Best Tips for a Beginner

GardenShepherdess

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Hello everyone!

I'm a very new gardener. I've done container gardening in the past with some success but this year, I'm going to start a garden in our yard. I live in Southeastern PA in Zone 7a. I don't want to get overwhelmed and hope to start a small garden and build on from there every year. I'm thinking of starting with a 10x16 foot space. I'd love to do vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and maybe some kind of snap pea.) I'd like to add some helpful flowers throughout or around the garden space too, like marigolds, sunflowers, and coneflowers. My biggest concerns at this point are fencing (we have quite a bit of deer, some rabbits, and a few groundhogs) and also soil quality (we have mostly clay soil - I plan to amend with some compost from my sheep and ducks). With the fencing, I was thinking of getting some snow fencing and then using taller T-Posts to string a few strands of fishing line higher up to prevent deer from jumping in. What are some of your Number One Tips that you'd give a beginner like me? Thanks in advance!
 

digitS'

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Good Morning, GardenShephardess.

You have just about enough room for one plant of each of those but I don't know where you are going to walk.

Maybe, it won't be that difficult. A starting point - I think it was @catjac1975 who recently advised to start with the soil.

It's possible that deer will avoid jumping into such a small enclosure. We have marmots instead of groundhogs but they are cousins. At one garden where they were especially present, I had 4' chicken wire fencing with about 6" buried in the ground. The top 12" was not attached to the posts so that it would lean out if the marmot was trying to climb over. This worked well during the early part of the season. The critters always found a way in before the end of the season - usually digging under - but the plants wouldn't suffer as much by then. I caught two inside that fenced garden, however, putting an end to their invasions. Rabbits are easily kept out with a fence like this.

Take a look at spacing information. Your plants will need to grow in beds rather than providing space between rows. Some kind of "fencing" may be needed for pathways to keep them clear from such large/vining plants as tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers.

Steve
 

flowerbug

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how's your light? water source? too much wind? can you control any of the edges of your proposed garden space more easily? site close to the house so you can see it often - the further away the more likely you'll ignore it.

with deer fences are critical. the woven wire fencing is the best. less than 6ft is a waste of $. taller poles will let you put wire up top and make it look taller, weave some strips of fabric in the fence and hang some from the wires so deer can see it. we've had deer run though our fence a few times now and it's work to have to straighten it back out.

it is much easier to take care of one bigger garden area than a bunch of small spaces. don't make your pathways permanent so you can move them around as you learn what works for you. cardboard under weed barrier fabric is a good way to smother things. wood chips are much better than rocks for pathways, eventually you can use the rotted wood chips as garden amendments.

edge control put some layers down in the soil a way to block weed/grass roots from invading. overlap and fold the edges together. multiple layers of cardboard will do better than a single layer, overlap those edges too. don't use plastic coated or color printed shiny cardboard, just the plainest you can find with perhaps some black lettering on it is the best. removing tape and labels before putting it down may take some effort but it saves you time eventually if you ever have to do anything in that area again as plastic tapes may break into a lot of little pieces.

if you bring in any material, make sure to inspect it first.

it may take a few years to find out what works for you. hardscape choices can complicate things. avoid permanent decisions up front. adjust as you learn.

mostly plant what you like to eat and that you know you'll use. a few experimental plantings are ok each season but don't bet the bulk of your harvest on a single planting. diversity even within varieties can also be the difference between failure and success.

weather is just that. you can't always predict it. if you can't laugh you'll probably not enjoy gardening.

some plants won't survive.

mostly clay is what we have here too. mud shoes for when you absolutely have to get into a garden are important. waiting is ok sometimes instead.

mulching cool clay won't get your soil very warm by the end of May so you may wish to wait on mulching until after the soil has warmed up and your plants are growing. cooler weather plants are ok. may need to raise some areas for better drainage. formal raised beds are a waste of time and materials though. pile up the garden soil where you want it and then tamp the edges down and plant your edges with what you want and then mulch them. they'll stay in place well enough through a season to do what you need.

stirrup hoe is only good if you use it. weeding the first few years of any garden space is the hardest. control the edges and it gets better.

erosion takes away nutrients and wastes valueable water. learn how to capture and sink whatever water you can while still not getting too too wet. it's a learning thing.

don't worry if you don't get it right the first few times. learn and move on. getting emotional about losses is the way to discourage yourself from just getting on with it. if you have to rant and rave for a few minutes to cool off and then can laugh about it you'll probably be ok. i try to not rant and rave at all.

this is long enough, but all things to consider. yes, it's a lot, don't worry there's no quiz. :)
 

ducks4you

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Please put your state and zone with your avatar. I won't remember it.
Look up 4 square gardening and build a raised bed. If deer eat your crops chicken wire fencing helps.
 
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flowerbug

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I think the fishing line higher up may not be visible enough to be a deterrent. I've never dealt with deer though.

If fishing line is your best option, then perhaps twist it with some inexpensive acrylic yarn to give it visibility. [eta: you can sometimes find yarn at Goodwill stores]

fishing line is too thin to see, but hanging bits of fabric from it to wave in the breeze will provide a visual clue. i would use a decent sized wire instead.
 

baymule

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Buy started plants. They usually come in acid of six, especially tomatoes, peppers, squash and sometimes cucumbers. If you have flower beds, you can put in a vegetable plant here and there as long as there is sunshine. For a beginner, buying started plants is usually much easier.
 

Zeedman

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My 2 c's.

Perhaps the most important tip, @GardenShepherdess , is one you have already considered - start small. If the soil will be worked by hand, a 10' X 16' garden will be plenty of work the first year. There are usually stubborn perennial weeds to overcome, and some hard labor to turn the soil over for the first time. One of the biggest mistakes a new gardener can make is to over-extend, and then find themselves overwhelmed. When you start small, you risk little - and that gives you space to learn, without incurring large & discouraging losses if things go wrong.

It's a given that something nearly always goes wrong, even for experienced gardeners... so learning to roll with the inevitable punches Nature will throw is sort of a prerequisite to gardening. ;)

Never let a weed go to seed, or you will be fighting its progeny for years. As @flowerbug pointed out, it is important to control the edges, to prevent those stubborn perennials from creeping back in. You have to be careful what you bring into the garden too; straw, hay, and manure can often contain weed seeds in large numbers (as happened to me recently with weedy hay). Weed barriers and heavy mulches can help to control weeds - but keep an eye out for rodents which might nest beneath those materials, since a family of mice can destroy much of your produce.

If possible, plant flowers nearby which are attractive to insect predators. If you have wasps on your property & are not allergic to them, they are very effective predators of caterpillars and aphids. I only kill wasps if they nest in a high traffic area, or near places where children play. Hardly saw a single caterpillar last year.

Animal control... 36" of chicken wire low will keep out rabbits, provided the bottom of the fence is buried. Ground hogs & ground squirrels are tougher, since they can & will dig under (or crawl over) any fence if they see something they want. They can do a lot of damage in a very short time. A big dog is a good deterrent, if it has the run of the yard; but short of that, about all you can do with them is shoot them, or trap them, as your codes allow. I've had great success catching ground hogs in a live trap, by placing it in front of the hole under the fence, or directly beside that hole outside the fence. Baited with pieces of apple or dried apricot, I usually catch the offender within 1-2 days.

Deer can jump even a 6' fence; but they won't do so unless they see a clear landing pad on the other side. @digitS' may be right, that a deer might not jump into a 10' X 16' enclosure... but if it does, it will cause a lot of damage trying to get back out. You can discourage deer from jumping in by trellising several vegetables. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and snap peas are easily trellised, as are pole beans. Run trellises E-W, with taller trellises to the North, and shorter plants to the South. If you space trellises far enough apart for them to not shade each other (about 3') this will automatically provide paths for easy access. The zucchini and pepper plants would be on the South end. IMO there really is not enough room in that enclosure for winter squash, unless you trail a vine or two around the outside.

The first year will either make or break a gardener. Getting weeds under control, and building up soil tilth & fertility, will take a couple years. Good tools are essential, and some light machinery (like a small tiller) can save hours of work. Enjoy the successes, and learn from the failures. Try to grow a diverse selection of vegetables, so that if one thing fails (as often happens) something else does well. Grow things you like, and try to grow veggies you can't find locally - or which are just plain better picked fresh & fully ripe. Most of all, have fun!
 

digitS'

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Here's an idea.

If you want to cut into family food costs, become seasonal salad eaters. Don't put emphasis on storage vegetables - those that ship well. They are cheap to purchase.

Suitable for fresh eating, tender veggies are expensive. You can grow a tremendous amount in a small area. Your climate is likely to allow for succession planting. Protective growing can extend your growing season with parts of the garden under plastic film or fleece coverings.

There is a learning curve to any technology. Start especially small. Then, with your learned skills, you may daily be carrying baskets of garden produce into the kitchen!

Steve
& yes, have fun :)
 

Ridgerunner

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One thing I did not see mentioned, take advantage of your county extension office. You can call them, visit them, or check them out online. Each state is different but I'd expect them to have a wealth of local knowledge. They should know what veggies and other plants grow well in your area and have suggestions for varieties. One thing I find helpful is a planting calendar, when to sow seeds or transplant things. That calendar not only tells you when to do things but it will remind you of what you can grow.

I also suggest you get a soils analysis to see what nutrients you have and get help with how you need to amend the soil. Your extension office can hep with that too.

Especially with a clay soil look at drainage when positioning you garden. Clay doesn't drain that well to start with, locate your garden to give it as much drainage help as you can.
 

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