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Starting a Garden advice

Posts: 11
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Hi All,

I'm hoping to begin installation and prepping for a garden bed. I would like to construct fencing and beds this springs and plant them with some sort of cover crop for the summer and plant veggies in the fall. My husband and I work in a National Park and live up there for the summer, so we will not be interacting with this space for a few months beginning late May. We have a friend who stays at our house but would like the setup to not require any work over the summer. I know this is not ideal for gardening but it's the situation that we have.

I imagine I will have to install an irrigation system but would really like the whole system to require as little water as possible and be super efficient. We have lots of wildlife in our area some being deer, dogs, birds, gopher and rabbits. It seems like the gopher are the biggest issue for gardeners around here. We are located near the Central Valley in California and temperatures are often above 100 in the summer and there is little to no precipitation.

I would love to do hugel beds but am afraid that any veggies planted in the earth will be devoured by gophers and can't imagine lining the beds with a screen or cloth with the size that I would like to cover. Does anyone have any good suggestions for the best way to go about constructing beds that will be water efficient as well as low cost and relatively critter proof?? I was thinking about putting in posts and wrapping with fishing line for most of the fence to keep deer out since this seems to be the cheapest way I have come across.

Our land is clay. Heavy clay. It was sprayed with chemicals and bare before we moved in (two years ago) and last year I just let the annual grasses grow in the spring and chopped them down early summer. Now they are growing again but the soil is very compact. Would it be best to do raised beds and do sheet mulch in the beds with cover crops over the summer? Has anyone used hay bales to plant in? Open to any and all suggestions. Thanks in advance!
Posts: 888
Location: 6a
hugelkultur dog forest garden trees cooking woodworking
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The question you are asking is vast so it's hard to answer.  If you learn the basic concepts behind growing a food forest, you will have a better idea of where to start.    It is totally doable as Permacultralists like David Holmgren have reversed desertification in places like the  Middle East and Africa.  People have food forests in places that are much harsher than where you live in CA

My advice is to start reading books on Permaculture. There is a link to book reviews under the home tab.   You could also do some You Tube searches on planting in hot dry conditions.   The Vegan Athlete on You Tube has an awesome forest garden in Phoenix.

General concepts that may help you do a Permaculture search:

Sheet Mulching, swales, cover crops, hugelkultur, permaculture zones, water catchment and storage, creating micro-climates

Posts: 1398
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I would start with the fencing (while reading) this is the hardest part - I really HATE it! And do it properly!!! And allow for access, two doors are better than one and wide enough. You have to be very grateful you don't have to build a full enclosure like here. Still really make the fence strong and high enough.
Watering system is not that difficult but you need a good timer there are quite nifty things on the market these days they are battery operated and come with a solenoid valve. They are called 'node controller', I know that galcon and hunter produces them, I don't know weather they are available in USA. I would maybe do some soil testing including for the residues.
Posts: 168
Location: Manila
urban cooking solar
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I think you're going to have to do lots of experimenting as your specific concerns are quite unique. Be patient, expect lots of failures, note them all and enjoy your experiments as they will be your best teachers (much better than any advice I could give). As for controlling wildlife, it won't be easy (specially if your friend won't want to work on it during summer) but you might want to start by looking into "three sisters":
Companion Planting: Three Sisters | The Old Farmer's Almanac
Three Sisters on Permies

Another thing you should try to do is look around for other gardens near you and see what they have. Ask nearby gardeners what's easy to grow in that area and what  works very well for them. Good luck and have fun.
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6, High Desert
urban food preservation greening the desert
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Hi Alicia,

You lucky Central Valley duck! I'd like to suggest that if you're in a part of the valley that doesn't get too cold in winter, you might consider growing cool-season crops over the winter, when you're home to enjoy them, instead of a summer garden, which could roast or fall victim to water restrictions. You'll have a lot less evaporation to compensate for with irrigation than you would in a 100+F summer!

Look into lettuce, fava beans, runner beans, brussels sprouts, kale, asparagus, strawberries (harvested around February if I remember right), sugar snap peas, cilantro, basil, and yarrow. Also, look in to the prickly pear variety bred by Luther Burbank back in the day, it will probably grow well for you.

Hot/dry gardening is very different from temperate (Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois, etc...) gardening. You'll need different timing and advice than a lot of what's widely available. Look into Luther Burbank's work from back in the day, he was working on plants and techniques for the central valley just before/during the invention of refrigerated shipping cars for trains, when the central valley was coming on line as the winter garden of the entire country.  

Have fun!
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