What advice do you have for new gardeners? Open thread

At this time of year, people are busy starting their gardens. If you live in a colder climate, your garden is not as far along as a garden of someone in a warmer climates.

If someone new to gardening were to ask what you have learned by trial and error, that might be helpful to others, what would you tell them?

1st prize,
Imagine using a canoe to do all your heavy carrying.

OK. So not everyone can buy a shallow swamp.

Please consider raised beds so that you are working with an upright posture. Much easier on the back.

I also recommend starting right.
Please read Permaculture (Bill Mollison) and
The Single Straw Revolution. These have ideas on how to get the best result with the the minimum effort.

At this time of the year it is a little late to undertake a serious study of gardening and still expect to get the garden in on time.

But a novice can still get good results-by talking to and imitating his nieghbors who have been gardening for at least a year or two, preferably longer.

Raised beds may be beyond the reach of many novice gardeners the first year, but they are truly a worthwhile investment for the long term gardener with his or her own well established roots in the local soil.

Free mulch in the form of bagged leaves and grass clippings can be found at curbsides in many towns this time of year. it is possible to have too much mulch, but very few gardeners ever do.Any excess can be left to simply rot in a convenient spot.Composting does not necessarily require a lot of work.

Yes to raised beds! What a revealation they were to me when I discovered them back in the 1970's, the all new radical hippie way of gardening that had been 5000 years in the making! :-)

Yes to my other great discovery, COMPOST. Yes Virginia you can make your own soil! It is incredible! I have thrown cut down dead plants into a compost pile and had them take off growing again! It's incredible to watch.

Yes to plant and seed variety. Go to Seed Savers Exchange and look for the downloadable online catalog...It will get your dreaming, we MUST keep seed variety alive (I will speak more to this in a second)

Yes to mixing in some herbs. This is another weird hippy idea from the 1970's that my dad and granddad used to look at me as though I were a Marxist radical for bringing up (they were devoted to potatos, beans, carrots and onions, AMERICAN FOOD...my granddad thought my dad was a bit of beatnik for growing garlic!) I am still working on a good list of herbs for my next chance when I get my own place to garden, I know more now what to look for then I did then...)

Yes to keeping the garden very near to the house if it is possible. Hauling things back and forth to a garden even a half mile from the house is a pain, and hauling the produce home is another pain...a garden needs to be within a hundred or so yards of the kitchen and dining room where it will be used. Trust me on this, it makes a huge difference, you want to be able to go out and tinker with no planning, for a minute or for half a day.

Now, back to seeds. Many people enjoy gardening greatly but no longer have a large family to share in the bounty. Consider growing a garden for seed, or devoting at least part of the garden to seed saving. For information go to:




At care2care, read just one of the reasons for concern about seed diversity, a story every good Irishman is familiar with.

Al Gore had a chapter on the issue of seed diversity in his book "Earth In The Balance". However, the book generated such controversy around Gore's discussion of a carbon tax that the other important issues discussed in the book were ignored.

I have had my differences with Gore on various issues (including his unwillingness to stand up for Tennessee border states on the issue of mountaintop removal mining, a horrific practice in its destruction of some of the most varied ecostructure in the world), but on seed diversity, Gore is absolutely correct. In many ways I see loss of seed diversity as a greater long term threat to humanity and the planet than peak oil (I will give my reasons for my logic on this if anyone wants to hear them) but please consider using your gardening skills and available gardening space to assist in promoting seed diversity. It is a great cause, a noble cause, and one of the things the dedicated amatuer can do to make a real difference.

As for me, I am currently drooling over a 30 acre piece of property just on the edge of Hanover IN, one of the most beautiful and potentially sustainable pieces of property in the U.S., just over 2 miles from a nice "green minded" liberal arts college and the Ohio River...now all I need is that hundred thousand grand to get it...:-)


I second these recommendations, and Ioffer these aids too:

1) Perhaps the most significant of Emilia Hazelip's written comments:


"The Fundamental Reality that Underlies Fukuoka's Principles

Soil is created by living plants working with microorganisms, and by the plants' residues and the microorganisms' corpses after their death.

Soil is drained of nutrients by cultivation, NOT by plants.

Tilling and cultivation of any sort diminishes the natural fertility of the soil in three ways:

· Mechanical grinding of the soil particles reduces their size and smooths them. This greatly reduces the size and number of micro-cavities between the particles, which are the habitats of balanced bacteria breathing out gases essential to mineral absorption and plants' health.

· Tilling kills vital microorganisms in the soil by exposing them to excessive oxygen in the air.

· And tilling exposes the organic matter in the rhizosphere (soil around the roots) to the atmospheric gases, precipitating the combustion of the humus, turning it into soluble mineralized nutrients . This provides a quick fertilizer for the plants, but at the cost of destroying permanently the texture and tilth of the organic, humic, rich soil, which accelerates erosion as well as contamination of the watertable with nitrates.

Minerals and trace elements, although present in soil, may not be accessible to plants due to the absence of the microorganisms (killed by tilling, pollution, or the use of herbicides or pesticides) that participate in the plant's mineral nutritional process. Just as microflora in our own digestive systems are needed so that our bodies can absorb and use the nutrients of the ingested food, microorganisms in the soil perform the same function for plants.

In crops, if the edible parts of a plant are harvested and the rest left to return to the soil, the organic mass left by the decaying plants will be superior to the volume of nutrients taken from the soil.

A plant gets up to 95% of all the nutrients it needs from the sky (gases and sunlight), NOT the soil. Of the 5% taken from the soil, half of it is the essential nutrient nitrogen, which, if the plant is grown in combination with a legume, can also come from the air.

ONLY 2 1/2% of the total nutrition of a plant IS COMING EXCLUSIVELY FROM THE SOIL in the form of soluble minerals and trace elements.

That is the fundamental reality that underlies and supports Fukuoka's principles of: No tilling, No fertilizer, No weeding, and No pesticides or herbicides. Natural agriculture refutes and disproves the foundation of current agronomical logic, and because it does it is seen as heresy by most of the agronomic community.

Fukuoka proposes, and supports with evidence, the first fundamental agronomic reform since agriculture was invented."

-- Emilia Hazelip"


(Emilia was Catalan, but had spent part of her youth in the US, and was one of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters)

Note that 'No fertiliser' INCLUDES no compost! Organic soil foods aren't harmful and will always do good, but according to the Fukuoka/Hazelip practises -- which rapidly produced results year after year as good or better than any more orthodox methods -- neither are they necessary! This is the real eye-opener, and it takes a certain amount of nerve to follow. Fukuoka used to scatter a very small dressing of dried duck droppings on his field once a year -- a great deal less than orthodox practise views as essential to maintain fertility. But then he, like Emilia never ploughed, nor tilled in any other way, never weeded, and never removed any plant foliage or roots from his land, except for just the food component itself: grains, fruit, etc. Everything else stayed, or in the case of straw from his rice and barley crops, was re-scattered onto his fields as mulch after threshing and winnowing of the grains. There's also an explanatory expansion of the 'No weeding' principle in the vid, which tallies closely with my experience on my beds: volunteers are very few, and as you keep mulching, they fade away, and only your planted plants cover the ground. The first year, I could count the individual volunteers which I pulled and then left on the surface to wither and rot back, they were so few; and it's been like that ever since.

After reading the statement above, which is very pertinent to the vid, please watch Emilia's half-hour 'how-to' video about her last holding, in Southern France (she died, untimely, just a few years ago). Beautiful vid, and a great exposition of how to apply Fukuoka's farming principles on garden- and horticultural-sized plots of land:


Because I have a free and copious source, I also use cardboard as sheet-mulch, as shown in this vid, directly onto undisturbed turf, under the straw mulch. When doing this, I put down a layer of dung-soiled straw first, then the card, then the 'clean' straw, hay, etc.: complete soil preparation and 'weed' (read useful helper plant) suppression without tillage!

2) Perhaps the most famous of the legendary Masanobu Fukuoka's writings on his agricultural experiments and insights on his family's farm in Japan, 'The One-Straw Revolution', can be had complete as a free PDF download, for example here:


3) Another legendary gardener, Ruth Stout, gives a brief but pretty complete 'how-to' account of her version of the same no-till, no-weed, high-mulch approach in this 'Mother Earth News' article. Like Fukuoka and Hazelip, she dispenses with compost-making as such, letting that job be done in situ by the usual soil creatures, as they process the mulch:


Once again, my experience in following them confirms Ruth's assertions too about how well this approach works, and about how low and comfortable the work-load is!

4) Please notice in the Hazelip video how Emilia copes with the need to intercrop some sort of nitrogen-fixing legume with the other crops in your beds. For some time I oscillated between constant deep mulch, and white-clover ground-cover: one or the other alternately. Obviously, you can't do both at once. But what you +can+ do both at once is continuous deep mulch, with transplanted bean or pea seedlings set between your other food plants, giving you N-fixing and a food crop at the same time, and allowing continuous mulch cover. Note Ruth's assertion, also borne our by others who follow these methods, including me, that it becomes possible to plant your food plants much closer together than orthodox recommendations, without problems.

5)For people who have problems getting in waste hay or straw at a reasonable price, my approach works well -- and +easily+ -- in practise. I use a home-made Austrian-style scythe, and gather 'wild-hay' once or twice a year from the many pockets of neglected self-set herbal meadow patches that grow nearby around my place, on the transnational cement company's waste land. See here for accounts, and really inspiring vids, of this too-little-appreciated mowing, and meditational and chi-gathering (sic!) tool:


This doesn't prevent me, of course, from scavenging up any other suitable mulch/compost materials which come available free. At present I have a lot of soiled straw from a nearby stable in my stacks, plus lightly dunged bedding from my ducks' night coop; the bedding is cut from the tussock grass growing in a nearby bog, again part of the cement company's ignored land: guerrilla gardening!

6) Be careful to find the latest editions of Bill Mollison's and David Holmgren's Permaculture books. Also take a look at David Blume's work in the US:


And at a very effective temperate-woodland version of permaculture, here in Britain:


Always wanted to try chinampa gardening, but I've never laid hands on a piece of swampland, unfortunately. If you have some 'useless' waterlogged land, count your blessings, and look into chinampas.

Cultivation in no way removes nutrients fron a oil, unlees the soil is subjected to erosion afterward.Harvesting crops and residues and removing them from the garden is what is primarily responsible for reducing soil fertility.

In an indirect sense, it can reduce the increase of nutrient content, by disturbing the soil biota. This loss is not total, or even very large, unless noxious chemicals are added to the soil for some reason.Injudicious use of manufactured fertilizers could fall into this category.

Cultivation is extremely useful in turning under the remains of plants on the surface, where they are more rapidly incorporated into thew soil, ans increase the organic matter content rapidly.Furthermore, cultivation buries a lot of weed and grass seed too deeply for them to germinate successfully, and in many cases it also exposes egg cases and larvae to birds-and the large majority of these are not the ones youy want in your garden.

The typical gardener will find it to his advantage to plow and cultivate from a labor productiviry pov. However those with only small plots and office jobs who look on gardening as much as recreation as work can use alternative methods quite successfully.Small scale gardens cared for by people with plenty of time and enthusiasm do work ok using the alternative methods proposed by some writers.They may even out produce nieghbors using older methods.

Folks who look at gardening as WORK, as we do, something we do to displace other work which would have to be done to earn grocery money,will mostly find plowing and cultivating to thier advantage if thier plot is large enought annd ther necessary machinery is available at reasonable expense.

This having been said, I do agree that a lot of unnecessary and even counterproductive plowing is done, and if ytou stay after a garden ans keep it clean, it is posssible to avoid cultivating to control weeds.

We plow our nieghbors gardens for them if they live close by.If somebody moves, moving into an area with lots of small farms and retired farmers is a good thing to do.For a FRIEND AND NIEGHBOR,I usually charge five to ten dollars to cover expenses.Widows and old folks short of money are done for free.Unemployed people are given to understand that someday they will do me a return favor of some sort,such as helping me catch a cow that has found a way out of her pasture.A real tractor can plow up a good sized garden in only fifteen minutes or so.

'Cultivation in no way removes nutrients fron a oil'[from the soil-- i presume]

i think you are probably wrong on this one mac. think about turning manure, or compost or anything rotting; heats up.

that said i have plowed , or spaded & flipped to start 6 or more gardens. ideally to get compost, or organics to breakup the clay. also i believe this gets trace minerals available quickly. my goal is to plow at most every 5-10 years.

i do cultivate -as in shallow turning the weeds in with a tiller, especially in my corn. mechanical advantage as you say. usually just once then i mulch with newspaper & whatever i have available. this allows me to garden a much larger area. i believe tillers are particularly destructive to the soil if used deeply.

When dealing with a hardpan and/or heavy clay soil, tilling is absolutely necessary to separate the particles of soil with air/compost/other material to allow ease of root penetration.
So no, OFM is NOT wrong on this issue.
What is wrong is thinking that a garden is a purely natural construct.
Most weeds, trees or other non cultivated plants have definite advantages in a purely "natural" environment since they are closer to the genetic parental stock.
Humans have interrupted this process by selecting certain attributes of various plants/animals and breeding them to accentuate those traits.
Weeds would definitely overun my garden should I give them the opportunity to do so.

when i flip the soil & i already had organics laid on top this gets the worms etc. to where they can break up the clay. a harrow can then cut the clumps. this eats up a lot of NPK though i believe; my point was that.
i standby my statement that tilling very destructive, & itself will create hardpan eventually.

i think it becomes a matter of speed & npk/ff availability; & ease, or perhaps making $. i favor working as close as possible with natural processes, if not we are mining soil at much, much faster clip. i agree this is not a natural process.

one additional thought about using fertilizers.

rodale claims that when we apply fertilizers such as opposed to the soil providing the NPK, etc. the mechanisms in the soil 'turn' off due to say an abundance of nitrogen.

it is an interesting idea; & this could apply to chemical, & some organics fertilizers.

Do not get caught up ideologies--by which I mean "organics." Gardening is complex, dependent on place and climate and variety, so blanket statements about "organic" versus "conventional" are meaningless. Do what you need to do to make your garden manageable and productive.

(Note: books like "The One-Straw Revolution" mentioned above are philosophical, uplifting, and really, really useless practically. I read it twice, thinking I "missed" something, but I found there was no there there. "Do nothing farming" is a myth. Maybe he has some pointers for growers of rice in subtropical regions, but who the hell is planning on growing rice? As far as I can tell, permaculture is a vaguely-defined, but harmless, cult.)

Home gardening is gratifying all by itself, and it saves you money, but there is no way to know whether it is the "way" to "surviving" a post-peak world because no one knows what such a world is going to be like, when it will arrive, how it will arrive. It could very well turn out that commercial conventional agriculture will be the one sector to thrive after fuels start becoming scarce, but what do you care if you like growing things and it saves you money?

I wouldn't give a thought to whether your method is "sustainable": I believe the concept is dead, especially in a world in which the net increase in the human population is over 10,000 per hour. All agriculture is unsustainable, no matter what ideological stripe it wears, because it just grows people.

You should get joy out of gardening. I might have more to say, but I have a raging toothache right now...

EDIT: One mistake people make--reading too many books! Just find a couple. If you really want to see what "organics" is all about, read Jeff Gilman from the University of Minnesota, The Truth About Organic Gardening and The Truth About Garden Remedies (Most home remedies don't work.)

EDIT: On something Gail says:

If you live in a colder climate, your garden is not as far along as a garden of someone in a warmer climates.

If you live in Northern New England and experienced the 80-degree weather today, do NOT succumb to the temptation to "push" your garden earlier. You will very likely regret it.

Hot weather crops (tomato, cuke, eggplant, etc.) never ever hit the open dirt here on this farm before June 1st. Keep them tucked under glass in big pots.

Permaculture IS a cult, though its harmlessness remains to be seen! It has the benefits of being effective, easily implemented on a small scale, being based on science, having no dues or fees and being completely disorganized.

Conventional farming, on the other hand, is also a cult, an extremely large, well-organized and harmful one.

Permaculture is in fact the one and only reason I became a gardener. I started with a tomato, two serranos and some thai basil in about 4 square feet. Today I have a reasonable garden on less than half an acre growing lettuce, radicchio, cress, parsley, apples, pears, peaches, walnuts, corn, beans, peas, cabbage, chard, beets, carrots, potatoes, mulberry, black raspberry, sorrel, tomatillos, many herbs and flowers, squash, melons, cucumber, brussels sprouts, broccoli and others. I still grow tomatoes, hot peppers and basil.

Obviously I do these each on a very small scale with small yields, but I have a lot of fresh food throughout most of the year (in the Northeast) for my family that tastes far better, costs less and is fresher than anything in the stores. Although I can't claim scientific evidence (yet) I'm sure my veggies have higher nutrient density than anything I could get at the local supermarket. Meanwhile I'm building soil, reducing my garbage and sewer input (by harvesting rainwater) and creating educational opportunities for my neighborhood.

Here's what's worked for me

  1. Start small and easy- buy starts rather than seed, grow close to the house as possible (although test for lead in older homes).
  2. Observe. Pay attention to sun and water on your site. What animals are there? What's growing well? What's not?
  3. Build soil. Sheet mulching is the fastest, easiest way to create a garden bed and involves no digging.
  4. Compost your veggie and fruit scraps (no meat). Put your compost bin close to the back door. If it stinks add sawdust or woodchips.
  5. Perennial herbs are VERY easy: sage, thyme, oregano, parsley
  6. Don't give up when things don't happen as expected- ask questions. Gardening is complex and learning is involved. Don't expect to be a master gardener overnight. Every bug, weed, and failure is a teacher.
  7. Take a class or join a garden club.
  8. Read a book. DO NOT START WITH THE PERMACULTURE DESIGNERS' MANUAL! Try Eliot Coleman's New Organic Grower or Doc and Katy Abraham's Green Thumb Garden Handbook.

Here's what's worked for me

1. Start small and easy- buy starts rather than seed, grow close to the house as possible (although test for lead in older homes).
2. Observe. Pay attention to sun and water on your site. What animals are there? What's growing well? What's not?
3. Build soil. Sheet mulching is the fastest, easiest way to create a garden bed and involves no digging.
4. Compost your veggie and fruit scraps (no meat). Put your compost bin close to the back door. If it stinks add sawdust or woodchips.
5. Perennial herbs are VERY easy: sage, thyme, oregano, parsley
6. Don't give up when things don't happen as expected- ask questions. Gardening is complex and learning is involved. Don't expect to be a master gardener overnight. Every bug, weed, and failure is a teacher.
7. Take a class or join a garden club.

Permacultists have yet to explain how such ordinary, centuries-old practical suggestions are "permacultural" rather than simply gardening advice. This is the way they work: repackage everyday instructions under a new rubric, "permaculture," and pretend to be saying something profound.

All of the above can be found in any 19th century gardening book.

The post also creates the false-dichotomy found in other cult-ish ideologies: pretend it's EITHER "permaculture" OR large-scale "conventional" farming.

I'm neither, yet I've managed to raise nearly ALL my own vegetables for year-round use for decades now.

Hi MikeB,

I've read your comments throughout the post and I salute your experience and success raising food. Few can claim this level of accomplishment.

Permaculture is generally not well understood, and often mis-characterized.

It's true that Permaculture practice contains a lot of centuries-old and millenia-old practices along with more recent developments around integrated design, ecological patterning, systems-thinking and alternative social institutions and structures. I believe Mollison surveyed everything he could to find out what works ("whatever works" is also an ideology: realpolitik, utilitarianism).

What I've listed above contains a few Permaculture ideas like observe and start small, and suggests others, but it's hardly the whole package.

The introductory Permaculture Design Certificate course is 72 hours. And I don't believe you can read Mollison's Permaculture: A Designers' Manual or Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability without some appreciation of the breadth and depth of the Permaculture approach. These are dense books!

I've heard the accusation of cult before, but (to your point) no one ever explains what defines a cult. If they did, would the World Bank or USDA fit the definition?

If everyone were practicing "ordinary, centuries-old practical suggestions" or "everyday suggestions" such as soil building, water harvesting, appropriate design, whole systems thinking, energy accounting and sane resource care and use, I'd say your point is well-taken.

Instead the business-as-usual world is accelerating soil loss, water pollution, acidification of lakes and streams and now oceans, overfishing, deforestation, desertification, species extinction ranking with the top extinction events of all time, profligate mineral resource waste, concentrating all power and money in the hands of a few, to say nothing of climate change. This is what common sense has devolved into.

If I seem to have an EITHER-OR mentality here it's in recognition of how badly wrong things are generally going.

EDIT: regarding Gillman, consider the source. He teaches nursery production and pesticide use at large university in the midwest.

In addition to the books I referenced above, I should add Dave Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens: Vol I and II. Not light reading.

Where do you live Mike? How long is your growing season? How much land do you grow your vegetables on? How much and what kind of compost do you add each year? And most importantly: How many vegetables do you eat? These are important questions if people are to understand exactly what it takes. I am curious. My best year (2005) I grew most of my summer vegetables and canned 24 quarts of tomatoes that lasted into the next spring. I did this on maybe 50' by 50' area in my back yard. I eay a lot of vegetables, but vegetables only supply a tiny bit of food energy.

emanuel, I hope you get this before the thread disappears into the aether!

Where do you live Mike? --Maine

How long is your growing season?--Roughly April through October

How much land do you grow your vegetables on?--We have over 5,000 square feet of gardens, plus about ten acres of pasture and hayfield. In addition, we hay a number of neighbors' fields.

How much and what kind of compost do you add each year?--I have a couple of kitchen scraps/garden waste piles that accumulates over the year, and I also have an "experimental" cow manure windrow in which I pile poop from the barn and layer it with leaves. This pile is due to be turned anytime.

And most importantly: How many vegetables do you eat?--Everything. I even grow my own shallots, onions and celery. I'm thinking of giving up potatoes this year to save space and just buying them from the commercial farmer down the road. They're cheap.

These are important questions if people are to understand exactly what it takes. I am curious. My best year (2005) I grew most of my summer vegetables and canned 24 quarts of tomatoes that lasted into the next spring. I did this on maybe 50' by 50' area in my back yard. I eay a lot of vegetables, but vegetables only supply a tiny bit of food energy.--That's pretty good canning for a garden of that size. We only canned about 14 quarts of juice plus some tomato soup because of a catastrophic blight that came with the wet weather. I usually put of juice, sauce, ketchup, soup and I dry a lot of Roma style tomatoes, but not last year.

Let's hope for more moderate weather.

Thanks Mike. I've done my gardening/farming in the Pacific Northwest, from Seattle to Portland to Eugene. Now I am in Norther California, which is a quite different climate. We'll see how it goes. Spring is move along fast and my starts are growing.

PS - You can always follow your own comment threads by clicking on "My account" even after the thread disappears into the aether.

"Perennial herbs are VERY easy: sage, thyme, oregano, parsley"

Nice point. May I add to the list: chives, native mints, and hardy varieties of lavender.

In Alabama French Sorrel is perennial. I cover some during the winter and not others. The covered ones do a bit better and give us winter greens. Sorrel has a lemony taste that is pretty strong, but cut up with our garlic chives, chickweed and whatever else happens to be around it makes a great salad. We have totally stopped growing fussy lettuce in favor of Sorrel which never goes bitter and is seldom bother by slugs. No doubt with the lemony taste comes Vitamin C. I understand they make soup with it too but I just like it fresh. We use it in place of lettuce on sandwiches too. Seed saving is easy. However I only let the plants put up a few seed heads so that it doesn't take away too much from the plant. It is a relative of wild dock.


When I lived in central GA for a while, I was amazed at the way collards survived through very cold, sub-freezing days and nights. As I found out when I looked it up, collards have more vitamin C per cup than milk, and are rich in many other vitamins and minerals. It is a staple of traditional southern cuisine for good reason.

Mike B is 100% wrong about 'The One-Straw Revolution'. He did indeed miss it, despite the two readings which he says he did.

Read it for yourself. It's free online. Fukuoka farming/horticulture/gardening works brilliantly in practise, though as Mike says, adapting always as necessary to your local conditions. But it still works, and with drastically less labour and materials inputs than what we're all used to.

But as Emilia says, his insights and practical achievements are so heretical to all the fixed 'truths' of current orthodoxy that they're bound to be slagged and trashed by denialists, to begin with. Doesn't matter. They're real, and they work.

We're now in the beginning of a fundamental shake up of food-getting methods. These benign ways that I and others practise and describe don't have any fatal dependency on hitech, high-energy, high-commodity inputs to work. But our current post-Green-Revolution orthodoxies in industagri and it's spin-offs into horticulture and gardening are so dependent, and that's going to annihilate them over the next few decades. The current orthodoxies are doomed, because the abnormal inputs which have sustained them increasingly for more than a century are now going away forever, whatever we do to try to prevent that. Neo-peasant agri is the wave of the future. But there's no need for it to be as back-breaking as it was in the Middle Ages. Ruth Stout wasn't kidding when she called it a lazy way, and low-work gardening. (Be absolutely assured that I wouldn't be doing it if that weren't true!) Nor is Fukuoka at all inaccurate when he speaks of natural and 'do-nothing' farming -- though you do have to get the full subtleties of his insights to see what he means precisely by that phrase. He never suggested that there was no work to be done, so much as no meddlesome interference with natural processes.

But coming at this different perspective with a will to see 'nothing there' is a sure way to fall flat on your face. Are all we practitioners +imagining+ our good outputs, got by sticking to Fukuoka's four insightful rules? These were drawn from upwards of five decades of trial on his family's farm, with baffled if not derisive commentary from his orthodox neighbours, many painful failures, and then a gradual deepening of understanding, and ultimate great success. No Till, No Fert, No Weed, and No Poison isn't some fashionable hippy nonsense, but a major new/old insight. Keep your nerve and do it over a couple of years or so, and see. And read 'One-Straw' with humility, so that you might begin to pick up the long-brewed subtleties which Fukuoka offers.

Incidentally, Marc Bonfils has been using very similar principles in France to grow grain crops without tillage, and without any fertiliser beyond a white-clover cover, before Midsummer seeding for a winter crop for harvest the following year. His outputs too, once he'd pioneered his own grasp on how it works, have been comparable with the best. And here too again: No Till, No Fert, No Weed, No Poison. Here, for example, is one of his papers, translated just slightly shakily from French:


None of this is airy theory, but matured, mucky-hands practise, developed to a successful conclusion over years of trial and error; but on the margins, because orthodox agronomy just couldn't manage to see it at all......

BTW, I forgot to put into my previous post above my persistent plug for comfrey -- the wonder plant!

Last year I increased my guerrilla plantings of comfrey slips extensively in various out-of-the-way holes and corners, as well as prospecting yet more wild-growing comfrey patches in the local woods, to add to my previous plantings, and other wild-patches of which I already knew. This year I shall have the croppings -- usually three of four cuts per year -- of at least two hundred plants. (This was a farm crop which, in its Victorian heyday here, was giving expert growers yields of 200+ tons of green foliage per acre annually) As well as being a panax medicinal herb, and excellent, nurturing animal and poultry food as wilted foliage, it makes also a super-mulch and a wonderful soil-food which, as either mulch or as a cold, tub-steeped tea, is a just abut perfectly-balanced NPK food for growing plants, alongside the copious humic material which it gives to the soil.

With this and the 'self-fertile soil' methods which I've been sketching in these two posts, there's no need to go scratching about for any other fertilisers, whether as organic bin-composts, or as inorganics. These methods will keep your soil rich, strong, and full of clout, and your veggies burgeoning.

Sorry that comfrey tonnage above should read 120 tons per acre per year. Just realised what I'd written.

Ruth Stout wasn't kidding when she called it a lazy way, and low-work gardening. (Be absolutely assured that I wouldn't be doing it if that weren't true!) Nor is Fukuoka at all inaccurate when he speaks of natural and 'do-nothing' farming.

These are lies.

Gardening/farming is AGAINST nature by definition, and if you want land to yield food, you have to work for it. You're hijacking and interrupting the natural order of "succession." You're joining the Darwinian struggle for dominance of resources. Good luck with it.

Stout, Fukuoka, a just manifestations of what Kunstler identifies as a "something-for-nothing," "wish-upon-a-star," delusional mindset.

A forest fire interrupts succession. Ruminants interrupt succession. Succession is not a given in nature. What's more important than not impeding succession is sustained soil fertility. Look at what Salatin has done with his soils via worms and grazers. Don't be so dogmatic and judge things based on their consistent results.

And then the succession continues, after the fire.

Also--Salatin is not an organic farmer or a permacultist. He does what works for him.

Mike is talking -- offensively -- through his neck. I suggest that interested parties (with genuinely open minds) try the outlined techniques and see. It will take you a year, two, three to begin to get the hang of it, but these old, effective pioneers weren't just talking; they got the results. So will you if you study the sources offered, and persist through any initial bafflements and setbacks. There's lots of helpful experience and advice freely available on the net, from those who are actually doing it and making it work.

Here's one practical example of how to do it: I'm in the middle, right now, of setting out this year's potato chits: Onto completely undisturbed turf, where the grass+herbs has still not yet grown tall this Spring, I'm setting a light layer of lightly-dunged straw, then cardboard sheetmulch, then eight fluffed-up inches of plain straw. Dry time here lately, so all the materials of this turf/dirty straw/cardboard/clean straw sandwich are watered a bit, once down. Once the cardboard is wet, and easily punctured, part the top straw and dib holes through the cardboard at suitable intervals (I'm using a slightly wide spacing, because other transplants will go between the spud-plants eventually). Tear the edges of the wet card back a bit, so that there's a hole about the size of your palm down to the dunged straw directly below the card. Drop in a sprouting potato chit, then pull back over it the covering top straw, but +lightly+, so that the chit is hidden and protected from late frosts (still possible here just now) but not under such a thick cover that it can't see the light, and start reaching for it. As the plants grow, check occasionally to see whether any volunteers have got of foothold on top of the straw. If so, just pick up the particular damp straw 'book' on which the volunteer is growing, and turn it upside down. That's about it for weeding. Often not necessary at all, especially if you follow Ruth's advice and throw on extra mulch here and there, wherever it's a bit thin and seems to need it. Apart from judicious spot-watering with diluted comfrey-tea when they seem to need it, that's about it until harvest time, when you simply part the straw again and pick up completely clean potatoes, nestling under the straw. Another useful tip to deal with wind-blow of your top mulch, whilst its dry and light, is to lay a lattice of cut sticks over the beds, or some similar hold-down mesh, until the top mulch packs down into its characteristic 'books of lasagne', as they're often described. Again, see Emilia's video. She's using this method there.

I've used these methods for several years now. The sharp drop in work, and the equally sharp drop in destructive soil disturbance, are spectacular, compared to the usual tillage-based routines -- which I also did previously, for years. Yields are about equal, sometimes better for the low-work, no-till method. If I were fanatically keen about it I think that I could get them much better.

And remember that the Fukuoka/permaculture/no-till ideas are still heresy to the guardians of current orthodoxy. So take their sour-puss derision with a lot of salt. Just try it and see. Revel in the drastic work-load reduction and in the beautiful, fulsome crops you get as you get into the hang of it. Revel also in the dawning understanding that you're working +with+ natural processes this way, rather than trying to beat them into submission, dominate, and control them in the industagri way; with much destruction and havoc and consequent constant -- but avoidable -- remedial work like fertiliser-addition every damned year, to re-balance the completely unnecessary havoc that machine-tillage industagri causes.

There are some astonishing, revolutionary insights contained in the work of the permies. A slow, thoughtful re-reading of Emilia's brief statement, which I posted further up on this thread, will help to make some of the most fundamental of these insights dawn on you: The idea, for example, that 95% of a live, undisturbed soil-community's plant nutrients come from the +sky+ each year, rather than from any kind of annually-added soil dressing. (97% if you use legume inter-cropping, to pull down nitrogen from the air too) You just take the minimum crop that you want, leaving the rest of the plant on the surface where it grew (you can cut it and lie it down, where appropriate, or very often just leave it growing on to do it's subsequent thing until it dies naturally: see Emilia's vid). You also leave the roots undisturbed in the soil whenever you can; or with root crops, lift them with minimum soil disturbance, and cut the tops immediately to leave them right where they grew too. With such a regime of cropping, you can see how just thinly scattering handfuls of dried duck droppings (for example; lots of other stuff would do equally well) once a year is all it takes to replace that other 2.5%

Incidentally, in reply to the idea that it's absolutely essential to do tillage to break up hard, compacted soil -- erm, actually not always so. Sometimes a once-only breaking up of the pan might be the only practical way, true. But often you can just start dumping manure/forest-floor litter/dunged straw/scythings/straw-mulch/bin-compost/whatever straight on top, as a kind of instant Hazelip-style raised bed. Start growing in this medium, and watch the new top-soil community of creatures do the pan breakup for you over the next year or too -- without any need at all for back-breaking labour, or industrial-machine assaults, from you. Depends entirely on local conditions. But it's rarely really necessary to call in an air-strike. Take a look at this link just below, for example, about zai-pits, and think about adapting them to your local conditions, if you have to deal with hard pan/compacted soils. This a +well-tested+ and spectacularly-successful way of just breaking up a small percentage of a pan, and then letting natural soil process that you restart in the pit spread out and re-fertilise the whole panned area. I repeat: tried and tested, practical, appropriate (soil) technology.


There's one other idea that needs to be thought about here too: not all of this big change in agri is to do with actual growing techniques. There's a socio-cultural issue as well. Mac says -- quite rightly for current conditions as they have been right up until the past year or so -- that these new/old permie techniques might do well on a garden scale, but that farm-scale operations have to use tillage methods, to get done all the work to bring in a crop (the ultimate purpose of the whole effort). Well, yes maybe, if you're still using lots of hitech, lots of complex and expensive machinery, and just a handful of human labour. Even in this set-up, though, it has to be said that people have been pioneering permie approaches which have proven themselves at the farm scale. I belong to a CSA which is doing exactly that on six hundred acres, and is now well along in its conversion from orthodox tillage agri. But the old paradigm is now a zombie: dead already, but not yet lying down and quietly rotting away; still staggering from growing crisis to crisis, with zilch visible solution to the growing body of intractable problems. The new paradigm, which involves a remorselessly-reducing availability or energy, and always at much higher cost than previously, mandates a spectacular return to the primacy of labour: hereafter, lots more people are going to do lots more muscle-work again. Like it or not, this will be the new orthodoxy. See this, for example:


Apply this to the agri ideas which I've been sketching here, and suddenly the feasibility of industagri at all falls into grave doubt. But the many-hands, smaller-scale approach comes into its own. For example, in our CSA, an +integral part+ of membership is that you take part in a minimum number of work sessions on the land each year. This is a condition of membership. You don't just pick up a veggie-box each week and have no further contact. Also, the young farming couple running the scheme have assiduously promoted regular socials on the farm. These two lines of action have already coalesced the beginnings of a community of people who are bonding well, and who have the beginnings of practical land-husbandry skills building up in their experience. Their children are involved constantly as well, and of course taking to it like ducklings to waterl.

A key idea with any agri effort -- this CSA, my permie operation, anything -- is that you don't just decide to do it when things get bad, and bring in bumper crops right away that year. The learning curve is steeper and harder than that. And above all, it's +longer+. So it's necessary to start this year, to be sure that you will be up to dealing with the food shortages and the riot-worthy price slam-ups as they appear more and more frequently over the next few years

Since Gale asked for useful practical advice on this post, I'll refrain from getting involved in the slag-off arguments, which are generally grumpy, useless nonsense anyway. As I've said several times already: ignore the slaggers, and just try these low-labour, low-disruption, pro-harmony methods and see. You'll be pleased!

In case anyone is counting I am doing much the same as what is listed above on my own property. I don't spend a lot of time doing it and I get pretty good returns.

Certainly there is no reason to use harsh and offensive language or being unreasonable about this.

Stout, Fukuoka, a just manifestations of what Kunstler identifies as a "something-for-nothing," "wish-upon-a-star," delusional mindset.

Stout produced all the vegetables she, her husband and her sister required - well into her eighties. How is that "wishing upon a star"?

You have some good insights to offer, but you're as much as ideologue as the most fervent permaculturalist. And I'm not referring to just today's discussion.


I like your comments Mike. I have heard myself say the same things to my permaculture friends many times.

Well-there are religions, and there are religions.I defend Christianity, as it is actually practiced by my family and culture, although I don't believe the earth is four thousand years old, or that god salted the earth with dinosaur fossils to test our faith, or that the world has four corners, if you get my drift.

I get my biology out of biology text books, my geology out of geology text books,plus some from people like Rockman and Heading Out in this forum, and my astronomy out of astronomy textbooks. I make sure that they are reasonably recent editions, written by professors holding tenure at accredited universities.

ditto my agriculture-plus I have sixty years of intimate contact(Although I tended to wander off for several months or a year or two frequently along the way, there were very few years spent totally away from the farm) with HANDS ON FARMING, ON A DIVERSIFIED FARM, as well as a degree in ag from a respected university.

I have not said that so and sos methods WON'T work-they are at some level no more than truisms, as any totally undisturbed soil and biotic community will by some definition or another become more and more fertile.The mostly long gone tall grass prairies, etc, are a good example.

But that kind if fertility is about as useful as your girlfriends virginity, if you get my drift.Wonderful to contemplate,and so forth, but not very likely to perpetuate the species we are most concerned about-our own.

Now as it happens I am a believer in climate change in general, and global warming in particular, as I see enough proof of what I personally percieve as evidence of the same, and know enough physics to understand the black box problem, etc.

I do not and would not believe in climate change just because a few researchers say it is real, and that they have proven it with thier computers, unless I could verify thier claims to a fair extent by using my own knowledge of the sciences,and back that up with actual observations culled from many sources such as books, newspapers, and websites-observations made by people without a dog in the fight , so to speak. Disinterested observers, in other words.

I would not take thier word for it simply because when it comes to being TOLD what to believe, I am as stubborn as any mule; and I am cynical enough to believe that the people in the climate field understand collecting a paycheck as well as-well, as well as they understand the climate, and probably even better.Only an idiot , or a person who has never had any experience in academia, or in the world of jobs and commerce, could doubt this.

(Imagine trying to get into an elite graduate school, or defend a PhD thesis, when the people who are testing you are convinced you are an idiot if you don't agree with thier understanding of the field, or trying to get hired once you have made any contrarian views public, at any agency or institution dependent on public money.

Imagine trying to get such views past the human resoyurces people who must dsign off on your being hired at any large corporation,unless they are specifically looking for a contrarian mouth piece.I have a very successful sister in the field who says one line says it all: "Noboby has ever been fired for going with Microsoft", meaning to play it safe.)

Of course there are a few professionally qualified dissenting voices out there-mostly the voices of tenured professors who are either sadly mistaken-or else PERHAPS they are prophets in the wilderness crying aloud about the people being misled by OTHER false prophets , so to speak.Take your pick.My personal estimation of the matter is that those who believe in forced climate change,meaning the establishment, are probably(90 % Plus odds) right.I would not be taken completely by suprise , however, if the next decade or two are cooler than usual.

There are people out there who believe the current establishment thinking in terms of understanding the biology of farming is obsolete and mistaken,and that so and so is the Darwin or the Newton or Martin Luther of a new age.They are a distinct minority-the people who research ag these days spend as much time on electron microscopes and computers as researchers in any other field;even in the late sixties, I took two full years, full schedule, of basic sciences before I took a single course with a college of agriculture course designation.

I am sticking with the establishment majority in ag until someone proves them wrong.If they ARE WRONG,I expect to see some starry eyed retiree with megabucks come into this nieghborhood and spend a fortune proving it before too long. (Just about every farm that changes hands around here anymore is bought up by such a person, excepting the ones that are converted tpo subdivisions.)

Now it is also very common for people to confuse what farmers actually do with what is actually known about agriculture.Just because farmers over apply fertilizers that wind up in water ways and result in fish kills or worse does not indicate that we don't know better; it simply indicates that we do what is best for us as business people -just like all other business people, so long as we can profitably get away with doing it.

PERHAPS the folks with the new visions of agriculture will someday be proven right. A lot of the controversy is a sort of tempest in a teakettle-in order to have a good discussion of this matter, we would have to sit down together and decide what the CONTEXT of the discussion would be:theoritical future lifestyles and ways of doing things,which might or might not come to be, and might or might not prove to be workable in the real world of people, politics, cultures, lifestyles, and commerce OR you and me, one of us on one side of the highway, and you on the other, trying to make a go of farming in the here and now.

It is easy to demonstrate that a lot of things can be MADE to work-proving that they will work in the real world on the grand scale is a different matter altogether, and proving that they will work better than existing methods, all things considered, can only be done by actually doing it.

In the here an now, if you haul off your corn and soybeans and eggs and apples and peaches, or whatever you grow, and do not replenish the losses of nutrients that leave in these harvested crops, you will soon find yourself begging me for a little help.The laws of chemistry and physics cannot be evaded or negated.

There are ways of making do without buying fertilizers,lime,micronutrients,or pesticides that work, and most of them have been known to farmers for a long time.

You can generally count on going broke trying to use these methods commercially these days.

But as I said in my original comment, if you have plenty of time and enthusiasm, you can use the newer methods ( or the older ones, or even a combination of the two , and even mix in some accepted bau modern methods) and succeed in making a crop.

It might even be a very good crop.But I will get a lot more equally good quality production with a lot less work and bother.This is likely to remain true for the near to mid term; if tshtf,it may be that I will be doing a lot more so called permaculture myself.

After all, we still make cider from apple trees( for old times sake only, we have a LOT of apple trees) originally planted in pasture fence rows by my Grandfather, and pickup walnuts from underneath a walnut tree planted to shade a shed by my great grandfather, and harvest wild cressy salad around the borders of our cultivated fields, and leave all of our crop residues in the fields. Our chickens forage behind our pigs.

If the girls would stand for it, we would even be using humanure, but they drew the line a couple of generations back in respect to modern plumbing-either we got new modern bathrooms, or we could look for new women.

We use some pure line open pollinated seed in our gardens,and we do lots of other things geared to sustainability over the long term.It is our intention to leave our cropland more fertile than it was when we inherited or purchased it, and our woodlands in as nearly a natural state as we can , consistent with obtaining enough cash income and/or wood for our own use from these lands to enable us to continue to own them.For instance we never use a dead tree or hollow tree for firewood -they are left for den trees and for the birds and insects.

Some folks might think of some of these things as permaculture.

Post script-If two novices start out in comparable circumstances,one using traditional every day methods and the other using so called permaculture methods, I would not place a large bet on either one. I premise my remarks on traditional methods as used by experienced and knowledgeable gardeners with the usual complement of equipment, or access to it.

PPS I would like for somebody who is growing a sun loving crop in the shade under a fruit tree to invite me over to see it.

I would like to see an organic farmer compete with me or my nieghbors growing cabbages or apples if he has to sell at wholesale market prices.

I would like to see an organic farmer compete with me or my nieghbors growing cabbages or apples if he has to sell at wholesale market prices.

This is the point, really: they can't compete with you, which is why they have to jack up prices 100% just to stand still. And that is why the whole myth of organic superiority is the necessary component of their marketing scheme. What would people pay if they knew the current science?

The proof of your "technique" is in the output, really, and I don't know a single permacultist who has a larder full of food.

I'm neither commercial, nor organic, nor permaculture, nor conventional. I'm just a farmer, and I have a year's worth of food in my cellar every fall. That's what matters.

OFM: The problem a lot of people have is that they may be right, but they are right a few decades too early. What is going to be commercially viable in the future may not be commercially viable right now, unfortunately.

I buy organic when I can, not because I think the stuff is healthier for me (apart from the absence of residues, why should it be?) but because something else might benefit. Don't care if it's a fungus or a bee or a bird of prey. I hate green concrete and I hate the fact that most people don't seem to care. BUT... it is currently cheaper to feed your plants on oil and poison the 'pests' than to feed them on compost and let the pests take their share, and I am lucky enough to be able to afford the luxury of choice. Bottom line, we're back to overpopulation again. But apples were a bad example OFM - mine seem to be a genuinely free gift from nature: I do nothing but prune in Autumn and admire the blossom in Spring, and I get bucketfuls.


I agree with you, but I also agree with Mike.

in the present day Us centric discussion mode, I will stick to my guns.

But I expect ag as usual fifty years from now to be a far different beast than the one we know today-more localized, more energy efficient,less dependent on manufactured inputs, and probably more labor intensive.

But I would not bet my little farm on the labor intensive part, except as it applies to specialty crops and fruits and veggies raised for personal consumption or local retail sale.

My guess is that the staples will still mostly be grown using industrial methods similar in principle and practice to the ones in use today.

"What advice do you have for new gardeners?"

Green side up.

(1) Start small - If you try to do too much too fast, you inevitably get overwhelmed later in the season. Pace yourself your first year.

(2) Akin to #1, start with 'easy' plants. Once it's warm (i.e., a few weeks after the last frost of the year), things like beans and strawberries are the epitome of easy. Tomatoes are the next level up, and peppers and onions are a bit harder. Also, garlic is super low-maintenance, though it's a bit late for planting any this year.

(3) I have to agree with the raised-bed camp: They're simple to devise and really make weeding virtually obsolete. Plus, you don't need a tiller, and they look more aesthetically pleasing (which is important to tentative gardeners on small plots of land) than tilled lots.

(4) DON'T OVERWATER - This might be the most common 'newby' gardener mistake. Try to give your plants a good soaking of 1 inch per week rather than several light drizzles. Again, this is where raised-beds help (i.e., better for water retention).

(5) Grow herbs - Cilantro, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary (if your climate zone is >=8), & Oregano are all extremely low maintenance, easy to start, and pay the biggest dividends in terms of return per effort (just have a look at the price of fresh herbs in any grocery!)

(6) At least TRY organic - Yes, I agree it can be a liability to attempt to be fanatically/strictly organic, but in the end doing as much as possible towards this really pays off in the long run. Trust me. There's an astounding difference in terms of pest issues in my experience b/w organic and non. Besides, compost is cheap. Give it a try, you'll be hooked. :-)

Figure out your paths and watering first

Hand/ drip/ sprinkler/flood ?

Faucets ?

Don't take on too much

(6) At least TRY organic - Yes, I agree it can be a liability to attempt to be fanatically/strictly organic, but in the end doing as much as possible towards this really pays off in the long run. Trust me. There's an astounding difference in terms of pest issues in my experience b/w organic and non. Besides, compost is cheap. Give it a try, you'll be hooked. :-)

I did, I'm over it. The longer your garden is where it is, the more the pests are attracted to it.

How do I "trust" a statement like "really pays off in the long run?" Does that mean that any other method than "organic" does NOT pay off in the long run? What, exactly, is "an astounding difference?"

As for compost...it is heavenly. But organic farmers don't own it as "their" method. People used compost for centuries before organic farmers expropriated it. AND not all organic farmers use compost. Some use sacks of blood meal, rock phosphate, seed meal, greensand, dried kelp ......

"The longer your garden is where it is, the more the pests are attracted to it."


"Does that mean that any other method than "organic" does NOT pay off in the long run?"

No, my point is not to create strict dichotomy here. I'm all for seedmeal, kelp, etc... (last time I checked, those are 'organic', if you avoid the GMO meals like canola). I never said compost was the only way. However, if you choose to go for the non-organic as the norm, I'd literally bet the farm that you'll have more problems b/c chemical fertilizers throw the off the 'biotic balance'.

"How do I "trust" a statement like "really pays off in the long run?"

Nobody said you had to. I don't have time footnote and cross-reference every possible scientific journal on the subject. If it's that important to you, look up the 'evidence' yourself. Or don't, no skin off my back. I thought this 'campfire' forum was just for sharing experiences/advise. This is mine, take it or leave it.

"The longer your garden is where it is, the more the pests are attracted to it."


When I first started working at an organic farm, I asked the field manager why, given their problems with Colorado Potato Beetles, she wasn't more religious about rotation. Her laconic response was a gem:

"They fly."

My folks used pesticides originally, then moved to just picking them off by hand - if you get in early and are fastidious then it's not so bad. ALSO - try vegetable netting - they've started using that in the last year and it's amazing for keeping pests out. It looks like it would shade the plants too much but they grow just fine.

Rotation isn't for pest control, it is for disease control. The Colo. Potato Beetle will usually not wipe out an entire crop of potatoes, disease will. See: Ireland, Great Potato Blight.

That's exactly what we experienced in New England last "summer." Everyone had late blight ... yet those of us who sprayed anti-fungals managed to squeak by. Rotation was useless--it was the rain that was the culprit.

Also--I have seen CPB wipe out whole rows of potatoes at the farm where I work. I plant mine as early as I can then mulch heavily as they grow. If/ when the bugs appear, I spritz them (as I don't have the slave labor to pick the larvae off the leaves).

The one thing that the original growers of potatoes had was more than one cultivar, they had over 3,000. When we started going down the road toward monoculture plantings we distroyed the balance of how plants have been living in the wild, or even in their natural range.

Humans find one plant in a forest and take it out of the forest and try to grow it else where, ignoring so many natural systemic things that its a wonder we haven't died from our ignorance before now.

One thing you'll want to know about is companion plants that might protect your food plant from pest bugs and plants.

I think you got a bad dose of "organic" farming MikeB from clueless bosses. I don't much like the term Organic in how it has been changed over time, I prefer to use what I would term natural system gardening.

Anytime we go and Coin a phrase or word, we doom ourselves to someone else coming alone afterwards and ruining our good intentions, via over use, or misuse.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

OK Mike to be fair since you typically seem to be facing a pretty harsh headwind here on TOD - what do you recommend for:

Fertilizing your crops

Pesticides for your crops

Are these always very specific applications - i.e. only certain fertilizer mixtures etc. for a given crop or only certain pesticides for a certain pest ? Or are there such things as fertilizers / pesticides that are "pretty good" for a broad range of soil deficiencies and pest problems ?



I have to say "it depends" without be facetious.

If you're a beginning gardener, and your soil sucks, then why flagellate yourself over using commercial fertilizers?

If you have pest infestations and you're a lone gardener, a time-stressed gardener, then why stress even more over the purity and virtue of the manner in which you kill bugs? Buy a commercial pesticide.

I can tell you what I do:

I have not had to add an ounce of commercial fertilizers (aside from some lime) to my soil because I have been building it up with home-made compost and composted manure for over twenty years now. I mulch heavily with spoiled hay and cardboard. But I don't call this "organic," I call it cheap.

If I don't find any bugs, I don't bother spraying. But I'm really, really sick of picking hornworms off everything, every year, so I've begun spraying when I see them. (Organics people will tell you that wasps will prey on them, and they do, but not nearly in as timely and thorough a manner as a gardener would like.)

I'm also sick of digging cutworms out of the soil. You can't collar every plant. I start way too many seedlings in order to keep a little seedling bed at the end of each row to replace those seedlings the cutworms get.

Colorado Potato Beetles and Japanese Beetles are another story. They get carbaryl or malathion or whatever I can get my hands on. (Organics acolytes can use Pyganic, but it's expensive and must be applied more often. Also--although blessedly "organic," it's still a pesticide and it decimates bees and fish, so be careful.)

Finally, the rains here have been awful for several years and captan in now my friend (anti-fungal).

Read the label. Follow directions. I'm a certified pesticides handler and can attest that taking safety precautions is actually very easy.

Thanks for the reply Mike - I'll add this info to the compilation of info I've been assembling...

I've been dabbling in gardening / sq ft gardening etc. for a few years now but want to scale up some since I've recently been able to convince a friend with some acreage to let us try some bigger plots / fields...

In general do you start most of your seedlings in hoop/green houses or do you direct sow ?

I have a simple plant stand with fluorescent lights that I use to start seedlings indoors (a gift from a fellow Drummer!). Then I simply put them under glass outdoors when it's warm enough. No greenhouse here, though the farm I work for has two big greenhouses and three hoop houses.

I try to direct sow as little as possible because of our cold soils (which seems to be changing, though). Beans, peas, beets, etc.

At home, it's very low-tech. At the farm, it's all plastic, oil furnaces, irrigation systems, etc., which they have to have to be able to grow enough food for market.

"I'm a certified pesticides handler"

That explains everything ;)

More assumptions! I love it!

I got the certification through an organics organization because I work at an organic farm!

Organic farmers use pesticides. They have to be certified to handle pesticides.

I work at this farm because it's close by and it's a well-run place, stocked with great people. Just because I don't subscribe to the ideology of the certifying organization in the state doesn't mean I can't participate in the practices that I like, such as composting and mulching.

Sometimes I feel like the jewish maintenance man in a catholic church....

Catskill asked,

"what do you recommend for:

Fertilizing your crops

Pesticides for your crops"

The fertilizer question is easier...again, compost, and manure or manure teas. They work. I used to garden on very small pieces of property, and had an uncle with a pickup truck bring me by 5 gallon buckets of horse manure from a local farm. I would usually let it set out by the shed and age for about a winter so I tried to stay ahead, or dump about 10 gallon in the compost pile before winter and go out and stir it in on any warmish winter day in Kentucky, and by the spring, I had a rich black homemade soil that was so rich it would grow about anything...

On pests, it's harder. I sometimes lived with a certain amount of loss to certain pests, but some of the tricks I read and used did work. There used to be a Rodale Press book called "Handbook of Organic Gardening" that I bought in the 1970's. I still have my copy but I don't know if it is still in print. It is a large green book and is an absolute GEM so if you can find one in a used book store BUT IT. They had various recommendations...you can use some of your garlic or onion as method to scare off a lot of insects...grind it up in water (onions that are past their eating time and the greens from the onion tops are great too)and spray it around on leaves and the area around plants...this brings back the issue of companion planting in raised beds and not concentraing one type of plant in too great a density (many pests move from plant to plant, and will miss scattered small numbers of plants...my dad used to do a few tomato plants at one of the garden and a few more at the other end, etc. The Rodale book has some really great companion plants that work well with each other, but I can't recite them from memory.

The reason we did organic when I was a kid had nothing to do with ideology or even ecology but everything to do with money....chemical pesticides at that time (late 1970's) were astronomical in cost, and we were practicing SHOESTRING gardening. The goal was to spend next to nothing in getting things to grow...it was financial sustainability that interested us.

There is nothing deadlier to a really efficient garden than the prosperity of the gardener! As my dad got more prosperous he spent more mony on trinkets and gadgets, finally resulting in the purchase of a Troy built tiller he had always dreamed of: Frankly, the think spent less than 20 hours or so a year in the garden and was a fanastically expensive toy. I saw a lot of prosperous boomers garden...pretty soon they had tillers, and an SUV or pick up to go to the garden store, and expensive gadgets...there was no way the food they were getting paid for all the toys. My granddad, dad and I were probably the absolutely most efficient in the recession years of the mid 1970's when we had virtually no money to spend...I learned to use everything from compost to newspaper to grocery bags and cut open milk cartons and jugs as growing containers, we had to do it on NOTHING. So we did. We sure couldn't have afforded all the expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides.


thanks for that excellent information Roger...

I actually bought a later edition of that Rodale book for my girlfriend a couple years ago - it is a good one...

Re: companion planting - we tried a variety of different versions of the native american "three sisters" mounds last year - we were very impressed with how things grew... but it was an exceedingly wet year and we had to wait much too long to get things in the ground then the rain just kept coming and coming... didn't have to worry about watering for sure but the squash got hit with powdery mildew, the beans pretty much got drowned and didn't produce alot - surprisingly the corn did OK but was so wet on the stalks we just couldn't get it to dry out. The Three Sisters mounds were fun to plant and worked really well even given the tough conditions - I recommend them even after only trying them one season...


Agree completely; start with just a few plants the first year. These can be purchased in pots at the nursery the first time you try gardening, and you can graduate to starting packaged seeds yourself the next year and seed saving the following year. Buy bagged compost and graduate to your own compost once you've built up a supply and learned the basics of growing and harvesting. If you plan to try survival gardening, learn how to grow plants that store well over the winter: winter squash, beans, potatoes, carrots, onions. Not all plants will grow well in your area, so work toward identifying the ones that are easiest to grow in your conditions; don't waste a second season on fussy plants. If a late snow threatens your little plant, you can turn a gallon black plastic plant pot over it during the storm and it will usually make it through. Just remember to uncover it as soon as the freeze is over!

One way to create raised beds: build a wood frame and fill it with free horse manure, top it off with compost. Weed first. No need to till. Indeed, cover the ground with a black tarp or cardboard for a year in advance if possible. Weeds are something that will haunt you and you will dream of ways to stop them if you don't plan a year out.

No mercy for slugs. I've tried so many 'do-gooder' organic methods and gave up. See, for example, http://www.eartheasy.com/grow_nat_slug_cntrl.htm. I would be interested in hearing stories of success using any of these methods. I had severe slug infestation. Had to resort to a product by the infamous Bayer. It has been the lowest moment of my gardening career. It seemed harmless to other life, but I wonder. I regret this and felt defeated. I am looking for someone to tell me they beat severe slug infestation with any 'organic' method.

My other problem was groundhogs. Tried powdered fox urine. That was a scam. Building a fence was helpful, but they are able to dig under it. Anyone else had groundhogs?

Preparing the soil and planting at the right time is important. But after all your hard work, there is nothing more discouraging than to find your garden devoured by other creatures.

No mercy for slugs.

Chickens will eat 'em.

I hear ducks are even better and don't eat everything else too.

I hear ducks are even better and don't eat everything else too.

Yes, many people "have heard" this but few practice it. I have. Ducks DO help themselves to "everything else." But you're right, they don't eat it: they just trample on it, nibble at it, and shit all on it.

Please try it for yourself.

Have you tried or encouraged any other species which predate on pests?

Hedgehogs, guineafowl etc?

Rotenone and carbaryl are much more dependable.

I used to have slug-swarms here, every warm, damp period, every Spring. I now have Muscovy ducks, their ducklings, their eggs, their down, their meat. Ace birds! Characterful and entertaining too. Keep them as self-foraging, self-defending free rangers, with just a bit of food thrown to them twice a day. Give the girls pleasing nesting boxes close to the dogs' kennels (on top, maybe), to keep them safe. In case of rat risk, a small-mesh ark for mother and hatchlings for the first week or two, preferably moved about on grass, will save you a lot of loss. Needs to be seriously fox-tight, and have a simple shelter nook at one end. But essentially, all my ducks take their chances with the predators. Keep your nerve and let it happen. Restock if it's a total wipe-out. Try to get 'farm-birds' rather than 'show birds' who often don't know their elbow from a hole in the ground, and have often been selectively bred to be so heavy that they can barely fly. (Vital self-protection for free-rangers; never wing-clip; they "fly around but they don't fly away.") My -- rather surprising to me -- experience is that Muscovy's seem to be unusually canny birds. Some of them will eventually make it to the condition of having learned a safe lifestyle. The laggards get culled by predation, the sharpies get to survive and breed, and pretty soon you have a near-self-caring, ferocious anti-gastropod (and anti rat-baby, anti-mouse, anti-vole. etc.) omnivorous meat-making machine. Need a decent bit of water somewhere nearby. Droppings, even if you don't night-coop them, and they roost on the water or in trees (sic!) are still collectable in sufficient small quantities to provide you with all you need for the soil. And by free-ranging, they bring in lots of mixed nutrients and trace-elements, which is then concentrated in their droppings. They do some moderate damage to some plants, but can be discouraged by simple tricks, so long as they have plenty of other forage. Needn't be a problem. Nice birds, though some think them ugly.


If you have groundhog problems you are dealing with the worst of the normal pests (to include insects). If you do not live in an area where you can shoot them (most of you will not), then you get a trap and catch them. They are pretty stupid and you can catch them even with no bait if you put the trap where they come under the fence. IF you bait the trap with something like a piece of fruit you can put the trap anywhere near where they live and they will go right into it. I use the cage type. What you do with the beast is up to you of course.


Got groundhogs? Don't like guns? We always had these:

A couple of Dachshunds will solve your groundhog problem, and love you unconditionally. Good Boy!

That's a lovely little critter!

What's its carbon footprint?

The best bait I've found is juicy fruit gum. They really seem to like it. One note however is that it will kill them if they eat a lot of it as they cannot digest it properly.

The best trapping bait for critters in the garden (including ground hogs)? "Honey Buns". An oldtimer told me this, and he was right. Nothing we have tried comes close.

A shallow pan of beer every other night, you will get drowned or drunk slugs. I have tried it and it works, Buy cheap beer, that way you won't feel so bad about wasting it. My dad can't drink alcohol but loves beer so there is always some O'Douls in the outside fridge. Try diatomaceous earth sprinkling it on the soils surface around your plants.

The beer works even though it always seems a waste. Though you can also lay a plank or cardboard piece on the ground away from your plants, and use it as a collection of slugs, picking it up every morning and putting them in the trash, or bird pen whichever you want.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

Grow soil first -the plants will follow!
see example @ happyeggs.org


Other things to look at:

http://www.remineralize.org (adding rock dust)
http://www.journeytoforever.org/garden_organic.html (the brix part - a way for you to measure They and the below have Sir Howard's works)
http://www.soilandhealth.org/ (great collection)

Try growing potatoes in hay bales or in containers. To harvest you just dump the container. (that is this years variation for me - and I'm growing 'em in straw, leaves, with compost and with rock dust. Just looking for purple potato stock.)

Folar feeding and watering with a weak sugar solution to cause a bacteria bloom are other things to "play" with. Gardens are typically bateria based soils and fungi extend your root area plus break down rocks into what the plant can use.

Dr. Inghram over at http://www.soilfoodweb.com/ doesn't believe in adding charcoal to the ground but these gents do. http://www.eprida.com/home/explanation.php4

If you want to play and have no expection of this working cuz, well, it sounds wack to me....

And don't forget the electric fence to ward off the various critters.

Happy growing this year gardners!


Did you look at the schematic drawings on this "rexreseach" seed stimuliatin thing! They look like a spoof, or maybe the warp drive to the starship Enterprise! :-)


The 'urban legend' says you'll see 50-300% yield increase. With the 'claim' being it 'changes' the DNA. I'm willing to go with epigenetic effects but I found this "No genotoxic or epigenetic effects of exposure to static magnetic fields of up to 9 T have been shown, except for one study with repair deficient bacterial ..."

I did find this:
And this:
The effect of the exposure of maize seeds to stationary magnetic fields on germination and early growth has been studied under laboratory conditions. Seeds were magnetically exposed to one of two magnetic field strengths, 125 or 250 mT for different periods of time. Mean germination time and the time required to obtain 10, 25, 50, 75 and 90% of seeds to germinate were calculated. The results showed a reduction of these parameters for most of magnetic treatments, therefore their rate of germination was increased.

Growth data measured on the 7th and 10th day after seeding allowed us to corroborate the effect observed in germination tests. Treated plants grew higher and heavier than control;

So yes - the idea *MAY* have validity.

(And I'm not gonna post links on orgone energy or biodynamicly stuffing cow crap in steer horns)

New to gardening? Find a neighbor or friend who has a record of success and volunteer. You'll get a cut of the "take" and learn more than you'll ever learn from books about gardening success in your area. I've never seen a good gardener who refuses help with tilling, planting, weeding or harvesting. Books are great (I have many) but success/experience can't be beat. If you have land, start a community garden. Invite folks who have knowledge but need more land. Run an add in the local paper and start a co-op to share land/tools/labor/seeds/etc.

I've never seen a good gardener who refuses help with tilling, planting, weeding or harvesting.

I am a good gardener and I almost always refuse help. I go to my garden when I feel like it and do whatever seems to need being done. I don't want to garden when it is convenient for someone who wants to help. I don't have tasks I can assign anyone. I get tired of helpers "questioning the way I do things". I love my time alone in the garden, I don't want to spend it figuring out what someone else can do without messing up.

Yes I am a cranky loner but if you find a good gardener who accepts your help DON'T think you are necessarily doing any big favors. Watch and learn and don't comment until you have watched and learned for a while. Be grateful that this person is willing to share their knowledge and put up with any damage you might do along the way.

But then again, there was this one guy..........

No Ghung, this one old lady.

Sorry...you actually reminded me of an old guy down the road that was grumpy and anti-social, but had a great garden. He wouldn't even share pests if you asked. He had a great collection of POSTED signs.

For the most part, I've found accomplished gardeners to be generous with their time, knowledge, produce and their labor, usually patient to a fault. I agree with you in that they should be aproached with humility and respect. Many prefer their solitude. I usually do.

I tell people not to pick something that they think is a weed, because most things that look like weeds I might be growing. If it is clearly crabgrass though, they can pull it up.

Teaching people NOT to do, is almost as hard as teaching them TO do things.

Once a few years ago I was helping some people move into an apartment building, and it took me hours of telling a guy that he was working to hard with a two wheel dolly. Finally I got his attention when I balanced it on it's two wheels all the while of also holding a china cabinet on it. The key to moving something with a two wheel dolly is let the tires take the weight not your arms.

Learn what is the easiest method of doing something, in most cases if you are working to hard, you are doing it wrong.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future. Extra people always welcome.

Actually Ghung I gladly show off my garden and answer questions and give suggestions. I just like to work alone. But I am not a guru. I tell people well you can try this or that etc. I can't say I do any one thing all the time. I am always trying something new or adjusting to how my garden is going. Most people want a guru who says DO THIS and all will be well. I say pay attention to your garden - let it teach you.

I plant field peas, but since I have a continual mulch garden I let some self seeded ones grow up. How can I tell anyone why I let this one grow and pull this one. I don't even know. I just do it. The self seeded ones always do better. How can I tell anyone where to pick since they end up all over the garden. (Which puts nitrogen fixing bacteria all over the garden). Same with pumpkins - the self seeded ones usually do better.

But more than that I love to just be alone in my garden, absorbing the smells and sounds. So I gladly try to tell people what I do and even demonstrate but the work I selfishly keep for myself.

I have had great gardening success with fertilizer produced by our 3 rabbits and 2 guinea pigs!

I give them grass which I collect along the road or in the garden or a few vacant lots. There is not enough if everyone were to start doing this but now it`s just me so it is sufficient.

In the winter (jan-march) I sometimes have to buy food for them....I give them barley or pellets.

I collect the fertilizer and mix it with soil and leave it for a few weeks. I plant veggies in our small garden and put the fertilizer around them.It makes a huge difference vs. not using fertilizer.

We don`t have a car so buying fertilizer (at a large home center shop) is not convenient. Picking grass or buying small amunts of barley in nearby supermarket is totally convenient. The rabbits and guniea pigs obligingly turn all food into fertilizer.

I don`t grow enough veggies to be self-sufficient (lack of space and time) but it`s a small yet helpful amount.

When I started about 5 years ago I had very little idea about growing veggies but now things are improving!

My advice: start small and don`t be afraid to experiment and think creatively. I use large glass ashtrays to improvise "greenhouses".

Mix animals and plants together. I would like chickens but we don`t have enough land. I am thinking about bees. If you put some old logs in a pile you will get lizards. Attract insects with flowers.

It can be very fun to try different things.

Some veggies come back, like artichokes and asparagus.

Mix animals and plants together. I would like chickens but we don`t have enough land.

Chickens and gardens don't mix. They scratch for grubs and take dust baths and peck at everything, and they don't care what they destroy in the process.

One spring many years ago, the chicken house door didn't latch properly and the birds got out while we were away. I came back and had to replant a third of the garden.

As a naive and romantic young gardener, I followed some book-read advice about getting ducks to go through the garden and dine on insects. How proper! How natural! Well, they smashed the plants under their webbed feet, pecked the lettuce to death, and shit everywhere.

"Natural" methods are nice in theory, crappy in practice.

"If someone new to gardening were to ask what you have learned by trial and error, that might be helpful to others, what would you tell them?"

As other's have stated, use books only as a rough guide. Although not so applicable to Red River Valley clay near Moorhead MN, I like the concepts put forth in John Jeavon's "How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine".

Start with a few things that you really like to eat....expand in future years (the garden, not your beltline). Test both raised beds AND flat ground....raised beds can require much water if you have a drought situation, so if you have some of the crop up higher and some down low, you may be surprised at the outcome. If the soil is well tilled/turned and is healthy, you can grow plants more closely together than if not.....saves on space and reduces evaporation of the water.

Don't be put off by what some people say can and cannot grow in your area. We've been immensely surprised at the effect of microclimates on annual crops in our zone and some creative covering in the fall can extend the growing season more than you think.

See saving tip: You may already know that if you are saving hybrid seed, you will not get the same looking crop next year as you had this year. For non-hybrid crops like beans, non-hybrid tomatoes, etc., save seeds for next year. My wife likes to squeeze seeds out of over-ripe tomatoes onto paper and let them dry. They will stick to the paper and the paper can be stored in a filing system over the winter.

We pared down many varities of many things to those that we have found to be our favorites and that do well in our area. So although we started out with myriad tomato varieties, we are now down to one paste variety that we grow a huge amount of (and freeze for winter use) and a few summer eating varietes that stay naturally disease-free or mostly so. Even in our northern area, we are able to start the tomatoes indoors under lights and transplant on Memorial Day (statistically the last frost day). With the exception of large bell-types, we grow quite a variety of hot and mild peppers, eggplant, leafy greens, all possible potato varieties, and others. We're in the middle of large-scale wheat/barley, sugarbeet, soybean, and corn rotations so anything related to those will do well.

We are VERY LAZY gardeners....and still have more produce at the end of the summer than we can eat (still eating last year's potato crop from the root cellar and last year's tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, etc....all thrown in the deep freeze last fall). You will get into a rhythm of how much weeding, cultivating, fertilizing, pest control, etc. that suits your area, your energy level and motivation, and STILL eat well. I could not imagine a summer anymore without a garden.

As an aside, never thought the "plow fence-row to fence-row" USDA would ever have a "People's Garden" page (www.usda.gov/peoplesgarden). This website is interesting for more reasons that I would care to expand upon here.


You said of the www.usda.gov/peoplesgarden website, "This website is interesting for more reasons that I would care to expand upon here."

Absolutely correct, I went to the site and about fell out of my chair! This thing looks like something you would expect from the Copenhagen city council or Rodale Press or some other greener than green site...we really need to do a keypost here on TOD about this and find out more about what it takes to get involved (I read every morsal of info I can find and had never heard of this one! :-) Good catch.


Although I have a very large garden and orchard, I'd suggest that new gardeners start with containers* rather than trying to establish a regular garden.

They are a lot less work and just about anything that can be grown in soil works well in a container. Regular large pots can be used or one can buy a self-watering container like an Earthbox or make one.

There is all kinds of information on container growing as well as how to build your own self-watering containers on the Internet.

It might be worthwhile to note that even I use self-watering containers for some stuff (I have 16 of them that each hold 2 cubic feet of planting mix - the same size as an Earthbox) - only I made mine for a lot less money.

*FWIW, the current issue of the Mother Earth News has an article about using bags of soil mix where they slice open the side and just plant.


Excellent advice Todd, you beat me to it.
I'd also like to thank you for your recommendation in a previous post of the book, "The Encyclopedia of Country Living" by Carla Emery.
IMO opinion simply the single best, all around book on back to the land issues.

Containerized gardening is by far the quickest, easiest, most economical way to grow superior(organic too, if you wish) produce.
All common garden vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc. grown this way will simply out produce their inground cousins in all aspects, quality, quantity and effort.
I avoid so many issues such as disease, watering, nutritional deficiencies and insect problems using containers I have made.
Not that these problems are insurmountable but they can be difficult in the extreme to diagnose and treat, especially in combination.
The only problem containers have presented is how and where to store them for the Winter.

Here are a few good links on building your own:

My previous efforts at building raised beds have taught me some important lessons.
1. Don't use wood for the sides as it will rot and become home to many pests.
2. Recycled plastic lumber(which I used to rebuild the aforementioned cedar beds) is expensive and will fail at the corners unless bolted through cut-to-length angle iron braces. Poured concrete or cinder blocks are more affordable if you have the room and energy to build forms.
3. Using lumber (of any sort) for the beds, they can be made any length you wish but if you live where the ground freezes for part of the year, your beds will burst apart or bulge from the frost unless you make the growing areas square. This does not hold true for poured concrete.
For example, my beds are 8'x4' due to size of material and economy of effort. I have further divided the length in half with a stringer that cuts the bed in half lengthwise, in effect 2 4'x4' beds. This keeps the bed square and prevents the frost from bulging the sides.
4. A beds width and the size of the pathways through them need some thought. A 4' wide bed means both my wife and I can easily reach the center of the bed from the path and the 2' width of the path means I can easily roll a wheelbarrow full of compost or whatever along their length.

Since I have been using containers, my raised beds now are home to mostly medicinal and calorie crops, potatoes, carrots, onions, corn, quinoa, amaranth etc.

Grow some flowers too. Geraniums, marigolds, pyrethrum are simply amazingly beautiful plants.
The cut flowers not only have visual impact but can be boiled down into effective insecticidal

a variation of container gardening is the growing potatoes in a vertical 'stack' that is added to as they grow.

tires are sometimes used. i got lots of pallets, many w/o any center boards- which i think will work. i am trying Jerusalem artichokes & sweet potatoes.

the big factor for me growing with more raised beds[i had moved away from beds to increase 'production'], & these stacks is the wild weather. i can 'control' better with these; as long as i have abundant water available. i presume hydroponics would also give this control factor, & would appreciate good- very basic links. i think Todd has mentioned using hydroponics in the past. thanks.

Potatoes also grow well in mere piles of old leaves. The potatoes themselves are also easier to harvest.

It is amazing how they'll grow. I tend to grow them under old hay I've taken out of the barn.

The only problem: there's a big potato farmer down the road who sells potatoes for only $7 per 50-lb bag. So, I have room for other stuff....

That's about why I didn't grow potatoes for years, then I switched to running my errands and shopping by bicycle...suddenly it made more sense to grow potatoes at home!

Hi Spaceman,

Thanks! Let me add a few more comments. I've been growing stuff for over 40 years. I've been a small-scale certified organic farmer. I'm also a licensed pesticide applicator (and, FWIW, in CA it doesn't matter whether a substance is "organic" or synthetic. The applicator needs to either have a county permit or a license like me.).

As looked at the posts up-thread I see a pattern of making something simple -grow stuff- complex. Containers avoid all of this. Crops can be produced by organic methods or standard methods. There are no concerns about soil. Burrowing pests like pocket gophers and moles are not a concern. Water isn't wasted and there is no fancy irrigation system. It is not labor intensive. People with handicaps or lack the physical ability to prepare soil can still grow stuff. AND, IT PROVIDES A REAL CROP PRODUCTION LEARNING EXPERIENCE. It is naive to believe people will learn how to produce crops instantaneously.

Now, there are advantages to crops produced in soil. I have over 2,000SF of raised and terraced beds and they allow me to do things that would not be possible in containers.

For example, I do a lot of variety trials. It's not unusual for me to plant 25-30 varieties of tomatoes for a trail. This year it is straight neck, yellow summer squash where I'll be trying 13 varieties. Which leads me to another concern: After spending time and money to prepare a garden area, they most likely will just buy seeds or plants at the "garden center." If they fail, they will have no idea if the variety was to blame or their growing technique. At least with containers they can probably write off poor soil or soil borne disease.

One final thing: Containers can save a lot of space and work. I grow potatoes in trash cans as well as beds. I also grow strawberries in beds and containers. The container ones might be of interest. I use 3 quart plastic juice bottles with the bottom cut out (I paint them white to reduce heating and moss growth). They are hung upside down from our 4x4" wood fence posts with nails. The cap is put on loose in place of drainage stones and taped in place. I use one plant per container and use a potting soil for the growth medium. They are ferigated with standard 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer with trace minerals (Although I buy 25# bags of commercial stuff, think Miracle Grow). They do fine. But what is important is that they don't waste bed space and I don't have to weed them or mulch them and I can pick standing up. FWIW, I only grow day neutral varieties. In my case they are Fern and Seascape.

Oh, there is so much more but I don't have time this second.


I built my roof garden out of old pallets. Its definatly a good way to start. A couple of bits of advice though. They require more watering than growing in the ground and in the winter its advisable to grow a cover crop to hold the soil in place, or you could end up loosing half of it.

Containers are great and can be used to grow veggies ANYWHERE. Years ago, living in a third floor apartment, the kitchen looked out over the roof of the kitchen below. I grew tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalapenos on that roof in 5 gallon spackle buckets.

For a first time gardener I would suggest Steve Solomon's book:
Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

It takes the reader from a sod lawn through working it into a garden space through planting and harvesting with straight-forward simple methods.

You can even read most of it here on Google Books

Only thing I disagreed with was his choice of digging tool ;-)

I endorse this advice. Very practical and is international in application.

Solomon's book is one of the better ones. I really appreciate the link. I can share it with our community gardening folk.

Agree on the tools too. I guess you've got to use a digging hoe to really appreciate one. (You should sell long handled spading forks too...)

My approach is to leave the garden soil untilled, but covered with thin layer of leaves during the growing season. I dig narrow, but deep, trenches with your hoe, screen the excavated soil with hardware cloth, amend it with Solomon's COF (complete organic fertilizer), backfill the narrow trenches with the screened, amended soil... then sow seeds or starts. Result: precision fertilization, minimal soil disturbance, great tilth, no weeds, lots of vegetables. I row cover when necessary to disrupt flying insects.

I find one doesn't need much water with deep backfilled trenches, (though they are perfect for drip lines) Capillary transfer works quite well. Less water above ground means less insect predation and less viral/microbial foliar issues.

I also really recommend Solomon's Gardening When it Counts.

I have been gardening for 30 years. The first few were pretty sad and all the disaster described above were part of the learning curve. Every year my garden is perfection at the planning stage and begins a long slide down to reality at harvest time.

I now have a permaculture set up - chickens, compost piles, winter nitrogen fixing cover crops - and grow almost all of our produce (I usually run out of onions and I haven't successfully grown mushrooms). Over the past few years I have planted midsummer so that I now have a four season garden, obviously not possible in all climates. I also have a greenhouse for hot weather plants that don't do well in coastal Northern California.

So here are some tips:

Grow soil not just plants. It takes a very long time to build up fertile soil. I started with one inch of topsoil and solid clay. Despite 30 years of building up the soil, I still have to use a small tiller in the Spring as the clay soil compacts in winter rain and dried to concrete and cracks in the summer w/o tilling. This soil has also made raised beds impractical - too hard to till.

Chickens are good for eggs, manure production and eating around a fenced garden but they can really tear up a garden any time of year. Ducks, on the other hand, can be sent into a winter/ spring garden to work on the slug population. Winter plants are big enough that they don't damage them. Here in Redwoods land, nobody grows anything w/o slug control.

Keep a garden journal so you can remember frost dates, heavy rains, flowering times and the like. You also will discover what varieties work in your micro climate.

Buy seeds instead of plants. Even better read Solomon's book and start saving seeds in the manner he describes. Seed saving saves money and, by selecting the best specimens for seeds you can gradually improve your yield.

If you are successful - pat yourself on the back and enjoy it. If you are not, chalk it up to increasing your knowledge and skill base and be glad that there is always a grocery store, for now.

Gypsum is your friend when it comes to clayey soils and soil that crusts.

Gypsum is 20-25% of new building construction waste. So take the scraps of drywall (not the china stuff), soak it so the paper de-bonds, then grind it up.

Do watch the material. Some has paper threads in the mix, others have glass. 3/4 inch glass threads are not fun. In fact, they are anti-fun.

Read Ruth Stout's No Work Garden or one of her other books. HEre is a brief description http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2004-02-01/Ruth-Stouts-...

Don't be tied to her system or any one system (she uses straw, I use leaves because I can pick them up free in a nearby town). Let your garden teach you.

I actually plant many plants in shallow depressions rather than using raised beds as we often have 4 or 5 months with no rain. Water for me just runs off of raised beds. With a depression I can lay a hose down and let it slowly soak a large area. What works in one area may not work in your area so try different things.

Get the Humanure Handbook, the Simplest way to compost your own manure. (or read it free on the web http://humanurehandbook.com/contents.html ). Even if you cannot do it now because of local regulations, that may change.

At least if you can't compost your poop, save urine, dilute it (I do 3 to 1 but some say 5 or 10 to 1) and provide daily nitrogen to your plants.

Your plants are your best experts. Trust them above anything. But the web is a great source for ideas about specific problems - slugs and bugs etc.

I work a bucket of chicken manure compost, 1 handful of eggs shells that have been run through the blender and 2 handfuls of wood ashes into every spot I dig up for tomatoes. I am sure that soon I will not have to do this as my garden soil gets richer every year but I garden on soil depleted by cotton farming.

For southern gardners this is a good source of seed heritage seed - http://www.southernexposure.com/index.html (Seedsavers Handbook will teach you to save your own seeds http://www.seedsavers.net/resources/seed-savers-handbook but you may also want to get some seeds locally. I get a great variety of kale at local stores. I like it better than any I have bought from catalogs and it is a whole lot cheaper. If a feed store is selling one variety they will usually get the one that does best in the local area.

Seminole pumpkins are great http://www.southernexposure.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Produ...


!!!Lambsquarters http://www.veggiegardeningtips.com/surprising-lambs-quarters/ is similar to spinach but with no major bugs and very hardy - self seeds in a continual mulch garden

!!!Chickweed http://www.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/steme.htm is a great spring salad addition and also self seeds. Looks fragile but survives even heavy late frosts

check out http://www.eattheweeds.com/www.EatTheWeeds.Com/EatTheWeeds.com/EatTheWee... for other edible weeds. I just discovered the perenial weed I was trying to get rid of was Florida Betony which has a nice radish like edible root http://www.killerplants.com/plant-of-the-week/20061002.asp

Usually a "weed" is quite hardy and persistant so if it is edible it may be a better choice than a domestic plant, especially when water gets harder to obtain.

What a great post, thanks.

Let me add:

Grow open pollinated seed and save seeds.

Grow grain amaranth. Easy to grow and super nutrition.

Be aware that you need bulk, protein and carbohydrates. Grow potatoes and sweet potatoes and know that Jerusalem Artichokes that grow wild over much of the US can provide both.

Urine diluted at 1:15 is better than MiracleGro.

Matt's Wild Cherry tomato will set fruit when all others fail.

Oregano is a great seasoning, it's also a great anti-bacterial.

Elderberry is a great jelly, it's also a great anti-viral.

Edlin Thanks. What variety of amaranth do you grow? Where do you get your seed?

If you are willing to deal with fingerling potatoes this one is very hardy
Click image to enlarge
ECOS Purple Potato — Solanum tuberosum Ecos
Cold Hardy Potato -Withstands Freezing Soil Temperatures--Including Frozen Rock Solid Soil.
This is one of the more cold hardy potatoes able to withstand freezing soil temperatures and not turn to mush if left to overwinter in the soil. In Wisconsin, one grower reported no damage with temperatures dipping to minus 25 F with no snow cover.
http://oikostreecrops.com/store/product.asp?numRecordPosition=5&P_ID=280... Okios is a great company and has a lot of unique trees and root crops

I will check out Matt's wild cherry for next year. Already have mine

Super Shepherd is the best pepper I have tried - several places carry it - this is one

Baker Creek has a great selection of amaranth varieties including my favorite grain variety, Golden Giant. They have many varieties grown for greens including Calaloo (for the Jimmy Buffet fans).


Edlin, thanks.

Elderberry is a great jelly

What a shocking waste. Elderberry wine.

Use your own/your family's urine as a source of nitrogen and other important elements for a healthy soil.
There's a good book about doing this: LIQUID GOLD: THE LORE AND LOGIC OF USING URINE TO GROW PLANTS, By Carol Steinfeld

I use it mostly by adding it to my compost piles which are mostly leaves I've collected in the fall.

But I also dilute it and sprinkle it from a watering can on things like leeks and onions. It's also good for corn, although I don't grow corn now since I don't have the space.

And I would echo others who say, start small. It's a long, but gradually quite satisfying learning and growth process.

As someone once said, "When life doth fail to satisfy, there's always the garden."

By far, the most important first step is to get your soil tested by your local ag extension service. It usually costs only a few dollars ($15 in my case at the University of Vermont) and will provide a detailed analysis of your soil profile (npk analysis as well as other important minerals and nutrients). The test results will also offer recommendations as to how to amend your soil to achieve the proper levels and balance of nutrients. Healthy plants are more disease and pest resistant, and healthy plants begin with a good balanced fertile soil.

taters, zucchini, kale, green beans and tomatoes are easy and a good place to start.

Soil testing is probably a good idea, but you can just plant stuff and see how it goes...

I've been working my garden plot for 12 years now and I never did get around to soil testing. I mulch heavily every fall with leaves, use all the compost I can make, and have fertilized sometimes with various things. So far everything does well, and I think the soil is better every year. Just saying, having un-analysed soil isn't a reason not to garden.

Of course you can just plant and see how stuff grows, but having your soil tested can eliminate a lot of trial and error. Adding good compost is necessary, but not sufficient. For example, had I not had soil tested, I would not have known that my north fields had low ph (about 4.6) and excessively high phosphorus. Instead, I would have learned by having weak and anemic vegetables...surely not a positive experience for a first time grower, or any gardener. Here in the northeast, much of our soil is acidic. How would I know how many pounds per acre of lime to add unless I knew what my starting ph was? I'll say it again...spending a few dollars on a soil test can eliminate a lot of difficulties. On my farm, I have all fields tested every other year, and amend accordingly.

Ok...all of this is fresh on my mind, as I've spent the last few weeks getting the garden in shape and starting seeds.

I would say the biggest difference between gardening and farming is that the farmer grows primarily for the market, while the gardener grows primarily for his own table. With that in mind, I always plan my garden around what I like to eat, so I start from cookbooks and move to seed catalogs from there. I also plan around growing what I know I can store easily, canning or freezing; for instance, leeks, onions and potatoes go toward a vichyssoise recipe I have made by the gallon for years, which freezes perfectly,

Another bit of advice is to begin keeping and composting every scrap of biodegradeable waste you can, including your neighbors leaves if they are willing, and putting it toward the soil. Its some work building up soil, but if you keep it up its just gets better and richer every year.

Keep a "garden book" and write down what and where you plant every year, dates you started seeds, hard frost dates, how different thing went, anything you think might help you to keep track and plan better as the years go along. I always start in January thinking about things by going back over my book.

I have tried various raised beds, plank paths, in ground watering, drip systems, rock mulch, etc, but have basically gone back to simple ground and hand watering with a hose. My planting beds are about 15' x 3', well tilled and mulched soil, separated by well trodden footpaths. I found drip systems and automatic watering to be convenient reasons to not go out in the garden, then things would go wrong "out of sight". Various permanent pavings, woodwork, hoses etc also just become housing and shelter for weeds and bugs, and barriers to cultivation. I find that if I walk the footpaths a couple times a day, their soil becomes too compact to support weeds well, while its easy enough to pulls weeds from the soft beds if they have no protection. Watering by hand doesn't take too much time, but encourages the most important part - seeing the garden daily.

And then the last thing would be to buy seeds locally, as you're most likely to find what will grow well in your area at places like the local hardware or feed store. I always try exotic stuff, especially heirlooms I can save seeds from, but most of what I grow is basic stuff I know will work, and just how it will be cooked.

a friend who just started gardening last year found Square- Foot Gardening


a big help. i recommended it primarily re the staying small.

re raised beds... depends on water availability; & the discipline to water regularly when needed. they are much easier on backs; & i am going to use them more this year due to too much cool & wet weather last year.

as emphasized above...buildup soil!!! this is the foundation for any garden & requires continued maintaining. compost, manure,leaves, etc. will disappear into it, worms will appear. don't work[till or plow] soil much; kills worms, etc. i use a garden fork to lift the soil[lots of clay here] to aerate, & get drainage.

play around with seeds...sprout some before planting; grow in clear containers to see roots form, etc. wait until temps of soil will germinate if planting directly; several times around here lately they have been too cool &/or wet to germinate.

One of the advantages of the Square Foot Gardening approach is that it makes planning for succession planting much easier. It is complicated enough just getting the timing right, it helps to have a standardized grid to work within.

One caution, though. I have generally not had very good results with the "mix and match" approach to planting. It sounds good in theory, but you can't always get seeds in just the right spots, and plants don't always come up just where you want them. They tend to get in the way of each other when they are so densely planted. I have better results planting in solid blocks.

Square Foot Gardening is how I got started last year. If you want to take the advice of several commenters and start small, this book will explain how to do it. I started with one 4 x 4 square last year, just finished planting my early spring crops and will be digging my second square in the next couple of weekends for the beans, tomatoes, and peppers.

Critters were a problem last year. I planted beans and watched the grackles fly down and pull them out of the ground as soon as they sprouted. Planted them again, lost them again. Duh. This year I'll cover them with something to keep them safe. I'm thinking about milk crates, as the easiest solution that wouldn't involve having to build something.

I put the peppers in as transplants and in a week some critter had stripped off all the leaves. So no peppers to harvest. They'll need protection this year, too.

The broccoli grew OK, but only formed a head half as big as my fist, and that was so infested with worms that even I wouldn't eat it, much less feed it to the family.

Successes: Tomatoes, peas, onions, carrots, lettuce. Spring and fall crops of peas, too. And all of that in 16 sq ft.

Spray the broccoli with bt (Dipel is one brand, there are others) or cover with Agribon fabric to keep the cabbage worms out. Broccoli needs rich fertile soil and plenty of water and sunlight. You might also check your soil pH. I usually put in a little lime in the hole whenever I transplant broccoli, cabbage, etc. - it helps ward off clubfoot, and they like a pH that is a little higher than some other garden vegetables like. Try a different variety if you have trouble getting good results.

Note: If you invest in some Agribon fabric, it will work just as well to keep the birds and some of the smaller mammals off of other parts of your garden, and is also useful for extending your growing season in the early spring and late fall.

OK - here's a question...

What would others suggest as a top 5 (or even top 2 or 3) list of tools (especially more specialized tools) that they've discovered they can no longer live without in the garden.

I know this has been mentioned before on TOD a refresher might be good.

Also any good recommended sources for garden tools ?

Thanks everyone.


I have a round-ended shovel for turning over soil, a flat headed shovel for grooming footpaths, a good strong rake for knocking mulch around, a weed-digger I made myself because all the ones I bought broke, and a pair of by-pass shears for trimming and harvesting. That's it.

I might add that the weed digger and shears are lost about half the time, so I often resort to a stick and scissors.

hands down, my most important tool-- garden fork. i use a regular 4-tine one but have the wider one that would be good for less compacted soil.


take mikeb's advise, wage war on your soil, better living thru chemistry. just kidding.
one of the finest hand tools is the wheel hoe, the other is the adzada (sp) both of which are sold by someone here on TOD, maybe greg in mo? sorry if not.
also, the plants we choose to plant. carrots break up hard pan, chives bring in beneficials by the truck load, alfalfa is an amazing legume (I've heard it argued alfalfa built the Roman empire) This is all very location specific, good luck.
It then breaks out into complexity that I can only dream of, farm animals.


This is on my this year for sure to try list.

Making Chlorophyll curd.


Somewhere else I have the link to the full process but that is a quick sample.

take mikeb's advise, wage war on your soil, better living thru chemistry.

I love it when people make assumptions. That way I can rub their noses in their errors.

Perhaps you can explain why I've successfully gardened at the same spots for over twenty years if I'm "waging war on my soil." My personal favorite method is composting the plentiful cow manure we have here on the farm.

My belief is that every garden, and every gardener, has their own needs which can be met in a variety of ways without resorting to the sort of Manichean world view your comment suggests.

Thanks earldaily :-) My four year old "preparing for the peak" business is EasyDigging.com and I do sell the tools you mentioned. Here's some links to take a look at them.

The Wheel Hoe is often also called a Garden Cultivator or Wheel Cultivator and though it can be used in smaller gardens it really is most efficient in large gardens that are planted in rows. These tools have an interesting history and great potential for a new version of small-scale agriculture that I'm noodling with the idea of writing an article about.

Azada is a spanish word for "heavy hoe" and covers a variety of different configurations. The Grub Hoe version is used for digging and tilling. The Grape Hoe version is wider and lighter and used for weeding and shallow cultivating. It gets it's name from it's popularity for keeping vineyards under control.

Many subsistence farms around the world use not much more than a grub hoe and a machete for most of their agricultural work...

More than four:

1. D-handled digging spade for small gardens, rototiller for big (I have several of both. Some gets tilled, some hand-dug.)

2. Vine rakes

3. Wheelbarrow

4. Manure forks (for manure and compost)

5. Flat shovels for moving compost.

6. Hand trowels

7. A good, sharp hoe

What else is there? If you're a larger operation as we are here, where we also have fruit trees, you'll need a backpack sprayer.

hi Mike,I'm glad you are posting all the stuff you do- I can vouch for it in terms of real world experience and practicality.

Let me add one tool to your list.A two wheeled garden cart is priceless. The kind I am talking about has two large wheels located near the center of the cargo box,one wheel on each side of course, with a handlebar similar to the one on most lawnmowers.

You can pull it with one hand or push it like a wheelbarrow, with far, far less effort.It is far more easily kept upright, and you can haul a heavier load with considerably less effort.

Being a stubborn hillbilly, I used a wheel barrow all my dumb life, until I ran up on one of these carts for free when a friend 's father passed away, and he was cleaning out the premises getting the house ready to sell.I wouldn't take five hundred bucks-not a thousand bucks for it- if the condition of the sale including going back to the wheelbarrow.

Of course the wheelbarrow is better for certain jobs, especially pouring concrete, but in the garden , the two wheel cart wins hands down, it's no contest at all.

Of course! We have them on the farm where I work and they are great.

Keep up your good work, ofm.


My essential tool kit:

Garden spade and garden spading fork (top of the line, forged steel)
Scoop shovel (for spreading soil amendments)
Broadfork (Johnny's has these)
Compost fork (useful for handling mulch and soil amendments, and shifting post-harvest remnants to the compost pile)
Garden Rake (not a leaf rake)
Seed planter (home made - golf club tube plus funnel, attached by duct tape. Saves your back!)
Foam pad or something to kneel on - saves your knees!
Pocket multi-blade knife (infinite uses)
Sprayer (mine is of durable stainless steel)
Hand duster
Watering can
Hose with watering wand

If you've got fruit trees, add a pole pruner & lopping shears

I don't go a season without using all of these, and there isn't much I can't do with this set.

fork and mattock. I have a hand-mattock that I use about 80% of the time for weeding, transplanting, forrowing and smoothing. A kama (japanese sickle) is also handy for cutting down grasses. I'm generally partial to hand tools, although a chainsaw and sawzall are also essential.

The mattock is my favorite tool. Indispensable for clearing and grubbing. I also second the fork. Best thing out there for turning soil or compost. Add a shovel and maybe a rake, and you're in business.

Haven't needed power tools yet for the square foot garden.

A hand trowel. A hoe that on one side has a solid blade and the other side a two tine blade, don't know what it is called. A potato fork. A round end shovel with a long handle. A rack.

Those are the top five, but I have to also add, a few more.

A good pair of scissors ( not cltoh scissors, which I do have several pairs of in the house).

A flat ended shovel for general use.

If you have a large place, a wheel barrow or wagon is always handy.

A leaf rack.

A grubbing hoe, one end is a heavy wide blade hoe, the other end is a thin root chopping blade.

A good pair of sharp hand pruning shears.

A good sharp pruning knife.

Some comfortable gloves, if you are doing a lot of work with thorning plants they are a must have.

There might be a few more, but these I use the most, I don't have a tiller, I stopped using one a long time ago.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

Don't overlook problems with deer and rabbits. I erected an 8 ft. enclosure after deer removed my first plantings. Cabbage and its relatives (broccoli, turnips, mustard, kale, etc.) tend to perform better in the fall in Deep South and insect pests are fewer. My best cabbages mature in December in southern Mississippi. Also recommend landscaping with edible bushes: blueberries or figs and not azaleas; strawberries instead of hostas, pansies, chrysanthemums.
Go for the dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees, and by all means try several varieties of summer grapes and fall muscadines.

Be cautious with bought livestock manure. Some of the herbicides used on broadleaf weeds persist in fodder and pass through cows and horses. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, beans, peas, and lettuce are sensitive to some poisons at only a few parts per billion.

re deer i use a fence to keep our great pyrenees out of the garden & keep her near the garden at night. so no deer or raccoons--well occasionally she sleeps thru the beginning of a raccoon raid, but they scoot when she awakes.

other variations on the theme of keeping critters to help you in your garden:

1) provide potter wasp nests/mason bee homes.
2) place a 'steep' incline around the garden. A 45+ deg incline will increase the spider population by a noticeable amount.
3) nematodes as insect killers. http://nematode.unl.edu/wormepns.htm Upside - glow in the dark dead bugs. (ok - never seen em glow. have seen dead red colored "black" crickets)
4) the original reason I posted - keeping your chickens in either a pen outside your garden like a perimiter or just letting 'em roam inside the garden. You can do the dog as boarder/DMZ patrol agent also.

Mother Earth News ran an article years back concerning building a "chicken moat" around the garden.
From memory it surrounded a 40 bed, 100sq ft each, market garden.
A doubled 6' wire fence, buried 6" deep, spaced 5' apart(to keep out hawks and prevent deer from jumping it), incorporating the coop.
The chickens had free run of the space between the fences that was left bare by their predations.
The author claimed that one year all the area succumbed to a plague of locusts, but his chickens just lined up at the fence and greeted them as they tried to pass through.
It obviously was a very energy-intensive system to build but paid big dividends.

In Alabama besides deer and rabbits we now have armadillos. They have moved north. They don't eat the plants but dig for worms and bugs. However the dryer it gets the more likely they will dig where you have watered - ie where your plants are. I have some small stakes that I run an electric line on at about 4 inches. Works fine - they bump their noses and go away. Funny thing is that it keeps the deer out too - don't ask me why, it does. If anyone wants to know more leave a post and I will add detail.

For beans and peas that tend to be eaten by rabbits only when they are small I have lengths of hardware cloth about 1 foot high, I run them around the bed and hold it down with stiff wire bent in a V shape as sort of large staples.

For tender seedlings planted early I use what I call mini greenhouses - I take PETE (number 1) juice bottles and cut out tops and bottoms. Put them around a seedling. If you have a hard frost toss a cloth or a small board on top. The PETE plastic seems to last forever so I use the same ones over and over. It heats up the plant a bit and fends off slugs and rabbits.

Wormwood is known to keep out deer, plant it as a fence border. They'll try to eat it and gag, and go away. But having a fence of stronger stuff will work as well.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

I can highly recommend the book Lasagna Gardening by Pat Lanza. Her method allows a beginner to start with any patch of sunlit ground and by layering various kinds of mulch, clippings, leaves, and other organic matter, to quickly create a fertile gardening spot. You can have a very productive garden with minimal effort. I am not claiming this method is sustainable (it requires either purchasing and/or drawing resources from other areas -- but if done properly it could be close to sustainable), but it will let you get up and running and have some fun success.

http://tinyurl.com/lanzalasagnagardening [Google Books]
http://tinyurl.com/lasagnagardening [Amazon.com]

-- Philip B. / Washington, DC

agree about Lasagna Gardening by Pat Lanza. great for soil building.

First bit of advise is to start. So many people talk about gardening but dont get round to sowing.

Get a good book on how and when to sow, then keep a diary of what's sown, when and results.

Look after your soil! Compost, mulch, rotate, lime.

Only grow what you and your family will eat or be able to sell/barter.

Learn how to deal with gluts by storing and preserving.

Dont expect perfect crops, there are a myriad of things out there just itching to get at your plants before you can.

Finally gardening is a skill that improves with practice and experience.

Love your compost like you love your woman. That doesnt mean we want to catch you wriggling around naked in it though.

All these tips are great, but if you really are new to gardening you want to do very little in your first year - it's easy to get overwhelmed. My first year went something like this…

1. Buy some good compost from a reputable seller and mix with existing top soil in a mangeable patch, perhaps 6' by 4'.
2. Wait until late April or May, and then buy some plants that have been started off at a garden centre. Choose 2-3 plants of about 10 different vegetables (IIRC we went for tomatoes, courgettes/zucchini, chillis, potatoes, celery, beans, peas, corn, aubergines and probably some others that I've forgotten).
3. Water them from time to time if it's a particularly dry spell, and wait to see what happens

All very simple, and pretty much cheating by buying the compost and the plants, but the total cost shouldn't be more than £30-40 ($50-70). If our experience is anything to go by, some of the plants will wither and die, some will succeed. With a bit of luck you'll get some lovely veg and get hooked.

THEN - for our second year we made the raised beds, made our own compost, planted seeds in the greenhouse early, worked out what grew in what soil, introduced another plot etc. etc. But your first year should be about just getting something to grow and enjoying it.

Singo has it right, forget all the science, all the gurus, politics and saving the world crap and just grow something!

When my Dad got older he bought a bag of steer manure, threw it on the ground - still in the bag - cut some holes through the plastic and grew some great tomatoes. I see in the organic growers catalogs this year, they're selling long poly tubes (16" diameter by 50'?) you put soil mix into and plant in - just like my Dad did 20 years ago!

There is no wrong way!

And f you need to use some bug killer, then do it, you'll learn more in your first year than all the books in the library could teach but if you fail because you tried to do all the "Right" things and get nothing you'll probably never do it again.

Keep it simple and Just have fun.

The No. 1 thing to do before you even think about starting a garden is a decent irrigation system. Ideally you want a gravity fed system however no water = no food.

Regular water and plenty of sun and organic gardening is relatively easy.

I have seen many a failed garden due to the time it takes to water. We all have far to busy lives. Believe me, get an irrigation system in before you even consider developing your soil.

1) Buy a watering can (10L) and place outside kitchen door.
2) Every morning when you wake up pee into it (easier if you are a bloke), or pee into it whenever else you feel the need.
3) When you have about 1L of urine (usually a daysworth or less) fill up to top with water and pour on plants and or compost pile.
4) You save a) water in flushing the toilet and b) the use of N/P/K fertilizers - I have practically given up using commercial fertilizers on my veggie patches using this technique.

Nice tip.

I could teach a whole course on this - in fact I have, several times (Sustainable Gardening at Granite State College). But here are a few items off the top of my head:

Buy a good gardening book that was written by someone in your area - gardening is a very different sport in different parts of the country.

Here in northern New England, Eliot Coleman writes very useful stuff, geared to our quirky climate.

Similarly, ask around to find out what varieties work best in your area. Buy seeds from a regional grower - I use Fedco Seeds in ME. A very informative catalog with plenty of varieties of everything.

Remember, too, that no 2 growing seasons are the same.

I tend to go with a set of veggie varieties that I know will work well, but try a new thing or two each year. Keeps things interesting, and who knows, you may find something that works better.

Think about timing. Plant successions of stuff. Planting isn't something you do once in the Spring, and then you harvest in the late-Summer/Fall. You want to eat all season long! Learn what's early, what stands the heat of Summer, what carries on into Fall.

Another useful tip: Keep written records of what you planted, and when. And a rough sketch of where - this will help you plan rotations sensibly.

Most of the tips put forth here are very useful. Start small, raised beds, etc. And talk to the experienced gardeners in your area - you will get lots and lots of ideas!

I grow organically. Feed the soil (compost, manure), not the plant. Pick bugs. There are organically sanctioned pesticides for when squash bugs, etc., come, if you are so inclined. In my area, the tomato hornworms come in early August, typically. I pick them off by hand - not hard to do.

When you first create a garden from, say a patch of lawn, it will take a couple of seasons to turn into a healthy, balanced soil. In the meantime, you might have problems. OTOH, if you've never gardened before in that area, you may have practically no pests - for a year or two.

I'm sure those of us who have been gardening for a while could go on and on, but the key thing is to get started, and learn your local soil, your local climate, your local pests, etc.

Good luck! It's gotta be better than last year, right? :-)

Stop and smell the roses. Plant flowers to attract pollinators and enhance the beauty of your garden. I always have plots of flowers scattered in my garden plot. It smells and looks great. Use perennials if possible for less maintenance. An added bonus of perennials is you make more gardening friends when you divide them and give the extras away. Mulch is your friend. I collect leaves during the fall from people for my garden; some look at me like I’m nuts, and never make the connection that I have some of the best soil around. Beware of most new fangled tools, they’re like most fishing lures - meant to catch fisherman and not fish. My favorite tool? The Italian grape hoe. It can make short work removing weeds and grass around grapevines and trees.

Gardening advice:

1. Location, location, location. Gardens need plenty of sun. Pick the sunniest spot you've got for your garden. If you've only got partial sun, you can still do a garden, but you'll have to adjust your ambitions and settle mostly for cabbage family and leafy greens. Many people will also find themselves in a situation where their sunniest location is not in a place where a dirt garden is feasible - on a patio, for example. In that case, think containers. I've successfully grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer squash, melons, lettuce, swiss chard, arugula, radishes, green onions, turnips, and many different herbs in containers on my deck.

2. Water, water everywhere. Unless you happen to live in an area like the Pacific NW coast that gets LOTS of rain, on an almost daily basis, you are going to have to water. Do not underestimate how important this is. Don't worry so much about the technology of watering, anything - hose, watering can, bucket - will do, the important thing is to get that water on the plants, every day - especially when the seeds are in the ground and haven't gotten established yet. If you are gardening in containers, try buying or constructing self-watering ones to assure that they don't dry out during the day.

3. Mulch! A thick layer of organic mulch helps the soil to retain moisture, so that the plants are less likely to get stressed between waterings. It also virtually eliminates weeds, which compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients, and makes gardening much less of a chore. The mulch gradually breaks down and is eventually incorporated into the soil, improving it.

4. Amend your soil. Very, very few gardeners are blessed with that thick, black, fertile loam that is ideal for gardening. Your goal must be to gradually improve the soil so it comes closer to approximating the ideal. You do this by incorporating soil amendments - organic matter such as compost, manure (well composted, preferably), and various other plant matter, well shredded. I've also always added generous amounts of an organic fertilizer (I use Espoma).

5. Keep your soil loose, but not shredded. The old notion of tilling the soil into near-dust is going by the wayside, as people increasingly appreciate that soil is a complex ecosystem of microscopic organisms, and that plants benefit from keeping that ecosystem largely intact. However, both your plant roots and the microscopic organisms in the soil will benefit from the soil being loose and aerated, rather than being tightly compacted. The best way to do this is with a broadfork, and while this is an expensive tool, it is one well worth investing in. With a broadfork, you simply lift the topsoil up; this opens up spaces underneath for water and organic matter to infiltrate down. Earthworms thrive in such an environment and do a lot of your tilling for you. I usually follow up with a thick layer of organic amendment, and then lightly incorporate into the top layer with an azada (another highly recommended tool) or spading fork, followed by a garden rake to smooth and level. Once you have your planting bed ready, NEVER EVER step on it!!! This means that you have to lay out your garden either in raised beds or in sections that are accessable on all sides. Some people who do not use raised beds lay planks down to walk or kneel on.

6. Plan your garden carefully. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to put in a garden all on one nice spring day, and that is their planting for the year. It is a sure recipe for feast and famine. What you want is to spread your harvest out for as long as possible, producing only what you can use fresh each week. Unless you are blessed with massive amounts of land, you are also going to want your limited garden space to be as productive as possible. I strive to keep every square foot of my garden space in production from early spring until well after frost if at all possible, which means that in most cases I am able to get at least two crops per year out of most of my garden beds. (Note: See Coleman's Four Season Harvest for details on how to do this.) All this takes very careful planning, which I spend each Thanksgiving break doing. (Yes, I do need to plan that far ahead.) I have a chart of each bed, and do all my planting and planning on a one-foot grid. (I do practice "Square Foot Gardening", and recommend that you get and follow the book.) Under each bed's chart, I have a schedule for seed starting, transplanting or direct sewing, and harvesting. I start by planning out the spring crops for each bed, and then figure out what to follow and what I need to do to have it ready to go. In some beds the summer crops finish soon enough that I can get a quick-maturing fall crop in as well. You also want to try to grow things in the same bed that have compatable cultural requirements; for example, peas, pole beans, tomatoes, and winter squash all can be grown vertically on a trellis, so my spring crop of peas will be followed by one of these other crops. After a couple of years of experimentation, certain pairings will become fairly standard for you. For example, I grow most of my brassicas together, with the spring crop of cabbage and broccoli followed by a fall crop of broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts. I'll have the fall crop transplants timed to be ready when the spring crop is done. If you have enough land and the inclination to do some food preserving, then rather than a succession harvest you will want to plan a crop to all come on at once, so that you can do batch processing. For myself, my pole beans are my succession harvest for fresh eating: I have a growing season that is just long enough to get in two crops of bush green beans, one after the other, so I devote a bed just to growing those and do two big cannings, once in July and once in early Autumn. I also grow a variety of tomatoes in containers for succession fresh harvest, and also a bunch of paste tomatoes in a bed for a concentrated harvest for canning.

7. Have a strategy for disease and pest control. Most gardeners - especially beginners - seem to be more worried about pests than about disease; actually, it should be the exact opposite. There are very few bugs that can actually wipe out an entire harvest, but there are plenty of diseases that can. Your first line of defense is to plant disease-resistant varieties. Now, this is bad news for those who are thinking in terms of planting o.p. varieties and saving their seed, for most disease-resistant varieties are hybrids which must be bought. Sorry, but that's the reality. Secondly, rotate your crops! You ideally want to try to set up a four-year rotation plan if possible, especially for brassicas (cabbage family) to avoid clubfoot. Another reason for careful planning. Thirdly, since in many cases "disease" means a fungal infestation, you want to avoid conditions that are favorable to fungal growth. Fungus likes moisture, warmth (but not to hot), still air, and as little sunlight as possible. Gardens in full sun and with good ventilation, with mulched soil (to control evaporation) and where care is taken to avoid wetting leaves when watering (drip irrigation is a great way to avoid this, and to conserve water - put it in if you can), are generally going to avoid a lot of disease problems. As a backup, I've found that a light dusting with sulfur will often be good enough to get the plant through to harvest. As for insects and other pests, I rarely have to do very much. I do spray my brassicas with bt to keep the cabbage worms to a minimum (or you could cover with Agribon), and I've got rotenone dust at the ready if I get an infestation of bean beetles. I spray my pole beans and grapes with pyrethrum when the Japanese beetles come. I've got some insecticidal soap and oil available to use if something else comes up, but pests just are not that much of a problem. Follow the other advice above for unstressed plants, and your pest problems should be minimal as well.

We would definitely recommend saving all your twigs sticks and dead wood for your Wood Burning Stove. But make sure you dry them sufficiently before using. It saves a fortune on kindling!

1. Draw up a plan

Until you know where the sunny, partly shady and shady areas are, year round, especially if you have a small space, you'll end up planting things that die or keep needing to get moved. It's expensive and disheartening.

I spent most of my first year in my new location digging out landscaping stones, removing unwanted concrete and dead plants, mulching, and just observing the sun. Ok, I planted fruit trees and veggies too. Something for now, something for later...

If you're planning to stay where you are for a long time, think future needs.

Gardening is about observation, understanding, planning and learning, before harvesting.

2. List the plants you'd like to start with, and divide them up into broad categories.

Sun requirements
Water requirements
Annual/Perennial in your location.

I am in US zone 6 - formerly zone 5, according to the Arbor Day foundation. It is, of course, just a general guideline - your microclimate may turn out to be different.


A little homework up front is worth a lot of pain later.

3. Investigate use of perennials

I make heavy use of edible perennials in my front yard - many have "pretty flowers", which appeals to my neighbors.


4. Start early

I have been gardening since February - my year starts with pruning. Then I start seeds indoors under grow lights, in March. I do work relating to the garden, up to and including my seed order, which I generally place in November. For those plants that winter indoors, activity continues while there is snow on the ground outside (citrus, banana, olive). Growing seasons can be extended by means of greenhouses, hoophouses and cold frames.

5. Be patient

Growing a productive garden takes time. There's no "instant garden", like there is "instant oatmeal" (just add water and heat). I'm 5 years in, at my new house, and still putting plants in, and building new beds.

Fruit trees, for example, can take a long time to get to bearing age. Kiwis can take up to 5 years.

This may sound like a lot of work up front, but a bit of study will teach a new gardener a lot, before they go out and spend a ton of money at the garden store, only to have things die on them.

Get a couple of good books and do some reading. Preparing planting beds properly before beginning pays dividends later, in terms of yields, quality and plant health. I like the Jeavons book. It's a pretty good guide to soil preparation, companion planting, seedling handling and has some good beginner garden plans.

Personally, I try and be as chemical-free as possible - firstly, because I have beehives, secondly, because who knows later on about availability/price ? What's the point in getting used to working with things that may be in short supply ?

A few ladybugs and insect-eating birds can accomplish wonders.

I'm trying to garden from this year. Got sick of the backyard lawn (+weed).

This is what I've done
- Read a couple of books. Esp one by Solomon specifically written for the northwest meritime climate (Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening). Then Square Foot Gardening & Let It Rot.
- Bought a composter and started composting.
- Built 2 raised beds 8x4, each 2 feet high. Bought vegetable soil mix locally for the raised beds.
- Bought local seeds (Territorial and Ed Hume)
- Made a complete plan of what to plant, where and when. Started seeds indoors & out.
- Now waiting for Sun to come out ;-)

I don't expect much this year - but hopefully I'll learn a lot for next year.

All good comments and I am enjoying the multiverse of views.

One thing not mentioned is vermi-compost. When we were living in Australia in 2000 we came across the "can-o-worms" and have two in our basement in northern Canada. 55 degree latitude has a long winter and composting is impossible half the year. Also in the spring when everything melts it takes a while to get going. The worm bin takes all our vegetable scraps and we harvest about 15 lb of pure worm poo (vermi-compost) every spring.

We have three large gardens and produce a good crop of potatoes, root crops, cabbage, corn (sometimes), peas, etc.

THere is a canadian distributer - where we obtained ours and many versions on the market.

THis website used to post a research paper on the subject but I can't find it there anymore. I have it in my computer somewhere if someone is interested. It describes the soil chemistry of the product nicely.

One thing we have wanted to try was the tea. I think we will give that a go this year.

Ahhh - found the link to the pdf;


Have a great gardening season.....

Earthworms - The "go to guy" is Dr. Clive Edwards.

Sir Howard (referenced elsewhere in this disussion) mentions worms in his work.

Dr. Edwards believes that anything more than 20% vermipost is a waste WRT plants.

As for a worm bin, a 4 foot high OSCR is the best bet. You can build 'em yourself. You can try and up the worm level by heating the top/adding forced airation.

You may wish to do a pre-composting of things before going to the worms in a Jerry Guinn Jetcomposter.

Thanks for the "Dr. Clive Edwards".

We don't pre-compost anything. Our system is as follows;

Old bread bag on the counter gets the whole days veggie peels, carrot cuts, spinach stocks, cantelope rinds, and anything that isn't destined for the soup pot. That bag - when full - goes in the deep freeze. From the deep freeze a frozen bag goes into a bowl and beside the bit to thaw. The next morning dig a hole in the bin and dump in the gooey mess. I keep the carbon up with shredded newspaper made wet and ringed out to just damp.

Because we are northern and I keep my bins in the house the freezer step keeps fruit fly eggs down. In the winter we exchange "freezer" for "Garage" as minus 40 is not part of fruit fly egg survival evolution.

The bins eat more than a family of five can produce and make a good shot of worm castings to add to the garden every spring.

Seems to work well. I don't sell castings or worms and have no interest in doing so. Just getting the kitchen scraps into the garden. The compost or castings that this creates is fantastic.

Some small tips:

Havent read all the comment so maybe someone has mentioned this before.
- Before you do anything drastic make sure you have a good workplan for your entire garden.

- If you dont know your garden well or just moved there, dont do anything drastic for a entire year. Just observe. Where are the dry parts, the wet parts, frostpockets. Wich areas gets more/less sun.

- The most fertile soil in your garden is the area you can view from your kitchen window.

-Live as you will die tomorrow, but farm as you will live forever.

- The only pesticide you should need can be made by a 6 year old. All you need is some vegetable oil, organic soap and water. The soap will help dissolve the oil in the water, the oil will cower the insect and suffocate it.

A continual mulch garden that is never tilled has some nice advantages. You can mix perennials with annuals. You can let crops self seed. You can let your perennials migrate.

My raspberries and strawberries all migrate. This may be a way for them to get fresh soil. I mostly let them go where they want and plan around them. Lately some have turned up in my sorrel beds and they seem to get along quite fine. In fact sometimes paths turn into rows etc. Every year I go out with last year's map and see where things are and then figure out what to plant where. As I pull back leaves to put in seeds or seedlings, it lets the lambsquarters and chickweed sprout. I let the early lambsquarters get about 1 foot high and then harvest them - if there are too many or they are in the way of my seedlings I pull them and add them to the top of the mulch. I let a few grow big to seed for the next year. I used the dried stems as kindling or more mulch.

By working with my perennials and letting those that want to move do so within limits it gives me the sense that my garden is not soil that I work, but a being that I partner with. Its a sort of personal relationship. Because I get leaves from town that others bag to throw away I sometimes get seed too. I never lack for red buds to move if I want another one somewhere. I have daffodils in the vegetable garden that I never planted. I got canna lilies one year. I got zinnias another year and they continue to self seed. I pull those that are in the way and let the others come up where the seeds fell the previous fall. Incorporating some flowers by intent or chance encourages pollinators.

I have a wonderful stand of garlic chives - perennial and self seeding. I have had to stop letting them seed as they are a bit too successful. But the seeds make great sprouts. They are much hardier than regular chives. http://oldfashionedliving.com/garlic-chives.html

What do you do about chickweed? I tend to fight it and have this belief it will take over?

Does it have a purpose?

Make a salad, make a green smoothie.... Chickweed is delicious and nutritious! http://www.altnature.com/gallery/chickweed.htm

Here are some uses on a google search

I use the fresh lush chickweed for salads. The stuff that has gotten a bit older I use for chickens - thus the name. I just pull it and throw it in their pens. I imagine horses and cattle and pigs would like it too. I dies out when it starts to get hot and dry here. However I usually begin pulling it before that if we aren't having a wet spring because it saps the water out of the soil. I just lay it on top of the rest of my mulch and let it drop seed for next year. It does not put down perennial roots, it pulls easily and it won't come up where I have laid down heavy mulch in the fall. So come fall I actually select patches to not mulch right away to encourage the chick week to come up. This is easy to grow and easy to control. AND very good and nutritious and some claim has healing properties.

Start with something easy:
- Sunroot
- Tomatoes
- Cucumbers
- Squash
- Onions

These plants are resilient, good for a beginner.

As someone who has been growing vegetables for 49 of my 55 years, here are a few comments:
-Just as with politics, all gardening is local. Most of what you read in the books doesn't apply to you, because you have a different climate and soil than the author. Experience and local knowledge sources are invaluable.
-In cool-weather climates, such as mine, season extenders are hugely helpful. This means walls-of-water, low tunnels, cold frames, hoop houses. I can grow vast quantities of heat loving plants in a location where summer night temperatures frequently drop into the 30's.
-I don't share the enthusiasm for raised beds. Tried them, and finally got rid of them. Just grow dense 30" wide rows with 12" wide walkways. Mulch the hell out of everything for both weed control and moisture retention. Mulch the walkways with straw; the growing areas with straw or compost. Don't till at all. The worms will transport all those organic goodies down below. Only have to weed in the early season before the seedlings get big enough to apply mulch. Plant your crops close together, so that they choke out the weeds (but without crowding each other.) DON'T emulate commercial farmers with their rows that are designed for tractor access.
-TAKE NOTES. Careful, thorough notes, on everything that could be meaningful. This is the only way I know to remember everything from year to year, and to become better every year.
Plan. Know ahead of time what varieties you want to plant, where, and on what date. You can keep a garden plot producing multiple crops throughout the season this way.
-Read Eliot Coleman.
-Chickens are a great composting aid. My chicken yard and compost pile are one and the same. Every organic waste from my property goes in there, with the exception of wood. Just dump it all in. The chickens eat a lot of it. They scratch around and keep it stirred up. I just clean it out once a year, and have incredible compost.
-Learn how to preserve- canning, drying, root cellars. No point in growing all this stuff only to have it go to waste. On this date, I'm still eating last year's parsnips and squash as I wait a few more days to start the spinach harvest.

I'm four years in, so I think I know the ropes, but I'm hoping for some advice on cover crops that I've been worrying about.

I'm in Alberta, so still lots of time to get to it, but this year I was going to try a green mulch/cover crop of alfalfa or clover. Has anyone ever done this? Any other suggestions? My worry is that I'll start this, and then be unable to eradicate it later if I want to. Thanks!

I have a similar question. How can you do "no till" and use cover crops like clover?

Answer is you can't if you're using mulch as well. I've been trying to square that circle for some time, and I've switched to growing peas/beans in trays or pots, then planting the seedlings out into the mulch when they're a few inches tall, +between the other crop plants+. The soil gets it's nitro-fixing root-bugs that way, instead of from clover. Any legume will do it, apparently. Mulch will smother clover seeds as effectively as it will volunteer seeds. However, see the Marc Bonfils link that I posted near the top of these comments for more on broadcasting white-clover cover, then seeding grains into that. That seems to work. Also, Fukuoka used a similar approach. He also re-scattered his threshed straw back onto the fields. But I think that the trick there was that the scatter was quite thin. He wasn't doing deep mulch. So the clover just carried on growing through it. In his rice/barley fields, he also did no weeding, but had managed to achieve a balance of plants where the clover and the grains always dominated. He flooded his paddies just for ten days or so each year, to -- as he says -- knock the clover back a bit, then broadcast the rice, rather than laboriously hand-planting out rice seedlings, as traditionally done. MUCH less labour. And the paddies were not kept flooded either.

Another approach with white clover that I've used in the past is to plant seedlings -- or broadcast seeds -- into a permanent white-clover sward. The method with this approach is to cut back your clover hard before you broadcast, and that allows the seeds to get going before the clover comes back so strongly that they're swamped. Leaving the clippings where they fall, then raking them about after you've broadcast, means that the seeds get shaken right down to the soil, and covered lightly with clippings, to hide them from birds, but not so deep that they're cut off from light. Also, it seems that when you clip, the roots die back correspondingly, releasing a jag of nitrates from the root-noodles where the rhizobium bacilli hole up, which the seeds/seedlings lap up, nitrates, bug-corpses and all. Trouble with this approach, though it is no-till, is that you do quite a bit of clipping or detailed mowing between food plants, so it's not quite as low-labour as how I work now, with raised beds and lots of mixed mulch, aka 'lasagne'. Permanent legume swards do conserve moisture pretty well though.

Amazing, thank you so much!

* use http://www.archive.org to find tons! of pdf'd old gardening books and read.

* read http://www.nutri-tech.com.au/blog/ for thoughts and techniques for quality food and look at their products to get an idea of state of the art - NON roundup ready - plant fertilzers and other interesting things.

* look at and read the http://www.HB-101.com testimonials (even if you won't use it) to get inspired (TRUST me ;)

* Start small, double digg (maybe in steps over 2 years, like in already mentioned Jeavons, Grow more...)

* read about companion planting & plant teas (only know one great German one from a nunery).

* Fertilize via fine spray on (also from below) the leaves in the morning it is much more (15 times) efficient and feeds soil microbes via roots, too. (esp if your soil is poor and you don't have compost.)

* larger scale use twin-N as nitrogen source

* compost, if you have lots of grass 2 spoons of honey in 10 litres of water will boost the microorganisms (is also true for the soil)

* if not covered, cover the soil even with stones (esp. around fruit trees and bushes)

* place some cat safe bird nests in your garden

* try again, but if you have done some of the above you will be miles ahead.

I would tell them to be aware of the fossil fuel energy that went into the organic fertilizer they purchased. Cow manure (the vast majority of organic nitrogen fertilizer) comes from cows fed conventionally grown corn, which means more synthetic fertilizer was used to produce the organic fertilizer that they are now using. If they use fish emulsion, I would remind them that the oceans are being depleted. If they use horse manure, I would remind them that it is not as high quality as cow manure and often contains de-worming medication.

I would tell them that zero-input gardening is a myth. I would tell them to till (dig and turn) deeply once and then never again after that, even in clay soils. I would tell them that kale has the most protein of any vegetable.

I would tell them never to underestimate the amount of calories they consume from store-bought grains, cereals, milk, bread, etc., that even if they grew 100% of their vegetables for the entire summer and ate a lot of vegetables, that vegetables are never more than a small fraction of the calories an individual needs to live on... so don't overestimate the percentage of food you are growing yourself.

I would remind them that it takes roughly 2.5 acres (slightly less than 2.5 football fields) to keep about 10 people alive all year round if they had good soil and a year-round growing season and they grow high-energy/high protein crops like rice, wheat, beans, etc. . . . that in no way should they think that a small backyard garden was doing anything more than suplementing their store-bought diet with good vegetable fiber, vitamins and minerals. Food energy still comes overwhelmingly from large farms and will probably always be the case.

I love organic gardening. I've been doing it for seven years straight now. At first I thought I was becoming self-sufficient. I was humbled at just how dependent I was on industrial farming.


Emanuel, yes it is humbling. Yet peasant farmers all over the world manage to feed themselves and grow a bit extra, often on soil not as good as many of us have. Perhaps instead of books and seminars we should just find a peasant farmer and humbly ask him or her to teach us.

Among the things you list to tell people I would add water. If the worst happens and civilization falls, along with the electric grid how will you get water to irrigate if you need to do so in your climate (or the climate you expect you might have if warming continues). I have a drilled well with a hand pump - luckily for us we hit water at 60 feet but the pump I have can do 200 feet. I have extra pipe set aside in case water levels drop. But the idea of pumping water to wash clothes and bathe is daunting enough. We have often had 3 to 5 months with no rain. To hand pump to irrigate seems impossible even though I have the full garden mulched. So I am looking more and more to varieties that can do well with less water.

Yes, all true. But it is also true that "the longest journey begins with a single step."

At first I thought I was becoming self-sufficient. I was humbled at just how dependent I was on industrial farming.

This is as profound a statement as one could wish for.

My "humbling" experience is managing a compost facility for an organic farm. The sheer amount of material--the leaves, the scraps, the sawdust, the paper, the dead plants--that go into that compost is astonishing. It all represents ACREAGE. It all has energy embedded in it, mostly in the form of transportation fuels. Most of the material is donated by people who bring it in trucks. Most if not all the "scraps" are the result of CONVENTIONAL farming--supermarket wastes, cafeteria wastes.

The amount of energy that goes into turning and turning this compost, then loading it into a spreader, and driving that spreader over the fields is also astonishing. Compost is a way of turning diesel into dirt (to paraphrase Albert Bartlett).

You manage the piles for weeks, then the compost finally ready. You load it into the spreader and you drive over the fields....when you turn around, you see just a brown smear behind you. It all just disappears. And you start over, loading all that material into piles....

It became dead obvious to me that the term "organic" is a cruel joke. Organic farmers are just as dependent on energy and materials as conventional farmers. There is no clear demarcation between what defines something as "organic" or "conventional." That line keeps shifting. There is certainly no clear, compelling evidence that the products of these different methods are any different in quality.

There are only a plethora of methods to choose from. Look around you, see what you need, use it.

This plant has been driving me nuts for a while. Its a good plant, but I can't seem to identify it. I live in Central Arkansas, but I have seen it in both Mississippi and Alabama.

It is a spring flower, six flowers on top of a stem, each with six white petals top and bottom, with grass like leaves from a bulb less than a centimeter around. It grows in lawns where people have not been killing the weeds.

I've eaten all parts of the plant, the bulbs have a sweet flavor but no hint of wild onion or gralic.

While putting in a few more planting beds, I have had to move the bulbs because I wanted to save the plants. All my wildflower field guides are in boxes. Searching online does not help much as it has only frustrated me seeing how people embed so many keywords to get their site higher ratings.

I figured someone might know, as there are a lot of gardeners on the site.

To many plants in my yard I want to keep, most of them have been here for most of the 30 years. One thing I can say, is that gardeners can never know to much. As a Landscape Architech I was never any good at remembering the latin names of plants, and most of them weren't prized for being edible.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

A great place to identify plants is "gardenweb.com" at the "name this plant" forum. I haven't visited the site in a quite a while, so can't guarantee it still exists, but it is amazing what some people know! Best results if you can post a photo.

More generally there are several specific gardening forums....a great place to lurk. Hmmmm, whaddya know, still in business:

Name the mystery plant:

California gardening:

CEO I think I know exactly the plant you mean. I dug some out of my yard to put in my flower garden but I never thought to taste them. Went out this morning and tasted some and looked more carefully. I think I taste a very mild hint of onion. I think they are a variety of allium. I found these three varieties on the web. None seems quite right as they have too many flowers on a stem, but they are close to what I have in my yard

Allium hyalinum Curran http://www.plants.usda.gov/java/largeImage?imageID=alhy_001_ahp.tif
flat rock onion Allium speculae http://www.goldendelighthoney.com/tes/ALSP2/alsp_text.html
and Allium cuthbertii

While they wouldn't provide much energy nourishment they well could provide vitamins and they are hardy. But for volume in the allium family garlic chives are way ahead. Also Elephant Garlic and Egyptian Walking onions.

I am trying a potatoe onion this year which is a bulb onion that forms bulblets for next years planting. I haven't done so well with other bulb onions but this one is looking good so far. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato_onion

They don't match any of your pictures. The odd thing about the ones I have seen in my yard and elsewhere is that they ONLY have 6 flowers at the top of the stem. No variation of features. They are pretty regular in showing up and after they bloom they drift into being cut down like the other plants in the yard.

I don't have a digital camera, though I do have a camera, and a scanner, if I have film is another story. I moved the ones that were going to be swamped by the raised bed, and the others have been trampled in the process.

But the Allium family has over 3,000 species and maybe it is one of them, or a lilly species.

Thanks for the help, I had the USDA plant site up and was just going to hunt through the listings the old fashioned long way, but couldn't find the time.

I'll let my obession slip for a while, I have a pretty good mental image and will hunt more as time premits.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

(ate cedar seed buds, Rose of Sharon leaves, rosebud flowers, and several other odd things while cooling off from gardening today, At times I think I am part goat.)

Does the bulb have a fibrous covering, kind of like a sock?

The first time I can really say I grew something was one winter when I threw some corn kernals out of our second floor window in the base apartment in Iceland in 1976. I had gotten them off a cob from the Thanksgiving display at school. Come spring of the next year about the time we were moving out to go back to the states, I saw a large 2 foot tall corn plant. I had been exposed to growing plants my one of my aunts that has green going up her forearm starting at her thumb.

I've never used herbicides, though I have sprayed for bugs, but I don't anymore. I use a mixed bag approach. I mix and match plants as much as I can, I grow a lot of non-common edible plants, most people would call them weeds.

If you use raised beds you will have weed seeds in them within the second year, unless you mulch them, and even then the seeds will be there, just dormant until they get the right conditions to grow.

In most of the above posts you have been given a ton of advice, and as anyone starting out new, you'll have to pick and choose which bit you will take with you.

Just remember to have fun doing it, when it starts becoming a bother, sit back and find out what is going wrong, and hunt around a bit in all the methods that people use, and you should be able to find out what the solution to your trouble is. The more you know about the plants you want to grow, the better off you will be.

Mostly if you are reading this, you have already got the biggest database at your fingertips, use it. Ask around locally, find gardening groups, ask anything you want to know about, there are no wrong questions.

And always expect the unexpected, from a nasty storm killing your plants, to finding something really neat growing where you thought it couldn't. And most of the work is not going to be you, but the plant doing it.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

I think I've been a member of TOD for about 15 mins now ... I have read all the comments on gardening. I live on Vancouver Island, fondly referred to as "The Rock" by Canadians. Our 5 acre property is situated on a virtual gravel pit. We have been composting for 2 years and gardening for about 3 years.

Do any of you have suggestions for making more and better soil for me ... the only thing we have great success in growing is rocks. We tried growing potatoes in a tire last year and were not too successful and are trying again. We're also trying rhubarb in a this year. The advice on herbs is noted and I think I can do that. I had a horse in a corral for 2 years and so we have created "fertilizer" from horse manure that is not "hot" anymore, added ash and year old compost --- do any of you experienced gardeners feel we should add anything else. Oh-h-h-h, also we hand turn the garden area and hand-pick weeds (these are added to a compost pile) and hand pick up as many rocks as we can before we rototiller the soil.

Any and all suggestions are very much appreciated and will be studied/tried with much enthusiasm. Thanks! ;-}

The first thing that jumped into my mind was Joel Salatin at Polyface farm. I read a short version of how he improved his rocky soil somewhere in the eastern US: it involved grasses and careful management of livestock. IIRC it took years, but the improvement was supposedly dramatic. He also writes occassionally for Mother Earth News, a magazine with some treasures once in a while (the treasures are written by him or another named Harvey Ussery). MEN is available online, and looking into Polyface farm might be a good place to start.

When I'm on the island, I usually go straight to the beach and have oysters every day :)

Gosh, maybe this summer we could swap some of your oysters for some of my onions and lettuce??!! ;-}

That well-composted manure will certainly be a good start. If it really was "hot," then weed seeds shouldn't be too much of an issue. Careful with the ash, for while it will sweeten the soil it will also cause potatoes to have scab.

It sounds like you're doing the right thing. Compost is hands-down the best thing to amend the soil with. Keep doing it. Mulches, too, will break down and add to the soil. Have your ground tested, too, to see what you need.

It takes years to build a soil, so while you're at it, find an adequate commercial fertilizer to keep your plants happy while the soil is building. The other way is to buy bags and bags of commercially-produced compost, but that is expensive and unwieldy. If you insist on being "organic," you can buy such amendments as greensand, blood meal, rock phosphate, etc., but once again it's unwieldy and expensive, and, in my book anyway, it's still adding "chemicals" to the soil, so why not just buy some fertilizer to tide you over?

Don't let chemophobia cause you to miss out on a good harvest while your building your soil!

What is your recommendation for a good fertilizer? At one point last year, I thought we had the soil too hot because all the tomatoes, cucumbers, and peas that touched the ground got "burned" with rotted type scars.

That's another of those "it depends" questions. Have your soil tested, then adjust accordingly. Also--don't overuse fertilizers: more is not necessarily better.

Is it possible you had some kind of blight? If it was wet and cool, the probability is high that the rotting was fungal.

I'm pretty sure you might be right about fungus on the peas and beans -- I was able to find a picture on the web that pretty much matched our "crop" but the tomatoes and cucumbers just got what looked like rotten dark spots when they touched the ground. If I kept them elevated, they were ok and tasted oh-h-h-h so-o-o-o good! ;-}

I'll bet you can get all the seaweed you want for free. Provided that you first rinse all the salt water off very thoroughly, seaweed makes a fantastic ingredient for compost. You could probably even just dig it directly into the soil as an amendment. Seaweeds are loaded with trace minerals, and are actually one of the very best things you could add to your soil - IF you get all that salt off of them.

Do you think just hose rinsing would be adequate to remove all the salt?? "Cause you're right, we could go seaweed pickin' one morning and get it for free ... thanks for the tip! ;-}

Re using seaweed see this movie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099566/ The Field. Its about a man who used seaweed to make a field fertile. About much more too so its worth the watch on many levels. It didn't show him washing it I don't think but I would think that would be good to do.

Seaweed fertiliser, also spelt seaweed fertilizer, several of the 12,000+ varieties in the ocean have been shown to be valuable additions to the organic garden and can be abundantly available free for those living near the coast. However, caution should be observed when collecting seaweed, particularly from areas that are liable to pollution, such as downriver (including estuaries) of industrial activities as seaweed is susceptible to contamination. There are also legal implications relating to gathering seaweed, and concerns about sustainability[1]

A perhaps less serious potential problem with seaweed is its salt content. While it is unlikely that you will add sufficient seaweed to seriously upset the balances of salt in your soil, it is not liked by worms, who will not live in it. It can be hosed down before adding to the soil to reduce the salt content, or left to be desalinated by rainwater. Rinsing seaweed is risky as valuable alginates are potentially lost to runoff.

Seaweed, particularly bladderwrack, kelp or laminaria, can be either applied to the soil as a mulch (although it will tend to break down very quickly) or can be added to the compost heap, where it is an excellent activator.[2] In terms of soil structure it does not add a great deal of bulk, but its jelly like alginate content helps to bind soil crumbs together, and it contains all soil nutrients (0.3% N, 0.1% P, 1.0% K, plus a full range of trace elements) and amino acids. For those who cannot gather fresh seaweed, it is available commercially in a dried 'meal' form or as an concentrated liquid extract which is active in significantly smaller rates. While 'meal' products are limited to soil applications due to their insolubility, foliar feeding or root zone applications through drip lines are possible with soluble extracts.

In the Channel Islands, such seaweed fertiliser is known as vraic in their dialects of Norman, a word that has also entered Channel Island English, the activity of collecting vraic being termed vraicking. In Scotland, it is used as fertiliser in lazybeds or feannagan.

Falkland Islanders have also been nicknamed "Kelpers" from time to time, from collecting seaweed partly for this purpose.[3]


There's plenty of advice I could give, but I see that Old Farmer Mac already gave one of the best pieces of advice there is for beginners:

But a novice can still get good results-by talking to and imitating his nieghbors who have been gardening for at least a year or two, preferably longer.

One of the best things about advice is that you don't have to follow it, so feel free to experiment. But starting out by following advice is best. Seek out the experienced gardeners in your area. Depending on location, there are great differences in what grows well, what doesn't, and when things should be planted. In my area, there are even significant differences depending on which side the river one gardens on. Asking experienced people can help you start producing faster because you'll be able to avoid making a lot of mistakes such as planting things that aren't suited to your location, or planting at the wrong time of the year. Unlike the typical image of the "stupid hayseed" farmer, gardening requires that you use your head. It involves a great deal of planning and also timing your activities closely to nature's rhythms.

So definitely start by asking experienced gardeners and imitating them.

One other thing is seeds. Some long-time gardeners have seeds for heirloom varieties that are well suited to their locales. Get a few seeds and go from there.

Several comments and a few recommendations. This from 25 years of gardening and, yes permaculture. the last 16 in the wet dry tropics. BTW I do have about an acre of raised chinampas in a seasonally flooded lowland.

1. I recommend Step by Step Organic Vegetable Gardening, by Shep Ogden.Very thorough, explanatory and oriented towards "how to." (Full disclosure, I know the guy.)

2. Permaculture has both a wealth of useful insights and techniques AND some "cultishness". I say this based on having had scads of interns with a course or two under their belts and somehow feel capable of taking on and fixing the world. It takes a lot of time to understand individual climates, ecosystems and the complicated interaction of different disciplines: hydrology, soil science, pest control, crops, animals, etc.

3. The fact that Fukuoka was able to develop his techniques over the course of decades in a temperate climate with a scientific background and an outside source of funding does not necessarily mean that a less trained and astute gardener can accomplish it in a different climate, shorter time frame, etc. Hey, try a no till bed or two and see how it works instead of getting caught in arguments that try to advance a one-size-fits-all approach.

4. Ditto for raised beds. Yes, you have less distance to stoop over. Yes, they work in certain conditions--wet/cool--to create a rhizoshpere or rooting zone more favorable to crop development. BUT, if you are in a hot, dry climate you will be using more irrigation water and your breakdown of organic matter will be much more rapid due to the higher amount of exposed surface area and increased temperatures of the soil. I have even observed this with plenty of mulch and where the edges of the beds were contained by planks.

5, If you are into experimenting, or want a long lived soil amendment that appears to be the 'coming thing' in sustainable agriculture, try incorporating charcoal into your vegetable beds. I don't mean briquettes with starter fluid. Look up "bio-char" on the web and go from there. I have done several trials and some early results are very promising, but like someone mentioned above, do your own experimenting and see what works for you.

6. Remember the old Chinese proverb, " If you want to live a long life, grow a garden."

RE: Raised beds

You are right wrt drainage and maintaining soil moisture if the soil level is substantially higher than the level of the surrounding ground. For me, my beds are not so much raised as they are simply defined and bordered by a wooden frame. This does help to keep the weeds from creeping in, and helps a bit in managing a square foot gardening approach. When I first dug them (double dug, French Intensive method), I actually removed a little of that thick red clay terrible soil to fill in places elsewhere on my property. This left plenty of room for organic amendments to fill the beds back up to surrounding soil level. I make annual additions of amendments, but the soil level in the beds doesn't seem to get much higher than the surrounding ground.

You are right about raised beds being harder if moisture is a problem. For some plants I actually put them in a slight depression to make watering easier (squash, tomotoes). Because I heavy mulch the whole garden, beds matter less and less. The whole garden is becoming fertile and compression is not so much of a problem.

I also find that different plants need different size beds - such as lettuce opposed to Zucchini, so without fixed beds I can sort of work around that. Sometimes my strawberries migrate to what was a path. I usually let them go wherever they want to go. Lately they have told me that strawberries love sorrel. Since they are both perennial that is just fine with me. I have to range over a larger area to pick strawberries, but that gives me a chance to straighten my back and also to check the health of things in different areas.

However when it comes to running a hose I often wish I had my beds fixed. Oh well, no perfect solution. I think that garden rules should be discarded as quickly as possible and each should garden intuitively and in harmony with their soil, climate and own nature while gathering tips and hints that you think will work for you.

"I think that garden rules should be discarded as quickly as possible and each should garden intuitively and in harmony with their soil, climate and own nature while gathering tips and hints that you think will work for you."


That is likely the best advice out there. As a trained chef, I know that certain methods always work, but as far as seasoning and style everything is fair game. I was cooking before I was gardening, but they are both tied together because they both deal with food.

Each bit of land, has its own little subtle differences and each person has their own differences, nothing is even the same year to year, everything is in flux changing so often that If you are tied to a certain set of hard rules, you'll only drive yourself crazy trying to stick to them.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

Kind of surprising to me that in this thread -- as well as in the recent "what books and classes would you recommend?" -- that nobody thinks to mention Sharon Astyk. A lot of the Oil Drum people would profit from following her blog. She has several books out and offers classes too -- on things like gardening and food storage/preservation. If you're interested in these "Campfire" type topics, check her out. Very interesting and informative -- entertaining, too! There's a link to one of her blogs ( http://sharonastyk.com ) right on the TOD main page. Apparently whoever is in charge of the blog roll hasn't noticed that her blog split in two, and she is also at Science Blogs now: http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook

Kind of surprising to me that in this thread -- as well as in the recent "what books and classes would you recommend?" -- that nobody thinks to mention Sharon Astyk.

I've found her blog pretentious and offensive. She's a novelist and a blogger who routinely goes on the book lecture circuit but she advertises herself as a "subsistence farmer." My foot.

Well, to each their own. Pretty sure she's not a novelist, though. Maybe you have her mixed up with Kunstler. Some people find him pretentious and offensive as well (more justifiably, I'd say). I enjoy reading them both, as well as some of the often "pretentious and offensive" TOD commenters and editors. Whatever. When people are opinionated and have distinctive voices, or unusual perspectives, that can grate on others sometimes. But they still often have interesting experiences, insights and ideas. Astyk knows more about food, plants and agriculture than most of the engineering types who read TOD, I'd wager.
Most authors do undertake speaking engagements, even if they are also farmers. This is not a sign of some kind of moral turpitude or dishonesty. Joel Salatin, featured in The Omnivore's Dilemma, spoke in my town recently. He's an actual farmer, nonetheless. Your foot has nothing to do with it.

Your comments here are so acidic.. I wish you'd find a way of sharing your valuable experiences without the putdowns and the sneering.


Remember the old Chinese proverb, " If you want to live a long life, grow a garden."

Remember the old Gypsy damnation, "may god give you a vegetable garden".

Remember Bwian:

"You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals! You're all different! You've all got to work it out for yourselves!

Yes, you've all got to work it out for yourselves!

A few words on my methods;
Be very aware of your nutriment cycles.
If you consistently give/sell produce out of your garden you will need to import organic material from elsewhere to compensate.
When nutriments created by fossil fuels become scarce , biomass will become very valuable, coveted and hard to obtain for free.
HUMANURE! If you are eating from your garden and using a leach pit, or a pump out septic you are gradually losing nutriments.
Or biogas generator for cooking and the effluent goes to the garden. Every drop of it.

Be very aware of energy inputs.
If you spend all day just tending to a few rows of plants you will die of hunger.
Only plant tough plants that require minimal maintenance and are suitted to local conditions.
The goal here is to get results whilst being as LAZY as possible.
Bio intensive (weed smothering) and mulch, mulch, mulch.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of enormous quantities of mulch.

Rotate plants
Be flexible, let your garden evolve naturally. It is literally a mini ecosystem which you manage.
Have a very large variety of everything.
Have at least 35% of your plants be leguminous.

Have an aquaponics system working in tandem with your soil garden.

Tcubed - yes, yes and yes.

Again for those who have missed it the Humanure handbook on the web http://weblife.org/humanure/index_chapters.html or to buy http://www.jenkinspublishing.com/humanure.html The system is so simple, and cheap, and the end product is beautiful. Poop in a 5 gal drum with toilet seat on it, cover with leaves. Continue until full. Amazingly your house will not smell like an outhouse, the covering of leaves or straw or sawdust stops the odor. The only time it smells is when you dump it in the compost bin, but then you top with more leaves or whatever you are using and that stops the odor. I compost the humanure for at least two years before using on the garden.

Urine just save and dilute and gift your plants with nitrogen.

Be flexible, let your garden evolve naturally. It is literally a mini ecosystem which you manage.


Bio intensive (weed smothering) and mulch, mulch, mulch.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of enormous quantities of mulch.


More contradictions spawned by a romanticized version of farming:

Be flexible, let your garden evolve naturally. It is literally a mini ecosystem which you manage.


Gardens that "evolve naturally" are taken over by succession and turn into weed patches, then meadows. Good luck "managing" that for food output.

Actual "ecosystems" ("literally") are not "managed," but farm plots can be. The management arises because we are taking over and displacing natural systems, not adopting them.

So, NO, NO, NO.

There are better ways to merge with nature. Smoke some weed.


This is apparently always the problem with internet forums; if one gives a concise post someone is always bound to misread one's message.

Romantic i am not. My methods are entirely based on practicality.

You did see the word 'manage' right? At no point did I intend to mean just let it go take it's own path. That is called managing. Another word for it is husbandry. By evolving naturally i mean take your cues from what's going on and don't fight stuff that's obviously not working out. Keep it dynamic. Be flexible.
And yes it IS a mini ecosystem. That is the only way to look at it.

When i started here i was dissapointed by my dismal results. After about a year i finally understood it was not my fault but the soil's. It is very heavy for starters, which can be worked with if you know what to do, but what killed it is it had been 'cleaned' by digger FIVE times! Every time removed enormous amounts of biomass plus compacted it whilst scraping off the topsoil.

After two years i understand that the number one factor is soil quality.

And this takes patience and care. And yes managing.
The goal is to rebuild topsoil and to create the richest possible soil ecosystem. Ie trillions of microbes, fungi, bugs, worms, etc.
Without them you WILL starve.

I never ever use any pesticides as i do not want to risk in any way the health of my bugs.

Back when my soil was sterile, i had all kinds of pest problems and weak plants.
Now, it is very rare for me to suffer from pests. The reason is because the bugs that eat my plants have bugs that eat them, and those bugs have creatures which eat them, and so forth. So it all keeps a balance. Also it is because my plants are very healthy, so they take care of themselves. This is why you want a lot of variety and keep things dynamic. Life is change.
Of course there are some casualties, but that is why you always plant a little more than you need, so some bugs can eat too, and some birds, and so on. It IS an ecosystem, and not only is it greedy not to share some, it is also foolish, because we need all the other life there to keep things healthy.

I manage that too. There are weeds that don't bother me so i let them be. There are weeds that are extremely aggressive and those i systematically pull and use as mulch. I won. Now my patch is free of the unwelcome plants. One of the best ways to do this is cardboard (plain brown). I smother them out. Their seeds germinate underneath , then die. It is hard work pulling weeds, but their seeds left behind is much worse. And i have a patch of extremely poor ground to windward. Used to be virgin forest, then sugarcane, now sterile ground with a pathetically simplified ecosystem with a large proportion of non native species (weeds). In fact most of this island is like that, exemplifying what is environmental degradation.

You suffer from the attitude that man and nature are somehow separate. We are not. Ever since we've been around we have impacted our surroundings in some way , exactly the same as with every other life form on this planet. So we are 'managing' ecosystems whether we like it or not. The thing is to do it with wisdom and understanding, not with ignorance, rigid tyranny and/or never satisfied greed.

As for weed, i gave that up long ago. But you're welcome.

Again i am not a 'romantic' i have my views because i have observed that they work.
I do hope you read this and understand what i am trying to say.

Tcubed said:

"Ever since we've been around we have impacted our surroundings in some way , exactly the same as with every other life form on this planet"

Exactly right. One of Bill Mollison's aphorism's points this up too:

"Everything gardens!"

You did see the word 'manage' right?

You did see that I quoted your word "manage," right?

I was pointing out to you a direct contradiction in your statement: You cannot "let something evolve naturally" and "manage" it at the same time.

It sounds like you've done a lot of "managing"--which is EXACTLY what you should be doing!

You suffer from the attitude that man and nature are somehow separate. We are not. Ever since we've been around we have impacted our surroundings in some way , exactly the same as with every other life form on this planet. So we are 'managing' ecosystems whether we like it or not.

It's fascinating how, when one takes a critical stance in some area, those in disagreement attribute beliefs to one rather than listen to what one says.

So: "Man and nature" are not "separate," but somehow man "manages" its ecosystem, "whether we like it or not," which means in spite of our will. Now how can that be?

If you want a statement of my attitude it is this: Man is by nature a rapacious ape, whether he likes it or not. To farm, man harnesses this rapaciousness by interrupting and hijacking succession however and whenever he can. This takes work. Philosophers of the pea patch who try to tell you that gardening is "no work" or "natural" are fools. Agriculture is a recent invention, a way of stealing energy from one's environment.

The fact that man cannot stop reproducing--just like the other animals--means that his attempts at "sustainability" are a joke.

Many "philosophers of the pea patch" generate contradictions without being aware of it. They usually do this because they subscribe to some ideology.

My ideology is "do what works for you." Life is short, we're all dead in the long run, so enjoy your run.

Mike, in my garden ants MANAGE aphids. The leaves of some trees prevent undergrowth from coming up by being toxic thus MANAGING their environment.

In fact I agree with Jared Diamond that agriculture is the worst mistake humans have made. I believe we and the planet would be better off if we had remained hunter-gatherers.

But I live in the times I live in and didn't come to this realization until I was too old to see if I could find a hunter-gatherer tribe that would take me in.

That being so, what is the harm in my trying to make my patch of garden operate more like the natural world does. And what is the harm in my encouraging others to garden that way instead of tilling up earthworms and destroying the living soil. And what is the harm in finding that to be beautiful.

Yes yes man is rapacious. So should I give in to that and rapaciously ruin my soil instead of returning it to the rich layer of topsoil that all the soil here once had. When I die perhaps my garden will go back to an even more natural state but it will reach it sooner that the surrounding natural area because I have saved leaves from town from going into a landfill. Should I not feel good that if no one takes over this garden it still will be ahead of the surrounding areas in fertility and perhaps therefore support more life. Those leaves in a land fill would mix with all sort of toxic stuff. In my garden they will nourish worms and fungi

Actually I think we will probably end up in a nuclear war and some new order of nature will follow probably without man. That no longer bothers me. But I feel good when I pull back some mulch and see rich compost full dirt underneath. It smells earthy and good. I see lots of worms and I feel good. No need to smoke some weed.

So tell us please, how do you garden . My ideology is doing what works for me, enjoying my run and acknowledging and even being glad that I am mortal. Geeze we have the same ideology. I can't really figure out what you are up tight about. We all generate contradictions. You seem to have them too but perhaps you can't see them.

Look I think we are overpopulated, yet when I see a baby I start cooing and smiling at it. That is my human natural hormones overriding my rational brain. So what. I wear shoes and live in a house, but I love to get out in nature. I love the sounds and smells of nature. That is the conflict between civilization and my natural state. Should I stop smiling at babies and making rich soil because the majority of humanity has been messed up by civilization???????????????

MikeB my garden is not taken over by weeds. Did you forget to read the MULCH part. However my strawberries migrate and seem to do better when they seek out new ground. My field peas self seed and end up taking over much of the garden in the fall but the other stuff is about over and it ends up putting legume roots all over the garden. I get tons of food and also some weeds that I encourage which are good food (lambsquarters and chickweed). I understood that to be what Tcubed was saying about letting your garden evolve without any problem. You seem to be so stuck on literalism that you can garner the sense of what someone writes. The mere fact that we are talking about gardening means we are managing nature - but what I do is where I can, mimic nature to some degree. Like Tcube says when you garden this way with lots of mulch and not disturbing the soil except to put in seeds and seedlings you maintain the microbial ecosystem. Tilling puts anaerobic bacteria up in the air and smothers aerobic bacteria under the ground. It tears up fungi growths and slices up earthworms. But no romanticism here, that doesn't prevent harmful bugs on the plants which mostly I hand squish or make a ecosystem that works without me. And weeds that have no value to me and take away from what I want to grow become more mulch. I am part of my garden ecosystem. It would be something else without me - ie end up looking like all the non garden areas around it - no delusions about that.

Wish you could see my lush garden now with tons of healthy Kale, lots of sorrel, strawberries starting to form, onions, lambsquarters sprouting, chickweed growing in with all that stuff etc. And I haven't even begun spring planting. And by having a great diversity all mixed around with some useful weeds and a few flowers here and there I have a diversity of pollinators. If the Colony bee disorder kills all honey bees I will be fine.

Perhaps you need to smoke some weed and loosen up.

MikeyB, B Mikey, Bee so mikey you are. Why not, after all, bee Mikey? Bee cause, you can, bee Mikey B, if only, you were, Mikey the Bee,smoking some weed, and throwing some seeds and cursing at those ***damn seeds and weeds. ***damn those weeds and seeds and bees because after all, they just get in the way..of me. MikeyB. I am, the one, the true, the expert, gardener. Farmer. I know all. I am not pretentious. I am not a novelist. I am just a ***damn killer of weeds and other things I may not like. Yes, it's fun, is it not?

Oh crap -- you guys, in particular, you, MikeyB, have turned this interesting and helpful subject into one of those same old, same old blogs that I try to avoid. Eviscerate each other somewhere else, please!!

If you read my comments carefully, you'll see that I reserve my contempt for those who are telling new gardeners that gardening is "no work," that some cults and personalities hawking books are more superior than others, instead of telling them to simply learn about plants, climates, soils, and to GARDEN.

I have never launched a name-calling screed devoid of content such as the one you've responded to above. I've responded to specific inquiries based on twenty-five years of INEXPERT experience. You don't have to be an expert or someone's acolyte to garden!

My final word (quoting from one of my favorite American writers, Flannery O'Connor, who was a devout Catholic, while I'm an atheist):


Yes, MikeyB. Bee Mikey you are. Still, just MikeyB. We all are, after all. Contempt. Humph! Yes, I contempt me and MikeyB. I, too, am not into "name-calling screeds devoid of content" such as I am the one above. Devoid. Of content. And content in being so. So devoid. Of content. And, maybe, this is not the best time to bring out those devout Catholic voices. Maybe they should rot first. And then, use what they can. MikeyB. It's all hard!

Remember that anything you are able to grow and eat (or find wild for that matter) is something you did not have to buy from the conventional "grocery" stream. So start small and congratulate yourself for every arugula, bean, tomato and lambs quarters you harvest from your back/side/front yard.

A few tips off the top of my head:

1) Get advice from seasoned gardeners in your area. I've lived in lots of different places, and there are different challenges re pests, climate, soil, etc. Learn from experienced locals.

2) Diversify! Plant multiple cultivars and use different methods so you can be sure of harvesting SOMETHING. For example, I planted three types of tomatoes last year; one I was able to harvest many of early, the other two were struck with the "late blight" that plagued many areas last season. If I'd planted only one cultivar, I'd have harvested next to no tomatoes.

Also, we had a very cool summer (here in Wisconsin); however, I still managed to harvest many Anaheims, jalapenos, and poblanos - b/c I planted them in clay pots and placed them on pavers. I put my bell peppers in the ground and got a sorry crop. See? Multiple methods. Something will yield a crop.

3) Read Ruth Stout. Her methods for simplifying the work and building the soil will make it possible for you to keep at it and result in better harvests over the long-term.

4) Expand your garden capacity by using containers. A great source is the book The Bountiful Container. The authors (whose names excape me now) are serious about producing food crops from containers and include lots of detailed info on how to achieve this. Using containers will help to expand your total food production capacity.

5) Plant perennial (e.g. berry bushes, asparagus, walking onions, fruit trees) as well as annual food crops.


Think in terms of doing it once only. You won't want your garden to beconme overgrown or for structures to collapse after 10 or 20 years, so:

1. Don't plant Leylandii or anything else which is basically a big tree
2. Use trees and bushes which are native to your area. Imports may not survive a very hot summer or a very cold winter that comes along every 10 years or so
3. Don't put wood into the ground. Use concrete for posts or foundations. Wood posts always rot in the end or snap off at the base from wind rock
£. No decking!!!

I also recommend reading 'Permaculture' by Bill Mollison. I believe it's really for the serious home growers with lots of land. I tend to Google interesting pointers (Try - Garden Amateur) or use 'Green' magazines.

From my limited experience -
* Yes to high garden beds (Timber, sandstone, iron) 'with lots of drainage - about half a meter high (about 2 foot) better for your back.
* Mix plants to reduce bug damage (Permaculture) I use parsley as borders - helps a bit.
* Remember winter/summer versions - tomato / lettuce ect. Living in Sydney Aust inner city very hot summers here - burns everything! Tail end of winter and beginning is better for plants here.
* Make your own manure with worm compost bin. Saves petrol - re: garbage trucks!
* Make own soil if possible (size of yard) with leaf mulch from garden or local parks (variety of leaf mulch better too)

I must say there is a lot more to it, you need to be pretty keen, but it's worth it when you start producing a good crop seconds from your kitchen then dinner table.

Good luck - Happy Back Yard Growers.

The Crow

(First post by longtime lurker.)

I have been gardening for a few years and while I'm getting the hang of it now, my learning curve and mistakes are still fresh in memory. Here are some of my pointers. They are most specifically to people like myself, urban gardeners with small backyards:

*) Do not get religious about "organic" or "sustainable". Both of these are rather vague, and sustainability is unattainable in a garden anyway (particularly for a newbie). This means that you are not a loser if you have to import materials by the (many) bagful. Also, don't be above using artificial fertilizer. The difference between utter disappointment and the feeling of "hey, maybe I can do this after all" on occasion is a tablespoonful of Miracle Gro in the irrigation system.

*) Do not get religious about composting. Yes, it's important, but take it easy at first. It will take you some time to get the hang of it. Don't make it your goal to make and use your own compost right from the get go. Again, you are not a loser for going out and buying high quality compost (which is essential). With practice, you will get the hang of composting as well -- and STILL you probably will have to import compost too.

*) Do make raised beds. Do use hardware cloth on the bottom of them.

*) Grow plants grown for their leaves (as opposed to their "fruits"), they are the easiest.

*) As soon as possible, learn how to grow your own seedlings.

*) Shortcuts are OK, but avoid poisons. I use Sluggo as an easy way to control slugs, but I would not use the more toxic slug controls.

*) Research, research, research. Go to as many gardens as you can. Carefully analyze garden pictures you see online. Subscribe to channels like http://www.youtube.com/user/growingyourgreens

*) Observe, observe, observe. Spend time in your garden.

*) I think that Permaculture and Fukuoka books are not helpful to beginners. They are overwhelming. Square Foot Gardening, while a bit too OCD and infantile in its tone, is a much better choice for a beginner.

lots of sensible suggestions.
some from me (age63,Gardened Canada (both coasts) temperate and tropical australia
If the garden is to be created from scratch and is virgin ground get a roto tiller.Rear tynes if possible ( hire or get someone to do it who is reasonable).It your back we are trying to look after here.
zillions of experts theories biases and plain BS.Compost,start seeds in small containers if you have weather ,pest,finance limitations and plant out.Get your water supply oragnised before you plant.
Sustainablity should be your underlying ethic.
Do not be concerned by failure.This is how you learn.Success is getting out amongst it.
If you want to be reassured your tracking right and the book or opinion you are trying to verify is correct I recomend everybody who contributed to this discussion try and get hold of:
"Farmers of Forty centuries" cannot remember the author ( I was lent it by a wizard gardener who insisted i return it but i understand it is back in print), he was the soil expert the USA government sent to investigate Korea,Japan and China in the early 1900's.It was realised then that the USA had destroyed its soils and his fact finding mission basically came back with that these 3 countries were enormous compost heaps,nothing wasted.
"So Shall We Reap" by Collin Tudge (Penguin Books) written in 2003.Tudge is the goods on the food chain and if you think you know about food and its issues and can dispute what he has to say I will buy you a frog hair coat.