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Old 03-04-2013, 05:29 PM
 
57 posts, read 31,482 times
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Hello all,

I live in the VA Beach area. For the first time in my adult life, I have a back yard that comes with a space where I'm allowed to plant a garden. I'm really looking forward to the feeling of growing some of my own food, and hoping I can inspire my family to spend more time outside.

The only problem is, I've never been able to get anything to grow. I tried container gardening a few times with disastrous results. Since then I've done a lot of research. It seems I was using bad soil and probably let my plants get too much water.

I'm in the process of learning about compost and organic fertilizers. But it's totally overwhelming and I don't know where to turn for people who can give me specific advice. I'm scared to just walk into a store and spend money on tools when I don't have an idea of what stuff should cost.

Would anyone like to join me on the journey from a patch of weeds in my yard to (hopefully) a successful garden?
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Old 03-04-2013, 05:52 PM
 
Location: southwestern PA
20,424 posts, read 35,959,235 times
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Contact your local extension office. They will know what is best for your zone and soil conditions.
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Old 03-04-2013, 06:06 PM
 
7,843 posts, read 11,199,915 times
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I think its great that you are excited about gardening! First mistake, dont start too big, but plan ahead so whereever you put your first bed - it allows for growth. You could spend a little time putting together a plan on paper.
Which way does your yard face?
How many trees and whats the sun situation?
Do you have any septic to worry about or underground lines?
Figure out that sort of thing and getting a nice drawing on paper with what you want to accomplish this year is a good start.
Also start scoping out the different garden centers near you.
You might want to see if there is a Master Gardener Club near you, they often provide guidance to beginners.
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Old 03-04-2013, 07:22 PM
 
Location: rain city
2,956 posts, read 11,083,241 times
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The very first order of the day for the beginning garden is: soil preparation.

Take a look at your yard and decide where the best conditions for growing a garden is.
Take some wood or bricks or spray paint or whatever, and outline the size of the garden.

From there, you can proceed in a couple of different ways.

In your marked off area you can either dig the soil, or you can construct some kind of borders for a raised bed. Or a combination of the two.

Installed permanent borders are better in the long run, as it is much easier to keep grass and weeds outside, and garden plants inside. A good garden really does need to be separated from the rest of the yard.

If you decide your native soil needs amendment, get some compost.

Now dig and mix and work the soil into something that you can run your hands through. It should smell sweet. Plants will grow in this.

You now have a ready area to plant, and you know how much space you have so that you can decide what and how much to grow.

Soil first.



---
P.S. Be sure that your garden space has been rid of all lawn grass. Grass is ridiculously invasive. Beastly.
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Old 03-05-2013, 02:51 PM
 
57 posts, read 31,482 times
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Yeah, soil preparation is going to be a big priority for me. I only have one space the landlord designated where I can put a garden. It doesn't seem to get a full day of sun, so I'm thinking I might try a tomato plant in a hanging basket. Is that a good idea?
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Old 03-05-2013, 05:41 PM
 
Location: Ponte Vedra Beach FL
14,635 posts, read 17,240,931 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MissRedThumb View Post
Yeah, soil preparation is going to be a big priority for me. I only have one space the landlord designated where I can put a garden. It doesn't seem to get a full day of sun, so I'm thinking I might try a tomato plant in a hanging basket. Is that a good idea?
I think the first things you have to ask yourself are what you'd like to grow - and how much time/money you're willing to devote to the project?

I don't think there's any shame in saying you don't want to spend the time and money necessary to harvest 3 pounds of organic tomatoes (where I live - they'd probably cost me $25/pound! - assuming I got any before the birds got to them).

I like to do birds (especially hummingbirds) and bees and butterfly stuff. Plus a bunch of herbs. And I like to do them in containers like these (although the ones I use are larger):

Southern® 20.5in Whiskey Barrel Planter (HDR-483903) - Plastic & Foam Planters - Ace Hardware

Things that look like whiskey barrels - but made of resin or similar (no rot - no termites - and you don't have to put your back out bending over and tending to them - they're easy to water too - we have water restrictions here for our irrigation system - so I have to do some hand watering in the summer). I've bought them at local garden places - as well as Home Depot and Costco in recent years. Buy at least 3 (rule of thumb in gardening - odd numbers are always better than even). And light lava rock for the bottoms - soil to fill them up - and some nice mulch (I prefer shredded pine bark but that may not be available where you live). Drill a few holes in them before filling (they have to drain well). And after you put in the lava rock - rinse it with a hose - to get out the red color before you put in the dirt.

Fill them with whatever you want and like or just want to try. I would definitely devote one to herbs if you like to use herbs in cooking. Another to butterfly plants if you like butterflies. And a third to whatever tickles your fancy (if it's tomatoes - go for it - I couldn't possibly hope to give you tomato advice - our tomato season in Florida is just about over when yours is just about starting). You're trying to learn several things. Among them - what will work in the area where you live. And basic techniques. Also - you're trying to gain some confidence.

OTOH - my operative rule of thumb is there are no bad gardeners. Only wrong plants in wrong places. Write this on the blackboard 50 times.The best gardener in the world couldn't grow great traditional roses in Florida - it's just not in the cards (wrong plant - wrong place).

Since this is a rental property - get some barrels - and have some fun. Your biggest investment will be the barrels - and no matter what happens with what you grow in them - they'll be around for decades to come. And you can take them with you when you move.

FWIW - my little garden (actually it's not so little) is my most favorite part of our property (we have about an acre of land with dozens of big trees). It allows me to be creative and have fun (and our tree guy never charged us $500 to cut down a dead basil plant ). Robyn
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Old 03-05-2013, 10:56 PM
 
2,063 posts, read 6,271,450 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MissRedThumb View Post
Hello all,

I live in the VA Beach area. For the first time in my adult life, I have a back yard that comes with a space where I'm allowed to plant a garden. I'm really looking forward to the feeling of growing some of my own food, and hoping I can inspire my family to spend more time outside.

The only problem is, I've never been able to get anything to grow. I tried container gardening a few times with disastrous results. Since then I've done a lot of research. It seems I was using bad soil and probably let my plants get too much water.

I'm in the process of learning about compost and organic fertilizers. But it's totally overwhelming and I don't know where to turn for people who can give me specific advice. I'm scared to just walk into a store and spend money on tools when I don't have an idea of what stuff should cost.

Would anyone like to join me on the journey from a patch of weeds in my yard to (hopefully) a successful garden?
Quote:
Originally Posted by MissRedThumb View Post
Yeah, soil preparation is going to be a big priority for me. I only have one space the landlord designated where I can put a garden. It doesn't seem to get a full day of sun, so I'm thinking I might try a tomato plant in a hanging basket. Is that a good idea?
Miss Red, good for you! Gardening can be a very satisfying experience. I think everyone has been giving you some good general advice but maybe we are rushing into things without some basics.

First of all it sounds like you are renting and the garden is not permanently yours and has some restrictions. This means right away you will have to aproach what you grow differently than someone who can make longer term plans. Good healthy gardens can take several years to establish. You will still need to know about the soil, amount of sunshine and even when the sunshine hits that spot to determine what can be planted. Do you want all vegetable, all flower or a mix. You need to have a plan so you don't buy the first pretty plant you fall in love with at the store. It's great to study composting but since compost heaps are often misconstrued as garbage heaps you may not be able to make your own compost if your landlord does not feel comfortable with it.

Gardening well requires some regular attention. Right now we are all eager to get back out there and everyone is sure they will be spending the hours of weeding and watering needed, but when it comes down to it when the heat cranks up and the family wants to head out to the beach or a park, or just into the air conditioning your plants will need you more not less. Your first foray into container gardening didn't end well. That doesn't make you a bad gardener but it should make you think about what went wrong and how to avoid repeating it. You say "bad soil" so how do you know this and what would you do to fix it? For many people gardening in containers is harder to accomplish than in the ground. Frequent drying out and/or overwatering are usually the culprit of garden failures and those get magnified with containers and hanging baskets. If you tend to kill your plants with kindness (most often over watering and over fertilizing) you may do much better with something that can drain away better like plain old dirt in the ground! You are better off with a very small garden in the ground for your first foray.

Before you try to find any local help do the following:

1) Watch the area you will be allowed to have your garden on every sunny day and note where you have the most sunshine fall and how long that is. Write it down each time so you aren't guessing. Make a note if it is all morning, all afternoon or something in between. Write it down.

2) Call the cooperative extension office for information on your area soils and possibly doing a basic soil test. I suspect you may be dealing with sandy soils which means you'll need to be amending the soil for better water retention. This is from last year but the information is fairly local to you: Get the dirt on your soil | HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com Note the gray box on the left side for all the offices so you can get as local as possible.

3) Make plans on how you will be watering and make sure you have a hose that reaches the area and a way to disperse it close to the ground. Plan on being an early morning person since that is the best time to water. If you want to hand water with a hose or a watering can make sure you are up to doing it daily even when it is 80 degrees at 7 in the morning

4) The worst place to get information on gardening for a complete newbie is a store. You couldn't tell if that nice person really knows there stuff, took a company 2 hour class or has a commission on sales and will sell you whatever they've been told to move. You are better off going to the library and picking up some books to read. The best place to learn some basics is classes at a local community college, extension office or set up by Master Gardeners. Check when you go for the soil test information and box.

4) As Robyn said, what 2 or 3 plants do you want most to grow? Before you go and buy them find out if the amount of sun you noted down is enough. Ask questions here if you aren't sure about it. If you have enough sunshine then read up on how much space they need. This will determine how many you can plant in your space. Stay with a small amount of plants so you can keep up with their care and not be overwhelmed. If your plant choices permit it, decide on what can be planted where by size so that low plants wind up up front and tall or supported plants (tomatoes) go behind. Leave space for stepping around the lower plants to reach the tall ones (how else to pick those luscious tomatoes ?) You'd be surprised how many people forget that and are shocked when the plants fill in and they start having to reach awkwardly or end up stepping on the smaller plantings. Make sure you have a way to support plants like tomato cages for tomatoes at the time they are planted.

5) Find out right away what the most common problems are that are associated with the plants you plan to grow. Examples would be that tomatoes suffer from blossom end rot, hosta get eaten up by slugs or powdery mildew infects peppers and pumpkins. Learn ahead of time how to prevent this so you can avoid going more toxic (and expensive) routes later.

There's so much more, as you can see by all the helpful replies, but I don't want to overwhelm you! Keep asking questions as you go.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Giesela View Post
You might want to see if there is a Master Gardener Club near you, they often provide guidance to beginners.
Good advice, but it isn't a garden club. Garden cubs are nice but those are social groups! Many of my fellow Master Gardeners wouldn't like to hear that name applied to what they do, they work to hard on becoming expert educators. To become one you have to have some gardening experience. You have to take a wide ranging course that covers a broad spectrum of gardening topics followed by an exam. To be certified they have to take more courses every year as well as do volunteer work within the community. Many are affiliated with local universities. They are a service and education organization and primarily exist to help and encourage others in all aspects of gardening. Master Gardeners are a national organization but work on a county wide level in most states. The best way to find them is to contact the local Cooperative Extension office. Some states will have statewide county by county listings for them and a lot of them operate some form of hotline to answer questions.
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Old 03-06-2013, 06:59 AM
 
57 posts, read 31,482 times
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Thanks for all the helpful feedback!

My forays into container gardening were pretty much, buy a cheap bag of potting soil and water every day. There really was no strategy involved. I was always good about checking on them every morning and spending time to look for pests. But after they grew for an inch or so, they always died.

My general plan now is to talk with local experts and find a good source of organic soil amendments. The winter/rainy season won't end here for another month, so that gives me time to investigate. I'm not expecting to get amazing produce on my first try, but if I can harvest one bite of edible food, that will be a success for me.

I'm off to the library for some reading. Thus the adventure begins!
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Old 03-06-2013, 12:44 PM
 
Location: Bangor Maine
3,442 posts, read 5,453,292 times
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One excellent book you may want to look for either at the library or a book store is Barbara Damrosch's "The Garden Primer" . It will most likely answer any garden question you may have. Many people call it their garden Bible.
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Old 03-10-2013, 07:53 AM
 
57 posts, read 31,482 times
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Ok guys, so I went to the library and did some research. I found a lot of info. It still feels overwhelming because there are so many options and choices, but I'm starting to get a better handle on how to start with a simple patch.

So I have some bad news about the spot I was going to use. It's on the north side of a tall fence, and turns out it gets like zero sunshine. The best it gets is light streaming through cracks in the fence for about 2 hours in the afternoon. Total bust.

But! On the other side of the yard is a bare spot where the grass has not been tended over the years. It gets a good 7 hours of direct sun. Since it's an ugly bare spot, making a garden there would literally be an asset that made the yard prettier. However, I am slightly concerned that the bare spot might signal weak dirt. I'm thinking I'll test the soil to make sure there's no really bad problems and then make a raised bed on top of it.

Anyway, that's where I am for now. We'll see how that plan goes after I check out the soil. We had a frost last night, so at least I still have time.
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