I live in NC. I am a newbie to gardening. I bought two great books recently on organic veg. gard. and organic pest control...BUT, I am overwhelmed with the material and all that can go wrong! It seems really hard to get the soil right...ANY ADVICE on how to start or the easiest plants to grow for the first time?? Thanks.
When I planted my garden, I went to my local nursery and they were able to tell me how to properly mix my soil for what I wanted to grow. It is important to have proper drainage, proper sunlight for what you want to grow, and to water regularly. There are different things you can do organically to lessen the pests, which you can google. It can be frustrating, but it is a wonderful thing when you can eat something you grew yourself. Good luck!
Erica - if you try to do it all at once, it sure can seem overwhelming. Tina's advice is good, a local nursery can help you with what grows best and easiest in your area. I have found potted herbs to be wasy - you can start from seed, but it's nice to go to a nursery and just get the plants. Depending on the size of pot you use (or some do really, really well outside and will grow back every year), you can pot two or three together and it's a great use of space. Greens grow fairly easily - kale, collards, bok choy, dandelion, some lettuce - and I've heard cabbage is easy, but haven't tried it myself. Peas are also supposed to be pretty easy, squash. You could always start with just a few things and add one or two new ones every year.
I love gardening and I just wanted to say that even if your soil isn't perfect (according to the books), you can still have a darn satisfying garden!
I have a few pieces of advice:
1.) Compost is your best friend. You don't have to have a fancy bin to make compost, just make a pile in an out of the way spot and throw all of your vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, dried leaves, and yard and grass clippings in that pile. If you are embarrassed to have a banana peel sitting on top in full view of the neighbors, then keep a shovel by your compost pile and toss a bit of dirt or leaves over the top. If you keep adding things over the winter, its all the better since the freeze-thaw cycle will help the compost break down. Every year add a few shovels-full of compost from the bottom of your pile to your garden and you won't have to add slaughter house by-products like manure, blood or bonemeal, or fish emulsion to your garden.
2.) Grow what is suitable to your region. My sister lives in North Carolina and she has luck with cucurbits (squashes, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkins, melons, and gourds), tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and heat-tolerant greens like collards. Peas and lettuce are a bit more of a challenge for her since they don't like really hot summers, but you might have better luck. If you have any neighbors who garden, they can offer good suggestions.
3.) Start small. Its better to start with a very small garden (perhaps 4'x4') that you can carefully tend with watering, weeding, and compost than it is to have a larger, more intimidating garden. After your first year, you will find the confidence to expand!
4.) The germination and seedling stage are when plants are most sensitive. Buying seedlings at a nursery for your first year of gardening may be the best choice until you feel more confident.
I'm new to gardening as well and looking for tips. The composting part has me intrigued. But I live in Minnesota. Where do I keep the composting bin if it's supposed to stay warm? I can't dig in my yard under 4 ft of snow to make a pile there. I had a small garden last year and some veggies survived and others died. I'm not good at keeping up on the watering and weeding so I just let it go and was surprised at all the veggies it still produced!
Hi Brooke, I am in Pennsylvania (zone 5) and here is what I do to continue collecting food scraps year-round for my compost.
First, I don't take anything to the pile every day. I save plastic bread bags, etc., and everytime I cook, I put my food scraps in a bag in the freezer. It takes about a week for us to totally fill a bag.
When the bag is full, the food scraps get moved to the second stage, which is a 5 gallon pail lined with a trash bag with a tightly fitting lid in the basement (it was recycled from the food service company at work). My basement has a bilco door which leads to the outside - so the temperature is whatever the outside temperature is - usually way below freezing. (If you have a garage, it would work just as well.) Just dump your scraps into the pail and put the lid back on.
When the pail is full (usually after about a month or six weeks), I dump the frozen matter from the pail onto the pile and cover with a little bit of snow so my neighbors aren't shocked at the sight!! (Covering with snow is purely a cosmetic step so I don't freak out my neighbors!)
By the time spring arrives, whatever I have dumped is starting to break down and is unrecognizeable. I actually find it easier to collect food scraps in the winter when I don't have to rush my scraps out to the pile every day - lest there be odor or fruitflies!
So basically, if you have a cold basement or garage (or even a place outside your back door), and a bucket with a tightly fitting lid, you can continue collecting scraps for your compost all through the winter. If you are worried that your basement or garage will begin to smell, don't worry, if your scraps stay cold, there is no chance of it. Coffee grounds in your compost will also mask any odors and keep curious animals away.
Thanks for the responses! I am going to start a small garden like Beary suggested, maybe with collards because I know NC grows those all over the place. Thanks everyone for the advice on getting seedlings from a Nursery and asking advice there, I didnt think of that!
Few more ?s: If I start composting now, will it have time to get ready for spring and summer planting? Or should I buy some organic soil to get started?...
Thanks Beary! I am going to have to get a barrel and try that out! Do you just dig a hole in your yard in the summer and then in the winter dig out the snow to throw the compost in? Do you keep it far away from your house to keep animals/insects away? I'm not sure if I will be able to start the pile in the middle of winter when the ground is frozen. Maybe I could just keep it in the pail in the cold garage until then? But then will it not be decomposed by summer? Do you add something to it to make it decompose faster?
Brooke, I don't actually dig a hole (but that is a good idea), my compost pile really is just a mound. I also have a black plastic bin that my municipality gave out, but I find it hard to use because I can't easily turn, see, or retrieve my compost!
Regarding the placement of my pile: my yard is only 15 feet wide (here in Pennsylvania, we have something called 'row homes' where the lots are very narrow, but quite deep, and there is no front yard). My compost pile is about 30 feet away from my back door at the end of my veggie garden. In the summer its masked by all of the plants surrounding it. I've never had anything visit my pile other than bunnies and squirrels, however, sometimes I will see tiny hover flies. When that happens, I just throw some dirt or grass clippings over the top.
Erica and Brooke:
There are two types of composting: 'active' and 'passive'. A mound (like mine) is the ultimate in 'passive' composting and it will take at least 12 months for your food scraps, lawn clippings, etc. to transform into compost.
'Active' composting means that you monitor your compost daily to help it decompose more quickly. Active composting involves: turning (for aeration), moisture control (adding water when dry or covering with a tarp when wet), layering (adding precise ratios of carbon-heavy vs. nitrogen-heavy plant matter), feeding (adding specific microbes that aid in decomposition), and sifting (removing woody plant matter that is slower to break down). All of this work means that you can have compost in a matter of months, but I've never been able to bring myself to do the work involved!
Remember, you can still have a productive garden even if you start out with relatively poor soil. Composting is a delayed gratification, but so worth it!
There's also the option of worm composting, which many people use if they have to compost inside, such as an apartment, but can also be done outside (obviously when it warms up). In fact, I believe there was someone on here who started a worm compost. So you might want to look into that. I'm not sure how long the rate of decomposition is for that.
And, like Beary said, you don't need to be intimidated by the books and all their soil stuff and everything. I have neighbors down the street who have an enormous front yard garden, and they mostly use compost, and just throw a bunch of kale, chard, and collard seeds about, and some tomatoes, and they grow all summer (and we live in a hot and arid climate). They don't do much else than that.