This year, I started a vegetable garden. From going online and reading books and magazines (but I sadly didn't know about Dave's Garden at that time!) I decided on a 10x16 plot. I read somewhere that a family of 4 needed about 5-6 tomato plants, so I thought that, for my family of 7, I'd grow about 12. I ended up with 16, but I thought I'd plant them in two small rows, no problem...
Well, I found out that they required 3 foot of space each, so my whole 10x16 foot garden ended up being 3 rows of tomato plants, one row of peppers, and one row of marigolds. Frustrated, I thought I'd at least have lots of tomatoes!
I only ended up with 4 green tomatoes out of 16 plants. We did have a lot of rain this year, an unusual amount for Tennessee, but only 4 tomatoes! They never turned red- they were gone before I could pluck them!
I figured out that it was probably deer eating my tomatoes, and that the backyard had too many trees for one of my rows to get enough sun.
So this winter, I decided to make the plot 20X22 feet. I have spread carboard and newspaper over the area, and it looks big and frightening!!! My brother is coming this Thursday to cut down some bothersome trees, and we are going to make the garden raised, so it will be away from any tree roots, rabbits, and hopefully deter deer some?
Is 20x22 feet too large a garden? There are 7 of us, but 3 are children and the adults are a bit veggie shy (more meat and pasta types). I thought of growing potatoes, lettuce, carrots, peppers, and also italian style herbs and tomatoes. Maybe more, I'm new to vegetables and want to eat healthy. Any suggestions?
I would like it to look pretty, too. I thought that maybe the garden would be less overwhelming if I divided it into 4 blocks or more with mulched paths in between? Or would that not be enough room for a garden for a large family like mine?
Thanks for your help! I'm hoping that I've learned from silly mistakes and that the 2nd time will be the charm.
I am an older gardener who just started a veggie garden this year. I am using the square foot gardening method, sort of. Meaning that some of my plots are not 4x4. This year will be a year of learning for me too. The square foot gardening system is one of amended raised beds that are planted intensely. Larger vining plants like most tomatoes, cucumbers, and some squash can be planted to grow up on a trellis or fence. They take up less space this way. Plant them so they will not shade other plants as the grow. I suggest you plant what you love. You may have to consider a barrier of some sort to keep out the deer. They do seem to love tomatoes.
Just wanted to add a word of encouragement. I have found that I am trimming bushes back to accomodate beds that are getting too much shade, too.
I am having to pay more attention to plant starting times. I made myself a table to help know when to plant. I am in South East Florida, so most of my planting will be done in the next few months. Summer will be too hot for most of the common veggies in the US.
"Some days, you're the windshield, some days you're the bug". Farming, small scale or large, is very unpredictable.
For Cindy and me, two bearing tomato plants is more than we can eat & we do like our tomatoes. So of course I plant a half dozen (LOL!!). The point is, you might be able to devote less of your space to tomatoes.
For tomatoes, one factor that can lead to plenty of plant but little fruit is lots of nitrogen in the soil. Don't know if this is your situation, but resist that temptation to fertilize tomatoes.
A short fence will keep rabbits out (we use lengths of 12" wide strips of shade cloth on 1x2 "posts"). Keeping deer out takes a tall fence or electric fence. As for squirrels, well, they're gonna get theirs.
My preference for layout would be 3 to 4 ft wide raised beds with 2 ft wide heavily mulched paths, sized to what you will enjoy working without it becoming an unpleasant chore.
Anything you grow will be nutritious. The best summarized dietary advice I've heard is "Eat a wide variety of foods, not too much, mostly vegetable.". I'd suggest that you grow stuff your family likes & not worry too much about "healthy".
Do it because you love (or at the very least enjoy) gardening!!!
I started the garden with my grand kids. They pulled a lot of weeds out that I didn’t have the strength to get. As they are getting older, they are not as interested, but still plant pole beans, cukes and love eating the beans. My garden is very small, and poorly located (it sometimes becomes a lake), zone 4a and it has sometimes been a great frustration (when the “Rotten Rogers Rabbits” invade) but I find it “good therapy”, have truly enjoyed digging in the dirt, the challenge of it all and mostly having the flowers and veggies (limited as they are). It is split half and half between flower and veggies with ornamental grasses dividing the two. Last year I started adding a few perennials that I bought on clearance, gave them plenty of tlc and use as I can in decorative containers and then move back to the garden in the fall. This year started almost all of my annuals and veggies from seeds which I am new to also.
It can be a lot of work and time consuming (I’m anal about weeds…LOL) but always challenging and interesting. This is was almost a total bust. The weather just did not cooperate. Extremely cool spring and summer, dry and then too much rain; a very cold fall, with a lot of rain, wind, snow and more rain. We did have beans and tomatoes but not as many as in previous years. The peppers were minimal and very small. Couldn’t believe had 2 cukes that were about 4x4” and then lost them to mildew along with the zucchini, yellow squash. The “Rotten Rogers Rabbits” got the English peas! So now way could we feed our family from the garden, but everyone enjoyed the pole beans!!!
I don’t have enough room to make formal paths through the garden, but I do leave room so that I can get to the weeds. You are right … it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming but don’t let it get ya down
I don’t have my garden totally put away yet, but I’m already trying to decide what I will do differently next year and what I want to plant and when to start seeds. Gotta love it!!!!!!!!
Enjoy your garden! It is so much fun and filled with wonderment…wonder what will happen next…LOL
LadyAethylwyne - I think the size of a veggie garden should be one that you can comfortably manage. As others have said plant what your family likes to eat. Once they experience the difference in taste that "home grown" can give them, they will be anxious to grow more.
Next year my veggie garden will be six-thousand square feet, and there's just hubby and me. He's 77 and I'm 65. Once you get the hang of successfully growing your own veggies, you'll have the confidence to expand.
I'm sorry to hear that your tomatoes did so poorly. I suspect all that rain kept the pollen wet, so tomatoes were unable to form.
As to the deer - it amazes me that I can plant right up against a fence where we regularly see deer pass by - yet they never touch the plants! Now that I've said that - they will probably chow-down next year! I think the smell of our dogs keeps them away - it's only a guess.
Trees!! - We have raised beds, and tree roots grow right into them! Each spring, I dig, while hubby cuts back the roots.
Good luck with your gardening - there's nothing like stepping out the backdoor with a gathering basket and coming back in with it full of fresh vegetables grown by your own hand :) :)
The best advice I've ever gotten was to start small. If you tackle too much, at best you end up feeling overwhelmed; at worst, you end up hating it. Either way, you don't want to harvest what you've planted, or do it again the next season. There's always time to expand and find more space if it's something that's working well for you and you enjoy.
I also agree with what everyone else is saying--grow what you like to eat; the rest will follow. No point in planting tons of veggies, now matter how nutritious, that your family doesn't like. You'll just end up spending a lot of time to have it go to your compost when no one eats it.
I do raised beds, and I think your idea of breaking your space into smaller sections is a great one. First, it lets you tackle one area at a time, and rotate where you put your efforts. Second, it's nice to be able to easily get to where you need to be. Third, it does look nice!
And, as Frank (tarheel2az) mentioned, farming is very unpredictable. Some years are good, some are bad (almost everyone had a bad year with tomatoes this year), for reasons that are completely beyond your control. It's too bad your first year didn't go better, but hang in there--before you know it, it'll be planting time again! :)
Boy what a lot of good advice is on here. I too have found that a square foot garden is a great way to go. I would advise you to be careful on the soil mix .I had some trouble with my Mel's mix. I would read up on that part. Yes every year is different that's why we plant a variety of vegetables and stagger planting times by a week or two. This year tomatoes didn't work out for me but my bell peppers and green pole beans were just great. Did you know that a 4x8 square foot raised bed garden will raise as many vegetables as a 160 foot row crop garden. that's a lot less weeding and you don't need to till. Start small with a few favorites as you get the hang of it expand as needed. that way you will have fun. I row gardened for years and really got sick of all the weeds, tilling and over planting. The very best to you I sure hope this thread has helped you :-)
Thank you so much, everyone! I'm starting to feel excited again, especially now that I see that I don't have to devote a third of my backyard to a vegetable garden! (HoneybeeNC- a 6000 sq feet garden? Wow!!)
I think I had been feeling guilty because I have started so many flower beds over the last 4 years of home ownership, but no vegetable garden (butterfly garden, bird sanctuary, rose border, memory garden, daffodill hill, shade garden, porch border garden, sunny garden). In the meantime, my parents next door and I have been suffering financially since 2008 and struggling to have enough money for food. So I realized, duh, I have a 30x100 back yard, surely I should make a vegetable garden to feed our bodies (not just another flower garden to feed our spirits, grin).
In my rush to provide, I went about it the wrong way. Put down carboard and then plopped the plants down in rows with a bit of potting soil. No manure, no soil preparation (it was soft soil, though, from when my Pa had a garden there once). I also figured it would be sunny enough, because Pa had a garden in the whole backyard. I didn't think about the fact that Pa had been dead for 20 years and the backyard hills had grown into forests! I realized it when the plants came out very scraggly (except 4 or 5 tomato plants).
So now I know, grin. I'm going about it totally different this fall. I planned my flower gardens for months, now I'll plan my vegetable garden the same way! Like tusconjill said, start small and grow what you want...I was using a chart that said "best veggies for beginners" and it had turnips, radishes, and chard. I've never ate a turnip or a radish, and even my southern born mom doesn't know what a chard is (what is it?). I took an opinion poll today and my family told me they'd like big tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, onions, potatoes, lettuce, beans, squash, spinach, carrots, peas, and maybe watermelons and pumpkins. Nothing fancy, just delicious!
I'm trying to decide between 4 4x4 beds, 4 4x8 beds, or 4 8x8 beds (which would take up the whole 22x22 plot). Do y'all know which size would be best for the above? I'll probably just stick with 4 big tomato plants (beefsteak, big boy, etc) and 2 cherry tomato plants (tarheel2az, you sound like me with tomatoes!) and plant the rest according to family popularity. Blblue, a 4x8 garden is like 160 feet?? That's awesome, because I'd have 4 beds which would be like 640 sq feet compared to the larger 22x22 which would only be 484 square feet!
I think four raised beds with a path crisscrossing would be so pretty! KathySEFL, thank you for the advice about trellises and fences and big plants shading little ones. That'll definetely help me be more careful!
Zelda_Marie, your stories of the rabbits made me grin. I can't believe how a big fat rabbit can squeeze through a tiny fence in my mom's yard! I wonder if they can hop up into raised beds?
PS- tomatoes don't like much fertilizer? Thanks for warning me, I was going to buy a big bag next year and try it, though I want to be as green as possible. Does manure put too much nitrogen into the soil?
Thank you all for writing me! Sorry for such a long post, but I am excited again and I thank you all for that!
What great advice and helpful hints everyone has left for you and the rest of us that are reading (and enjoying) your thread.
I too am a relatively new gardener (only 2 full seasons) and found each year to be different. Talk about “trial and error”; it is definitely a “learn as you go” experience. I like pole beans on a fence which makes it easier for me to pick (easier on my back too) and takes less room. I save enough room at one end of the fence for my all time favorite, sentimental flower: Sweet Peas.
Thanks everyone for all the great input!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So good to see you excited again! It makes me sad when someone takes on too much and gets overwhelmed, than quits "cold turkey." Better to wish you had done more than not enough!
I'm with Jim41 on the 4' x 4' being a good size for reaching everything. You could probably do 4' wide but longer, but if you do make sure the stuff in the middle is stuff you won't need easy access to for regular picking, since that will be a bit trickier.
Another thing you can think about doing is using some veggie plants in your flower beds. Eggplants and okra are particularly decorative, as well as edible, and lots of lettuces make nice green leafy "filler." Some bean vines and taller pea plants can also be very pretty in a vertical space.
Oh, and chard is a green leafy veggie--sort of like a spinach on steroids, but with a different flavor. Baby leaves are ok in salads, bigger leaves good stir-fried with olive oil and garlic, if you're into that sort of thing!
I was talking about being 4 feet wide. A couple of my beds are 40 ft long. I like the long beds because I can plant a row of green beans or lima beans down one side and have plenty of room to plant cukes, tomatoes or other stuff down the other side. In fact, I use the beans to take the evening sun off of my tomatoes and squash.
I think I've decided on 4 4x8 foot beds. My yard looked so much less overwhelming when I took off four feet of carboard off one end! (I used the carboard in the bird sanctuary garden I'm starting). Since my yard is only 30 foot wide with a creek along one side and hills on both sides, the 20 foot wide garden seemed very closed in and confining, with only a bit of space to walk on either side (uphill from my house, too).
Now, at about 14-16 foot wide (it depends on how wide the cinderblock walls will be), I have plenty of room to walk on the sides and carry up tools. I love it!
I like the idea of planting vegetables with flowers. In my butterfly garden, I have some herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (my granny was a Scarborough and I love the Simon and Garfunkel song "Scarborough Faire", grin). I've never thought of adding veggies. Great suggestion, I'll research more!
I found a new problem with my backyard but I promise to be optimistic! There was a rocky area near the creek I've never been able to mow. With all the rain, some of the rocks got loose, so I was moving them to the bird garden when I found about 2 feet deep of old broken bottles, bricks, tin cans, etc. I called my parents and it turns out that in the 50's, when my house was built and it was a very rural area, there was no place to take garbage. My grandparents either burned it, or buried it! So, I'm going to have to be verrry careful in my backyard when I dig out gardens and play areas until I find all the "hidden treasure". Yikes!
I have had been gardening veggies and flowers for 25+ years but once again this thread has taught me even more. I have gardened in So Cal were everything I put in the ground grew so easily, then we moved to TX and all the rules changed so I learned again. Sometimes from personal experience and by locals advise, after gardening here for 15+years I still have times when things don't grow as I think they should. I try to find the reason but also not take it personally, usually if I ask around others are having the same problem I am even if we can't figure out why . (the summer of 2008 tomato production was terrible, it was even on our local news). Just keep in mind that you want to keep it as fun and simple as possible and start with a few things that you just love, you can always expand from there.
Rabbits-will somehow manage to get their fat bodies up on a raised bed. Deer (I was a zoo keeper at the LA zoo) will usually not jump if they can't see where they are going to land. Even though there are deer everywhere they stay out of my garden and I think it is because there is a huge grape vine on the fence that they can't see through.
Your local extension agency can test your soil. I don't know how much that costs. I add horse manure year round to the garden and to my compost pile, but Iif your soil has enough N that might not be a good idea.
You may have to make some monitary investment at first, but after that you will be shocked at how much you will save. I'm a single mom and I feed all three of us on about 100.00 a week. We also raise our own meat. You sound as if you are making a hobby into your "job" most people would love to be that fortunate. Why don't you try sowing some radish seeds in containers, they are easy to grow and might raise your confidence without being overwhelming.
I apologize for this being so long I didn't intend for it to be.
Tomatoes aren't heavy feeders. If they get too much N they will get leaf curl, and stop blooming butt you will have beautiful plants. They need to be under a certain amount of stress to bloom. They do like higher levels of phosphates which aids in blooming and root development.
I feed mine N also. Just not as much as my squash and cole crops. I can always tell that when they have had too much. Everybodys soil is different also if your soil already has a high N content then adding more will make beautiful plants but fewer tomatoes. I think if it works for you definately don't change it. But I have never considered tomatoes "heavy feeds" nor have I ever read it in any gardening book. I guess I don't consider it my opinion just what I have always been told. But everybodys soil is different and must be amended on an as need bases.
Thank you so much everyone for your help! I'll definitely get my soil tested. I've been off the computer with a cold bug that I think I caught Thursday when my brother and I spent the day sawing up the trees he felled, burning twigs, and boxing up all the trash we discovered in the back yard so far. A car engine, a box full of broken glass, broken wire from Pa's rabbit cages, 2 huge balls of moldy, moss covered twine... it's certainly been interesting!
I think I'm glad I'm making raised beds! I'm using carboard, newspaper, leaves, mulch, maybe dirt and manure too? I'm going slow this winter to be ready for next spring.
Wonderful advice on here for a beginner or experienced gardener! I've been gardening for about 30 years, and to me one of the biggest attractions is that there is ALWAYS something new to learn!
LadyA - I may have missed it above, but didn't see this mentioned by anyone else -- if you already do, or can start, bagging the grass when you mow your lawn, the clippings make a wonderful mulch to keep the weeds down and also help improve the soil. (Just don't put a really thick layer on at one time, especially if the weather is wet, or it gets pretty nasty.) This has really made a huge difference in my garden, which started out as very heavy, rocky soil and now is really nice and loose and drains a whole lot better. And if you feel like your garden is a little too big, just give the plants a little more space - although I rarely manage to do so, having enough room to actually get around in the garden is quite enjoyable!
As far as the tomatoes and nitrogen "controversy" - I bought into the idea of being careful not to over-fertilize the tomatoes, but now agree wholeheartedly with Jim41 - my plants are big and happy and I haven't seen any decrease in the amount of fruit. (Maybe my soil just was that deficient to start with.)
Hey, Weedwhacker, it is seldom I get anyone to agree with me, so thanks. I love my maters. Trying some in hay bales this winter but haven't had much luck. Think I know what I did wrong. Happy gardening to you.
I think different soil retains N differently I have a ranch so I have access to a lot of manure. I truly believe that if it works for you don't change it. There is a recent thread somewhere here that talks just about manure I called it "the scoop on poop". If I have a client that has beautiful plants but few blooms I suggest adding phosphorus or a fertilizer specifically for tomatoes, but if its not broke it doesn't need fixing.
Jim- What do you think went wrong with the hay bale thing?
I think I put to much lime in the hay. Listened to a friend that raised summer tomatoes in hay. Apparently I misunderstood the amts. Read a lot on the forum on hay bale gardening and the guy that does a lot of it doesn't even mention lime. Just uses a fourth cup of nitrogen every day for seven days and soaks it in. I'm going to make a few but they are developing slow. I was trying to have fresh tomatoes for Christmas when my daughter is home. I'm at least going to have some good rotten hay to put in my raised beds. Maybe help moisture retention.
It starts it breaking down. There is a fourteen day waiting period before you can plant. It will get really hot during that time. I guess you could say you are just planting in a bundled compost pile. My neighbor raised some beautiful tomatoes this summer like that. I have two tomatoes planted in the ground in the green house and they aren't doing anything either. Might be a little to hot in there.
I guess being a livestock owner who has gotten hay ( exhusband was trying to "help" me) that was baled damp it scares me that it could spontaneously combust. But I guess that isn't a concern, I don't know anything about it.
I'm an old cattleman and baled hay commercially for a number of years. Hay baled to green and stored in a barn where the air doesn't circulate is really dangerous. The compost heat is not nearly that hot.
I just came upon this thread and found the questions, comments, and suggestions very interesting. We finished the summer gardening season working with raised beds for the first time.
My walls are concrete blocks salvaged from a dairy barn that blew down. The growing medium was mixed from peat, rice hulls, and compost at first, and was pretty expensive...but then we used some Mel's mix (equal parts of peat, compost, and coarse vermiculite) and it cost somewhat less and seemed to do a little better.
We had mixed results. Tomatoes didn't produce as well as we hoped, but the ones in the raised beds did better than some others planted in the dirt.
Our beds are four feet wide and I would NOT want them any wider at all. I agree with Lady Aethelwyne that four beds with paths crossing would be attractive. The concrete blocks we used are fine and we had them on hand, but I think sturdy board frames would work as well, but my wife disagrees. She says the blocks are nice to sit on, and this is true.
Regards to all from SW Missouri.
I'm late to this thread, but the idea with the hay bales and the nitrogen is to heat them enough that it kills the weed seeds in the hay, and the heat does breakdown some of the hay to help support the plants planted in the hay. There's a whole forum on using hay bales. Some of the Dave's members have had great success with them.
I like beds that even narrower than 4' - to me 3' or a little less seems better. You hardly ever have to walk aorund to the other side!
Instead of burning sticks, you can bury them in a trench, and in a few years they compost. There is a whole name for doing that: "hugleculture". The easy way is to throw your sawdust and chips into a compost heap, where they will take longer than grass clippings to digest.
Half-way between is to run all the wood you can through a chipper, and then compost it, if you can find enough green stuff or sources of nitrogen to balance the wood.
You mentioned raise dbeds - what do you use for walls? The disadvantage of very narrow beds is that you get fewer square feet of garden per linear foot of edging.
Chard: just nasty Bok Choy with tough, skinny stems. Try some real Bok Choy (Pak Choi) and see if the meat-and-potatoe gang like sweet crunchy "chinese celery" and big greens. It's even sweeter and more tender picked very young. It looks exotic but I love it raw, steamed or in soup. Easy to grow and easy to cook (or eat raw).
It's easy to collect seed from Bok Choy, then sow LOTS next year, and eat them tiny.
Corey, I changed my 48" beds to 36" beds over the winter because I found it hard to reach into the middle. How wide are the paths between your beds? I left mine at 36" but I think I might change that for the 2012 season to 30" or even less.
My paths and beds are somewhat random: like "whatever fit there at the time".
And they were built hastily, planning to tidy the walls up as I expand each bed a little. Paving stones, stood on end, are easy to move around.
To save plantable space in my tiny yard, I plan to keep paths down to 12" or 18" anywhere I have sun. Like a narrow isle or slit trench - more for acces when necessary than for strolling. They just have to be a little wider than my feet!
In shady spots, which are less precious, I'll make them a more comfortable 24" wide.
Thanks, Corey - I can see having random sized paths would be a good way to go. Last summer I had a "tomato jungle" - I had two rows of tomatoes with a 36" path in between and I could not get down the row to pick them.
Holy Day of the Triffids! Which are the tomatoes, and which are the trees?!?
That's pretty impressive, that a 36" path was so overgrown that you couldn't get in.
So far, only two things have sprawled enough in my yard to concern me that way. (Since frost killed the Star of Yelta Morning Glory Monster and stopped it from taking over my yard and the neighbor's yard, both.)
I started lavishing water and fertilizer and my "best" soil on two Lavaterra. They retailiated by exploding lushly, sprawling flat, completely taking over that whole raised bed but not going UP very far. I had to prune, then uproot them when dormant, and move them to shallower, sandier soil where I WON'T overwater and over-fertilize them. I'm going to interplant with Saliva (Sage) and other things that like well-drained, dry soil and NOT too much fertilizer.
I bought a cubic yard of sand plus one of pine bark mulch to achieve "well-draining", and plan to add some compost each year, but not so much as to make it "rich" soil.
Then, I have a "little" bamboo Fargesia rufa (a clumper, not a runner). This guy also seems more eager to spread sideways than up. The base of the clump (culms or poles) might be only 2-2.5 feet in diameter, but the spreading tips and leaves are 6-8 feet accross. I wouldn't say quite "prostrate", but neither is it "upright".
If he keeps that up, I may have to prop him up, or find some form of pruning, because I can't let him take over the whole area; I have too small a yard. My hope was that he would grow UP enough that I could duck under the edges to get around him (and use old culms for stakes and trellises).
But he's young yet, just 2-3 years old. Each year, he has been getting 2-3 taller (or, at least, "longer"). True to the "clumping" nature of that species, the spread of the roots and stems seem to be only a few inches per year.
Disapointingly, the culms are still very thin, not the 1/2"+ diameter I was hoping for. Maybe after 5 years! Or I may have to start another, Fargesia robusta, to get 1/2" - 1" diameter poles.
Corey, I have planned a bed for this year's tomatoes so they will (hopefully) not overhang the walkway like they did in my photo. This year's tomatoes are just getting their true leaves. It will be another two weeks before they go outside to harden-off.