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a new gardener

Last post 03-13-2008 9:32 PM by Annie. 20 replies.
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  • 03-03-2008 8:46 PM

    a new gardener

     I am a newbie at self sufficient living.  I'd love to learn the basics for planting a small garden.   Any advice for an absolute beginner?  My family's decided I've lost my mind, but I really think I could plant atleast some herbs or basic vegetables.  I live in the Southwest.  When do I start?  Do I use compost or just a good soil?  Do I need to start the seeds indoors first?  What do I plant them in initially (If indoors)?  Any takers???

  • 03-04-2008 8:51 AM In reply to

    Re: a new gardener

    Hi lyntorr,

    Gardening in the southwest may differ some from Michigan, and I hope to find out soon.  One of the things my husband and I saved for was to buy land in NM, and we did that in 2006!  Our small parcel is up by Mora, NM, and we hope to semi-retire there in the upcoming years.  I love it there.  So beautiful.

    Anyway, my advice is to start with a small bed and try easy-to-grow plants first.  In your bed I would use a mix of good soil and compost.  Tomatoes and peppers are easy to start from seed or you could buy small plants.  For herbs, some are harder to start from seed than others - you might buy small plants.  For flowers - zinnias, marigolds, cosmos are easy to start from seed.

    For me, I totally have cabin fever and already started some things from seed (some that say start 8-10 weeks before the last frost).  Although I have some cool weather-loving plants going as well, like lettuce and spinach.  What's easy and wastes less Seedling Soil Mix is to use egg cartons.  I cut little holes in the bottom (water from the bottom) and start seeds in 12-packs or cut the carton in half and do 6 packs.  Seedling Starter growers mix is important to use when starting seedlings because it's sterile.  Some people heat their own dirt or use peat moss, but for $2.98 I just get a bag, and egg cartons help keep usage low.  When they get a second set of leaves, I transplant to small containers (usually the ones I got in flats from the nursery).  Then I usually use a mix of peat moss and potting soil.

    If starting seedlings seems too overwhelming, I'd say ready your bed, buy small plants and plant once danger of frost has passed.  You could also sow seed directly in your bed, but since you're a beginner, you'd have to know the difference between weeds and plants, and sometimes that's hard!  In northern NM, the nights get real cold, so depending on what your nights are like, once you plant, you may have to cover your plants initially to protect them.  Warm-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini usually get planted later, when warm weather is consistent.

    I could go on and on, but I guess the last thing I'll mention is this.  Decide what you'd like to try growing yourself so you don't have to buy it at the grocery store.  Like, leaf lettuce is very easy to grow (I hate having to buy it!).  Whatever you decide, don't worry, by trial and error you'll learn as you go.  Plus there is much information out there to help (this site, gardening books from the library, the Internet, etc.).

    Charlie

  • 03-04-2008 9:52 AM In reply to

    • Pat
    • Top 10 Contributor
    • Joined on 03-06-2007
    • Colorado
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    Re: a new gardener

     As a first time gardener, it would probably be better for you to buy plants from a nursery, but before you get that far, think about where to put the garden. You need full sun if you can get it, but in the southwest it gets hot, so a place where the garden can get mid to late afternoon shade would work fine. 

    If the soil has never been planted, start breaking it up now. Spade or till it, then let it set for a week or so and do it again. You need to break up existing roots, kill any other plants that may be there, and bring bugs and bug eggs to the surface, where at least some will die while the weather is still cool.

    Define the area - a plot of about 10 X 10 will give you room to learn and harvest from the first year, but you may want it a little bigger. Just don't bite off more than you can chew. A garden can be a lot of work and while it's exciting to see it grow at first, it's not so exciting to have to water and weed it when the weather's hot and you have so many other things to do than pick still more tomatoes! 

    Choose which plants you want to try. I'd say 5 to 7 different vegetables to start with, and read up on them. Some will need to be started some time before the weather gets hot, others will need to wait until no more frost can be expected. Some will need more room than others, so plan for that, too.  

    Create your garden on paper, with expected sizes of plants, and think about how you're going to water and weed it. Make enough room to walk into it and get to every plant there.

    Plan to enjoy it! There are few things more satisfying than bringing a basketful of fresh vegetables into the kitchen, knowing you did it yourself. At the same time, plan to preserve and/or give away excess harvest. Unless your garden is a complete bust, you'll have an overrun of something. 

     

     

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  • 03-04-2008 9:54 AM In reply to

    • Pat
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    Re: a new gardener

    I neglected to say that it would be wise to work some compost into the soil if it's never been planted before. 

     

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  • 03-04-2008 11:38 AM In reply to

    • AmyC
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    • Joined on 10-24-2007
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    Re: a new gardener

     CharlieB...My MIL is in Mora, it is beautiful down there, but a bit too unpopulated for me.  I would prefer not to drive 30 minutes to a tiny grocery store!, longer for a decent sized store!

    http://carneyexploits.blogspot.com

  • 03-04-2008 11:51 AM In reply to

    • Edey
    • Top 25 Contributor
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    • Joined on 09-10-2007
    • Los Angeles County, CA
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    Re: a new gardener

    Sunset magazine has published books for regional planting; planting for your region is something that you should consider before starting. They publish a Western gardening guide: http://www.sunset.com/sunset/bookstore/article/0,21684,1035934,00.html. Look at the library for one similar. I have one from 1994, but the year doesn't matter, it is still has useable information.

    Advice from a book printed for Northeast or East coast gardens, which so many seem to be, won't work for Southwest areas. You may be fortunate enough to garden during the fall, winter and spring in the Southwest but not in the hottest part of the summer, due to the extreme heat. Where someone in a less hot region can grow lettuce in Spring and Summer, you could probably grow it from the Fall thru the Spring, but not in Summer; too high of temperature makes lettuce go to seed rapidly, and it isn't appetizing once it does that.

     Also watering is more of a necessity in the Southwest due to lack of rain, unless you live where the summer monsoons happen. Your soil is different then soil east of the Mississippi, which is another consideration.

    Square foot gardening is another excellent book and an easy idea to put into action. You don't need to use anything fancy to put his ideas into use. http://www.squarefootgardening.com/ His concept is that after you get your garden bed prepared you mark off square foot areas, using string or board or whatever you can find to make a grid, then plant one vegetable in each grid. Week to week you plant another set of grids so that you crops mature throughout the season. It is easy to plant  little square foot sections of vegetables week to week to keep a crop coming in over the season, then to plant long rows all at once. That is why I like his idea, it is more manageable over the long term. It is easier to weed, too. The plants grow thick enough so that they shade and cool the soil which helps maintain the moisture in the soild.

    Let us know how you do during the season. Edey

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  • 03-04-2008 12:05 PM In reply to

    Re: a new gardener

    AmyC:

     CharlieB...My MIL is in Mora, it is beautiful down there, but a bit too unpopulated for me.  I would prefer not to drive 30 minutes to a tiny grocery store!, longer for a decent sized store!

    This is true, our place is north of Mora, and it's pretty isolated...  It will be a big adjustment, that's for sure!  Gardening there will be in raised beds because the ground is all rocks.  Plus neighbors tell me you have to fence in your vegetable beds due to bears and critters.  It will be a real test in self-sufficient living no doubt!

  • 03-04-2008 12:17 PM In reply to

    • Edey
    • Top 25 Contributor
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    • Joined on 09-10-2007
    • Los Angeles County, CA
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    Re: a new gardener

    CharlieB:
    fence in your vegetable beds due to bears and critters.  It will be a real test in self-sufficient living no doubt!

    I've seen gardens in which the whole area is within an enclosure, including fenced overhead. Think of what an aviary looks like and that is what these gardens looked like. No birds or other critters could get in to spoil the crops. Edey

    Edey's Vintage and Current Needlework Blog

    Life is like a quilt - it is made beautiful from all the little pieces stitched together.

    Use a HandCranked tool, it doesn't need to be plugged in or charged up!

    Treadle sewing machines. Get a workout and save electricity all at the same time. Plus it can go anywhere, even outdoors!

    READ THE ARCHIVES! It'll do you good.
  • 03-04-2008 12:20 PM In reply to

    Re: a new gardener

     Good heavens.  I'll stop fussing about the squirrels that take over my garden...Liz

  • 03-04-2008 12:28 PM In reply to

    Re: a new gardener

    LOL TizzyLizzy!

    I was gonna say, cripe, I don't want to go to those lengths.  At worst, I'll do what I do here... use PVC to bend over my bed and clip on row covers.  (That is, besides having a fence around the garden.)

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