New Gardeners

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[Getting Started] [Picking Your Site] [Starting For The First Time] [Easy Plants]

Welcome New Gardeners to a very rewarding and enjoyable endeavor.  Gardening has been stated as being the #1 hobby in the United States.  We haven't taken a poll ourselves but can attest to the benefits of gardening.  We desire to help you in your adventure in gardening.

There are several pages on this web site that we encourage you to visit:

Garden Tips
Gardening Terms 101
Kid's Garden Pages: (there are some things you will find interesting)
Seed Starting: (starting your own seedlings is not necessary to garden)
Garden Questions and Discussions

Getting Started

First of all let us explain why we encourage organic gardening.  Nature has a natural cycle of life that can either be assisted or hindered.  When the cycle is broken everything will suffer.

Examples:

You have probably heard of DDT and possibly you are aware of some of the results of its use.  DDT caused drastic damage to birds resulting in their eggshells to be so delicate that they would break during incubation.  Many types of birds declined in numbers, some of which became endangered.  DDT has now been banned and numbers are increasing of the injured birds.

Earthworms are essential to the health of your soil.  They perform many tasks in your soil; aerating it, decomposing dead vegetation and turning it into organic matter to nourish your soil.  When herbicides and insecticides are applied to an area there is the potential of killing the worms, among other beneficial living organisms.  When you don't have worms your soil will be unhealthy and then start a chain of events.  For instance, the birds in your yard that eat worms will suffer and cause a chain reaction to other life forms.

When you kill off pests you don't want with synthetic pesticides you will also harm the beneficial insects at the same time.  Beneficial insects are the ones you need to keep around to eat the insects that harm your plants.  Studies have shown that initially the target pest is reduced but because the natural predator has also probably been killed that the target pest will increase in the near future.  Bees will be also harmed; if bees aren't around to pollinate your crops you won't have fruits and vegetables to harvest.

There are also beneficial microbes in your soil that will be destroyed by the use of chemicals.  The ecosystem in your yard was designed to work harmoniously to the benefit of all.  We encourage you to nurture the life in your yard with organic practices.

Selecting Your Garden Site

Some of your gardens will be decided because of the location of your house, e.g. flowerbeds around the house.  If you have a choice as where to locate your vegetable garden use these guidelines:

An open sunny location is best.  Vegetables will perform their best with a full day of sun or at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day.  If you can't find that in your yard, there are methods to help you still have a vegetable garden, but 6 or more hours of sunlight is critical.
The condition of your soil is important.  You can have a soil test done but you can also tell if it is good soil with some personal observations.  Is it sandy or clay?  Both these types of soil will need to be amended with plenty of organic matter.  Within a couple years difficult soil can become great soil.  Is it soggy even when there hasn't been any rain for a while?  Constantly soggy soil is not a good choice.  Take a handful into your hand, squeeze it together.  Good soil, if damp, will form a soft ball that crumbles easily.  It is dark in color and has a nice "earthy" smell?  These are good signs.
If possible place your garden in a higher rather than lower area.  Cold air settles into low areas first, so these areas will be frosted first.
Place your garden where you will be able to get water to it.  You will not like lugging water to your garden when it is hot outside, just when your plants will need it most.  If your garden is far from the house, be sure to look for the longest hose possible.  With looking around, we were able to find a hose that was 150 feet.  But not every store carried this length.
Trees can cause you headaches, stay away from them if possible.  They will shade your garden and can also rob your plants of needed nutrients and water.

Starting for the first time:

If your site has grass or weeds it is important to use newspapers as a mulch, along with breaking up the soil with tilling.  If you don't lay down mulch on top of the newly tilled soil the weeds will be tremendous.  Grass and weeds don't die just because they were tilled under; they will be there waiting to make a come back.  One morning you will wake up and you will know the weed monsters attacked your garden.  'Weeds' are anything you don't want growing where they are growing.

We have used the following method for a first time garden with great success; put newspapers down where your garden will be, no glossy colored papers.  Wet this area down and then put soil on top of the papers.  If you don't have any soil then call around and get a load of topsoil brought in.  

Dig into the soil, through the paper, and into the original ground to put in plants.  If you have seeds you will plant in the topsoil.  When direct seeding, you will need to heavily pierce the papers so roots can penetrate into the bottom soil, (try a pitch fork,) and make the topsoil very thick in direct seeded areas.  Keep your new garden well watered.  Your weeds should be minimal unless you got a load of soil with a lot of weed seeds in it.

Mulch - Mulching should be on the list of 'MUST DOs'.  Mulching your gardens has many benefits.

  1. It conserves moisture in the soil and keep it cool during hot periods.

  2. It replenishes (if organic) the soil for next year.

  3. It helps greatly with weed control.  

  4. It keeps your shoes from getting all dirty as you walk in the garden.

 

Weeds are the number one cause of failure in gardens.  People are all excited in the spring, plant, water and wait.  Before you know it, the weeds have taken over and people give up.  But you can battle weeds successfully.  By putting in extra work mulching in the spring, you can get your gardens to the point where in the summer all you do is water, check for pests, weed ONLY occasionally and easily and harvest.  

 

Organic mulches for the vegetable garden can be grass clippings, leaves, straw or a cover crop cut down just before planting.  Some people use carpeting turned upside down to put down in pathways.  Plastic mulch can be used around melons to heat up the soil, control weeds and protect the melons from rotting on the ground.  

Our favorite mulching method is newspapers with leaves on top.  The papers rot and what is left is tilled under at the end of the season.  Don't use the colored glossy advertising for mulch.  6 to 8 sheets of newspaper should be enough, less will rot too quickly and you will have weeds before the end of the season.  More layers are OK, don't bother to count.  Don't bother to open up the sheets, lay the sections down as is.  I prefer to go through the papers first, pulling out glossy advertising and separating the sections. 

 

When using leaves as mulch, it is important to use newspapers as a barrier between soil and leaves.  Brown leaves are carbon and use nitrogen to decompose.  As they decompose they will steal nitrogen away from the plants and the plants will suffer.   Grass clippings are full of nitrogen and don't cause this problem but newspapers underneath the grass clippings will help prevent weeds popping through the grass clippings.  

 

In the fall till all of this organic matter under, (newspapers, leaves, grass clippings, etc,)  The paper should be rotting by this time.  If you mulched your garden during the summer with grass clippings, leaves or other organic matter your soil will be well nourished for next year's garden. 

 

Flower Gardens

Wood chips, bark chips, cocoa hulls, and various materials that nurseries sell are suitable for flower gardens.  A mulch that remains through-out the year is good for more permanent gardens but in a vegetable garden you want a material that decomposes readily so that at the end of the season your bed can be turned under and nourish your soil.  Wood chips should not be used in the vegetable garden, they take too much nitrogen decomposing and don't break down quick enough.

 

Easy plants to grow

Vegetables: Flowers:
Tomatoes Cosmos
Lettuce Marigolds
Green beans Sunflowers
Spinach, cool weather Sweet alyssum
Zucchini, Summer Squash Zinnias, from transplants
Broccoli, Cabbage Balsam
Peas (spring planting) Cleome
Asian Greens Morning Glories
Onions (from sets) Nasturtium
Winter Squash Four O' Clocks
Beets Poppies, Annual types (sow in fall or very early spring)
Pumpkins California Poppies (sow in fall or very early spring)
Radishes Impatiens in shade, from transplants
Tomatillos in full sun Begonias, from transplants

 


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