Planning next years garden. Need some suggestions.

ibarney5(6)July 21, 2012

This year was our first year at the new house and also our first year to garden. Well we had a few mis-steps along the way but we did manage to grow some tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and banana peppers. One major screw-up we had was tilling the soil up grass and all. The crab-grass and bermuda grass kicked our asses all year. That's another thing I discovered. We have those. Well anyways, we learned a lot of valuable lessons.

Well our garden still has a little life left in it, but the weeds have completely taken over and it's just a matter of time so I want to get a good head-start on next year. Few questions.

-Our grass is very invasive. Next year I plan to convert a much larger part of my back-yard into long-term gardens. What would you suggest I do to have much better success? I've done a lot of research about lasagna gardening, but have seen mixed reviews on it's usefulness against bermuda grass. What should I do then? I have ample access to sheets of cardboard. Would digging down a few inches and covering with cardboard work here? I'm not weary of using round-up outside the veggie garden, but I don't know if I would want to use it in the garden. But if that is what i'd have to do then I would consider it.

-Another challenge I face is a gentle sloping backyard. I don't know how well you can tell from the picture. It's not dramatic, but it does slope. My question is, at what slope should I plan to do a terrace garden? What exactly is the best/most inexpensive way to go about doing such a project?

I will post more questions as I have time. Work is calling me. Thanks for any responses. They will be much appreciated.

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AiliDeSpain(6a - Utah)

Have you considered building raised beds? Your grass would not be a problem then.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 12:35PM
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Wouldnt the grass grow up into the bed?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 8:47PM
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My suggestion is to lay out raised beds. Forget all the wooden boards and concrete blocks. If the slope warrants, you can dry stack blocks to step terrace, or use sand bags. The beds should be 3 feet wide by whatever distance long. Were it me, I would double dig the beds and add significant amounts of organic matter. Let the paths between the beds be wide enough for a wheel barrow or garden cart. With grasses, often they tend to sprout where one walks, by not walking in your beds you'll have much less of a sprouting problem. With your beds fluffy, the weeds that sprout are easy to pull. If you stock pile leaves this fall, you can use them next spring to mulch your plants. If you mulch deeply this will help your weed problem as well. Don't forget there is still time to plant fall coles, turnips, radishes, lettuce,bunching, and multiplying onions, shallots and garlic, etc. Next years garden can start today.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 10:28PM
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That yard is a great size.
wish I had a yard that big.
although this tear I tour up my grass
And put in a garden. Here are the pictures.
Each step of the way.
I agree with above.
put in your raised beds.
Then dig out grass like 2 feet down.
Chop it up.
Mabye add some rock for drainage.
I didn't.
Fill them with good soil and you'll be
growing tons of stuff.
My beds are 5 feet wide and 12 feet long.
Then back one 3 feet wide and 10 long.
With smaller ones as well.
next year I plan to make much better though by
Raising my beds 2-3 FT Higher. Easier
On the back.

Depending on the amount of sun you get you
have the space for a excellent garden.
Get creative and build trellises
and just use your space wisely.
I also have irragation.
But water by hose too.
Space everything with enough space, although
it may not seem that way early.
Certain plants Ive learned grow big.
In the next post ill post a few updated pics.
You could use the rest of this season to build
your boxes and prep a lot so your ready to
go by next.
Goodluck hope this helps a little.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 10:54PM
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For the larger area that you are planning, if you are wanting more plants than what a few raised beds would handle, I would say get some low quality hay or straw, don't spend a lot of money on it, or get some free cardboard, newspapers, anything that will block light, and smother the area completely.

Hay, straw, cardboard, newspapers will all break down into nice organic matter for you, helping the soil hold more moisture and provide a better feel to the soil. Call around to find any horse stables or farms near you and ask if you could get any of their manure, that will invite a TON of bacteria and worms into your garden space and help enrich your soil more.

The thing about grass is that it is the single biggest nutrient robber for gardens. It leeches the Nitrogen out of the soil, the grass will use the N first before your veggies get to it.

Think about renting a tiller next spring, a medium sized roto tiller to bust up what you've smothered. With the grass dead the tiller will just gnaw through the top few inches of soil no problem, and if you find any manure a tiller will help incorporate it.

To fight weeds and help the soil retain moisture, you'll want to mulch next year. It blocks sunlight from getting to newly sprouted grass seeds, it helps the soils stay more even with their temperatures and it helps to retain moisture by keeping the surface from baking. However, don't mulch with wood chips, they are a carrier for a lot of kinds of fungus, and as whole chips of wood break down in the soil, the bacteria that eats the cellulose and turn it into humus uses nitrogen for the conversion. Once the wood is eaten the nitrogen is again free in your garden, but if they are working while you are growing you'll have to add supplemental N during the season.

A gentle slope is no problem at all, one of my spots of garden slopes, and I am thankful for it. Completely flat areas are terrible spots for ponding if you get a 2 or 3 inch rain, and soggy roots are always a detriment to what plants are trying to grow through. The roots need air and only slightly moist soil to grow well in, anything soggy and you will see shallow root growth, so count yourself lucky :)

If you want to keep the weeds at bay without mulching, one of the best chemical controls you can use is preen. It is a pre-emergent herbicide that controls some broad leafs and a LOT of different kinds of grasses. Grasses are hard to pull by hand but the occasional broad leafs are easy pickings.

Be sure to read the label on any chmical you do decide to use, other acceptable chemicals that you can use you would have to get from a fertilizer and farm chemical place, and I won't recommend any chemicals by name, mostly because their applications are too specific, and you'd have to consult for which plants you wanted to keep weed free, strawberries for example have specific herbicides that will keep weeds down without harming the berries.

Also, I have to add that roundup is what we in the farm business call a burn down chemical. It will kill all plants with the exceptions of a couple of weeds that have gained resistance in the last few years (water hemlock and canadian thistle). Roundup can be used to burn down the area that you are wanting to clear for next year, and you won't have to go looking for any hay or cardboard, but it also won't add any organic matter to the soil the way the latter would.

Two years ago I read that if you physically block the plants from being sprayed, like with a big foam board, then you can spray roundup in between your rows and kill the weeds without hurting your plants. I tried it and it worked well, the weeds all died. But I used a hand sprayer and I applied it at much too high of a rate apparently. We got a hard half an inch of rain, and some of the roundup that was still on the leaves of the dead grass from my over-application splashed onto my corn... and it died.

The next year I had tomatoes that I kept the weeds down with roundup on, and I took every precaution, checked the forecast to make sure that It wouldn't rain, and I sprayed so carefully. The tomatoes apparently got a bare whiff of the stuff and turned out looking like this:

I'm just trying to pass on the mistakes I've made, but my own rule of thumb is that roundup goes nowhere near my garden when I am growing, because I am apparently reckless with it :)

But preen will keep your bare dirt weed free, except for a few stragglers, for the better part of 3 months. 2 applications should keep you weed free for the whole growing season. Or find cheapo hay and have it amend your soils!

Where are you from?

Here is a link that might be useful: My Garden, Hope it gives insight

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 11:25PM
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AiliDeSpain(6a - Utah)

All good ideas! I am considering doing raised beds next year but I'm not sure yet, my little plot is doing pretty good for the crappy soil I had to work with.

Regarding the weed issue, if you were to not do raised beds but laid down hardware cloth, wouldn't that help keep the grass and weeds out? I personally would never use round up anywhere near my precious plants! I mulch with wood and it has not stunted any of my plants growth due to N tie up...I heard that the effect on N use is actually minimal because the wood is on the surface and not in the soil. The mulch does really help keep the weeds down, I don't have a ton of weeds anyway but the ones that do creep up I dig out with my little garden trowel. The amount of time I have to spend doing this is minimal.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 11:34PM
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Ali D you're right that wood mulch does not tie up N when on the surface, but it can potentially act as a fungal carrier. I have never seen any fungal problems with wood mulch, but I keep hearing about them on these forums, and I am taking their word for it, I suppose.

Over time though I would imagine that eventually the wood mulch would incorporate into the soil and start to be eaten, and I just wanted to inform the OP that there was that factor to consider, but I felt that explaining it all in complete detail might have been too wordy. I thought my post was long enough to begin with! :P

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 12:17AM
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I've been very happy with my lasagna beds. We do not need a rototiller. We did remove grass, very old sod and very thick, from a new perennial bed and ended up having to add new soil back in.

We moved here in 2007 with no time for a garden except some tomatoes in pots. We had the space but were too busy with major house renovations so I worked when I could at building The Best Lasagna Bed. I think it got 24 inches high but compacted by at least half by spring. In the spring it was topped with composted horse manure which also included bedding and kitchen scraps. Found the source on Craigslist and vist every spring.

The bed is now even with the rest of the lawn. We either leave a wide space between beds for the garden tractor to mow or I put wet newspapers down topped with grass clipping in walking paths to keep down weeds. Yes, we have terrible grasses that put out runners, also a pretty creeping weed with scalloped leaves.

I think the worms in the garden are a testimony to how rich the soil is thanks to all the old leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc. If you don't walk on the beds they stay soft. My chief weeding tools are a pair of inexpensive gloves with rough rubber palms and fingers (bought at the farm store) and a hand weeder (L shaped blade).

But there are other tricks. If something is growing in the space, there's no room for weeds. Last year I didn't properly mulch a new bed where I planted blueberry bushes. The weeds just loved all the available space. This year I planted marigolds and cucumbers to cover the space between the blueberry bushes. It was a last minute decision. I need to put some cucumber plants some place! I have had very few weeds to pull.

Tomatoes are planted to give enough space for growth but close enough so they shade out weeds. The beds stay pretty good after initial spring weeding. I could also be mulching the beds with grass clippings and/or old leaves. The same thing happens with other vegetables. Once the green beans get a good start, they shade out the weeds.

The worst place for weeds is the bare grown between the row and the lawn. If I had enough time I would edge all the beds with grass covered newspapers. This really helps to keep the runner grasses out although not 100%.

My new winter squash bed was built quickly ON TOP of a weedy perennial bed I started when we moved here in 2007. It was supposed to be temporary, just a place to hold the plants I brought from our old house. I never weeded it, just dug out plants when I had a place to move them to. So this year I got out the rest of the perennials then weed whacked the bed. Spread a thick layer of wet newspapers topped with fresh grass clippings. Haven't had time to add anything else. I left spaces for squash hills. I dug a hole in each, heaped in a bunch of composted manure and planted. I haven't had to weed the bed at all. The squash are just beginning to run (planted late here in NH).

I think weeds get a good start in beds when weeding stops but the ground is bare after frost has gotten the garden. They may not start growing until spring but the seeds get there from birds and wind. I have had the creeping jenny/Charlie overtake a bed by spring so I cover it with black plastic to kills the plants. I leave it for several weeks. This year I may leave it all winter. Although some year I might get smart enough to grow a green manure crop.

Best wishes for your gardens. I have a slightly sloped bed and had to ask my husband to put up a 6 or 8" wood plank "retaining wall" on the lower side.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 7:35AM
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I have way more slope than you, and I love my permanent terraced beds. Sometimes getting to the top is like a stairmaster, but nothing can be done about that. Talk about drainage. Last week we got 3 inches of rain from a stand-still thunderstorm, and I could work in the beds the next day. Start small, at the bottom of your slope, and expand each year.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 9:07AM
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Has anyone had any experience making raised beds out of old pallets. We have pallets at the grocery store I work at and I could easily snag a few. Would they be safe to use in a vegetable garden?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 12:33PM
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lantanascape(z6 Idaho)

I had bermuda grass at my place in Bakersfield, and it helped a lot to dig a trench around the garden and put in a buried barrier or some type about 1' deep. This will block a lot of the roots from spreading into your garden. You'll need to do something to dig out or kill the grass within the garden space, and then leave a perimiter of unplanted path between your garden beds and the barrier, and cover it with weed cloth or layers of cardboard. Do your best not to water this area. If you get a considerable amount of precipitation during the growing season, you might consider a waterproof material for your paths, like black plastic. The grass roots will be less likely to move into a dried out zone of soil.

You have my sympathies. I am in my third season at our new house, and am working on implementing this strategy to keep the whitetop and bindweed out of my garden space. Building a buffer zone in between the weed source and the beds is the best defense against root-spreading weeds.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 2:50PM
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Pallets would work for a raised bed, just make sure you make the sides high enough, you want a good foot and a half at least of depth.

Also, don't fill it with potting soil, potting soil is vermiculite and perlite (small rocks good for aeration in starter pots) along with peat, and peat is woody, it will break down after your first season and the bed will be nearly empty by the next spring. You will want to fill the beds with topsoil mixed with compost or composted manure, about 1/3 compost and 2/3 soil.

The wood on the pallets may not be thick enough to last you much more than 5 years, but it should work for at least that long. Over time the soil microbes and bacteria will eat the wood if it is untreated. Pressure treated wood was popular for raised beds until studies showed that the chemicals used to treat the wood (chromium, copper, and arsenic) started seeping into gardeners' raised beds and caused problems with their plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pressure treated lumber in gardens

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 4:33PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

Here is a link to pictures of my vegetable garden done on a slope. I used to lament the fact that we did not pay to have someone level it out but from a drainage perspective, I like it. The beds are permanent, lined in rocks. Some are actually somewhat sunken to capture more water in my dry clime. Most of the time I just level out the spot where I am planting, it is easier to do on a small scale. Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Veggie garden on a slope

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 4:39PM
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I am tagging onto this thread so as not to break the rule of posting a topic that is already posted. I hope people are still reading this thread and will reply. :D

I too am planning my garden for next year. We also just bought an acre, so I'm reading this thread with interest!

We also have bermuda and johnson grass growing where I want my garden. We also have moles and grasshoppers in droves!

I have created a layout and developed a bit of a plan. I know where I want my permanent plants like fruit trees and shrubs.

I have a riding mower and am looking at buying a used tiller. But, my questions will help me make this decision!

I am thinking about making the paths between beds lawn that I can just mow with the mower, then just rake or blow the grass clippings into the beds.

Would it work to put pavers between the lawn path and the bed to keep the grass out?

I am wanting to start some beds right away, so I could purchase some compost and supplies. However, I also have moving boxes I can use to begin a lasagna system. I have tons of leaves in the back area I can cart to the garden area.

Do I need to till up any of this space? It will be 1/4 acre (includes area for fruit trees).

Or, I could order some truckloads of compost and do it all at once. My biggest worry about that is working it into the existing dirt and killing the bermuda where I want to kill it. The existing dirt is like cement right now - even after watering.

Does this mean I need a tiller? Or, do I hope that putting compost on top of compacted dirt will work? How well will plant roots break into that?

Thanks for reading.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 5:58PM
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bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

I would caution against using pallets. They are often treated/contaminated with chemicals. I haven't verified this, but I was also told that wood pallets from outside the US are treated with some very nasty chemicals to prevent the spread of wood-born insects.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 10:49PM
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emepro: if you till weedy grass it chops up the roots to make lots of new weeds. I would use the lasagna method. Order compost for the top layer. All the plant materials in the lasagna layers will attract earthworms. Let the worms and vegetable roots do the work. One of our cooperative extension agents built lasagna beds on top of concrete to prove it could be done.

Don't bother with pavers. Weeds will grow up in the spaces between. They would look nice but I would put down a base of gravel and sand first.

We don't use a tiller. Originally I like a Mantis mini tiller to do between rows but now I plant too densely. A hand tool works the best. If you don't walk on your beds by keeping them narrow 3-4', the dirt should stay loose. I am having trouble in one bed but I think I'm getting tiny rootlets from a nearby maple tree.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 7:26AM
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Heat-treated pallets from the US are fine to use - we've used some to build a compost bin, and I'm thinking of making a vertical garden for lettuces and smaller plants next year, and making some raised beds (more like tables!) for my dad next year since he has a hard time bending over.

We have crabgrass that just wants to creep into the veggie garden all the time. My condolences on the Bermuda. Hardware cloth won't smother it (it's really not as fine as cloth, more like 1" square mesh), I don't even think landscape fabric or burlap will. I'd go with the biggest thickest pieces of cardboard you can find - like appliance boxes (to minimize seams where it can sneak through). Then pile your shredded leaves/newspaper/kitchen scraps/topsoil/compost on top of that. (Wondering where the worms came from if beds built on concrete? How'd they do drainage?)

Just had to share this quote from my 8-yo DD: "Grass is a weed! Why would anybody want to plant grass?" (I had to explain that while no one wants it in their garden, people do generally like grass in their lawns - we are going to have to reseed this fall, but actually I'm tending heavily toward just sowing clover.)

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:13AM
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Borrow or rent a sod cutter to remove the grass from the area you wish to garden. Then till and add amendments. Mulch to keep weeds from sprouting (crabgrass is an annual -- removing the sod & tilling will not keep it from appearing unless you deny it the light it craves). As soon as a weed pops up, pull it. (NEVER pass a weed and leave it!) Keep Bermuda grass from encroaching from your yard by keeping a watchful eye & removing as soon as it gets near. Good luck!!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 12:01PM
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