Starting from Scratch & Need Advice

Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Here is a series of pictures of the back yard of the house I bought last summer. It took all summer just to clear the lot of the weeds (*very* large ones), trash-trees squirrels had planted over the past five or so years, and a very large patch of poison ivy by the large stump in the back left. BTW, That's not lawn you see ... LOL... that's pure weed!

From what all the neighbors tell me, I'm the first person to have actually mowed the lawn in 3 years. As you can imagine, I had my hands quite full. The fun part is that the house is also a fixer upper so I had tasks to complete indoors all fall and winter.

I'm planning on soil testing as soon as is appropriate (ground is very wet right now). I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about the possibility of metals, like lead, etc. but I'm testing anyway. When I moved in, I knew I was going to have to remove the only three trees on the property due to severe neglect and damage. So now, there's pretty much nothing back there but for a lone forsythia. I've some items I've brought in but nothing much really. The area is 50x70'.

So... Spring hits this weekend. I've been out there looking around. And frankly, I'm a little overwhelmed at where to start. First thing I know, is that I have got to amend this soil. I don't need testing to tell me it's a mess. :o The top layer is a dull looking brown. Underneath I've found clay and what seems like a lot of sand. I thought that was a strange combination, but then, I don't know that much about soil. For what it's worth, I live very close to the Delware River so perhaps that explains the combination.

So my question(s) to you all is basically, what do I do first? I've been reading through the forums to try and find some stuff on how to restart a plot from scratch. And while I saw some threads that touched on it, I find myself still a bit confused. Should I turn this "turf" under and then maybe blast everything all summer with a plastic cover? Or is something like that a lost cause because of what's been growing here for over 5 years or so? Do I truck in soil or can I make a real difference on my own? (I'm not weathy so that's a limiting factor too) If I remove the turf, I'd also be removing what little topsoil I actually have. But then again, it's grub heaven in there.

I've spent the winter laying out a detailed plan for the garden. And while it'll take me a long time to acquire the items, I'm patient. I just want to make sure that whatever purchases I make have a fighting chance and will be happy in their new home.

I'm not afraid of hard work. I did most everything in the back by myself and truly do love gardening. I'm just at a loss on how to get this one going. I read a lot of stuff on bumper crops and feel that I probably missed a good opportunity last fall to do some good back there. :o Is there anything I can do over the Spring and Summer to help? I can't seem to produce enough raw materials on my own to get a good compost going (But I'm not giving up either! I want to be organic here.)

And so, any suggestions you have would be ~very~ welcome.

Thanks for peeking,

Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Here's sort of what it looked like after purchase. Only difference, the "lawn" area was nearly as high as the weeds in the back.

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Notice how you can just barely see the neighbor's house.

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

The stumps from what the squirrels had planted...

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

The poison ivy plot. lol Poison Ivy and Lily of the Valley. What a combo!

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

The other fence corner. Most of the trees were right under and inside the fence.

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

A better view of what was cleared

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Other back corner

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

The lonely forsythia stands its ground....

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NW Qtr, AR(Zone 6a)

Welllll, firstly .. a big ol 'hearty' welcome to DG to ya, AnniesWeePlot !! And want to tell ya, that your user name .. is plum original, and most adorable! .. hee ..

And, secondly .. I sure wish that I had at least some wee lil tweak of hep to offer to ya. We started out, on pretty much clay - for all of the top foot and a half of rich composted mulchy leaf littered soil had to be bull dozed away - in order to fetch a broad enuff 'bench' area on the side of this hill .. in order to chunk up a decent size house on! .. hee ..

But, it did recover rather nicely and quickly .. for we fetched some of that same rich composted mulchy leaf littered soil, from elsewhere on the property .. and put into the 'yard'! .. Took no time for the stuff to take hold and things to grow - including the weed seeds that were already on board! Just stayed a bit diligent about pulling and/or spraying the 'no goods' for the first three years!

You've got an absolutely wonderful makings of a piece of canvas already .. to create an even more fantasic back yard and gardens!

I'm looking forward to reading more about, and seeing more .. of your progress .. And hopefully, you'll continue to grant favor fer us feller DGers .. to continue to post updates and plenty more pics .. of everything you may undertake!

Happy Yard/Gardenin' to you !! And make it fun .. Sounds like you know what you want in/for your yardens, and you'll achieve it .. for sure! My very best to you!

Heck, I'll bet that I'd not be by myself .. in being plum thrilled .. to see some pics of your new home too!

- Magpye

Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi Magpye!

Thank you for such a wonderful welcome. Your story gives me a lot of hope and I *am* determined to do some good here. I guess many would think me mad for purchasing this property (and maybe I am!!) considering the shape it was in, but I wanted the largest lot I could afford in this area, which is pretty much semi-urban, and this was the biggest in my price range.

One good thing... While I don't have any trees (yet), my neighbors all have great shade trees and I'll ask if I can take all their leaves this fall. Who could turn down a request to suck up all the leaves off their lawns?!

I took a peek at some of the threads you had started and **LOVED** the pictures you've posted... The bears! That alligator log! Increble idea. Also loved your little munchkin terrier mix. Adorable. I was giggling all morning at the critters pretty much knocking on your door for feedin' time. Beautiful pictures and thank you so very much for posting them. Your property is lovely as is the area in which you live. Just beautiful!
And also appreciated your advice on digital cameras. Great info on memory cards. Thanks!

I will absolutely keep updating what's going on 'round here. The house was in as bad a shape as the yard, but a lot of progress was made over the winter. Lots more to do, but I'm not going anywhere and am also very patient. I've got my eyeball on a Honda tiller this Spring so I plan of having a lot of fun pretty soon.
At one time I did have a website with all the "before & after" pics, both inside and outside, but Verizon didn't back up properly on the server my site sat on and it crashed. I've been too busy to redo it, but I'll get around to it. I'll drop you link when it gets back up.

Thanks again for such a wonderfully warm welcome.

My best to you and yours!

NW Qtr, AR(Zone 6a)

Annie .. Already got your thread flagged for watchin'!! .. (*hee*) I'm anxious for ya!

I'll bet ya already know .. but, fer safety and sanity sake only > A lil tidbit ... On that Honda tiller you've got spy-balled: focus on a rear tine, not front tine! The rear tine, will save you much unnecessary jack-hammerin' tendon stretchin', bone rattlin' and kidney bustin'! And the rear tines do a far better job and don't try to run off with ya, before the ground's even broken - like with the front tine. They may be a wee lil more $ - but are, well worth it .. in the long haul! And generally, greater longevity of the engine also!

Geez .. Now, you've really got me wanting to see your house - with you talkin' about the 'lot' of progress you've already made!! Ahh, surely you had back ups of those before and after shots, you'd had on your website-?-Now, dontcha go holdin' out on us now .. hee .. (*teasin' ya a bit!*) .. But, do certainly understand .. with your wanting to focus on the yard/gardens, as a bit of the priority .. now, with Spring right around the bend!

Surely don't blame ya none at all either! ... Heck, as long as a bodys out of the weather, got a place to cook, sit down to eat, and a dry bed - any ol 'lean to', would be amply nuff structure .. until the yard/gardens are taken care of .. and a body is readyin' to feast their eyes and tongue palette soon! (and ours, too, of course!)

Hee .. Glad you enjoyed our ol Coots Roost, some tales, and vermin pics. ... Appreciate your takin' a look-peek!

Jes dontcha go fergetin' to come back, ever so often .. to strut yer stuffs, by tellin' us all about it, and with postin' all the pictures imaginable .. fer the rest of us .. to 'oooo and ahhh' .. and share in the delight and progress with ya!! ..

- Magpye

Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi Magpye,

I figured I would go with the Honda (Harmony FG100) because it rated so highly in March 2005 Comsumer Reports. Was number 1 actually, yet not the most expensive. 299 unassembled, 325 assembled. I've only ever used a tiller once before and it was a huuuuuge behemouth of a beast which nearly lifted me off my feet. Normally I've just used shovels, rakes, hoes, and the like. Well, I turned forty a number of months ago and I figure I'd probably kill myself on this lot without a tiller this year. I know it will be worth the investment on many a score.

Ok, now you really got me wanting to get the before and afters back up. LOL I'll go my best to get to it soon. ;o) My family wants them back up too. None of the images are lost or anything. Basically, I had used the yucky web based tool Verizon offered because I at first only intended to throw up a quick "photo album" for family out of state. Then it just kinda took off and became a mid-sized site. Heck, I had a whole section titled "Fun with Boilers" dedicated purely to adventures I had changing out the boiler. Anyway, when Verizon dumped the stuff they couldn't wipe it off the server and yet at the same time couldn't find a way for me to access it. In the end, I FTP'd in with Dreamweaver and killed the whole thing and started again from scratch. Just haven't done anything to it since then 'cept set up folders and such.

I suppose this place could be considered a 'lean to' at the moment. I laughed with my friends & family by explaining; I had just enough to buy a house, but that didn't mean it would be a house that was "done". lolol

It is funny too, that in all honesty, I think more about the garden than I do about the house. Priorities I suppose. ha!

Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Newport, NH(Zone 4b)

Hi Annie!

It's so fun to vicariously experience your new adventure! Sounds like you've got plenty of planning already done, but I wonder if it would be helpful to think of working in stages, from the outside really tilling and soil-amending one particular edge of the yard and creating a nice perennial border or what not, to give you something fun to work on and look at this season... while you collect compost-y stuff and keep working on the slower / more spendy parts?

Like Magpye, I really hope you'll keep us posted!


Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi Mary,

I'm glad you peeked in! It *is* an adventure. You nailed it on the head. :o)

Truly, I don't think there's another way than what you suggest above. I did some math today and figured... to add three inches of some type of compost to the whole back, I'd need about 27 cubic yards of material. Whoa! I think that's like a bit more than two large dump trucks or something. lolol Seems like it would be more than a couple of dump trucks but I do think I did the math right.

It's the little things in life isn't it? I'm so silly that I had a dream last night about standing out back in bare feet with my toes squishing in this gorgeous loamy soil. LOLOL Man... this is going to my head bigtime. HA!

I did lay out a garden design for the whole back yard. Even gridded it. And so there's nothing that says I can't work section by section since I already know, for the most part, what's going where (with plenty of room for experimenting too).

My main concern is getting trees and slow growing shrubs in. From what I've been reading in the forums here, my other big concern is to get a good composting system going this year. The larger items will all be going on the right hand side. So that's where I'm going to start. I've been having a hard time deciding where the compost will go too. It's the one thing I couldn't figure out on the plan. Does a compost pile need to be in full sun?


Linden, VA(Zone 6a)

Hi Annie,
I haven't checked this forum for a few days. It sounds like you have your work cut out for you. Good thing you're patient! LOL There's little more frustrating (or expensive) than being an impatient gardener. (I'm speaking from experience.)
The way I've dealt with an acre of raw clay and the desire to get things going fast (especially trees and shrubs) is to basically create potted plants in the clay. As I dig each hole, I overdig and *make sure to keep the edges and bottom of the hole rough*, even poking my spading fork in to be sure I'm not creating a wall that will hold water. Then I sprinkle both greensand and gypsum on the sides and bottom to break up the clay as well as feed the root zone. The soil that comes out of the hole is mixed (breaking up the clods of clay) with peat, coir, or wood chips (basically organic material sometimes even including shredded paper), perlite, rock phosphate, compost, and manure if I have it. This all goes back into the hole with the plant.
Most of the plants that I have dug up and moved that were planted this way prove that the roots can thrive in this soil and expand into the surrounding unamended stuff.
Hope this helps and can help you get planting right away. Good luck!

Springboro, OH(Zone 6a)

Annie! Welcome to DG!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Wow -- I had to sit back and think on this for a good, long while before I posted. I have a few suggestions, but they really take a good deal of patience.... hope they are helpful.

Sounds like you have a really good idea of what you're doing to me! Researching things out, planning ahead, you seem to have a good knowledge of plants. So, please take my post here as a collaborative brain-storming effort, not at all a "well, let me tell you exactly what to do"-type post. I know you likely know far more than me about alot of gardening topics! I've started "from scratch" once before, and now I'm doing it again on a larger scale. Let's brainstorm...

Hmmm... seems like maybe I'd make sure you know where you REALLY want grass. Tons of homes have more grass than they ever need or use. Consider where it will benefit you and the overall design the most.

Okay, now my suggestion gets unorthidox:

Maybe "shape" out the beds you are going to have with some kind of edging. The main thing is to just "reserve" that space, not actually get it ready for beds just yet. It has to be clearly distinguishable from the planned grass area. After edging it somehow (you can just collect baseball size rocks from neighborhood -- not wild -- areas, for instance) you could lay down newspaper 5 layers thick over the beds. Yes, newspaper. :) Then top that with either several inches of mulch or several inches of topsoil and water it well. Leave it for the entire summer that way, watering occassionally. Either in the fall or next spring, you can till through the newspaper layer. The weeds will all be dead under the paper, the paper will have largely decomposed, and you will get the added benefit of tilling in the topsoil or mulch. At that time you can decide whether or not to till in even more. You'll have a relatively weed-free flower bed ready to plant in next spring.

As far as the grass area goes....ugh. I'm not sure what to tell you. You have to get rid of the weeds, obviously. I'm never much a proponent of herbicides, and many folks may choke when they read what I'm about to write because I'm always trying to avoid chemicals, BUT... this may be a job for Round-Up. If you only spray it on the area you want for grass, it may not be nearly as expensive as you might guess. No need to spread it on the places reserved for plants, just the grass space. If the weeds are really bad, you may have to apply it, wait a couple weeks, and apply it again. Wear a mask for heaven's sake, and try to choose a day that isn't too windy. Don't TOUCH the stuff if you're pregnant -- LOL --yes, I hate herbicides. After all the weeds are dead, you can till them straight into the soil :) Isn't that great!!!! Round-up is nonresidual and will not harm plants that grow in the soil after this point. A power tiller is roughly $65 a day to rent here. You'd only need it one day. It's steep, but the only other alternative is to work the ground by hand with a shovel and, honey, I agree that's a thick mat of dead weed and a big space.

Then, you'd have to plant grass seed and keep the seed watered religiously. Taking your time doing this over the course of the whole spring and summer will make it easier on the pocketbook. Even if you have to rent a tiller 2x it's still a ton less than buying it. But, you may have other uses for it than what you mentioned. Just a thought :)

Hope this wasn't overkill :) I had fun, atleast!!! Hope some of it helps :) Good to "meetcha" and welcome to Dave's again!
Take care,
Hugs :)

This message was edited Mar 24, 2005 12:50 AM

Oh my word! Edited for very abundant typos!!! :)

This message was edited Mar 24, 2005 12:58 AM

Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi Michele,

I made the "hole of water" mistake already! I planted two arborvitae late summer - early fall and apparently didn't get enough rough materials into the ground. What suprised me though is... I dug an area about 4x7 or so exclusively for the arborvitae and amended the spot with a hole truck load of organic soil and straw. I figured that was a waaaay larger area than the arbovitae needed and that I would avoid the "water bucket". I guess I really underestimated how packed the clay truly was in this back yard and how desperately the soil needs matter added to it.... and added deeply. What I did *not* do was poke holes like you suggested into the walls of the space I dug. Thank you for that suggestion! I'll add that step to every other area I dig now. Hopefully that will help.

When the rains came later in the season I thought I was going to lose both arbovitae for sure. Somehow they made it through the winter though and I'll keep working on going to try and break up what I can.

The clay/soil here is.... well... weird. I must be on a spot where the river once flowed. It's the only thing I can think of as to why it's the consistency it is. It's a propensity to be "sludgy" and yet it seems like there was also compression or pressure involved somehow, which makes me believe this was once a riverbed. Weird also is that there are areas of sand in many spots in the yard.

Thank you for the list of items you used for amending. I'll add it to my "stuff to get" list. :o)


Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi HugAHosta,

Patience is going to be my new middle name. :o) And heck yes, I'm open to any an ALL suggestions!

I love your idea of identifying and papering specific areas. After reading your above post, I was thinking about busting the turf in those areas, then frying everything under plastic for the summer (I wonder if I have that backward and should fry first, then bust & till under??), and then finally do a treatment of paper, etc. like you suggested above.

I won't be using any chemical though, no matter how frustrated I get. I've a healthy respect for biohazards and would never intentially add them to any area where there are living creatures. Just can't do it. Don't mean to sound like a "tree hugger" or anything... ok... wait... lemme fess up here... yes I do mean to sound like a tree hugger.... My name is Annie and I'm a tree hugger.... "Hi Annie!" (Sure hope you're laughing with me here.... *cough* LOL)

But seriously... ;o) I'm not a hard core eco-person or anything, but I do care about possibly harming myself or others. Plus, I live pretty much right next to a major river that supports an enormous amount of wildlife, including bald eagles that have been successfully reintroduced to the area. Any and all run-off from my property *will* wind up in that river. That alone is reason enough to never use pesticides on my property. Then there is the issue that roundup and similar products, in my own personal opinion, are not proved to be safe in any way and I worry about long term effects on children, DNA, etc. That's just me though. I don't make judgements on anyone else and hope I'm not coming off critical or anything of the sort because that's not my intent at all. I'm personally way too concerned about what *doesn't* break down in pesticides to use chemical warfare in my garden.

Besides, I want to give Nature a chance to kick butt on its own. The more I read, the more I understand that if given a chance, organic gardening is much more productive, much less expensive, and much more healthy for myself and all the critters that share the space I'm living in. Now... nematode warfare? Heck yes. That, I'm all for ...although the idea kinda grosses me out a little... parasites... ewww... But... I'd rather parasites, than worrying that I might have contributed to the death of, or inhibited the progress of, bald eagles just down the road or of possibly changing or disrupting the DNA sequence of my nieces and nephews.

Regarding the rocks you suggested. *big grin* I traded some granite for raw brownstone recently with a neighbor down the road. Long story short, he had access to a dumpster and permission from the owner of a granite countertop company to haul away as much granite as he wanted, but he had no truck to haul the peices he wanted for a walkway he was planning. What's more.... he had a large pile of raw brownstone he had planned to take to the dump, which he had dug up from his back yard, but again, no truck to get them to the dump.

I had access to a very large truck and a deal was struck. He got me permission from the owner of the company to take as much granite as I wanted and I agreed to take the brownstone off his hands. Win-Win. So... a friend of mine and I went dumpster diving for granite every weekend through the summer and fall. I wound up with enough granite to do a mosaic covering my entire basement floor and also enough for the entire "living & dining area" in my garden. I also got some gorgeous raw brownstone in the bargain. My neighbor got all the black granite he wanted for his walkway. All it cost me was some aspirin for my back and some mornings of taking a little longer to get out of bed. lolol

As for the weed area... errr.... lawn... Again, it's the same old question for me. Do I fry first, then till under or what. I read a thread once on suggestions people had for how to deal with turf. I can't find it again though. I recall discussion about cutting off the turf with one of those machines, and then turning them over into the bottom of raised beds, piling stuff on top, and letting nature take its course so break down the materials over time. But I remember, I think, someone suggesting that wouldn't work or something. I think the suggestion was that the turf would just cause a "mat", so to speak, however deep it had been placed. Sorta like the water bucket thing Michele mentioned above. Also, I don't have lawn really, it's truly all weeds so I wonder if that would still be a viable option. ??

Re: the tiller... I saw a thread somewhere on DG that indicated tilling the soil was bad for it. ?? I wasn't aware of that and want to read more up on the topic. So now I'm a little confused about that too. ....losta confusion.... The post said, as I recall it, that tilling breaks down the soil structure or something similar. I am aware, don't recall where I learned it, that overtilling can cause impaction (prolly the wrong word) of the soil down deep. Basically, the more you till, the more you make a kind of "shelf" under the soil that's very packed and which inhibits beneficials from moving freely through the soil and inhibits growth of plants. But I thought that applied to more industrial farming. I wasn't aware it could also cause problems in a smaller scale garden... nor did I know that tilling could damage the soil. I'd like to learn more about both of these possible problems. It seems odd to me that a mini tiller could do that type of damage. I mean, tillers the size of a mantis or the little honda harmony.

Anyway, sorry for the long ramble. I can go on an on sometimes!

Thanks for all your suggestions and I'll keep ya posted on what happens over this way. :o)

Hugs back at ya!

Springboro, OH(Zone 6a)

LOL...Annie....I definitely got an audible laugh out with your Tree Huggers Anonymous confession. Do I count if I bought a children's book for Earth Day called "Be A Friend To Trees"??? LOL!!! I'm cracking up. But, seriously, let me just say DOGONE GOOD FOR YOU, ANNIE TREE HUGGER!!!! LOL :) I've also made the decision to not use the herbicides/pesticides unless there is absolutely no other way on God's green Earth. I have 3 small children and the possible ramifications are just straight scarey. I totally agree w/ you, especially considering your proximity to the water. Good for you!

About the tiller. This is my current understanding (more knowledgeable DGers chime in here....)
There are many who suggest that working the soil significantly at all will disturb the delicate balance of microscopic life in the soil, upsetting it for possibly even years to come. Now, I recently posted regarding this in this very same forum, and mostly the replies I got could be summarized with "that's a bunch of bunk". LOL :) Now, I should furthur explain. In my case, my home is a new construction and the clay soil I have is extremely compacted. Just adding soil on top would definitely result in a "bathtub effect" where my water drained through the good stuff and then just sat on top of the clay, pooling up and drowning much of my plants. Not good. So, I'm tilling. But, I'm being careful to not work the soil when it's wet and I'm also testing the drainage when I'm done tilling.

For instance, after preparing a bed last summer for mixed shrubs, we tested part of it by digging an 18" deep hole. Filled it with water & waited for it to drain, then immediately filled it again. It took 6-7 hours for the second filling to drain through. Hmmmm.... not real great. So, in a case like that, we could either consider drainage tiles (translate $$$$) or just pick a plant that would tolerate the poorly draining, often wet conditions. Happily, we were able to find a native plant that suited our purposes well. Apple serviceberry, Amelanchier grandiflora. Unfortunately, you may be a bit limited in exactly what you can plant, atleast at first. But, hopefully, your drainage will improve relatively soon :)

Hugs :)

P.S. I am a generally affectionate person, but I always sign that because it's my DG nickname. If I'm cyber hugging someone, I write ((((((((((((((((((((((hug))))))))))))))))))). LOL -- but you can consider my sign-off a hug if it makes you smile :)

Springboro, OH(Zone 6a)

Hi again :) Wanted to share this with you. Switchgrass info... I'm planning on a stand of this in one of the corners of my lot. It will grow even in a couple of inches of standing water, also it's native. Maybe you can use it??? Lot's of beautiful cultivars, also tolerates drought once established. But it needs full sun :) Even if you don't use it, the picture is nice!

Hugs :)

8 miles from Athens, OH(Zone 6a)

Hi Annie!

Just adding 2 cents here. These comments come to you from a L-A-Z-Y!

On the topic of tillers first.

I agree with those who advocate rental over purchasing for such a small??? plot. (qualifier: I own 2 Troy Builts) If you were a market gardener or were gardening acres of land, then I'd say you NEED a rototiller of your own. But, just IMAGINE how many gardening books and plants YOU could buy for the cost of one rototiller! I have heard the danger of rototilling comes from OVER rototilling. If you feel the need to amend compacted soil this spring or summer and need to work in compost, peat, and other organic matter NOW to get started, then by all means, fire up a tiller! But rent one...or see if a neighbor has one he/she will loan out or will himself run over your land! Just don't fire it up every season. AND don't feel you need to break up the soil into a fine powder. The soil under your tines down under the turned soil will compact.

So what did you do with all the vegetative matter you removed from the yard??? You DID start a compost pile with it didn't you?? (gasp!) You can start a compost pile wherevery you want as long as you have a minimum space of 3' x 6' could also trench compost. It will take the trenched material a year to decompose. A 3x3' compost pile (minimum size needed for proper temperature in the core) may take months or years to break down...depends on many well you build the pile, temperature, available oxygen and nitrogen and how often you go out there and turn your 3x3' pile over to help nature along. (Remember me, the lazy gardener? I prefer trenching my compost under "hot" and letting the earthworms do the turning for me. I have 2 horses who provide an endless supply of manure and wasted hay. Sometimes however, I make a pile (like from December to April just outside the barn!) It's raining or snowing and I don't much feel like hauling horse poop from the stable to frozen or soggy earth in the dark.

No matter what you decide to do, it will be OK. I have tried experimenting with both ways, and ya know what, both ways work. Just select the method(s) that will serve your purposes. Gosh, making mistakes or trying a variety of methods is what amature gardening is all about. If I didn't have something to start, change, plan, redo, or duplicate I'd be lost!

Check out the great books above in the garden bookworm. You'll find lots of expert advice in them on topics of interest.

Yep, get those trees started now. And gosh, have fun in your plot. It looks like a great site. I'm bookmarking your thread and look forward to seeing your upcoming pictures and posts!

Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi Hugs,

The color on that switchgrass is gorgeous. I'm certain there are a few spots that could benefit from it and visa versa. Full sun is something I've plenty of 'round here since all the trees had to be removed. I'll tell ya, it broke my heart when they had to be removed. But... They'll be replaced soon enough.

I've not got anything done this weekend. Torrential rains in these parts right now (Delaware River is overflowing its banks as I write) and quarter-end deadlines at the office didn't add up to a great mix for yard work ...not that I mind working in the rain... it's my favorite time to weed actually. I did realize however that my attempt at putting in some drainage tubes has failed miserably. :o(

My intent was to install a "dry-well" but I think, in the end, it's not going to work as there is far too much water that comes into this area. A pic is posted here... It's partly unfinished because I wanted to see how effective it might have been.

I've also the option of creating a uh... don't know what you call it... water-catch? Using large barrels so I've water for the garden. I'll probably go with that in the end. The grading of the neighbor's house has all the water from their back, cement patio running right onto my lot. =:-o


Thumbnail by AnniesWeePlot
Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Here's a pic of that free rock I mentioned along with one of the tree stumps that was dug out.

Thumbnail by AnniesWeePlot
Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

And yet another pic of the drainage area....

oh... wait... how'd that one get in there??
She's the offical weed shreader 'round here. She waits till I pull them out, expects me to throw them for her to catch and shread to pieces. ;o)

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hiya Darleen,

I think the Troy-bilt would indeed be far more than I needed, but I do think the lil Honda Harmony would be put to good use 'round here over the years. I'm still thinkin' on it but appreaciate your great advice. :o)

The materials that were hauled out of here were mainly three (or more) year old junk trees that had been planted by squirrels or that which were bird droppings along with seeded weed that I'd no intention of creating a compost pile out of. Add to that an enormous amount of poison ivy vines and roots. Not exactly what I wished in my compost! Fortunately, I'm immune to poison ivy, but no one else I know is and it would have been rather difficult to pick out all the poison ivy from the gigantic mounds of weeds and junk trees. So, I chose to haul the bulk of the materials away.

Of what was left, I did create a compost of last summer and created hot piles all along the back. Those initial piles broke down well and were utilized already. Problem now is that I've no green materials. I've plenty of browns (enough to get started anyway), but no greens since the lawn is not lawn, as stated above in other posts, but rather seeded weed and what looks like maybe some kind of fetch or something similar. Most of my neighbors 'round here use Chemlawn (or their lawns are weeds also) so that option was out last summer/fall. So... this spring I'm thinking of planting some leafy crops to not only pump up the soil, but also to use as green materials in the compost. Now, what those plants will be? I'm not sure what to put in actually. Any advice is welcome!

I'm having a blast here. I feel ignorant a lot of the time on what to do, but that's ok since I enjoy experimenting as much as I enjoy gardening. Then there's always the option of do-overs. ;o)


Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

Annie, I've been following your thread, very interesting. I don't have clay soil, just the opposite. I moved to this location 10 years ago, there was nothing here except sagebrush and native hard to pull out grass clumps. Before I even had my triplewide moved in I planted trees. Around the edges where I knew they wouldn't be in the way. Trees are very important to me. In the 10 years I have been here i have now at least 75 different trees, have planted more than that but lost them for one reason or another.

When I was first planting trees I amended the soil for them, but the now the consenses of opinon is that the best way is not to amend. Dig a hole 2 - 2 1/2 times wider than the tree root ball but not deeper than the rootball. better to have the top of the rootball higher than the surrounding soil surface. Put the tree rootball in place and backfill with the removed soil. Here I have to water copiously as the soil just soaks up any moisture. For you would be different. My daughter lives in Fairfax VA and has very clay soil, which she has learned to live with.

The next thing I did was start my compost piles. At first had hardly anything to work with, now have plenty and still can't make compost as fast as I can use it!!!!!!! I do have a fairly large 10hp BCS tiller that is hardly ever used except as power for my shredder. But i love my little electric Mantis, but it doesn't get used too ofter either.

My suggestion for building up your soil is to plant Buckwheat. You can either till it in after about 4 to 6 weeks, or cut or pull and put on your compost and plant more seeds. It is very fast growing and crowds out weeds, when in bloom the bees love it. Good luck DonnaS

Springboro, OH(Zone 6a)

Hi, Annie :) Have you tested your soil nutrients, yet??? Maybe you could plant depending on what your soil needs. Some plants are nitrogen-fixing, for example... just a thought! btw, beautful puppy!!!!

I'm having a lot of fun watching your thread. There are a few of us on DG this Spring w/ "from scratch"-type gardens. It encourages me to see that others are in the same boat :) Watchin' this thread and can't wait to see what you do with this wonderful space!

Here's my recent progress...

Take care,
Hugs :)

This message was edited Apr 6, 2005 12:29 AM

Caledonia, MN

Ruth Stout was the Queen of mulch gardening. She realized the permanent mulch notion for almost everything in her yard. "My garden is my compost pile!" No stacking, turning, or hauling finished compost. When Organic Gardening Magazine was
people-inspired, hole composting and trench composting were great ideas--still are. Using the planned few steps each year for lasting soil improvement, trench composting puts it where you want it much like Ruth Stout. (I've read the advice about not adding stuff to tree holes, and it's much like I did things. Always had too much to plant to fuss with amendments--needed to get stuff in the ground.) You could always mulch around the new tree, and your compost is where you need it.

It seems that #1 is to keep any weeds from going to seed this year. Mow religiously. Plant what you can afford buy. Raise buckwheat in as much ground as you can prepare (possibly using the tiller you want so badly.) Replant buckweat to create more mulch becoming compost. ETC. Good gardens require good bones--try to get the trees and larger shrubs in this summer. Sheet compost (mulch like crazy) under trees and shrubs. Dig and fill trenches as you can. Plan a veggie garden and at least some flowers for the soul. Keep mulching and trenching all summer if possible and cover cropping (buckwheat, oats, etc.) too.

My notion is if it's natural, use it. I do this most of the time, but some weeds will reroot--those I do not use. All the rest is fine and even weeds quickly turn brown like any other mulch material. I have friends brag about their compost, and they're right. BUT the soil is rich and black in my whole garden now. I think someone said good soil has 10 earthworms per cubic foot of soil--I get almost 10 in one shovel of soil! How long this took is hard to say. I gardened organically for several years then moved away for about 10 years. Now back for about 15 years. Don't know what went on when I was away from here! I have faith in the future (any gardener does.) Yet my gardening shouldn't require much time because I mulch almost everything. Mulch becoming compost where I need it. Still plant buchwheat on bare areas rather than mess with weeds. Pull it and leave it or drag it somewhere where mulch is thin. Do own the big tiller, but do almost everything by hand--it's my main hobby.

The advice here from others is good and valid; I'd still rather have garden plants instead of grass lawn, but since I live along, I just cannot use too much produce so I'm working to create a bird sanctuary turning some grest soil into butterfly garden, more fruiting shrubs, and the like.

Yor attitude toward organic living is great; the advice you've got is great; your garden will be great--go for it!

NW Qtr, AR(Zone 6a)

ljogilvie .. Your input is most valuable, and very appreciated!.. (By moi') .. and no doubt, by AnniesWeePlot also ... when she shows back up!! .. (*hee*) ..

I don't recall runnin' across your user name in any of the forums or threads, that I wonder (or stumble) into .. So I want to be sure to extend a (wee bit belated) big ol 'hearty' welcome .. to DG, to ya ljogilvie, also !!

Jes hopin' Annie will have some progress reports and some pics fer us .. when she returns!

- Magpye

Josephine, Arlington, TX(Zone 8a)

Hello Annie, Wellcome to Dave's.
Sincerely, Josephine.

Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hello Everyone!

Thank you all so very much for checking in on me and my little plot.
Wow... I've been busy. Real busy. :oD In the end, I decided to haul in some high quality soil to get started with the trees and shrubs. I'll work the remainder of the year on the weed patch in the center. If it's not too late, I'll put down buckwheat in that area as soon as I can get my hands on some seeds.

I'm in a slight rush this morning as I'm heading back to Rare Find Nursery to pick up my Kay Parris Magnolia they've been holding for me until the weather was more stable 'round here. In the meantime, I'm going to post a couple pics of what I did so far... As you'll see, there are *many* areas which need serious screening to hide eyesores and other ickies.

I put much of that free brownstone to good use as you'll see. I don't really know if it's actually true brownstone... but... it's brown... and it's stone and I can't imagine what else it would be... so that's what it's been dubbed and shall stay dubbed... [grin]

I've more birds than I imagined now using my yard. So much so that I've needed to add a second waterer for them and have also decided to turn that huge old stump in the back left corner into some type of feeder/waterer for them. Lots more to do for the birds and other wildlife later... A gorgeous red-headed woodpecker has been watching my progress steadily for weeks now. And yup, suet will definitely be on the menu. Bat houses coming down the line and I'm also going to try and get some swallows interested in my plot.

To see what's actually in the ground, check out my journal. It's a listing of what's in, and what's been purchased and will be going in probably by the end of this weekend. I believe I'm on page 3 of the garden journal search area. Not sure if this link will work, but ....
On second thought... LOL I just peeked over there and it's not up-to-date ....but very close... some purchases made aren't on there, and also some things that are in are only showing as purchased... I'll update it real soon.

Anyway, I really should be heading out to the nursery. So I'll leave with some pics and some basics on what was added out back...

13 yards of high quality soil, that is to say... it's not certified organic, but is the same mixture as the certified stuff.
many huge blocks of spagnum to help with the soil
organic pelletized compost was also added
Advil for muscles ... hee hee

Have fun peeking!

Thank you all so much for all the excellent advice EVERYONE! It means a lot and I'm so thankful you're all here.
IJog, Frostweed, and Ruth, thank so much for visiting and commenting. :oD I'll spend more time commenting myself as soon as I can.


Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Water catch since I'm on city water and to also cure the drainage problem in that corner.
Physocarpus (four of them) will screen the neighbor's patio...
Unknown lilies (???) where already there. I'm waiting to see what happens with them...

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Looking from the water catch toward the back of the plot and my use of the free rock.

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Now looking back at the watercatch from the back area. That's a wee little Parrotia persica in the foreground.

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Creepers and alpines will go in this area. The Kay Parris magnolia will go in the corner. Picking that up today. :oD

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Foreground - mucronulatum
Background - R. dauricum x R. lutenscens (this one was FREE!)

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Kay Parris will be just to the left of the security sign.

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

A view from above

Edit... that middle bump will be coming out and will create a nearly full circle to enclose an eating/living area

This message was edited Apr 30, 2005 9:49 AM

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Pennsauken, NJ(Zone 6b)

Another view from above...

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