Gardening from scratch - a beginners guide

A beginners guide to Gardening.

Have added several 5' x 13' plant beds to a garden.  Starting from scratch using only the minimal of tools, a shovel, rake and a home made soil sieve.  Also using kitchen scraps to make a compost heap, along with grass cuttings and any spare soil from different areas of the garden. 

This is where the sod was  taken off and placed in different areas of the garden.  The soil has never been worked, and had to be dug by shovel to turn it over.

next, the soil was dug up and passed through a sieve to aerate it and get rid of any surface weeds.

 

and the next stage was to add other top soil which had been sitting out for a couple of years, the three types of soil used was the original, which is slightly grey in colour (yellow card) and the compost (green card) and the top soil ( blue card)

The tools used were rudimentary, and because there wasn't any wheel barrow, have used a plastic flower pot instead.  This works quite well, and builds up muscle.the sieve was put onto two upturned containers and worked through with the hands or a garden trowel.  the sieve was made of four pieces of wood and really find wire mesh about 1 cm diameter holes.  The garden centre thought it strange to ask for a 2 foot square piece of wire... but it was cheap and didn't want the whole role. 

The completed garden bed with a loose stone wall and loose brick planters.The total time it took from start to finish was approximately 12-14 hours of work with minimal equipment. This is half way through the process, the three extra beds took two weeks. Two other beds are done and are 13 x 5 as well.  Each bed will be fertilized with kitchen food, and compost from the compost heap at the end of October trenches will be built in each one and food waste will be placed in the shallow trench.  This will be covered once the frosts start freezing the ground and then covered over to break down over the winter.  Once Spring comes the beds will be turned over once more.  With the addition of extra soil in the fall to each bed they will be about 6 inches above ground so any settling will keep the beds at ground level or there abouts rather than sinking into the ground - at least that is the general idea...

Here are the beds half way through...

 

And here are the finished beds - all material was found on site, the only thing that was bought was the material to stop the weeds from growing up through the gravel.

some trees in the back ground are only a year old, everything seems to grow really fast during the summer months.  We have one tree that grows 6 feet in one year and is notoriously hard to get rid of, its Carraganon, and grows wild here on the prairies.  It's invasive but excellent for fencing, coverage for just about anything else except eating!

 

The beds are planted on the sides with what ever was found in the garden, the first bed has concrete breeze blocks excellent for using for potted plants as well, the second is made from stones found in the garden, and the third is made from lumps of sod from the beds ithemselves.  These are laid out at an angle and laid on top of the weed sheet and built into an informal wall about 6 to 8 inches high. Over the winter it settled and produced a hard surface along the edge of the bed.

Three extra beds were made and using the same process as above.  The beds have the hoola hoops and tomato cages to put the plastic over them to help prevent the seedlings from dying if the weather changes suddenly.  Branches can also be used.  In the new beds the soil was mixed with potting soil and sieved to reduce the grass, roots and dandelion roots.  Established beds were dug up and airated and left for a week, and then had a fork passed through them to get out the roots from the grass and dandelions.  All beds had kitchen compost dug into a trench in the early fall (September/October) and was buried to break down over the winter, then worked through the soil then left for a week before being raked over and then planted with seed.  As soon as the seeds were planted, took a journal and made a note of where the seeds were in the garden.  (in our area we have a short growing season, normally from May to end of August/September) then it starts to get cold again mid September to October.  After that it's anyone's guess as to when the snow falls!) All seed this year is short term, (maturing between 50 and 60 days.) because of the long winter and not sure of how long the good weather will last... but if there is a possibility, the seed can be planted twice.  Have also planted several types of squash, the leaves and flowers can be used in most cases, especially if it is pumpkin.  (seeds have been used from last year's crop)

Have also used containers to plant herbs and lettuce and will also be making a raised bed for herbs and other plants.

The seedlings are now coming up after 3 weeks, we planted fast growing seeds, raddish, swiss chard (2 different varieites), carrots, spinach and beetroot.  The tops can be used in a variety of ways almost immediately after showing especially the raddish.  They have a spicey peppery taste and good in sandwiches or salads.

Also added in other beds peas, tomatoes, bok choy, coriandar, several varieties of potatotes and squash.

The compost heap was originally placed at the back of the garden.  It had been added to over 5 years but needs to rest.  It will be turned over this year, if there are no squash growing in it.  So we made a second compost heap using only kitchen scraps no meat as this would attract vermin and it would stink.  We placed the scraps on a piece of dirt that had been cleared of grass.  Then cordoned off to show where the compost needs to stay.  We added soil ontop of kitchen scraps over the winter to help with the breaking down of the food and then when spring started we added more.  We also add grass cuttings.  In previous years we have used the dandelions and spinach for salads.

After two months, the spinach is starting to flower and go to seed.  Will be keeping one row for seed and will harvest the rest.  The spinach when it's starting to flower is still good to eat either raw or cooked Believe the plants with the yellow flowers are swiss chard.  Have kept a garden journal of what seed has been planted in each bed.  But, these came up from last year when it went to seed.

And here is the Spinach...

And the chives.

http://www.zetatalk.com/food/tfood142.htm

http://www.zetatalk.com/poleshft/p168.htm

http://www.zetatalk.com/info/tinfo25c.htm

http://www.zetatalk.com/poleshft/p28.htm

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I have also found my basil plants to take all summer to reach a similiar size...many of our plants did not do well this year..we are slowly getting some tomatoes here in Austin. Gardening is not that easy! 

A lot of people start their tomatoes off inside here and plant them out by mid-June.  Because we have such a short growing season, starting them inside seems to help.  I did buy four tomato plants from the store, all the other plants in the garden were started from mouldered seed.  The seed was from tomatoes grown before in the garden.  I was hoping that they would grow!  Because the winter is long, usually keep the tomatoes that we use in the utility room, which is not insulated and so they will keep as they will freeze. 

We are now just starting to bring in the last of the harvest in. The weather will be starting to change to very cool weather and the first of the frosts will start to appear.  Planning on picking the last of the swiss chard, beetroots and carrots as well as the tomatoes. 

Preparing the beds, we'll turn the soil over and then dig a trench in the middle and put the kitchen waste in.  We'll also put water over the compost and soil covering it to help decompose the waste.  A friend, who is a life long gardner, suggested newspaper shredded into small pieces and putting them into the garden to help make the compost break down quicker. We're going to try this in one of the beds to see how it does, since we've not done this before.

Before we dig a trench we'll be going through the soil in the beds to get rid of any quach grass and dandelions.  Recently asked some local gardeners what they were doing and how to get rid of grass and quach grass.  Some had put cardboard down with wood chips along the walk ways and others when preparing the beds before digging into the ground had put plastic down to weaken the grass to make it easier to dig up in the spring.

Hey KM,

I think I remember reading somewhere that leaving the cardboard on kills the grass, but may not itself decompose completely come next growing season.

Anyways, its been 3 months since I started the container project. The basil has taken 3 months. The rest which is a mesclun mix (mostly lettuce, a couple of raddichio and endives) was started 2 months ago.There was some swiss chard in there as well. But they stalled. So I plucked most of them off.

Those were the 4 containers. I didnt take care of them initally for perhaps 2-3 weeks.This is my first time gardening in shallow pots.

Each pot is 16 in x 7 in; and the soil is only 5 inch deep. On top of this I decided to overplant as well. I planted about 10 in each. I was watering them twice a week. I have to water them every other day now.

So looks like the overcrowding, early on drought, and lack of soil depth sent all the mesclun straight to bolt. The basil is doing good. After I take the plants off, I will most probably devote these containers to growing herbs through the winter. I guess it was a good lesson regardless.

The plants got wiry early on and started leaning on each other or falling to the ground. I think you can see that in some of the pictures. The root system of a couple of the plants I pulled was pretty measly as well.

So if youre in the same boat as me (no gardening space), saving seed for suitable "after-time" plants is probably your best option today (notwithstanding community gardens).

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Now, 3 months ago I had started on this project to actually record the difference between seeds grown in the shade and in the light. (A week later you started this thread. So that persuaded me to grow what I thought I could).

I sat the plants to be grown in the light by my window. And the seeds to be grown in the shade was put in a corner. I would say the light it was getting was the equivalent to a constantly gloomy day. (Although this is just my opinion. It could have been darker than that).

Here are the plants in the light, 1 week and 2 weeks after sowing:

And here's the one that was grown in dark shade 1 week and 2 weeks after. (Dont let the light in the pictures fool you. They was no direct light hitting the pot):

Leggy seedlings, and by week two their fate was written on the wall.

My objective was to find the point at which the plants were barely able to live through.

Because,

1) When/if the aftertime garden failed, this would have been a preemptive learning and conditioning experience for me & 

2) If I could notice the growth pattern for a group of plants grown in the shade, then during the aftertime when my seeds started sprouting I would have been able to guesstimate from a couple weeks of growth whether the plants would produce anything of significance  (instead of having to wait a couple of months to see what they produced).

I still want to continue that project some time. I will probably use the seeds I get from the mesculun above to this extent, instead of wasting good seeds on it.

Your crops have come out beautifully, by the way.

Cheers

@ Casey, thank you for such a well laid out description of your container experiences!

The garden did well this year, however one bed with the zukini has had a problem with quach grass.  Will hopefully work on this bed before it freezes too hard to work the soil and clear it.

As I was pruning some of the plants, I noticed there was a significant population of fungus gnats in two of the pots.

I had used compost that was specifically marked for "only outdoors" in these indoor pots.

Upon further reading I've realized that the plants performed bad because of the fungus gnat infestation. Now that I look back there was what looked like a fungal outbreak in the soil (orange powder like clumps), as well. The soil was very lumpy/clayish, and there was a lot of decaying bark. (I didnt sieve any of this out of my own laziness).

The basil that did better had a different soil mix.

Almost anyone doing container gardening indoors will probably see fungus gnats. From what Ive come through here are some things that may or not help anyone dealing with them.

- Fungus gnat larvae feed off the fungus in the soil, and will nibble the roots of your plants. They like wet soil with decaying matter in it

- Container gardening in general tends to encourage fungus gnats, because of poor drainage. (& added insulation if indoors). Over watering can also be the culprit.

-Plastic pots tend to have a higher rate of infestation than (unglazed) clay pots, because water can evaporate through the clay surface.

-Adding 0.5 - 1 inch of sand on top of the soil can help. Adult gnats will not lay eggs on sand.

-Improve drainage quality of the soil. A lot of the commercial soil mixes have peat that will hold more water than you want it to. Try adding dirt.

-Bring pots  to the drier side before watering again. Repeatedly doing this should kill them off.

As for the rest of the compost I have, I will probably try the "Oven method" below to pasteurize it.

http://farmerfredrant.blogspot.ca/2010/12/fungus-gnats-on-houseplan...

Our garden is now finished with growing vegetables and herbs.  It's starting to get cold.  The growing season here was longer than expected.  But the garden did yeild some good harvests.  We picked the carrots and beetroots last weekend before the cooler temperatures set in.  They did very well!

We also had a good squash harvest but our zukini didn't do so well.  It may have been the heat then the cool temperatures in July and then the heat in August that encouraged a mould to grow on the leaves eventually killing off a lot of the plants around the garden.

The plant here is a gourd plant, but as you can see the mould is everywhere.  Not all plants had it.

Here are the squash we got from 3 plants, the rest of the 12 plants didn't produce anything. 

Here are the ornamental Gourdes.  It's not recommended to eat them as they taste bitter. 

We'll leave the squash to mature and change colour.  Then we will eat them and save the seed!

 Hey KM, I have enjoyed your experiences, thanks for the info! In my gardens this time of year I am drying herbs. The Basil,Rosemary, Sage, Chives. oregano. I strip the leaves off the stems and let them dry in a container loosely covered with aluminum foil. Then I put them in glass containers, lable them and use them all year long. They taste so much better than store bought. Love and Light, Beth

for those with limited space, water and supplies, this is awesome

A few days ago, we went to the community gardens here.  The Community Gardens are for people who want to garden on a larger scale than their current gardens would allow.  They placed plastic sheet over a piece of grass/weed ground and left it for the summer. When the plastic was removed there was some condensation which dampened the ground making it easier to dig and remove the weeds.  Essentially the weeds had been cooked by the plastic covering during the summer.  The quach grass which has long thin roots was still in the soil.  Easily removed with a fork digging down at an angle the grass root can then be gently removed with out breaking and disposed of.  A large plot of land of about 30 feet by 20 was covered in the plastic, with the help of several people over several hours most of the weeds were taken off and disposed of and the land was cleared ready for planting next spring.

Speaking of community gardens, if anyone is thinking of joining one, they are increasingly becoming popular. So they tend to have long waiting lists for garden plots.(atleast the ones around my place)

Regardless, it is good work they do. The ones around here even do outreach programs with schools

KM said:

A few days ago, we went to the community gardens here.  The Community Gardens are for people who want to garden on a larger scale than their current gardens would allow.  They placed plastic sheet over a piece of grass/weed ground and left it for the summer. When the plastic was removed there was some condensation which dampened the ground making it easier to dig and remove the weeds.  Essentially the weeds had been cooked by the plastic covering during the summer.  The cooch grass which has long thin roots was still in the soil.  Easily removed with a fork digging down at an angle the grass root can then be gently removed with out breaking and disposed of.  A large plot of land of about 30 feet by 20 was covered in the plastic, with the help of several people over several hours most of the weeds were taken off and disposed of and the land was cleared ready for planting next spring.

The community gardens here are run by volunteers.  It's a great way to get good gardening experience when they have work bees or when they need help with organizing.  Talking to some of the more experienced gardeners has really opened the eyes to different ways of tackling common issues like weeding or watering on a larger scale.  Locally here we have a seed day where one day in the year is an educational forum held by local gardeners.  They exchange ideas, seeds and hold workshops on different subjects such as permaculture.

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