My first garden

anuzzieAugust 26, 2013

Hi all,
I am finally ready to start my first garden! I have a border space, 2'x40' long all set with sprinklers. I live in the sf Bay Area, east of sf where it is dry and hot in the summer.

I have so many questions!
1. I'm planning to buy compost from my local nursery to work into the top few inches of soil. Should I wait any period of time to sow seeds?

2. I've decided to do a lettuce mix, kale, Swiss chard, basil, thyme and maybe sugar snap peas. I have read that the lettuce, kale, and chard can be put into the ground. How do I do this? Put 1 seed every 12" or so? Or plant them closer together?

3. Any other "easy" winter veggies I should consider?


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All the seeds you mentioned should be sown more closely, then thinned. Peas should end up spaced at about 2-3"

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 1:10PM
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You can plant in the compost after you top dress or amend the planting area.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 4:24PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Here is a list of things that I grow for fall and winter:
Greens: collards, mustard, turnip, kale, asian
cabbage: regular and Napa
onions: green
garlic (it's easiest to just cut the green of these rather than trying for bulbs)
*these are not exactly easy though lots of people do grow them successfully.

Since it's your first time to grow, I would recommend that you dig in (at least a foot deep) as many amendments as you can get your hands on (leaves, compost, manure, peat moss, etc.), then cover it with mulch (straw, newspaper, etc., not wood chips) and let it sit for two weeks. THEN dig it lightly again to break up clods and mix everything in well before you plant. It will make a big difference.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 6:34PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

anuzzie, I'm up in the north bay (Santa Rosa) and though not quite as hot as you (East bay?), similar conditions.
All of what Donna suggested are good, but basil will be gone at first frost. Plan for the basil for later spring. It won't tolerate frost at ALL!
Up in our neck of the woods, we have a horrible gopher problem! Check around with neighbors to see if this is a problem. If so, there are other methods you'll want to follow.
Almost all herbs grow through the winter and are perennial in our area, but be SURE to research before you plant! Many are very invasive! I've actually had to rip everything out of an herb garden cause it went so wild! I re-planted in a container garden and am much happier with the controlled herbs! (actually, I've got lemon verbena and oregano growing back into that old bed 5 years after ripping it out!)
Do lots of reading on these boards, start composting if you have the room, check out your local landfill for compost (ours is certified organic and sells for about $15 per yard)
Research what you want to grow! Go to the organic market and ask about everything, buy ONE parsnip (or whatever) before you dedicate a spot in the garden for it. Why grow parsnips if no one will eat them?
Don't feel bad about buying starts at a local market at first! I still go mostly from starts, but since I've retired this summer, I'll probably start from seeds for many things
Oh my! And I go on! LOL
Happy gardening! And don't hesitate to ask questions! Nancy

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 9:09PM
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Thanks for your help!

We have had gophers in the past (or maybe they were moles...they ruined our grass by digging up holes all over)...and I certainly don't want to do anything to attract them again...will have to look that one up.

Nancy, yes, I am in the east bay, east of the Caldecott tunnel.

Another question...I have some seeds from baker creek that I bought awhile ago and say for 2012. Can I still use them?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 1:08AM
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ediej1209(5 N Central OH)

Anuzzie, sometimes seed can stay viable for a couple of years past the "sell by" or "packed for" date. To test whether yours are still good, take a couple of seeds from the packet and put them in the middle of a wet paper towel, fold the towel around them, put it in a baggie and put it somewhere relatively warm (like the top of your refrigerator). Let them sit for 5 - 7 day and then open the towel and see if anything germinated. Good luck! And more importantly, have fun!!

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 2:05PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

If there are gophers in your area, you will probably want to build some raised beds with hardware cloth (wire with very small holes. NOT chicken wire! It will rot and the holes are too big)
I've also been using those chattering devices that you can buy at the big box stores, or the solar ones at a local feed store. We had planted some squash in-ground, then when the gophers came and ate a bunch of them we put in one of those devices and haven't seen a gopher in the area since!
Check around the neighborhood and ask around, cause there's nothing worse than actually watching your plants get pulled down into the ground! Good luck! Nancy

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 8:30PM
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I know it is frustrating, but I strongly advise you not to plant anything without protecting against gophers first. Otherwise there is a very good chance that the gophers will destroy your entire garden. I would personally not rely on any repellent working. Some people have reported good results with noisemaker type devices. But the ones I have tried have not worked for me. If you can get the exact ones that worked for Nancy, that might be a way to go.

Otherwise, check out the link I put at the end of this post. In particular, look at figure 4. You should do something like that.
Since your border is 2 feet wide by 40 feet long, you could make 5 raised beds that are 2 feet by 8 feet, say. Or 4 beds, with some space in between.

Attach half inch hardware cloth (from home depot) to the bottom of your wood frame beds. There must be no gaps. Use staples or nails or screws to attach the hardware cloth to the bottom or outsides of the frame.

For wood, you can use con heart redwood if you want it to last for more than around 5 years. Ordinary lumber (Douglass Fir) will probably last around 3 to 5 years.

I would probably use 2x6 lumber. But if you want to grow full size carrots, you may want to use 2x12's to get more depth. But that means digging deeper to make room for the bed.

Dig out some soil to make room for the frames. Then put the frame in (with hardware cloth already attached to the bottom), and put the soil back in the frame. Note that the frame should be level so that water doesn't run off. Also, the frame should protrude up above the ground by 2 inches or more all around. This 2 inch (or more) lip will prevent the gophers from walking in above ground.

An easier way to do this, without so much digging, is to simply lay the frame on the ground (dig just enough to get it level if needed) and then fill in the entire box with purchased topsoil or potting soil. The drawback there is the expense of the topsoil.

One more thing. The corners of these wood frames tend to spread apart. The easiest way to prevent this is to use some kind of steel construction fitting to hold the corner securely. I use straight galvanized straps from home depot. They cost around 80 cents each. I bend them around the corners and screw them in with galvanized screws. You can go to the simpson strong tie website if you want to browse all kinds of construction fittings.

Very last point. It is much better to water with some type of drip irrigation than sprinklers. Sprinkling tends to promote various types of problems with the leaves (like mold and mildew).

Best of luck and please check in periodically with your results! (Oh, I agree that it is too late to plant basil in your area).


Here is a link that might be useful: living with gophers

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 12:01AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Those that dig up the grass and make mounds, are moles, not gophers. Moles are only interested in grubs and worms. But gophers, I have heard, are vegetarians. And also have heard that they use mole's tunnels .

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 3:30PM
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I know very little about moles. But I have dealt with pocket gophers quite a bit. They do eat grass roots and make mounds in grass fields. The mounds are not necessarily near where gophers are actively eating. Basically, as they dig, they push the soil through their tunnel network and out of certain holes until a mound forms. The feeding holes don't have mounds and can be difficult to detect. Because the original poster is in the East bay area, I am pretty sure he/she had pocket gophers, not moles. They are a plague throughout this area.

I don't know if gophers are vegetarians, but they eat the roots of just about anything in a vegetable garden, including garlic bulbs. They also sometimes chew through vines which touch the ground (such as pumpkin vines). After eating the roots, they will sometimes pull the whole plant down into their hole. They typically plug up the hole afterwards, so it looks like the plant just disappeared. They can eat all the roots of a plant in 1 day, and pull the plant in the next day.

They also sometimes find their way inside pumpkins which rest on the ground and eat the whole thing from the inside.


    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 6:30PM
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A good general discussion on moles and gophers can be found here:

Biodynamic French Intensive Method

Both moles and gophers are a problem throughout the SF Bay area. Gophers tunnel deep, whereas moles crawl just under the surface. Gophers you can trap fairly easily, but moles are more difficult. See above link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Alan Chadwick

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 5:15PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

All of the above!
Most of my garden is in raised beds lined with gopher wire. I just mentioned the chattering devices because they actually have been working very well for us. I would be very afraid to try the garden without the hardware cloth!
When I create a new bed, I always dig/loosen the soil as deep as possible, then add horse manure Then I add the box lined with hardware cloth, then the soil/compost mix from the landfill (working some of it into the soil to fill in pockets before placing the box!)
Lastly the chattering devices! This year we tried them on our septic mound and they all went away! Just saying.... Nancy

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 9:09PM
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