believe your spikey weeds look like dandelions to me in the picture, with not much else along side them. That is another indicator of unbalanced soil. I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, I certainly want to encourage you. A few things that would help to know is what you want to grow, how long you plan on living at this residence. You've said you don't want to spend a ton of money, which no one really wants to, but remediating that soil will take a few dollars, depending on how large an area you're trying to garden in. The first thing I recommend is take a soil sample and send it to a lab so you know what's in there and what the pH is. Then you will be armed with the data to effectively start improving the soil. If you just want to grow a few herbs, a couple tomato plants, maybe a couple pepper plants as a beginner gardener, you may consider building a raised bed and filling it with quality soil (like a yard of a blend from a nursery, not bagged soil. you'll go broke buying bagged soil and it wastes a ton of plastic packaging). I have gardened in poor soil not knowing what I was doing, adding fertilizer to get the plants to grow and it is very frustrating and defeating to get nothing but poor performing sick plants that may yield 4 or 6 tomatoes or peppers before succumbing to disease and pests. That's how I started out and that was a few decades ago. One thing I suggest is to read some books, like Building Soil by Elizabeth Murphy or Building Soils Naturally by Phil Nauta. This is knowledge you can gain and use right now and also take with you as wisdom for the rest of your life! I hope this helps! 
 
Hester Winterbourne
Posts: 219
Location: West Midlands UK (zone 8b)
16
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The spiky weeds look like some kind of sow thistle (Sonchus) to me.  Some of that genus are edible.  Cutting should kill them eventually, they won't persist in a grass sward like dandelions do.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Pine needles break down into neutral organic matter. That first picture does look ideal for mulch purposes. It breaks down into usable soil faster than you'd expect though and is probably filled with weed seeds just ready to sprout. I would happily use it, but be prepared to 'stir' the surface occasionally to dislodge those weeds that are germinating.

I agree that those weeds look like sow thistle to me. I had to double check your location because that looks so much like my yard did when we bought this house. They seemed to grow best where the soil was extremely compacted. The nice thing about it is that they do improve compacted soil over time. Invest in a good quality weed puller that you can use when standing.  Every thistle you pull out will have helped you aerate that ground.

Getting grass to grow there could be a completely different problem. The amount of exposed rocks in that photo suggests to me that you have very impoverished dirt (note I don't say soil here). I don't see more than a couple of crab grass seedlings.   At the very least you need more organic matter. I follow paul's mowing guidelines in his lawn care article. The grass and grass clippings do the work of incorporating an ever increasing amount of organic material into the soil. I don't water or fertilize the grass, but even that one guideline has gone a long way towards improving the health of the grass. That isn't an option until you actually have something to mow, but you can start that process even with weeds. If you have some time to develop the soil, you could try mulch that area and then work on introducing grass after you have soil instead of dead dirt. Usually the extension service will do low cost laboratory testing to give you a detailed analysis of exactly what's going on if you want to buy in amendments. Any money you spend on seed or sod will probably be completely wasted until you can get some life into that ground.

You're fairly new here, so you may not have seen some of recommendations for contacting local tree services. Many of them chip branches as they prune them (it lets them fit more into each truck) and then they take them to city dumps and pay to dispose of them. This costs them both time and money. Frequently, if asked nicely, they will agree to dump that load on your property instead. This is a good and free resource to bring organic matter and all the nutrition it contains onto your property. Use it only for surface applications as tilling it into your soil can tie up nitrogen until it is well rotted. In my gardens I often pile it as deep as six inches or more if I'm trying to kill grass. I use it to fill in swales to use as walkways without impeding their water harvesting function. And after a couple of years in a pile it breaks down into a very fine compost that makes a great potting soil or can be sifted to be a good seed starting material. Another possible resource are local coffee houses if you can collect their coffee grounds. The Starbucks in our area have a standing policy of giving their coffee grounds to anyone on request. It's usually a good sized bag of them, in my experience.

Exercise some caution whenever introducing off site organic materials (be they compost, chips, manures or lawn clippings) There is a growing problem with persistent herbicides being using in modern agriculture that can survive pretty much anything up to and including passing through an animal. You can unwittingly carry these onto your property and wreck years of havoc onto your fledgling gardening efforts. I haven't seen it happen with wood chips, so I am still comfortable using them myself. My area isn't much for spraying chemicals on our landscapes. If your area has a chemical heavy culture, you may want to limit your requests to 'green' businesses. Organic companies shouldn't be using such substances. Because coffee is grown in thick shade with thick mulches, it's also a relatively safe option.
 
Chris Korangy
Posts: 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you all for your comprehensive replies! It's very much appreciated.

As far as veggies go I'm thinking raised beds with legs and a screen cover to protect them. James I've only seen soil in bags what do you mean a "yard of a blend"?

I have a lot of grass at the back of the property I need to trim before the rattle snakes come out this season. Is there benefit to composting it or just laying the fresh clippings down over the weeded dirt area to improve the ground?
Getting a sample of the earth tested is on my list, that will help me know exactly what I'm dealing with. As it's not my land, I should be able to grow a lot in raised beds. The previous owner had horses all around there so grass hasn't been able to grow by the barn, but as it's a fairly large area I would like to be able to grow some flowers or maybe ground cover instead of grass.
Thanks everyone!

IMG_6256.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6256.JPG]
 
James Freyr
pollinator
Posts: 436
Location: Middle Tennessee
50
books cat chicken food preservation cooking toxin-ectomy trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Some local nurseries in my area sell topsoil by the cubic yard. They also sell like a "landscape blend" which at one nursery is topsoil, compost, wood chips, sand, and earthworm casting all mixed together, sold by the cubic yard. I imagine nurseries in your area may offer something similar. A yard of that dumped in the back of a pickup truck is gonna be way cheaper than the same volume purchased in 1 cubic foot bags, like by a factor of ten. If they offer a blend, they likely also offer each individual ingredient, and you could get, say, get compost, wood chips, sand, dumped in the back of a truck, then mixed with your soil by hand with a shovel and put into raised beds if you're leaning the bed route. You could also mix in some of dried leaves and twigs you have laying around the property. By all means put that stuff to use, it is organic matter. There's so many different ways to go about it, no real one "right" way, but if you're going to put in the time and energy and some money into your first garden, you want to get good results so you have a smile on your face this summer and delicious healthy veggies to show for your labors.

That tall grass, yeah cut it and mix it with some brown matter and start a compost pile. That grass has nitrogen which composting microbes need to fuel the process (they need oxygen too). You should not need to purchase a compost starter. The microbes are there, in the air, on the ground, everywhere and if you put all the fresh grass and brown matter together in a pile in the right ratio (40:1ish) brown to green with a little sprinkle of water, it will likely spontaneously start. You don't have to be exact with the ratio's just close. making compost is pretty forgiving, just turn the pile, fluff it up occasionally to keep oxygen in it. If you start compost today it won't be ready for your garden this spring. it takes time, but man come this time next year you will have some good stuff that was essentially free to amend your raised beds with. You mention prior horses, look for those petrified turds, toss some of them in the compost too! 

 
John Elliott
pollinator
Posts: 2392
79
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Casie Becker wrote: The amount of exposed rocks in that photo suggests to me that you have very impoverished dirt (note I don't say soil here).


I believe that 'Topanga' is Spanish for 'very impoverished dirt'

The Santa Monica Mountains are rough chaparral country, where manzanita clings to a hillside, and protrudes from cracks in the granite.  If you want to grow something, you are going to have to haul in or make your own soil.  But as others have noted, there should be abundant sources of biomass looking for places to decompose, and these could be the start of some productive raised beds. 
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Chris Korangy wrote:Thank you all for your comprehensive replies! It's very much appreciated.

As far as veggies go I'm thinking raised beds with legs and a screen cover to protect them. James I've only seen soil in bags what do you mean a "yard of a blend"?


It's a fairly common product. Most landscaping companies use a lot of it. If you do a search online for compost delivery you can usually order it by the cubic yard and they will dump a huge pile from the back of a dump truck. If you do go this route, make sure you follow his suggestion and get a blend, not just 'top soil'.  Technically what you have is top soil, it's not a guarantee of quality. You'll want compost (preferably sifted) and maybe some mineral sands or aged manures. Check the reputation of your source, too. Like all imports you run the risk of accidentally contaminating your land so you want a company that has an established reputation that is worth protecting.

Chris Korangy wrote:I have a lot of grass at the back of the property I need to trim before the rattle snakes come out this season. Is there benefit to composting it or just laying the fresh clippings down over the weeded dirt area to improve the ground?


Not only is there a benefit, it's pretty close to the best thing you could do. Many people use all their grass clippings as a combination mulch/fertilizer in their vegetables beds because the grass does such a good job of gathering nutrients that other plants can use. It will improve prospective lawn just as well. The best amendments are the ones you make yourself because you can be sure of what exactly you're putting on your plants. Additionally, if you're trying to grow grass, you know grass clippings will have nothing but nutrients that the plants can use. Just be careful not to pile them too thick. Grass has a tendency turn into anaerobic mats when laid to thick. Anaerobic decomposition has a tendency to produce toxins that can hurt soil life.  Lay fresh grass no more than an inch or two thick.
 
PI day is 3.14 (march 14th) and is also einstein's birthday. And this is merely a tiny ad:
This is an example of the new permies.com Thread Boost feature
https://permies.com/wiki/61482/Thread-Boost-feature
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!