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#1
Old 04-21-2003, 09:58 AM
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Share your favorite gardening tips!

Hi everyone,

We just closed on a house in another town that has a spacious and sunny backyard, perfect for gardening. I've never had a "real" garden before. Our present home has a shaded yard, full of black walnut trees. I have had good luck with container gardening at the back of our driveway here (the only decently sunny spot), but haven't ever tried to grow much in the ground.

To complicate things a bit, money is tight because we still have the mortgage on our old house till it sells, so I need to establish a veggie garden on the cheap.

We could move there right now, but we are staying at our old house long enough for our son to complete fifth grade here. He has ADHD and is doing well this year, so we don't want to mess that up. Next year, the gifted program that keeps him sane in this school will be all but gone because of budget cuts. It has already been growing smaller each year. He is looking forward to moving because his new school has fantastic programs for bright kids, there are lots of kids his age in our new neighborhood, and there is a real honest-to-God skateboard park in walking distance. He's pretty excited.

I won't have a lot of time to spend at the new house until the beginning of June, so I need to keep the garden as maintenence free as possible. We will be there every other day to work on the inside of the house. We bought it chock-full of the former owner's stuff, which needs to be gone through before we move in. The house had been in the same family for fifty-two years.

I won't be able to do any digging at all because we have so much other stuff going on right now, so here's the plan thus far:

1. Lay wet newspapers in a narrow row directly on the grass in chosen spot, to smother weeds and feed the earthworms.

2. Add a layer of grass clippings and yard waste, wet it down.

3. Add topsoil and compost.

4. Dig holes for each veggie plant, throw some good potting soil in the hole, and plant in the potting soil.

5. Mulch heavily to prevent weeds and retain moisture (we may not be able to water the plants daily for a while).

6. Start the next row over far enough to allow for easy access beween rows with a lawn mower.

I think what I'm planning is a version of sheet composting, or "lasagna gardening".

My questions are:

Do y'all think this might work?

What easy-care gardening tricks have worked for you in the past?

What companion plants will help repel aphids, draw beneficial bugs, etc.? I want to avoid using insecticides because they kill beneficials and sometimes they trigger my athsma.

Does sweet basil actually repel mosquitos in the garden, in your opinion? My entire family looooooves pesto sauce; it would be great if basil would also keep us from being eaten alive as we harvest the tomatoes.

I am open to any and all ideas and advice that I can try out. I'm still pretty clueless about all this stuff, but eager to learn more.

Sorry that this OP ended up being so long-winded, and thank-you.

--Kris
#2
Old 04-21-2003, 11:22 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Florida
Posts: 6,062
See the thread on maintaining herbs in Cafe Society. I've been fielding questions about herbs over there. Until a mod moves this one to C.S.... I'll see what I can do with your questions. I'm sure other, more informed, Doper-gardeners will be along shortly.

I think your lasagne method might just work, but might be just as much work as if you just dug into the soil. I'd think you'd want your "lasagne" to be at least a foot thick to give your plants enough foundation for their roots.

Easy care gardening tricks: Put everything in pots and simply arrange the pots in your yard however you want. That would be easier, IMHO, than creating this lasagne compost you mentioned. Another tip involves watering. See, planting a garden will only take a couple weekends, once you've purchased plants and kinda know what you're doing. It's the maintanence afterward that is so time consuming. So, invest in a couple soaker hoses, or rig up some type of sprinkler system. Sounds like you're busy enough to spend a few days planting, then get too busy to remember to water and will lose your entire garden to lack of time to water! Finally, plant nothing but perennials. Annuals you'll have to re plant every year or a couple times a year. Veggies you have to protect from critters. Once you put in perennials, and keep 'em watered, you don't really have to do much else at all! They will come back and continue to bloom year after year. The first year is some work, but after that: maintenance free garden (almost, except for regular watering and occasional deadheading and pruning.)

Companion plants: There's tons of websites on this sort of thing. One tip for aphids: you can buy ladybugs at your local nursery. Set 'em loose near the plants the aphids are eating. Ladybugs will eat your aphids... if they don't just fly away and eat someone else's aphids. I have never tried this. Whenever the aphids go after my milkweed (larvae food for the monarch flutterbys), I make a weak solution of lemon dish soap and water (about 1 part soap to 10 parts water) and spray the plant down. Kills the aphids, doesn't hurt the plant, and you don't have to use nasty chemicals. I'll recomend any organic, non-nasty-chemical method of pest control before I utter the words, "spray poison on it!"

Sweet basil: IMHO, does not do squat for mosquitos. However, here in Florida, I have found a scented geranium called "Citrosa" or sometimes called a "Citronella plant" which smells like citronella candles. Might work where you live, if your nursery carries that plant. Where I live, nothing will help with the mosquitos, short of nuclear holocaust.

And, by the way, congratulations on your new house!
#3
Old 04-21-2003, 11:35 AM
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My recommendation on ornamental gardening is always to wait for a full year before doing anything so you can see what's already there. For that reason, I think I'd agree with Dogzilla on doing mostly container gardening this season. I don't know diddly about veggie gardening, but know that tomatoes, peppers, and herbs (the subject of my periodic forays into edible stuff) are all fine in pots.

I guess the basic question is -- what kind of veggies do you want to grow?
#4
Old 04-21-2003, 03:48 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2000
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Thanks, Dogzilla and Twickster!

I'm afraid to try containers again, because we will be an hour's drive away, and containers--at least the ones I have on hand, need to be watered twice a day when it gets warm and windy here.

I had surprisingly good luck growing cherry tomatoes in containers last year, until I got pregnant and became too sick to maintain them properly late in the summer. I lost the baby in September, and kinda let all my outdoor container plantings go.

I thought I might do better planting in the ground, so I might be able to get away with less frequent watering. I want to have LOTS of tomatoes this year. My new kitchen is ideal for canning and storing food. My family inhales salsa by the gallon! I can save a fortune by making my own. We also eat pasta dishes all the time. Home made spaghetti sauce...mmmmm!

If I went the container route again, I'd have to buy "ginormous" planters to keep my tomatoes alive. I can't afford them at this time. I used 2 gallon wastebaskets and whatever else I could find, last year, but I was home all the time and could watch my plants for stress.

I'm going to check into soaker hoses tonight. I can lay them out in the "lasagna bed" as I build it. There is a neighbor whom I can ask to run the hoses if needed.

I probably can't heap up a one foot layer of materials yet (more like six inches), but I *think* I can add more soil and mulch to the base of tomato plants later on in June (when I'll suddenly have plenty of time) without hurting them. Is this correct?

I'm trying to avoid digging up the lawn, because my athsma went out of control this week from rennovation work we are doing at this house to help sell it faster. I ended up in the ER on Saturday. I'm doing much better now, but still get winded easily.

Our new home is right on the border between USDA zones 6a and 6b, so the time to plant is right now. If I wait until early June, I won't be able to find any plants for sale anywhere. I know better than to try to start my own seedlings; I kill them with kindness.

I'm looking to plant only edible things at this time; tomatoes, peppers, herbs--that sort of thing. Ornamentals will wait until our budget is better. We can hold our own with the extra mortgage, but we don't have much for discretionery expenses. After we sell this house, we should be doing pretty well, and then I can go on a celebratory planting spree, weather and season permitting.

I asked the sellers about the locations of perennials, so I don't kill any of them by accident. The area in which I want to place the veggie beds used to be a veggie garden until about ten years ago, when it was re-turfed because the owner no longer felt able to keep up a veggie garden.

Our new place is smaller, yet roomy enough for a family of four. We will save around $150.00 a month just on the utilities alone. Our new house mortgage is much cheaper than what we are paying for this place each month.

My husband will commute to his job in this town until after we sell this place; after we get rid of this huge mortgage, it doesn't matter if he has to take a pay cut. We will [i]still[i/] be much better off. He'll have more time to play in the garden, too.

I'm looking for other Doper's anecdotal experiences with companion plantings. What worked the best for you, what was disastrous, etcetera.

Mods, I'm sorry if I started this thread in the wrong forum. Could you kindly move it to Cafe Society if you think that's a better place for it?

--Kris
#5
Old 04-21-2003, 06:04 PM
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Thanks -- the extra info is really helpful in giving useful advice. (Sounds like the new house is going to be an upgrade in all kinds of wonderful ways -- congrats!)

Since you know you're not hurting anything in the spot you have in mind, your thinking that in ground will be better for watering is right on the money. It sounds like your lasagna plan is about saving time -- but half an hour here, half an hour there, it really, really, really adds up -- esp. since the "half hour" always turns out to be a lot longer than that. Check out the cost of renting a rototiller -- you'd only need it for a day. You don't necessarily want to do a huge bed this year -- 4 foot by 10 or 15 is enough for a slew of tomatoes, etc. Rototill up the bed, rototill in the compost (plus peat moss and sand -- "topsoil" is a racket, as far as I'm concerned). Newspaper works fine for mulch -- you can just cut holes for the plants as you put them in, then add more compost, etc., later this summer.

As far as when to plant -- zone isn't as important as "last frost date." I'm, strictly speaking, zone 6 -- but it's a city garden and I've got a zone 7+ microclimate in my side yard. For veggies, though (not my specialty, let me reemphasize -- I'm a flower-growin' gal), I wait for the last frost date, which is May 15th around here. The last frost may well be before that, but unless thinks are extremely screwy, it won't be after that. Your local garden center will probably know what it is for you -- and unless you're planning to to serious protection, you shouldn't plant before then. And it sounds like you're not going to want to go tearing over there some evening when the temperature dips.

Companion plantings -- there are books about 'em, but I've also heard that most of it is just old wives' tales, no truth to it. Go ahead and plant some marigolds with the tomatoes -- they're pretty!
#6
Old 04-21-2003, 06:17 PM
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Join Date: May 2001
Location: A house.
Posts: 3,778
my friend gave me this hint regarding tomatos.

Get a bucket and drill a hole on the bottom.
Put a tomato plant through the hole and fill the bucket with soil.
then hang the bucket as you would a hanging plant, with the tomato plant sticking out of the bottom.
This way, you don't need a cage and none of the tomatos will bruise.

I haven't done this, but I saw his and they look great!
#7
Old 04-21-2003, 07:11 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2002
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Posts: 1,023
Bad News Baboon does that mean the plant would be growing down out of the hole in the bottom of the bucket? I'll try some ASCII:

======
I..........I
I..........I
I..........I
I..........I
======
......I
......I
..*****
.******
*******
*o*o*o*
..*****


The *'s being the plant foliage.
#8
Old 04-21-2003, 11:48 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Chambana
Posts: 1,160
Hi again, and thanks for your replies. I appreciate the help.

I have a bookmarked link to the upside down tomatoes. I grew Supersweet 100 cherry tomatoes, and Tami G grape tomatoes in this way last year, just for the hell of it. My porch here does not get full sun, so they did not produce like my container plants in the driveway, but they were good for a conversation piece. The Supersweets were delicous, but the Tami G's were thick-skinned and nasty. I imagine that if I tried to build a structure to hang the buckets from out in full sun, this could work pretty well. I might try it again next year at the new place, when we are hopefully not as busy.

Here's that link:http://gardengatemagazine.com/tips/39tip5.html

We just got back from our new house; we are prepping the upstairs for painting. I did not have time to get out in the yard at all this trip like I hoped I would, but we got a lot done indoors. The place keeps belching out boxes of stuff from hidden corners yet. I looked behind the open door of our future bedroom, and found a mighty and imposing cache of 1970's decorative items and linens. I got a bit distracted- and horrified- by how many items in the boxes were exactly the same as items I grew up with in my childhood home. I'm still having harvest gold and avacodo green flashbacks!

I hope to get started on the garden by the end of the week, if possible.
#9
Old 04-21-2003, 11:59 PM
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Join Date: May 2001
Location: Indiana
Posts: 5,855
I'm a fan of raised bed gardening which sounds similar to your "lasagna" garden. I'm in zone 5 and with a soaker hose on a timer, I have wonderful flowers and veggies.

Now if you could only find a way to compost those harvest gold and avacado green accessories....
#10
Old 04-22-2003, 01:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by fizgig
Bad News Baboon does that mean the plant would be growing down out of the hole in the bottom of the bucket?
That's exactly what it looks like!
pretty neat, eh?
I would have never thought it would work until I saw it.

Just make sure you use a sturdy beam, as a bucket of soil is rather heavy.
#11
Old 04-22-2003, 06:55 AM
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How big a bucket do you need? I'm totally intrigued by this. My standard yard buckets are empty five-gallon mud buckets (my BIL's a carpenter) -- fill that with dirt and a plant and it would weigh a ton. Could you do this with a standard 12" plant pot?
#12
Old 04-22-2003, 07:23 AM
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Not sure how garden savvy you are (sounds like you are pretty good, but just in case), but here is the absolute best piece of advice I can give you:

Whatever you do, make sure that you do NOT use the black walnut leaves in your #2 layer of "grass clippings and yard waste" because the leaves (and other stuff exuded by the roots of the plant) are toxic. Please see the following link:

http://suite101.com/article.cfm/...dventures/2479

Not much will grow under or near black walnut trees. I have also heard this from other reputable sources, including Mike McGrath, the organic gardening guru on my local NPR station. So when you set your compost layer, you will have to use other kinds of leaves.

Also, I have heard that some gardeners get good results from marigolds in the garden as anti-mosquito devices. I cannot provide any feedback on this, as personally I loathe the suckers (both the plants and the bugs), but my mom swears by them, and she has the greenest thumb of anyone I know - she can get cacti to grow outside in PA all year.
#13
Old 04-22-2003, 07:55 AM
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Twickster, I grew my cherry and grape tomatoes in two gallon hanging planters (I just widened the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to accomodate the plant), and did not get a huge harvest. For bigger tomatoes or a bigger yield in general, you'd want to use the five gallon buckets, provided you have a strong enough support to hang them from.

After enlarging the drainage hole with an old utility scissors, I took the plant out of the cell pack. Next, I cut a slit in a paper coffee filter and gently pushed the roots though the slit. Then I rolled the filter carefully, so the paper-coated roots could be pushed up though the bottom ot the pot.

Once the plant was in place, I spread out the coffee filter, and gave it a little twist to help hold the plant in until it had a chance to root itself well. For the next part, I hooked the planter onto my fence to hold it up while I worked. I added Metro Mix growing medium and some osmocote fertilizer. To top off the planter, I planted a couple of small marigolds for color.


BY the end of the summer, before I stopped watering my plants faithfully, the sweet 100's vines were trailing down to the floor of my porch. It was visually interesting, and passers-by asked about it pretty often.

Once I have the time, I'm thinking of hanging some kind of trailing greenery out the bottom of those same pots, and planting some wave petunias in the top. If it works, it could look really striking hanging from my new porch. I wonder what kind of greenery would work for this...

Rockle, my new yard has no black walnut trees. Yay! Our first house here in Missouri, and the house we are moving out of presently, are overrun with the things. They make up most of our shade canopy around this house.

I am SO looking forward to being able to grow stuff in the ground.
#14
Old 04-22-2003, 08:33 AM
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I've read about marigolds as a companion plant too, only not for mosquitos... I believe they're supposed to help you out with slugs, esp. where tomatoes are concerned. I'm not a fan of tomatoes, so YMMV. I don't think it could hurt to plant some -- but please let us know if you get critters or if you don't. I'm curious to see how effective that is.

Since y'all are big into salsa, I'd suggest planting some basil and oregano near the tomatoes. If for nothing else, for convenient harvesting purposes... you can make a lovely tomato sauce complete with fresh herbs, without leaving your yard. How cool is that?
#15
Old 04-22-2003, 09:30 AM
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Tab, I am *so* sorry about that. If I had actually paid attention to what I was reading I would have seen that, right there in you OP, you said that your "present home has a shaded yard, full of black walnut trees. I ... haven't ever tried to grow much in the ground." D'oh!! Major blonde moment there.

Dogzilla's suggestion about planting basil and oregano near your 'maters is a good one. I always grow tomatoes, basil, and oregano all together in the same pots on the back porch. Basil and oregano seem to help the plants grow "stockier" and it definitely affects the flavor of the fruit. If you like to eat fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes - and it sounds like you do - I think you will love the results. But, it sounds like you *may* already know that.

And while we're sort of on topic - Dogzilla is also right about the marigolds-vs.-slugs factor. My mom usually has big problems with slugs eating her Gerbera daisies and since she started planting marigolds with the Gerberas the slugfest has stopped.
#16
Old 04-22-2003, 10:15 AM
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To get rid of snails & earwigs, put a small bowl of the cheapest beer you can find in the yard. They are attracted to it at night.

Might not be the thing to do if you have pets cuz you don't want Fido drunk :-)
#17
Old 04-22-2003, 11:42 AM
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No worries, rockle. Every waking moment of my life is a geniune blonde moment (though as I get older I'm starting to have the occasional "gray moment"<grin>). And your advice is helpful indeed. I need a lot of free organic material to start my beds at the new place; I could have made the mistake of taking a bag or two of leaf mulch from my yard here to fill in over there. Luckily, we make every trip up there with a carload of winter clothes and other stuff we can do without till we move, so there's no room for trash bags of yard waste. Otherwise, the thought might have crossed my mind, and I might've made a big gardening mistake. I still have much to learn...hence this thread.

Dogzilla, I'll plant basil and oregano with my tomatoes. YUM! Do you think that cilantro would be happy near them as well? <getting hungry>

Ruby, I'm glad this method works well for you. That's encouraging.
Hmmmm... I wonder if I could hide the seventies relics amongst my plants to terrify unwanted wildlife. Heh.

Thanks, Handy, if I find oogy, pulsating slugs in my new yard, and the marigolds don't faze them, I will try this, at least for now. Later on, I want to try to encourage toads to move into the garden for bug control. Will toads drink the beer? I don't want to pickle my toads!

Another question:
Do scarecrows work for you? If so, what type of scarecrow do you use?
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