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help a newbie with her one kitchen garden bed  RSS feed

 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 52
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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While I'm working on finalizing purchase of house/land, I've got one small long rectangular bed in a community garden for growing things this year. I'd like to describe the state it's in right now, and get some advice on how to move forward.

1) it has lots of grass and buttercup over most of it

(I do not want to cultivate grass and buttercup)

2) it has lots and *lots* of old stalks of calendula thickly covering half of it and

3) new calendula coming up thickly under the stalks

(I would like a little calendula but not half a bed's worth, when it's the only space I have this year to grow veg)

4) there are a few perennials tucked in amongst the grass and buttercup, such as rhubarb and some anise-flavored magenta flower, don't remember the name

(I'd like to keep these perennials)

So:

I was thinking about sheet mulching with cardboard, but don't know how to do this without covering up the perennials as well. Also, I'm not sure cardboard sheet mulch would keep the grass and buttercups down. Also, I don't know that I can obtain enough soil and compost to put on top of the cardboard to seed into. Cut holes in the cardboard? But I don't have a bunch of starts! Just a bunch of veggie seeds. Give up on seeds and just use starts even though they're expensive and I don't yet have a good seed-starting setup?

Or maybe go a little more conventional and just loosen the soil and pull up all the grass/buttercup/calendula I don't want?

I'm in danger of overthinking this, maybe.

Help! And thank you.

 
Casie Becker
garden master
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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I've never had to work with buttercup, but if a complete layer of mulch weren't possible, I'd pull as much grass as possible. I think sheet mulching works best for annual plants. I have had success against grass, but that was when I was willing to cover the whole area for year and still had to do some weeding where the grass squeezed between layers.

For using cardboard mulch around perrenials, cut a slot in one side of the cardboard leading to an open circle the size of (as near as you can make it) the crown of the perennial. Slide the cardboard under the leaves of the plant till the crown is in the circle and you can lay it flat. Do this to all the plants you want to keep and then lay cardboard between these patches, being careful to overlap at the edges.

For starting the seeds, use the same practices as with any other mulch, make a hole or trench a few inches across (think 2 or 3 usually) that goes down to the soil in the location where you place the seeds. After the seeds come up and start making new leaves you can carefully start bringing the mulch in closer. Like with most other mulches, slugs and snails do like to multiply. It's best if you can wait until the plants are big enough to handle a little nibbling.

Don't forget to thoroughly wet down the cardboard before laying on the soil. If it dries out it becomes hydrophobic and will repel any water before it can absorb into the soil below. This is also why it's important to cover all the cardboard with some other form of mulch. As long as you can keep it moist it makes a great temporary mulch while other plants get established.
 
Nicole Alderman
pollinator
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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I have buttercup, and if you don't sheet mulch the whole bed, a little will grow through the cracks and then merrily grow on top of all the mulch, and you'll just have buttercup if you don't keep it weeded. Last year, I mulched around my peach tree....and buttercup came over from the yard and now under that tree is a monocrop of buttercup (I wasn't able to stop the onslaught because I was busy being pregnant and wrangling a toddler). It might be easier to weed out of mulch than out of the garden bed, though. I would probably sheet mulch it, excluding where you want your calendula, knowing you'll have to maintain that area to make sure buttercup doesn't try to take over. BUT, since this is your kitchen garden and you'll likely be visiting it pretty frequently, that shouldn't be too hard.

Another thing you could possibly do is amend with a little calcium. From what I recall, buttercup likes calcium deficient soils (as our soils usually are here). So, if you amend with some calcium, then sheet mulch, and then densely plant the food you want, they might out compete the buttercup. I've been sprinkling lime on my paths where the buttercup loves to take over (and from there crawl into my garden bed and take over), and it does seem to be helping...

And, like Casie said, if you do mulch it, you'll probably have lots of slugs...which is great if you have ducks to feed them to, but not so great otherwise. If you don't have ducks, sluggo works pretty well, and is supposedly safe and organic and is a garden amendment...
 
Angelika Maier
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I would try to hoe everything out, including the calendula. Calendula is annuaual and quickly replanted.
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Buttercup spreads quickly and if you try to hand pull it the plant snaps, leaving the roots behind which regrow. I have had most success with removing through regular hoeing. The hoe I have loosens the top inch of soil and gets sufficiently under the roots that I can dig up the whole plant easily. You might need to do some digging first to get the worst of it up, but this is the best way to maintain it.
 
Nicole Alderman
pollinator
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I found this spring that a hand cultivator (one of those tools that looks like a curved fork) does a nice job lifting out buttercup by the roots. Of course, this was when my soils were sodden--I'll have to see how it works when the soil dries out some. So, one of those might be another option if you want to try to weed them out, especially if you don't have a hoe.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Anna Tennis wrote:Cut holes in the cardboard? But I don't have a bunch of starts! Just a bunch of veggie seeds. Give up on seeds and just use starts even though they're expensive and I don't yet have a good seed-starting setup?

I agree that it'll be much more feasible to put transplants into holes in thick mulch than to seed into the holes, since there are so many other seeds and roots down there already. But happily, seed starting doesn't require an elaborate set up. I think we've seen people talking about elaborate indoor set-ups with lights and whatnot and we get intimidated. You can start seeds in reused food containers or bags (don't forget to make drainage holes) with regular old garden soil, outdoors. Or you can start seeds in a small bed that you keep more meticulously weed-free than you could ever do over a big bed. Either way, starting your own transplants is not impossible at all. Don't believe that seeds can only be started in sterile non-soil commercial mixes.

I agree with the advice above: try to mulch around the desired perennials, and don't worry about the calendula as it'll probably come back anyway somehow, and it's easy to pull if too much does come up. Yes, you'll have to spend some time pulling out the weeds even with a thick mulch, but if you can be persistent they should reduce considerably the next season.
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 52
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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These are fantastic replies, everyone. Thank you!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Anna, So you have been given some good options as you note and they will work well.

There is one option that no one else has mentioned so I will put it on the soil for you to ponder.

Disturbance is how nature changes what grows where. Since you most likely want a good producing bed this year while finishing up your house purchase, disturbance might be the best way for the bed you described.

If you choose this method, go ahead and dig out those items you do not want, then you will know they are gone.
Then plant those items you want and once they are in, mulch the soil, water and watch the garden grow.
If you don't dig the whole space, the biota will recover as those new plants establish and send out their exudates to call for nutrients.
If you just loosen and pull up roots, you are not destroying all the life in the soil so everything you need will still be alive in the soil.

Just a faster method.

Redhawk
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 52
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Thanks, Redhawk. I guess I get a little paranoid about touching the soil at all. I appreciate the encouragement.
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 245
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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I'll second that you might need to check the mineral levels in your soil or add a mineral blend.  Buttercup is indicative of poor soils...I'm surrounded by it.  But after a couple of years of mulching and some minerals, I have chickweed instead of buttercup in those areas.  Given you want to get some nutrition from the soil, it might be worth remineralizing your bed a bit.

Sheet mulching seems to work best if you have a year to basically ignore it.  It is not great for then planting annuals.  I'd just rip out what you don't want and get to it.
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 52
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Chickweed instead of buttercup? Yes please! Actually, there usually is a bit of chickweed too amongst the stuff I don't want. Also purslane...
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 52
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Looking up what buttercup says about the soil, I've seen a couple sites that say it indicates heavy soil and poor drainage. Totally possible! (Western Cascades, Oregon, so *lots* of fall/winter/spring precipitation).

Since it's spring already and buttercup, grass, scads of calendula, etc. are up, what next? Hoe or hand fork and pull up all the things I don't want? then add a lot of compost on top? till it in a little?

What would *you* do next?

TIA.
 
K Putnam
pollinator
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Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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*I* would hoe out anything you don't want.   I like calendula, so I'd leave a little bit of it for the pollinators and because a few flowers can be easily dried and used to make a salve...and the plants were free. I would not till but would apply a complete organic fertilizer.   Given the epically wet spring we've had, I'd probably start with some transplants to try to keep things from rotting in the ground.  Nothing I have directed seeded this year has made it so far thanks to the relentless damp.  And then I'd probably sow some things that are easy to grow like summer squash.  Once things are in, you could throw in a handful of clover seed to create a bit of a cover.   Mainly, have fun with your raised bed starting out.  Have as much success as you can in this weather and start planning on your new home site. You'll have plenty of chances to go big and straight permie once you have your property.
 
Anna Tennis
Posts: 52
Location: western slope of Oregon Cascades/Portland, OR
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Good advice, @K Putnam. I do think I was overthinking it. And yes, we have had an epically wet couple of seasons. I'm really looking forward to starting from scratch at this big place I'm on track to buy, almost a half acre urban property.
 
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