Best Tips for a Beginner

digitS'

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Here's another little idea. People often have problems with watering seedlings at that most vulnerable stage of their lives.

Several years ago, I decided to weigh flats of plants that had just dripped excess water after bottom watering them in the greenhouse. Then, I used my nearly 50 years of experience starting plants to determine that another flat required water ;). Its weight was 50% lower. I shared this idea on TEG.

Those were flats of plants in 4-packs. Yesterday, I was watering 2 cookie boxes of seedlings - tiny things. In my fussy way, I'm checking them morning and evening. You know, by picking them up, noting the dry surface to the soil, and gauging the weight in my hands.

No, I don't use a scale for this ;). But, a scale was handy. The container that I had watered in the morning weighed 28 ounces. The "dry" one that I was intending to water weighed 17 ounces. Tender seedlings, soil dries quickly on sunny, Spring days; the box soaked up 12 ounces of water.

No serious precision, plant species might vary and soil mix likely does. If you are uncertain, try using a scale - with 40-50 percent loss of weight from the soaked stage, it's time to water.

Steve
 

GardenShepherdess

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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.
Our garden would be up on a hill in front of our house. It has good drainage there and plenty of sunlight.
 

GardenShepherdess

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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!
I definitely want to start small and build from there. I don't want to get discouraged too soon by overextending myself.
Having a variety of farm animals has helped me learn to roll with the punches when it comes to the unexpected happening and dealing with crazy weather at times.
I'm hoping to control weeds with cardboard and mulch. I'm thinking of creating a flower bed around the edge of the garden to help with encroaching perennial weeds that will be trying to make their way in.
Our small rodents are pretty controlled around here by our 3 barn cats and many hawks. I'm just going to have to prevent the bigger animals from getting in, especially deer. The deer have wreaked havoc on some of my flower beds and even eat plants that they typically avoid. Ugh. I will look into adding trellises for sure to give me some extra walking space and deter deer from jumping in.
We've trapped groundhogs before so we could do it again. I'm hoping that if I bury some of the wire fencing, that will keep them out.
I'll be happy if anything seems to grow well and we end up with at least some garden fresh vegetables. When I did container gardening, we had success, but I felt like it just wasn't enough return and I kept thinking about how much more could have grown if the plants were in the ground.
 

GardenShepherdess

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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.
I definitely will be buying started plants. In the future, I might do seeds and seedlings on my own, but not yet.
 

GardenShepherdess

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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. :)
We will be planting the garden on a hill in front of our house, which isn't too far and will make caring for the plants easier. Sunlight is great and there is some wind, but there is a large tree/brush line that prevents too much breeze. Thanks for the ideas about deer fencing and also the cardboard tips. We have plenty of cardboard most of the time from shipping boxes. I'm hoping to have a few successes at least. I know some things won't work out, but as with all our other farming adventures, I learn and move on. Thanks for all the info.
 

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