Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting a Garden Started

Okay. So we talked about gardening in the south and the problems of the 'old-school' way.  Don't sit paralyzed in the "oh, no!" mode.  There are just some new concepts to understand along with a not-so-huge investment of work and materials.  Getting started right leads to much less work in the future.  Intrigued?
Here we go!

  • Think small and ultra productive - We are not going to till up a half and acre. I recommend beds (or boxes or containers) that are 3 to 4 feet wide with aisles on either side. We'll talk about how much in a minute.
  • Amend, amend, amend - This is the single most important thing! If you have clayey or sandy soil as much of the south does, you will need to change the composition of your soil.  Here are the hows and whys:
    • Clay soil packs so tightly that oxygen cannot get to the roots of your plants.  It become waterlogged when wet and immovable when dry. Usually clay soil has plenty of minerals, but they are not available to the plants because no little to no organic breakdown is happening. Sandy soil allows water to flow through and has plenty of oxygen, but is sadly lacking in important minerals and organic matter.  Fortunately, the same remedy works for both extremes!
    • That's the 'why' in a nutshell.  Here's the 'how':
      • Pick a spot - you want at least 8 hours of sunlight a day, a place convenient to your house and devoid of tree or bush roots.
      • Remove current vegetation - no tilling under future weeds!  You can scoop the grass and weeds up, or smother them with your amendments for the winter and start in the spring.
      • Lay out amendments on top of your new area - they are easy to get at a garden center.  For each (approximately) 100 square foot bed (for example, 3 feet wide by 32 feet long) you'll need 2 sq ft of peat moss, 2 bags of compost, and 2-3 bags of 'soil conditioner' (this is decomposed wood chips usually). 
      • Till or manually work that in. Ask around to try to borrow a tiller. Rent a tiller. Do-Not-Buy a tiller!  This will be the last time you use it! You want to work down at least 12 inches.  That's a real challenge in rock hard clay! Till on a day when the soil is not saturated, but you can moisten it a little if you are in the 'brick mode' with red clay.
      • Form your edges and a barrier for your aisles. My edges are made from landscaping timbers.  Since 1993 arsenic has not been used to preserve the wood (so they are safe) and I have had timbers last over 10 years even though they are in contact with the soil (so they are cost effective).   My aisles are 24" with landscape cloth and pea gravel, but you don't have to go to that extreme. Plastic edging and wood chips would look nice, thick layers of straw would work, even old carpeting would work...just something to keep the weeds from leaping with reckless abandon into your new, fertile zone!
      • Let it rest a little - give all that organic matter a few weeks to start decomposing. Get a soil test a week into your new adventure to determine your soil pH.  Pretty much everyone in the southeast of the U.S. will have acid soil, but take a sample of soil to your county extension agent. They will send your soil sample off for testing which will let you know how much lime to add.
      • Check for newly germinated weeds.  All of that tilling and the fresh addition of nutrients will encourage dormant weed seeds in the soil to pop up.  Yank them to the sound of "Ha! Die, weed! Die!"  (Okay, that last step can be done quietly, but I don't think it will be as much fun.)
    • How many boxes?  That is mostly up to you. Just 2 beds could provide produce year round and supplement your table.  You can always add more later.  The maximum I would recommend for a newbie to this way of gardening would be 5 beds.  We'll talk later about planting intensively and making the most about those square feet.   
    • There's lots more!  See you later!

1 comment: