Why I belong to this Forum:

Plantersville, TX(Zone 9a)

I belong to this Forum because I am trying to grow food for my family & I'm having all kinds of trouble doing this. If I finally get the seeds to sprout & grow, then the bugs attack. If the plant finally blooms, something eats the flower or the bean. If that doesn't happen, it rots or just doesn't grow. It just sits there. So I am reading this Forum to see if I can learn anything about growing food for my table.

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

I bet you'll get a lot of good advice here. Welcome!

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

Usually the major rookie mistake is trying too hard. Standard vegetable plants that are normally grown in an area, need only a well prepared seedbed ( the most important) room to grow ( crowding is another major factor) and a few well placed nutrients. lots of ways to accomplish this, but you must relax and enjoy the task.

Thumbnail by Farmerdill
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

My experience was that I made (around) 64 major mistakes the first year I gardened, 16 mistakes the second year, and around 4 per year ever since.

If you've already gotten far enough to feed bugs, you are making good progress! I used to think the opnly practical ways to learn to garden was to grow up gardening, or spend a few years working WITH an experienced gardener. But now I kinow that trial and error, and Dave's Garden, plus more trial and error, works too.

Probably everyone's list of favorite mistakes is different, bu7t here are some of mine:

1. Overwatering seeds I'm sprouting (the roots drown or the stems grow fungus and "damp off"

(Now I make my seedling mix drain very fast by adding lots of pine bark shreds or small nuggets.)

2. Clay soil doesn't drain and roots can't penetrate it.

(Now I have raised beds with lots of added compost and bark, and some grit and sand. Compost cures all ills.)

3. I couldn't stand to kill seedlings, so I didn't thin them enough, and they grew too c rowded.

(Now I sow fewer seeds. If not enough come up, I plant something else.)

4. I don't sow or plant out at the right times becuase I get busy.

(I still make this mistake all the time.)

Maybe there are varieties that are better at resisting local bugs and conditions?

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

behillman, very good advice from Rick and Farmerdill. None of us started out really good at the veg gardening thing. Even though I've probably got lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, greenbeans, peas, and pepper under my belt pretty well I still come up with spectacular failures every year (almost). I'm constantly trying out new-to-me veggies. I can't resist. One year I grew a new watermelon. I really amended the soil with lots of poo from the coop and the cows and set out soaker hoses. I got Jack/Beanstalk rivaling vines that took over the veg bed and most of the nearby rose bed! Then the watermelons came....I was giving away watermelons like most folks give away zucchini. I started a thread on Dave's to ask how to tell when the melons are ripe and found out I really shouldn't have added so much composted poo for the watermelons. I was afraid to let the Corgies back there in case the watermelon vines grabbed them and pulled them in. That same year tomato horn worms took over my tomato patch. I was picking and throwing so many tomato horn worms to the chickens I didn't even need to throw down scratch feed in the mornings. Just worms.

It might help if you told us what you are trying to grow.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

behillman - there are good bugs and there are bad bugs.

I've been growing my own food for 60 years and have learned that the best thing to to with bad bugs is to kill them with my hands. Over time, the good bugs get the upper hand, and from then on, you will very rarely have to kill a bad bug.

For the past couple of years I've had a problem with voles! They don't come to the surface often, so it's hard to catch them with traps. I'm NOT planning a garden this year in the hopes of starving them out, or have them move away.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

HoneybeeNC, no garden =~o! Say it ain't so....I look forward to your photos each year.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)


Carmel, IN(Zone 5b)

I've also been struggling with growing enough veggies to make it worth my while in terms of time/expense/effort. Finally last year, I decided to stop trying to be strictly "organic" and used some supplements (as benign as possible, I hope) to fight off diseases and pests. We've also dealt with 2 of the worst growning seasons ever the past 2 years. I grow mainly in containers, so finding the right potting mix/nutrients has been a key. But, last year I was a little more aggressive about fighting off some diseases/pests that I've had problems with. I've found it worth the trade off. I realize this may not be everyone's choice, but it worked for me.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

I don't hand pick the bad bugs anymore either. I work more than 40 hrs a week and have livestock to care for as well. Not to mention DH ☺. Plus I like in the middle of a very large field surrounded by a much much larger field. The bad bug load is pretty intense and comes from every where. I often use the spun row cover to protect the smalled plants as they are coming up (keeps the crows and my dogs off, too). If I'm still having a problem I usually ask here on Dave's and see what sprays other use and then go ahead and spray. Mostly pick the organic as that does work fairly well. Once the plants start to bloom I take the covers off so polinator can have at it.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

One way to make your contaqiner mix drain well and c ost less is to screen the b ig c hunks out of bark mulch or bark nuggets and add a lot of that to whatever c ommerc ial potting mix you buy. The cleaner the mulch, the better.

Using a cheap addition to "bulk up" your professional mix c uts costs. Fine bark nuggets from my Lowes were only $4.20 for 2 cubic feet. "Fine nuggets" are still pretty coarse. But "fine mulch" has too much powder and dust. "Medium mulch" or "coarse mulch" will have less powder but more huge chunks. And cheap mulch can be really dirty with wood, soil and pebbles. Try just one bag of each product before investing. At least you can always use the big chunks as mujloc h, and fine stuff can be turned under, or composted briefly and then turned under.

The best drainage improvement comes if youi get rid of the bark "fines" or powder and very fine fibers. But that can be tough unless you have some 1/8" hardware cloth. I'm told youi can rmeovge some dust from dry mulch using window screen, but 24 mesh seems VERY fine for that application. Do they make 10 or 16 mesh window screening?

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

If you want to screen the tree company chips, mulch or compost materials I would start with the concept of a tiered sieve.

The coarsest might be as coarse as 2" x 4" welded wire mesh. Anything that stays on top of that becomes mulch around the trees, or is added to the walkway, to be broken down over a couple of years.
Material that passes through that coarse a grid is OK in the compost pile, tilled into the soil where the coarse material is not a problem, or can be sieved through a finer mesh.

The next might be about 1" x 1" hardware cloth. Material that stays on top of this is OK to add to the soil in the beds, but is a bit too coarse for seedlings. If you are just working a small amount, some flats (the square sort) may have a grid about this size. They hold up pretty well, though the sides can crack over time.
The material that falls through the 1" x 1" is not too bad for seedlings that are in 4" pots. I use this size a lot. It has pieces about 1" on down to dust. That blend works for most larger pots. but is still a bit too coarse for jumbo pacs or cell pacs. I just hand pick out the coarser material, though.

Then use the 1/4" hardware cloth. Material that stays on top of this might be about what RickCorey is using in seedling trays. Coarse enough to drain better, yet fine enough that the seeds have good contact with the soil.
Material that falls through the 1/4" mesh is quite fine, and would probably be OK for the very finest seeds, and is probably good to cover the seeds, but could very well hold too much water and encourage diseases if it is not carefully watered.

There is a 1/8" hardware cloth, I would not be so picky as to try to sift soil or soil-like materials through it, though. As for window screen, that is way too fine, IMO for this sort of use. If they made a 10 and perhaps even a 16, I think mosquitoes could get through, so it would not be actual window screen.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I agree with the idea of stacking screens. If it won't pass easily through 1/2" mesh, it's too big for containers but good as mulch.

I use 1/4" - 1/2" for big containers (1/2 gallon to 5 gallon) but use some smaller stuff also, to hold more water than "chunks & nuggets".

Some of what passes through 1/4" screen is OK for small contain ers, but I don't agree that it's suitable for the smallest seeds. Petunias need to be surface sown and need light to germinate. A whole tray failed to germinate, I think because my bark mix was too coarse. N ow I sprinkle vermicujlite on top of coarse bark mix for fine seeds needing light or needing only to be "barely covered".

It really depends on how much powder there is in your purchased mulch. When I started with "nuggets", there were almost no fines, and I could use most of what passed THROUGH 1/4" screen in sedling or container mix becuase there was so little powder. It still drained fast, even with many pieces down to 0.2" or 0.1". I just don't want TOO much stuff below 0.1" or 2 mm.

When I started with cheap dusty mulch, full of powder, fibers and small shreds, I had to reject most of what passed the 1/4" screen because it was, as Diana_K said, to prone to staying waterlogged for too long. Then I struggled to find enough stuff between 1/8" and 1/4" (say 3-6 mm) to improve the drainage of the fine stuff I couldn't get rid of all of.

I agree, 24 mesh window screening is too fine to work with conveniently. But I would like to use 1/8" mesh to rescue most of the 0.1" stuff that passes through 1/4" mesh. Along with plenty of coarser stuff, 0.1" or even 1.5 mm and some 1 mm pieces would be OK to help hold some water.

P.S. I like shreds or long chips better than spherical nuggets. "Long and thin" doesn't pack down as tight as ball-shaped pieces. The more air trapped by the biggest pieces, the more fine stuff you can tolerate before all the air spaces are filled with dust and powder.

The same principle works with grit and sand (or crushed rock). "Sharp" grit drains better than rounded grit, becuase it doesn't pack down together as tightly.

I day-dream about stiff rockwool or expanded shale o0r Perlite, extruded so as to form pretzels or spirals of irregular size so they COULDN'T nest together tightly. That would create so much trapped air space that it could "absord" a large amount of fines or even clay before all the air channels were blocked. It would have a lot of "loft".

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I find that I make many passes with 1/4" screen. Dust goes through very quickly, so I dribble mix down a screen leaning at a 45 degree angle. What passes that way is WAY too fine, and I use it as soil amendment in a raised bed.

But some of what rolled off without passing through is still usable to me. So I'll re-screen it and see how much I can push through if I rub it until around half went through and half stayed back. Tedious! It motivates me to fin d the c leanest nuggets I can, even though shrfedded mulch pieces have better shapes.

That's why I wish I had some 1/8" mesh. I could do just 1 pass with the 1/4", then 1 pass with 1/8", be done. Use the 1/8 mesh to "get the dust out".

Here are some 1" chciken wire, 1/2 mesh and 1/4" mesh I used to screen some juniper brush I was chipping with a lwn mower.
The industrial steel shelving I use as support is great: 3/4 gaps.

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Delhi, LA

I raise vegetables because I like to eat fresh food. Stuff bought in a store just doesn't have any flavor. I use raised beds because they are easier to tend once they are built and established. Also, the soil where I have room to garden is pretty sorry and I have access to an unlimited supply of compostable material, free. I love the challenge of making things grow up instead of sprawling. I don't care for vegetables frozen or canned plus my wife doesn't have the health or time. I love to make a veggie run and give most of my produce to folks that aren't able to garden anymore. I get aggravated at folks who hint or boldly ask for fresh vegetables who are young enougth but to lazy to raise their own. I use the safest chemicals I know of to keep down the bugs. Fortunatily the past several years bugs haven't been a problem. No hornworms in three years. Like all gardeners, I make mistakes. I just count them as experience and learn from them. Like all gardeners, I just luck out some time. Last year was a good example, when I had all my summer garden up and growing before the end of February. I've learned over the years that where I live gardening is a year round thing. I raise as big a garden in the winter as I do in the spring. Of course you have to have a little cut worm blood in you since leafy vegetables are mostly what does best. I was shocked to learn that carrots, lettuce and onions aren't hurt by a freeze. My advice is to plant it, and try it and if doesn't pan out, plant something else. One day you'll walk out your garden be surprised at how much good food is out there.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

terri_emory and Gymgirl

Even though I don't plan to have a garden this year, I'm sure something will "volunteer" - especially tomatoes and melons.

I have a few sweet potatoes in my kitchen that are producing sprouts. I'll probably put a few out where hubby has dug up the running bamboo, in the hopes the voles don't find them. This area is at the opposite end of the garden to where the voles are a problem.

If I don't succeed in getting rid of the @#$%^ voles, I will be battling them forever! Wish I could teach my dog to be a "mouser." The voles even ate some of the onions! They have eaten most of the parsley plants during the past few months. I doubt there will be any plants left by summer.

I keep telling myself that all of God's creatures are here for a reason...

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)


You are absolutely correct that all God's creatures exist for a reason.

Voles exist to be cat toys and/food.

Get a cat, or train the dog!


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Gymgirl - I have thought of getting a kitten, but there is no guarantee that it would be a good "mouser". We had a menagerie of animals when our children were young, including a gerbil. One day the gerbil escaped and frightened the bejeebers out of the cat! It literally tried to climb the walls to get away from the "thing" running around the living room. Gave us all a good laugh.

As to the dog... she is five years old and has yet to master "fetch." I've tried getting her to sniff the holes the voles make, but she gives me an adorable look as if to say "what?"

Thumbnail by HoneybeeNC
SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

That dog is absolutely adorable! Go to the kitty cottage with a mouse in a cage. You'll find a good mouser from the ones that attack the cage.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Honeybee, I'm sorry to hear about you vole troubles.

I've grown up with good mousers. I grew up in a horse barn--much to my mother's dismay. Good mousers and taught my their mothers. If you really want a mousing cat, check with a few farmers in your area and see who has any good mousing mama cats. See if they will let you adopt a kitten after he/she has a few lessons from mama. And, in my experience, it does not make a difference if the cat is spayed/neutered. If it is a good mouser then it is a good mouser. Since most of the cat/mouse hunting is done at night we found it was better if they were neutered so they stayed home to hunt. I would say adopt one from the shelter, but one cannot tell a potential good mouser without knowing about the mama. I once have a male neutered cat names Flopsie who work with my Dachshund--a dedicated mouser himself--and they brought mice, voles, vermin to the doorstep constantly. The Daxy dug them up and the cat pounced for the kill. Maybe a kitten from the farmer and one from the shelter???

I have also heard from a friend that the coyote urine does work to deter voles if you repeat use frequently so it soaks into the ground. I've never used it so I can't say, but she swears by it.

Good luck in any case and hope you are back in the gardening saddle soon!

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

Quote from HoneybeeNC :

As to the dog... she is five years old and has yet to master "fetch."

I take it she plays fetch the same way my dog plays fetch I throw it. He chases it. I go fetch it and throw it again so that he can chase it again. I sometimes think I'm the one that's become well trained.

This message was edited Jan 14, 2013 3:41 PM

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Honeybee-my kids have always had pet rats bc I always had pet rats. We had 3 at one time and they were not afraid of anything, they would run around our kitchen and living room. One of them ran up to one of the cats,this rat was extraordinarily friendly, and the cat did the something yours did. She even knocked over the gate we had up to keep the rats in one location. So you are right a cat is not always a mouser.

Sometimes the local animal shelters will have feral cats that they will adopt out exactly for that purpose.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Gymgirl, Terri, Doug, Lisa:

Thanks for all the tips about cats.

Local animal shelters want their adoptees to go to homes where they will be kept inside. I agree that the best "mousers" have been taught by their mothers. I saw a documentary on the TV about this a few years ago - made sense to me. I keep hoping a feral kitten will show up on my doorstep one day, but that's unlikely seeing as we have two dogs here (one mine, and one I sit for during the day which belongs to my daughter.)

There are no farms nearby for me to ask for a "barn kitty".

My son-in-law has a brother who is a police officer. I know he has picked up stray dogs on the side of the road - perhaps I'll ask him to let me know if he finds a feral kitten.

Good idea about the coyote urine. I'll have to check the internet to see I can purchase some. We have coyotes in the neighborhood, but I don't want them in my garden - our dogs are a snack-sized meal. I don't let my dog out at night anymore - I put her on a leash and walk her around the front yard.

(Had to pause typing this to watch FIVE Eastern Bluebirds gobbling up mealworms! Looked like a family - mom, dad, and three youngsters.)

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

Not all barn kitties are mousers- and where the rats are bigger than the cats- its no wonder a cat cant trust a mouse... on the other hand, those baby bunnies are much tastier than a mouse...good luck

BUda, TX(Zone 8b)

Farmerdill has it right, don't try too hard... Results will be determined by your attitude and a lot of luck. I've done a lot wrong and a little bit right, and a lot of people ask me for advice, and I have to shrug my shoulders. I still consider myself a newbie gardener, but have had some very good results. If I had a problem identical to yours, I would respond with info shared with me on this site. Experimentation is an integral part of gardening. This is THE place to get information and differing points of view, and sometimes that's also a problem. You may have to tailor a remedy for your specific situation, but by all means share that with the community. Later, someone may hit that thread & your solution may be just what they need to solve their problem.

We had zucchini, tomatoes, and cukes coming out our ears. There was a local farmers market and I took our excess there to sell. Everyone was surprised at how good the produce looked. Compared to the other items for sale by other vendors, they just looked so much better. There are some pictures in old posts in the Market Growers section.

There's a saying, "plan to fail, fail to plan", just be warned, you're gonna do both... You can plan and work out all the kinks, but them something out of left field will totally blow your deal out of the water. You can do everything right, and you won't get a single tomato, and you can't figure out why. It's just part of the game.

Keep it small & easy to manage to start. Success will go to your head and then the problems really begin. I had "plans of grandeur" for this year, and they went down the tubes even before the end of last summer. I had 3 knee surgeries in August & September, and actually wasn't getting around without pain until December, so much of the work I planned didn't get done. No hoop house this spring, no indoor seed germination room set up in workshop, and no PVC bed frames & material put together.

Good luck and I hope you have success in this year's gardening adventure. I think most will agree that "adventure" is the appropriate word for what we do. Gardening is like a roller coaster ride at Six Flags, you're not sure what's ahead, but sometimes you'll laugh, and other times you will scream...


Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

I had to look up where Plantersville is it looked so familiar. You live in my area. The ground you have grows pines and oaks better than anything else. That can be challenging! And our bugs are only slightly less than those of the heart of the Pineywoods in The Bug Thicket. The rain turns the ground to quicksand and the sun bakes the ground to concrete. You will have leaf footed bugs by the scores

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

My phone wont let me finish, chuckl. Your plan of attack therefore needs to start out 3fold. Enriching the groundsoil- or going to raised beds. Did i forget voles and deer? And FIREANTS? They all believe your efforts are just for them! If you are planting in ground that place must be improved- close to water resources and SUN! Unlike our city cousins our challenges are enough to depress you.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Might also help if you know of anyone who has goats, chickens, manure producers of some sort. Someone who would let you haul away the manure for free. More manure needs to be composted (add leaves and grass clippings), but the goat manure can go right in your beds. That really helps to fluff up that soil. Soil, soil, soil is the key.

Also a sence of humour, which I think you have (most all of us here on Dave's do).

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

We have mushroom sources in Madisonville- mostly comprised of straw and chicken manure- and its garden safe from there. We went to a place and acquired a pickup load of garden soil and went to a raised bed. Everyone works tho. so results weren't always usable. still my daughter was impressed in tomatoes that were highrr than 2' tall. And wondered where all the bugs came from- but attempted to be organic. I will have a sunflower bed for the leaf footed generations and neem oil as control. She loves the butterflies that come so there are herbs like dill away from the veggies we want to use. Now if i can come up with a remote water system and teach her to flush the ants with water t il they move...aaaargh. phone phooey!

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Just reading through this thread and I will say with the same awe that many have... to those who provide the masses with crops of food ~ thank you!

We have all seen that it is not easy to provide adequate food for ourselves and our loved ones all alone. Some years are better than others but challenging at best.

I think the number one means of providing a better crop is soil. Whatever you can do to improve the soil fertility as well as for moisture retention.

Number two would be growing plants that are suited to the soil and climate.
I don't know if Behillman is native to the Plantersville area but if not, the hardest lesson I learned was to grow/eat crops that tend to do well in this area. Those that I grew up eating in the midwest just will not grow here.

Honeybee ~ I know that you have spent lots of effort removing the bamboo. Is it possible that the voles lived in and on the bamboo roots? Or maybe the bamboo was a barrier to keep them out of the garden zone. Perhaps removing it has unleashed them on your garden spot?

Kittriana ~ I got a chuckle from you on the 'bug thicket' ~ cute! That one will stick with me.

Carrollton, TX(Zone 8a)

While I realize that I'm late coming to this thread I believe the #1 biggest mistake new gardeners make is ignoring or not accurately accessing the daily amount of sun their gardening area receives. You'll never grow vegetables successfully if your garden doesn't a receive a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight per day. The #2 biggest mistake is whether you plant in raised beds or in the ground, you must add a sufficient amount or organic matter to your soil, a minimum of 2 to 3 inches mixed in the soil in a raised bed with a purchased soil mix, or a minimum of 5 to 6 inches if you are amending your existing soil. The #3 biggest mistake new gardeners make, I believe, is either over-watering or under-watering your vegetables. It's a fine line between the two and sometimes it takes losing a few plants before you get the hang of when and how much to water. There is neither a person nor any book that can tell you how frequently and how much to water as every garden has its own set of circumstances as to air temperature, wind and humidity. It takes dedicated daily monitoring of your vegetable plants to access their watering needs. If you donít have time to do this, especially during the summertime, then I suggest that you get an inside terrarium instead. Just one manís humble opinion.

If youíre already to the insect problems stage then you are farther along than a lot of people I know so congratulations. Itís a constant, daily a dilemma dealing with varmints and pests and whether you decide to go strictly organic or not is something you have to access and then commit to daily monitoring and a planned, proactive program for dealing with the problem, which is certainly easier than rocket science.

Goodview, VA

Hi behillman,
I too am fairly new to the gardening world. I stumbled on a website the other day that's for beginners and they had some pretty good advice. Might be worth a look - http://gardeningandpreserving.com/main.html
I know what you mean about the bugs and they are not the same every year. This will be my 3rd year and there were no stink bugs in the 1st year and now they are a problem that I haven't learned how to solve yet. If you've heard of anything, let me know.
Thanks and good luck!

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