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Lessons Learned From a Backyard Garden

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posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 09:09 AM
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This spring I've finally put my preparations and research into effect, and perhaps not a moment too soon. The worldwide food shortages are beginning to impact even food-rich countries like America. To be honest, compared to droughts in even first-world nations like Spain, I have absolutely no right to complain, but I am taking a serious leap into growing our own food supply in a revisitation of the old WWII Victory Gardens.

Here's a few things I've learned so far that books and such didn't prepare me for, and lessons learned the hard way.

  • Thoroughly weed, then mulch - It's best to have 2 different colors of mulch. Your "bulk mulch" will go between the planted rows, and should go down over the bare soil after it is weeded. Don't mulch the planeted rows until you get sprouts. Once you get sprouts (or if you're transferring from planters) mulch around the base, up and down the row, with the 2nd color of mulch. This will make identifying where it's safe to step, as well as the boundaries of weeds and such, a lot easier. The mulch will also allow the soil to retain more water (which most veg need lots of), and will help prevent weed growth.

  • Plant a flag by each seed - If you aren't transferring from planters, but are planting seeds directly, plant a small flag near each seed. It makes it a thousand times easier later on to tell whether or not you're cultivating a vegetable or a random weed. If I had done this, it would literally have cut my weeding time down by about 3/4. Instead, still in these early stages of sprouting, I'm having to strain to tell the difference between what is a weed, and what is desired veg.

  • Keep a log/picture book - I really wish I'd done this. If you're planting from seed, it's a really good idea to keep a separate page for each row, and on each row's page, note what you planted, when, how far apart you spaced stuff, and some photos of what the veg should look like at each stage. It's easy to tell what a mature Bell Pepper plant looks like. It's the ones with the bell peppers on it. But what about the other months of its early life?

  • Keep your rows perpendicular to the drainage - If your yard drains from north to south, your rows should stretch east and west. This is to retain your soil and moisture, as erosion will quickly affect an "ungrassed" area of the lawn.

  • Preventive Mixture - If you're thinking about starting a garden, then as of today, start saving all your used coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, and ash (assuming you burn any wood, not chemical logs). The mixture of those three things, spread around the base of each plant, will prevent most pests from eating your veg. It's not foolproof, but it helps a lot.

  • Plant Marigolds and Aromatic Spices at the Edges - Marigolds exude some scent that deters rodents (like rabbits) from eating your plants, and also encourages beneficial bugs to the area. Aromatic Spices (like oregano, basil, etc) similarly drive away many pests and encourage good bugs. Since you'll still need to be able to walk between your rows, limit yourself to one plant at each end of each row.

  • Keep your compost heaps along the edge - If you keep your compost heap along the edge of your garden, the mineral-rich water drainage that goes through it will saturate the surrounding area, enriching it. It also allows you to water your compost heap with whatever excess you might otherwise lose when using a sprinkler. Best of all, though, next planting season, rather than carting your fresh compost across the yard, you need only rake it out flat and you've got instant, soft earth that has just expanded your planting area. When your heap gets a couple of feet high, simply start a new one right next to it, and cover the old one with dirt and mulch. It'll continue to break down throughout the year without your help.

  • Space rows wide enough to sit between them - Even though the package of radishes and carrots says you need only plant them a few inches apart, remember that you still have to get in there and weed the things. If you can't sit down, there's probably not enough space to move through the rows comfortably. Don't worry about food loss. Remember the adage: he who sews thinly, reaps thickly; he who sews thickly, reaps thinly.

  • Line your planting area with a border - I only had enough border to do the bottom edge, and I'd only done it to retain the soil. What I didn't realize is how much this helps keep grass from spreading back into the fertile area. I really wish I'd had more borders down before the grass had come back. Now I'm fighting grass and weeds.

  • Water early, Water late - Two brief waterings (30min or so) spaced around 10 hours apart are a lot better on average than one hour-long watering. This is pretty subject to local climate and specific crops though, but it's a good rule of thumb, as most veg require lots of water.

  • If you wait, it's too late - If I've learned anything at all from this process, it's that if you wait until the day the stores no longer have food, or when you can't afford to buy it, then you waited too late to grow your own food supply. You'll starve before you'll ever get to subsist off of it. If you have any concern that you might need to grow your own food supply, the time to start is while there is still food on the table, and the prospect of it being there tomorrow is still likely. Even a perfectly tended garden will take weeks and months before producing anything edible.

    This is what I've learned so far, and I haven't even yielded any veg yet. I'm sure I'll learn more along the way, and veteran vegetable gardeners feel free to give any advice you have.



  • apc

    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 09:51 AM
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    What made you decide to plant in traditional rows instead of high density? High density solves many weed, soil ecosystem, and moisture retention problems while producing greater yields on the same amount of land. Rows are easier to maintain if you have a bad back or something but high density is more comparable to the plant's natural environment.

    Definitely a good tip on companion planting. Probably the easiest way to control pests. The only thing I still have problems with are squirrels even with spices so this year I'm trying a bucket of dry dog food. I hear they get fat, slow, and disinterested.

    Also if one started a well maintained compost pile last year this year it should be ready to mix into the soil prior to planting. Healthy soil has a good amount of humus. And most people just till the top few inches of soil but it's best to double-dig to about 24inches. Greatly improves aeration and root growth.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 10:12 AM
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    Nice post, gave it a star.

    Paint stirring sticks and a Sharpie make nice markers for plants.
    Or . . . staple the plastic ID tag the plant came with onto the stick.

    I always raise several different types of tomatoes - 11 this year - and here in the Arizona desert it's a bit of a learning experience.

    I did ok when I lived in Central California, but with the wind and heat here it's a different ball game.

    We're going to have to put garden shade cloth up if we want success with tomatoes from what locals tell me.


    I was going to mulch with straw or hay, but with the winds we have here - in excess of 50 mph last week - the mulch wouldn't last long.

    The garden is protected by the house and carport from the usual winds from the S/W and North, but still, the garden gets blown around a bit.

    It will be interesting to see what tomato grows well here.

    The desert soil is alkaline, but has been amended pretty well.

    I tried to get some topsoil in, but it wasn't available in January when I started digging the garden out by hand.
    Then I bought a rototiller.


    It's ok though, lots of uses for it off-season, digging trenches etc.


    Sweetie prefers to pull weeds, but I've found that cutting them with a Hula Hoe works well.
    They do grow back, but after the 2nd cutting most times they don't have the energy to grow back.

    One thing I did in Central California was to make a double size garden, amend the soil - which was also alkaline - where the garden went on one half and plant Buckwheat in the other half.
    Buckwheat has a lot of nitrogen within and is an excellent green manure.
    Just till it under at the end of season and next year the Buckwheat half is now the garden and you grow Buckwheat in the previous garden half.

    Pole beans and the like add nitrogen to the soil as well and perhaps using them as green manure would be a better way to go.
    Not to mention you have an edible crop.

    Plant lots of tomatoes, they're good for you and the neighbors will enjoy the excess and love you as well....



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 10:21 AM
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    I meant to add, start your plants from seedlings.
    The little peat pot/tray gizmos work well.

    Be sure to remove the bottom of the peat pot when planting.

    Our bathtub is next to a big pebbled _
    I sat the seed tray on a milk crate to get it up a bit and they got sufficient sunlight to grow nicely.

    It helps as well to repot them into larger pots after about 5-6 weeks if the weather is still cold.

    Starting from seed is economical as well as a touch of satisfaction when you have a successful plant grown from seed.
    More varieties from seed as well.

    Look for heirloom seeds for some interesting specimens.

    Don't turn down a good plant from the nursery though.
    Found some intesting peppers I've planted in large containers.

    For those who don't have the room for a garden, grow tomatoes and peppers in large containers.

    There are some stunningly beautiful multi-colored pepper plants that are seriously hot, but make for a beautiful balcony container plant.

    [edit on 17-4-2008 by Desert Dawg]

    [edit on 17-4-2008 by Desert Dawg]



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 10:22 AM
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    Originally posted by apc
    What made you decide to plant in traditional rows instead of high density?


    Ignorance of the method, actually. I'm not familiar with the high density method. If you have some primer tips, I'd be happy to try it out next season.


    Originally posted by apc
    The only thing I still have problems with are squirrels even with spices so this year I'm trying a bucket of dry dog food. I hear they get fat, slow, and disinterested.


    Oh? How's it working out? We have squirrels here, and while I wouldn't want to leave out a bucket of the Science Diet, I could pick up some cheap dollar-store brand stuff and use that.


    Originally posted by apc
    Also if one started a well maintained compost pile last year this year it should be ready to mix into the soil prior to planting. Healthy soil has a good amount of humus.


    I've heard if one is really anal about their compost (no pun intended), it can be ready in 12 weeks, but that's really a lot more effort in my compost than I'm prepared to do. I'm like you... lay it in place, turn it occasionally, give it a year, use it next season.


    Originally posted by apc
    And most people just till the top few inches of soil but it's best to double-dig to about 24inches. Greatly improves aeration and root growth.


    We were very fortunate in that my mother-in-law knows some landscapers who came out with a big tilling machine, and tilled down 18-24 inches. That saved me a LOT of work and got done in one day what might have taken weeks to do otherwise.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 10:32 AM
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    Star'd & Flag'd. Thanks for posting those tips. We've just started growing some things and I need all the help I can get. So far we've started all of our spices/veggies in small planters and pots. Our soil here in DFW TX is very heavy with clay so getting things going can be a challenge. I've designated a small area of our yard as the garden and have layered some topsoil/potting soil mixtures in a weeded area. Those spice-repellent tricks sound great as we don't use any chemicals on our plants.

    Thanks again


    apc

    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 10:56 AM
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    reply to post by thelibra
     

    In high density you basically just plant on hexagons instead of rows, with the normal amount of space between plants. A good book is How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, John Jeavons. It's on Amazon. It's not conducive to farming with machinery but for small backyard gardens it's a great way to maximize available space. You end up with a little canopy that protects the ecosystem below while significantly reducing weed growth.

    I'm doing the first round of transplants this weekend so I haven't tried the dogfood method myself yet so it will indeed be an experiment.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 11:04 AM
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    Libra, excellent advice. Star & flag.

    We've also put in an organic garden this year, as we eat a lot of vegetables and figure on prices being even higher by summer. Living in the high desert, at an altitude of about 5500 feet, makes gardening very challenging. And with water rates going up so high, we decided not to plant anything else unless we can eat it.

    This is not like California, to say the least, where you could stick most anything in the ground and it would grow. Our soil is 90% rocks, so we dug out the entire area down to a couple feet, had decent soil delivered from a local nursery and added horse manure we were lucky enough to get free from a friend's ranch just outside of town. Other than tomatoes, this is the first time I've attempted a large garden up here in the high Sierras. It has been a lot of work so far, but I think it will pay off.

    Currently, because of the cold nights, only lettuce, spinach and sunflowers are in the ground and we have to cover the lettuce on colder nights. We have to wait probably another month before we can safely plant everything, so in the meantime, we're moving the seedlings outside in the sun every morning and bringing them in every evening.

    I don't know if you're familiar with the Siberian pea shrub, but this is a very interesting plant. It's not only beautiful, but very hardy in cold weather, and also likes poor soil and little water, and produces peas that are very high in protein. We tend to have high winds up here, so these shrubs make a good wind break and grow fast, up to twenty feet or so.

    We don't have much of a squirrel problem since we have two big dogs roaming the back yard, but have had to cover the lettuce to keep the birds from eating it. We've also planted sweetpeas and nasturtiums in the garden to attract bees, and a small herb garden as well.

    Thanks again for the great tips, and if you desert gardeners have any more advice, I'd love to hear it.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 11:11 AM
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    CRITICAL!!!



    I can't believe I forgot this in the first post, but perhaps the absolute most important step is to place a call to have your lines and pipes marked at least 2 days before you till or dig!!! If you do it less than 2 days before, they may not make it out in time. If you don't do it at all, you might either break a water line, cut your TV cable, or worse, electrocute yourself. Make sure you get your lines marked! For those who are still wondering what I'm talking about, it's when they plant those little orange and red flags in the ground and spray-paint areas of your grass. It maps out your underground infrastructure so you don't destroy it in the process.

    (/critical)



    Now back to replies...


    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    Paint stirring sticks and a Sharpie make nice markers for plants.
    Or . . . staple the plastic ID tag the plant came with onto the stick.


    Good idea. I was thinking of just using toothpicks, but something larger that can be labelled might be a lot more intelligent. Paint stirring sticks are free, and easy to read when labeled. Good call, thank you!


    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    I always raise several different types of tomatoes - 11 this year - and here in the Arizona desert it's a bit of a learning experience.


    In the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area I've taken a very broad approach this year, mostly to see what will grow well in our soil and with the sort of compost that I churn out, so that I can focus on those next year and swap out new tests for the crops that failed, or try the failures a different way.

    So far, pumpkins are by far my best responders, and they are completely accidental. We had a couple of pumpkins from Halloween that sat in our back yard, unbroken, uncarved, near the compost heap. Through the whole winter, they just sat there, for the most part refrigerated, till Spring came around, and the garden area got tilled. I moved the compost box to a new location and decided to dump the pumpkin in it, and broke it up inside the heap so it'd decompose easier... Well, despite being in a 4-walled box, covered by two rubber mats, surrounded by rotting material and vermin, a rather telltale sprout appeared up the inside of the box, a sickly little thing but definitely not a weed, growing right out of the area I'd broken the pumpkin up at a couple of weeks earlier.

    So I moved the box over a couple of feet, leaving the sprout (and newer compost) on its own, to get more sunlight, and to see what would happen. The thing EXPLODED into big green growth, and has been getting larger by something like 50% each day, and sprouting new vines as well. It's huge by now, compared to anything else I've planted.

    The other successes have been with either spinach or broccolli (I can't remember which I planted in that row), and yellow and zuccini squash. The rest of the plants (including the tomatoes) are growing quite slowly, or not at all, but that could be due to several other mistakes made along the way.


    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    I did ok when I lived in Central California, but with the wind and heat here it's a different ball game.


    If you have the resources or money, you might try a greenhouse. As ludicrous as it sounds to build a heat-trapping structure in the desert, It might allow you to shield some of the wind out, and keep a lot of your moisture in, while providing a frame to drape shadecloth over if you need to.


    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    I was going to mulch with straw or hay, but with the winds we have here - in excess of 50 mph last week - the mulch wouldn't last long.


    Check out this stuff: Enviroguard. I love this mulch. It's expensive, but worth every punny. It doesn't blow away, doesn't wash away, maintains its color (they sell different colors), is made from recycled newspaper, takes years to break down, requires less to cover an area than regular mulch, etc... It's the best mulch I've ever used, and even though this is my first vegetable garden, I've been landscaping non-veg plants like roses in our yard for years. And we get some pretty high winds here.



    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    Then I bought a rototiller.



    What happened with the rototiller? From the frowny-face, it looks like there was a problem with it.


    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    Sweetie prefers to pull weeds, but I've found that cutting them with a Hula Hoe works well.
    They do grow back, but after the 2nd cutting most times they don't have the energy to grow back.


    There's a guide in the Ferry-Morris book about how best to dispose of each weed type. Some of them need exactly what you said, cutting rather than pulling... I'll see if I can find the chart online.



    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    One thing I did in Central California was to make a double size garden, amend the soil - which was also alkaline - where the garden went on one half and plant Buckwheat in the other half.
    Buckwheat has a lot of nitrogen within and is an excellent green manure.
    Just till it under at the end of season and next year the Buckwheat half is now the garden and you grow Buckwheat in the previous garden half.

    Pole beans and the like add nitrogen to the soil as well and perhaps using them as green manure would be a better way to go.
    Not to mention you have an edible crop.


    This is exactly what I wanted to try. I was going to leave half of it fallow, and plant clover on it, or maybe some hairy vetch, to keep the soil nitrogen-filled and moist for next year. Unfortunately, I got overzealous in my planting and used up every single inch that had been tilled. I'll know better next year.


    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    Plant lots of tomatoes, they're good for you and the neighbors will enjoy the excess and love you as well....



    I'm hoping ours come out. I only planted one row of them, and so far they're short, stubby little things that I'm not even convinced are tomato plants yet.



    [edit on 4/17/2008 by thelibra]



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 11:26 AM
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    Excelent thread, thelibra. Starred and Flagged.

    The buckwheat rotation is a good dual-purpose approach to replenishing your soil, so is crop rotation.

    While the emphasis on depth of cultivation to allow for proper root growth is definitely important, I've found that 12-14 inches of well-tilled and aerated soil is typically sufficient. Of course, that may vary based upon overall soil composition as well.

    One way I've tried to conserve space and maximize output is to plant beans right next to the corn. Pole beans, planted after the corn is about 6-8 inches high, will climb the stalks like wildfire. Saves space, easier to maintain and harvest, and the corn stalks save you from having to stake the beans. win/win.

    Speaking of heirloom seeds. The tomatoes I plant, World's Largest and Romas, are from seeds kept going since the 60's. I was given a few plants by a friend and have always kept seeds from the largest fruit for the following year. His father started these in his own garden and they've been kept going since. It's not unusual for the World's Largest to produce 2lb. 'maters.

    Here's some pics of last year's efforts. I'm planning on expanding a bit this year, if it ever dries up enough to till the new portion.

    thelibra.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 11:49 AM
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    Originally posted by TXRabbit
    Our soil here in DFW TX is very heavy with clay so getting things going can be a challenge.


    I'm in the same area as you, and I know what you mean. Clay is super-high in nutrients, but is so tightly bound that roots can't penetrate it very well. Here's how I fixed the clay problem.

    Head to Calloway's (not required, but is the only place I know that carries the stuff) and get some bags of "Expanded Shale". They're about $8/ea. It's like little grey pebbles of rock. There's apparently some kind of property to it that unbonds clay, and creates something of a chain reaction as it gets wet and spreads little micro-particles of shale elsewhere into the clay. As the clay is unbound, the roots can get a better foothold, but also are then able to more easily adsorb the nutrients. For non-food plants (like roses) I used 1/3 expanded shale, 1/3 compost, 1/3 clay. For food plants, I used 1/4 expanded shale, 1/2 compost, 1/4 clay. Obviously for your tubers you're going to want a little less shale, as your carrots and such want relativelly rock-free soil.


    Originally posted by TXRabbit
    I've designated a small area of our yard as the garden and have layered some topsoil/potting soil mixtures in a weeded area.


    I'm not nearly experienced enough to know why, but several books and sites said to avoid using potting soil for food-veg. I think it has something to do with the nitrogen content, but I'm not sure. It might be due the Miracle-Grow effect, where it causes a super-bloom, but destroys the soil and the plant in the process.


    Originally posted by TXRabbit
    Those spice-repellent tricks sound great as we don't use any chemicals on our plants.


    Don't forget to ring the base of your plants with the ash/eggshell/used coffee grounds mixture. That should help a lot too if you're not using any chemicals. I myself am going to try my best not to use any, since I'm trying to grow entirely off the assumption that none of it would be available in Situation X.


    Originally posted by apc
    In high density you basically just plant on hexagons instead of rows, with the normal amount of space between plants. A good book is How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, John Jeavons. It's on Amazon.


    Thanks, man. I'll order the book before next season and read up on it. The only machinery I've used so far was the initial tilling, and that was because it was freely offered. If I can make more efficient use of my land than traditional rows, then by all means, time to plant hexes!


    Originally posted by TXRabbit
    I'm doing the first round of transplants this weekend so I haven't tried the dogfood method myself yet so it will indeed be an experiment.


    Tell you what, I'll try it too. I've germinated my sprouts from seeds, rather than transplants. I'm wishing I'd done transplants instead. However, lessons learned this year will be carried into next. I'll pick up some ghetto-cheap dog food and hang it in a bucket on the tree. That should keep the squirrels fat, happy, and out of my garden.



    Originally posted by kattraxx
    Living in the high desert, at an altitude of about 5500 feet, makes gardening very challenging. And with water rates going up so high, we decided not to plant anything else unless we can eat it.


    Holy crap! Sounds like Lancre (nod to Discworld fans). I admire the tenacity it must take to grow stuff that high up. From what I understand, some species of lotus plant do well at that altitude, and Lotus Root makes for some really really good soup.

    I know exactly what you mean about not planting anything unless you can eat it. The last few years, while I've enjoyed making the lawn look nice, it's gradually dawned on me that, as water and food decrease in supply and increase in demand, it's downright stupid of me to focus any more energy on veg that can't be eaten, traded, or made useful in some way.


    Originally posted by kattraxx
    ...and added horse manure we were lucky enough to get free from a friend's ranch just outside of town.


    That's brilliant! I didn't even think of hitting up the local ranches as a source of fertilizer. Thanks for the idea. I'm certain they wouldn't miss it.


    Originally posted by kattraxx
    Other than tomatoes, this is the first time I've attempted a large garden up here in the high Sierras. It has been a lot of work so far, but I think it will pay off.


    Oh, absolutely. And if you can keep to a good regimen of composting any vegetable matter, rather than throwing it away, you will gradually create your own soil right there near your house, and expand it with time.


    Originally posted by kattraxx
    I don't know if you're familiar with the Siberian pea shrub, but this is a very interesting plant. It's not only beautiful, but very hardy in cold weather, and also likes poor soil and little water, and produces peas that are very high in protein. We tend to have high winds up here, so these shrubs make a good wind break and grow fast, up to twenty feet or so.


    Twenty feet??? Up? Side to side? That's a lot of growth. Sounds like a great plant to invest in though, especially for the front-yard. Beautiful, drought-resistant, food-producing. Sounds like a win-win plant to me.


    Originally posted by kattraxx
    ...but have had to cover the lettuce to keep the birds from eating it. We've also planted sweetpeas and nasturtiums in the garden to attract bees, and a small herb garden as well.


    Birds eat lettuce??? Good to know. I wonder if they'll attack my spinach.


    Originally posted by kattraxx
    Thanks again for the great tips, and if you desert gardeners have any more advice, I'd love to hear it.


    I'm learning as much from these replies, I'm equally grateful for them. Thomas Jefferson envisioned a nation of Yeoman Farmers, where each person grew their food on their own little patch of ground. While his vision might not be the norm, it is certainly not without merit, and the idea of self-sufficiency is certainly comforting as food riots break out across the world.

    By the way... anyone have advice on growing potatoes?



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 11:57 AM
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    reply to post by 12m8keall2c
     


    Oh my god... that is one of the biggest, best veg gardens I've ever seen. I bet your grocery bill is in the pennies! You must spend an enormous amount of time in your garden to keep all that stuff that well maintained!

    Wow... And Wow... If anyone else hasn't looked at this garden yet, go do so now.

    12m8keall2c, I'm curious, do you also do stuff like raise your own rabbits, chickens, etc? With that much food back there, it looks like y'all probably invest a lot of time and effort into self-sufficiency.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 12:01 PM
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    Originally posted by apc
    What made you decide to plant in traditional rows instead of high density? High density solves many weed, soil ecosystem, and moisture retention problems while producing greater yields on the same amount of land. Rows are easier to maintain if you have a bad back or something but high density is more comparable to the plant's natural environment.


    Just my 2 cents on this side-issue.

    I used to use the "square foot" system, and got good results. When I got larger and larger gardens, I've found that rows make it easier to irrigate (I live in a dry climate). I can flood one row, and build a little dam, then flood the next row and flood the first, etc. Much less work than hauling water.

    Also, SOME weeding is inevitable. Dense weeding is difficult, and the linear rows are a convenient place to stand. Small children also weed more effectively when they can see what's "in" a row, versus teaching a newbie what to weed in the dense spot.

    And in my arid environment, gourds and melons do quite well; but they like rambling rows instead of dense styles.


    Not that one method is superior. not at all. But the usefulness of rows really works for my current situation.

    .



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 12:02 PM
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    Originally posted by thelibra

    By the way... anyone have advice on growing potatoes?


    Here's a method I've been wanting to try for some time now. It allows you to harvest clean, soil-free potatoes throughout the summer months, and when they're done your Main crop is still below... ready and waiting.

    Growing potatoes in straw

    Hope this helps.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 12:11 PM
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    Originally posted by thelibra

    12m8keall2c, I'm curious, do you also do stuff like raise your own rabbits, chickens, etc? With that much food back there, it looks like y'all probably invest a lot of time and effort into self-sufficiency.


    No rabbits but we did have chickens for a number of years. Unfortunately, when they became Dad's chore, they had to go. The cost of feed versus the number of eggs we were getting left them with little more than novelty value.

    [edit] Ever put a chicken to sleep? [/edit]

    Actually, I mostly do it for the therapeutic value it affords. It really isn't that time consuming, and there's nothing more satisfying than going to Pick dinner... toss in a few fish from the pond and enjoy!


    I like to try different New things from year to year, but we always plant a fair amount of the staples.

    Corn, Green Beans, Tomatos, Peppers, Zucchini Squash, Cukes, Pumpkins, Various herbs and spices, etc. The etc. list keeps growing, though.


    Thanks . Glad you liked it.



    [edit on 17-4-2008 by 12m8keall2c]



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 12:28 PM
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    A few tricks from a Southern gardener:

    Potatoes: instead of planing your spuds in rows or hills, space the plants a few feet apart. When you see the plant, place an old tire around it. As soon as the plant has a few leaves above the top of the tire, fill it with soil. Repeat until you have four or five tires on top of each other.

    When you're ready to harvest, don't get a shovel. Just kick the tires over and all the new potatoes will spill out. Also a good use for those old tires that we have lying around cluttering up the place.

    This will also work on tomatoes, but be careful. I did this in conjunction with a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer one year and had to use an axe to cut the plant down that fall.
    If you try this, make sure to STOP FERTILIZING when it puts out blooms; otherwise you'll get tons and tons of tomatoes about 1/4" in diameter.

    Tomatoes and carrots grow well together. They use different minerals, so each helps the other.

    Onions are great for making a barrier against pests as well as spices. Start them from seeds in little containers and in a few weeks you can transplant them into rows. Yeah, you can buy sets, but if you can grow from seed, you won't be dependent on the local nursery. Just let a couple onions grow undisturbed, and you'll have a big old seed pod on the top of the stem. Once it starts to die, carefully break the seed pod off and put it in a bag to catch the mature seeds for next year's planting.

    We always marked our rows with the seed packet placed where we started sowing. Of course, if you save your seed, you'll have to substitute something like a note. Also, we never started weeding until we could identify the food from the non-food. Weeds do not spread unless you let them go to seed.

    The little potting trays mentioned do work well, but I re-use egg cartons. Water sparingly and often to keep the soil damp but not so much as will destroy the carton itself. You just can't plant pot and all this way.


    Melons and beans are another good combo. the beans grow high (usually on a trellis; chicken wire works great) and the melons grow low.

    And ALWAYS save your seed!

    TheRedneck



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 12:30 PM
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    Originally posted by Desert Dawg
    Then I bought a rototiller.

    "What happened with the rototiller? From the frowny-face, it looks like there was a problem with it."


    No, it was a great tiller.
    A Troy-Built 8 horsepower with a plow attachment that made for nice wide rows with flat tops.
    When we made the final California to Arizona move (about 400 miles) we ran out of weight capacity in my race car trailer when the shop was moved.

    I left the tiller with a neighbor and sold my little lawn tractor & trailer.

    I didn't think I was going to do a garden again, but the quality of produce here is lacking compared to what was available in markets of the San Joaquin Valley in Central California.

    I mean, what the heck, when the tomato bounces better than a tennis ball it's time to do something.


    Anyway, I found that getting rid of the tractor/trailer combo was stupid.
    I thought that since most desert homes don't have lawns I didn't need it.
    Fighting weeds on a half acre was a bitch to do by hand and I don't like using poison.
    Not to mention I'm not gonna use it in the back yard where the garden is.
    A couple of drags with the blade on the back every few weeks keeps the weeds knocked back pretty good.
    And . . . I could use a garden trailer.


    My Central California garden was pretty big and it helped that it was in back of the house in an area outside the bg back yard.

    The soil did test alkaline, but it didn't hurt that horses had been kept there in the past.
    An ancient riverbed with sandy soil and not many amendments were needed.

    One thing people forget when they're growing a garden is that they are growing soil as well.


    As noted, rotate the crops even in a small garden.
    At the least don't plant this years tomatoes where tomatoes were planted last year.

    "I'm not nearly experienced enough to know why, but several books and sites said to avoid using potting soil for food-veg. I think it has something to do with the nitrogen content, but I'm not sure. It might be due the Miracle-Grow effect, where it causes a super-bloom, but destroys the soil and the plant in the process. "

    Miracle-Gro makes a potting soil for veggies as well as flowers.
    Used it for the seedlings and they're doing ok.


    "That's brilliant! I didn't even think of hitting up the local ranches as a source of fertilizer. Thanks for the idea. I'm certain they wouldn't miss it."

    Another good source is stables where horses are boarded.
    Usually they'll give you all you want for free.
    Especially if it's a somewhat small or amateur operation.

    We used to buy horse manure that had been used to grow mushrooms for our Southern California garden.
    It did very well in the garden and after I spread a pickup load on the lawn it greened up nicely.


    "Thanks again for the great tips, and if you desert gardeners have any more advice, I'd love to hear it."

    I'll have more later in the season, still learning my way around, but it looks like welding up a steel pole with some brackets for wood 4 x 4's for the shade cloth will be done in the next couple of weeks.

    Sweetie swears that planting hot peppers next to tomatoes will make the tomatoes hot.
    I've heard it other places, but am of a mind that it's an old wives tale.
    For that reason I have a very hot pepper plant in a large container next to the same size container with a tomato plant.
    We'll see what happens there.

    My garden right now is about 10' x 18' and it looks like we'll get a pretty good harvest.
    Plenty of room to expand and we could end up with 10' x 40' easy as well as going 30' wide if it comes to that.

    Survival stuff aside, veggies from a home garden are the best there is....



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 12:45 PM
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    Someone asked about growing potatoes . . . go here:
    ag.arizona.edu...

    Fairly easy, but I'm not doing it this year.

    The site noted above has a lot of excellent information on most common plants in short, quick to read files.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Far as tillers go, if you don't need one now, keep your eyes open for sales near the end of the summer growing season.
    There are some deals to be had.

    Many stores don't realize that you'll be tilling this years garden under and maybe even setting up for a winter garden in milder climates.

    Tillers are good for digging small trenches.
    Till, shovel out the dirt, till, shovel out the dirt.
    Repeat as needed.



    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 01:04 PM
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    The birds didn't eat the spinach, but did love the butter lettuce. Maybe desert birds can't afford to be picky. We covered the spinach along with the lettuce anyway, with that bird netting, just in case.

    I believe the Siberian pea shrub can get to twenty feet in height. Right now, mine are beginning to bloom, bright yellow buds. You can hedge them too, if you like. They even have a weeping variety. All in all, it's a very agreeable plant, easy to grow, not fussy and produces very high protein peas.

    plants.usda.gov...

    I love the idea of using the tires with the potato plants! For free horse manure, maybe check Craigslist.com in your area. Or post an ad asking if anyone will let you come over and shovel some. Last year, we planted our tomatoes in pure horse manure and they were amazing. This year we're going to do about five varieties of tomatoes. I like to plant the yellow pear tomatoes so we'll have them early, while we wait for the beefsteak and others to ripen.

    We've got some great grape varieties growing as well. They seem to love the sandy soil, as long as their roots are in a cool location and the rest of the vine gets sunshine. Our's are planted up against a west facing fence. I'm also trying blueberries and blackberries to see what happens with those.

    Anyone have any ideas on how to naturally get rid of earwigs? I don't use poison. We have two apple trees that are good producers, but the last couple years, the earwigs have gotten into the blossoms and laid eggs or something, so every single apple is ruined at harvest.

    Edit to add link. I found new suggestions for eradicating earwigs, so I thought I'd post the link. I may give the boric acid a try, since we have dogs.

    gardening.savvy-cafe.com...

    [edit on 4/17/08 by kattraxx]

    [edit on 4/17/08 by kattraxx]


    apc

    posted on Apr, 17 2008 @ 03:07 PM
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    I think I'll do the potato tires this year too! I've never had any earwigs but neem oil works on most pests I've encountered. I did find someone on another forum say they have success with half-buried open containers filled with used cooking oil. Apparently it attracts them and they crawl in and die.



    Originally posted by dr_strangecraft
    I used to use the "square foot" system, and got good results. When I got larger and larger gardens, I've found that rows make it easier to irrigate (I live in a dry climate).

    I can see how for a large garden rows would be convenient. I'm only growing in a small ~1x4m plot at the side of my yard which is enough to keep a perpetual supply of carrots, spinach, and lettuce through the season. It's all about maximizing available space rather than making it easier. With high density+biointensive a lot of the focus is on maintaining good soil quality with a near-natural environment. Rotations can only help for so long if the soil is constantly exposed and the ecosystem disrupted, requiring more and more fertilizer over time to maintain yields. But it can indeed sometimes be a balancing act getting to the middle of the patch.





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