Do you want a successful garden? Before planting, you need to do some planning. And if it’s a first garden, you need to do a lot of planning. It’s not overwhelming, but it is necessary for a productive garden of food and flowers. Today, America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower, and I offer tips for your first garden or a new garden. Tips that will save you a lot of time and money in your pursuit of getting your family the healthiest food possible, as well as the most colorful flowers to attract some garden help in your battle against the bad bugs.
Today, it’s episode 307, First Garden? New Garden? We Have Tips.
We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!
Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and transcripts at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, GardenBasics.net. Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout.
Pictured: Raised Bed Garden Under Construction
Farmer Fred Rant Blog: Tips for the Beginning Vegetable Gardener
Solarize your soil to control weeds, diseases
Reciprocating Hoe (aka Hula Hoe, Scuffle hoe)
Dripworks (drip irrigation supplies and tutorials)
AmpleHarvest.org for your excess backyard produce
Got a garden question?
• Leave an audio question without making a phone call via Speakpipe, at https://www.speakpipe.com/gardenbasics
• Call or text us the question: 916-292-8964.
• Fill out the contact box at GardenBasics.net
• E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
All About Farmer Fred:
The GardenBasics.net website
The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter, Beyond the Basics
Farmer Fred website:
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook: "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Farmer Fred Garden Minute Videos on YouTube
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases from possible links mentioned here.
GB 307 First Garden? We Have Tips. TRANSCRIPT
Debbie Flower, Farmer Fred
Farmer Fred 00:00
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit smartpots.com/fred for more information and a special discount. That's smartpots.com/fred
Farmer Fred 00:20
Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot. Do you want a successful garden? Then before planting, you need to do some planning. And if it's a first garden, you really need to do a lot of planning. But it's not overwhelming. It is necessary, though, for a productive garden of food and flowers. Today, America's favorite retired college horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower and myself, offer tips for your first garden. Tips that will save you a lot of time and money in your pursuit of getting your family the healthiest food possible, as well as the most colorful flowers, to attract some garden help in your battle against the bad bugs. Today, it's episode 307, "Your First Garden? We have tips." We are podcasting from Barking Dog Studios, here in the beautiful abutilon jungle in suburban purgatory. It's the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. Brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let's go.
Farmer Fred 01:30
Always a pleasure to welcome Debbie Flower, America's favorite college horticultural Professor, into the abutilon jungle here at Barking Dog studios to talk gardening with us today. We're going to tackle your first garden. What are some tips for establishing a first garden? But first, I'd like to establish some of Debbie's credentials. I mean, what does it take to become America's favorite retired college horticultural professor? Well, let's delve into her ratemyprofessor.com comments that her students left her a few years ago at the college that she was teaching at the time. And she received a 100% rating of students who said they would take it again.
Debbie Flower 02:06
Farmer Fred 02:07
So congratulations on that. Your level of difficulty was 2.5. I have no idea what that means or your gymnastic skills? I'm not sure. Anyway, some of the comments. One writes, "Such a knowledgeable person of the field, I learned so much from her. She always clarified in a clear manner that could be understood, in my opinion, by any mind. Sad that she retired because I can't take a class with her again, but excited for her as a person for the freedom to work on her garden and explore the world." And hang around the abutilon jungle.
Debbie Flower 02:45
right this part of the world. Yeah.
Farmer Fred 02:46
I appreciate that. Another says, "Debbie is a great professor. She explains everything very well. There were things that I didn't know. I really enjoyed her class." Another gives you an A plus and says, "Professor Flower is amazing. She is a plant expert and conveys her passion for horticulture to the class. She was very organized, everything we did all semester was in the syllabus. If you do the work and study for the exams, you should do well. But if you miss a class, you're going to miss a lot of information." Another says, "She's great. She has an infinite number of years of experience.
Debbie Flower 03:21
Farmer Fred 03:23
And I'm fairly sure she knows everything you ever wanted to know about anything in the horticulture field. But please do not take this class if you are simply looking for an easy 'A'. There is homework, and it's always a packed class. So save some space for the horticulture enthusiasts that are there."
Debbie Flower 03:39
Farmer Fred 03:41
And another says, "A truly amazing teacher, very dedicated and devoted to the field. Another says, "If you didn't love plants before, you will now. She's a great teacher." And another wrote, "The good part is, she's easy. I hate horticulture, but it's not her fault. I just always never really liked it. I mean, really? plant business? WTF! The bad side is she is obsessed with plants." Yeah, she's a hort teacher.
Debbie Flower 04:09
That's the way it goes.
Farmer Fred 04:10
Also, she says, "I did good on all her tests. But the Final is different." And another warns, "Take this class elsewhere for an easier A. And she spends too much time walking."
Debbie Flower 04:22
I walk when I talk. Yes. Can you see me here? I need to move. I will use my hands.
Farmer Fred 04:27
I brought you a fiddle wire.
Debbie Flower 04:29
Yeah. I have to move and be doing things.
Farmer Fred 04:31
There's a fiddle wire in the corner for you.
Debbie Flower 04:33
Farmer Fred 04:34
So anyway, somebody responded to that comment that you spent too much time walking and to take this class elsewhere for an easier A. And somebody responded, "Well, if you're into plants, this is the course to take and the professor to teach it. Come on! Her name is Flower!
Debbie Flower 04:50
Yeah, that's my real name.
Farmer Fred 04:53
So there you go. Your students loved you,
Debbie Flower 04:55
Oh, thank you.
Farmer Fred 04:57
And we love you here, too.
Debbie Flower 04:59
Thank you .
Farmer Fred 05:00
All right, where are we? Oh, the first garden? What do you do? First thing I did when I established my first garden because I didn't know jack about gardening way back when, back in the 70s. We'll just clear out some of this bermudagrass and plant stuff. Oh, it was a beautiful garden,
Debbie Flower 05:20
Your Bermuda grass garden?
Farmer Fred 05:23
Yeah, I was in there a lot, you know, pulling out the Bermuda grass as it was growing in there. But I think because it was just a lawn before, the soil had never been touched. I didn't think this at the time, I had no idea. But all the plants, it was like a jungle. It was like a tomato and pepper jungle and I go, "Hey, this gardening stuff is easy". Then in the next year, I did the same thing. "Oh, no, it doesn't look so great this year". And by the third year is, "I don't know about this, maybe I'll build raised beds." And so I built raised beds. And then eventually, I got more knowledgeable. But I guess for the first garden, if I knew back then what I know now, and I'm starting a first garden, it would be different. And actually, I got to do that here. When we moved here, six, seven years ago, eight years ago, I said, "we can plant in pots for the time being. But let's just live with this place for a year and see where the sun goes. Let's see where the water goes."
Debbie Flower 06:18
Farmer Fred 06:19
Where's the shade? Where's the sun? And it works, as long as you keep track of where the sun is. You can figure out which areas will get the most sun. Because those instructions about plants liking full sun or part shade or full shade are kind of important.
Debbie Flower 06:35
Yes, they are. And you can get very academic about it and read about it. And they'll say, you know, there's less sun on the north side. And there's less sun on the east side. And it's cooler sun. That's a misnomer about on the east side. But that's not always true.
Farmer Fred 06:52
And a lot of people plant too much, too soon when they get to it.
Debbie Flower 06:56
Start simple. Your point about the first garden, you removed the grass and it grew very well. I've experienced that more than once. And I think that's very true because the soil has not been depleted of its nutrients. The plants do very well that first year. And I think the hardest part about gardening over and over and over again in the same place is replenishing your soil nutrition.
Farmer Fred 07:18
You may hear me say, feed your soil. This is what gardening is all about. It's all about the soil, it's about replenishing the soil. It's about replenishing the nutrients that are in the soil. Because it's not fertilizer that's feeding your plants. It it has to feed the soil first.
Debbie Flower 07:37
Right. And think about a forest. Does anybody go in that forest and spread fertilizer?
Farmer Fred 07:42
Debbie Flower 07:43
Yes, there is some of that. You're right, animals and whoever is living in the soil, like worms that are living off of the plant debris that's falling to the ground. So the plants are dropping their own mulch, dropping their leaves and dead branches and such which is mulching around their base. The micro organisms and the macro organisms like worms are coming in and eating that. And then they poop. Everything poops, even micro organisms, and their poop becomes nutrition for the plants to then use to grow.
Farmer Fred 08:13
As our friend, organic gardener and expert Steve Zien would say, "it's the poop loop".
Debbie Flower 08:18
Yes it is. The poop loop. It's absolutely true.
Farmer Fred 08:21
And that's how things grow, ladies and gentlemen. That's just the way it is. One of the things you have to do is to ask yourself a lot of questions before you turn that first shovel full of soil when you're going to plant a summer vegetable garden. What does your family eat?
Debbie Flower 08:38
Right. and so my vegetable garden has become smaller and smaller because my husband eats fewer and fewer vegetables.
Farmer Fred 08:45
How do you feel about that?
Debbie Flower 08:48
I love vegetables, but there's always the farmers market. So yeah, like you said, you need to observe the area around you. A vegetable garden needs full sun, meaning unobstructed sun for a minimum of six hours a day during the growing season. It can be longer hours of sun that are maybe interrupted a little bit by some shade from a tree above or something, but a minimum of six hours of unobstructed sun. You want to start small. So you can talk to those who are going to eat from your garden, and find out what they like, and grow a few crops.
Farmer Fred 09:25
One thing you've done is by reducing the size of your vegetable garden, you have flowers. You enjoy flowers. After all her name is Flower.
Debbie Flower 09:34
And that's nice. What I've turned to in my garden, but yours is full of edible raised beds for edibles, and that's one way of doing it. I've reduced mine to one, four by eight raised bed, and I plant some stuff around the base of it. Not right next to it but in that area of the yard right into the ground as well. But I like to plant for Nature, for the birds, and the insects. And watch them come and be part of my environment.
Farmer Fred 10:06
The whole trick to eliminating or reducing the amount of chemicals used to control pests in the yard is basically "surfing with "Mother Nature", and putting in a lot of plants that attract the beneficials, the plants that attract the pollinators, to your yard. And they're pretty flowers.
Debbie Flower 10:06
They are. And I have spent some days outside, sitting under a sunflower and just watching who comes and goes, just because it's fun.
Farmer Fred 10:34
Yeah, I do that with the California buckwheat. I sit up there on the short brick wall and watch them flit about, and see if I can identify them.
Debbie Flower 10:43
Yep, there's so many of them. It's difficult, right.
Farmer Fred 10:46
And that's the idea, you bring in the good guys, and they can help you control the bad guys. And that's very important. The design of the garden is very important too, in that you need room to walk between your plants without stepping in the area where the plants are. And so that means wide pathways. And not crowding plants together.
Debbie Flower 11:10
Spacing plants. That's the number one error I see in new gardeners' gardens, is that they plant plants too close together. They're cute, they're small, and I got them at the nursery. What you need to know is how big are they going to get when they're mature? And you want to plant them so they have enough space to get mature without touching the plant next to them. Because if you touch it looks nice when you touch the plant next to him. But that allows water and bad insects to get trapped. Water-causing fungus and bacteria to develop in the plant and the bad insects are protected from the good insects. And so you start to have problems in your plants. When they're too close together.
Farmer Fred 11:51
You got too much shade, you got less wind. So you have more disease issues. You also have more hiding places for the bad guys, too. So yeah, and those instructions are usually on the seed packet or on the stick that came with the vegetable plant that you bought, as far as spacing in the garden. And it could be you, for tomatoes, 36 inches of space between tomatoes. For peppers, 18 inches. Squash? Good luck. It takes off.
Debbie Flower 12:20
Yeah, it takes off. But you could get away with one. and you plant it near an edge not right in the corner. But I'd like to plant it in the corner and let it go over the side and take off down so I'm still giving it nutrition in the raised bed, but it's growing away from the raised bed.
Farmer Fred 12:36
But then there's the age old question. Okay, which ways do I run my raised beds? east-west or north-south?
Farmer Fred 12:42
a little further north than that. 38 degrees.
Debbie Flower 12:42
It depends on your latitude, where you are between the north and south poles. Where we are is about halfway. Halfway is in Salem, Oregon. Okay, here in the northern hemisphere. Yeah, I did this exercise with my students, I did this exercise. It doesn't matter where we live, we're about 25 degrees latitude.
Debbie Flower 12:46
And we can position our beds either way and get enough light on all the plants. The sun rises in the East and sets in the west. It's only overhead right at June 21 or 20. And then it's in the southern sky. And so if you are in Minnesota, where my son is, and you plant your beds east to west, and the plants on the southern side are going to get more sun than on the northern side. Well that's okay if you put your taller guys on the northern side of the bed and your short guys on the southern side of the bed.
Farmer Fred 13:44
So there's your planting tip. If you are going to put in fruit trees, you'd want the fruit trees on the north side of your garden areas so they won't be casting shade on your raised beds, if the plants that are going to put in there require full sun. But we have a problem in the 21st century and that's too much sun, too much heat. And I'm beginning to think that tomatoes here at least would benefit as well as peppers, in order to avoid sunscald problems and a premature death. Give them some afternoon shade.
Debbie Flower 14:13
Right. And your yard is set up for that because your property slopes to the east down to the east and your house is on the west side. And it's a tall house. So as the sun is setting, your beds in the back are starting to get shade.
Farmer Fred 14:30
The beds that are closest to the house will start being in full shade by two o'clock in the afternoon or so.
Debbie Flower 14:36
Perfect. Yes. six hours. The sun comes up in the sky by six in the morning in the summer. That's your six hours. Yeah.
Farmer Fred 14:42
The other thing too. I remember when we lived out in the country when I had a basically a bare landscape. "Okay, I'm gonna do it from scratch. Let's see what happens." And so I put in my raised beds, maybe 50 feet from the house. and then about 50 feet beyond the raised beds to the south, I planted young trees, oak trees, some scarlet oaks and red oaks. And they get big, in 15 years. The raised beds that were closest to the trees and still 50 feet away, we're getting afternoon shade from those 40 to 50 foot tall trees. So consider the trees. And this is why I like to say, live with the yard for a full year, take regular pictures of your yard on a seasonal basis or on a monthly basis at different times of the day, 9am, noon, four o'clock. And do that on a regular basis where you can see, just how much sun does that area get on a month to month basis. And you'll have a better idea of where the full sun really is.
Debbie Flower 15:46
you've decided where to plant, you're gonna have to prepare the soil, you don't necessarily want to rent a tiller, and tilt it up massively, you just need to remove all the weeds. If you have the time to solarize it a year ahead of time, that would be great. But that means you're planning a year out. That takes a growing season out of your time. But solarizing is a very effective way to kill not just the weeds you see, but the seeds that are in the top four to six inches of the soil. Assuming you have prepped the soil, meaning you've roughened it up and watered it and then you put down your clear plastic in the hottest part of the year, for six weeks. Ideally, the times I've done it, the plastic breaks down before that, but till the plastic breaks down, and then you remove it. And everything in the top four to six inches will be dead. So the first thing you plant will take over.
Farmer Fred 16:45
But that goes back to living with it for the first year. You could do that in your first year. Solarize the soil and it's a great idea to do that. Just to kill off anything that you didn't want. Let's say you had a Bermuda grass lawn. If you mow it really, really short in May and early June, and then give it lots of water, and then put the plastic down. Clear plastic, it's usually two mil plastic, it could be a roll of painters plastic from the big Home Depot or Lowe's store, or a little bit thicker. You don't want to go too thick, maybe four mil clear plastic. But seal down the edges. You have to almost dig a trench around the border, bring the clear plastic into that trench and secure it with boards or rocks, or soil. So that air cannot get underneath that plastic cover. if the wind gets under it, it could rip it much easier.
Debbie Flower 17:39
Right. Energy from the sun itself will break down plastic. And that's how I was losing mine. I did bury my edges. And you're doing that to trap the heat. What's happening is the sun is going through the plastic as the sun is hitting the soil, and turning into heat. That is what happens to sun when the sun comes through your living room window. Very bright light hits your floor, it becomes hot, it's a hot floor. Your cat likes to lie there. That's how it's happening. Now that's happening under the plastic and the plastic is trapping that heat and it heats up to over 140 degrees, which is the temperature at which living cells die. So you can solarize. If you don't have the time to solarize, because you want this garden now, you want it this year. Clear the soil, rough it up a little bit, loosen it, water it and allow things to germinate. Treat it like it's a garden already. Water it regularly, you're gonna get the weed seeds that are at the surface to germinate. Go through and take them out. Maybe with a reciprocating hoe (hula hoe). You don't want to dig deeply anymore. Every time you dig deep and bring new soil up, you're bringing up more seeds. You just want to kill what's on the surface. A reciprocating hoe will cut them at surface level. Do it again. Water it. Treat it like a garden, let the weed seeds germinate again. Cut them off again, it'll probably take a third time. Do it a third time. This will be a three to five week process if the weather is right for seed germination, and then you've gotten rid of a lot of your weed problems.
Debbie Flower 17:52
And this goes back to if you're solarizing the soil is like I mentioned, you want to water the soil thoroughly first because as that sun hits the clear plastic that warmth will go down deeper. The water will take it down deeper.
Debbie Flower 19:16
Right. Water can absorb more heat than air can. That's a chemical thing.
Farmer Fred 19:21
Yeah, that's a chemical thing.
Farmer Fred 19:23
But it works, but it works.
Farmer Fred 19:25
Yes. what option two is, is to put plants that you want that first year in pots and just do a big container garden for the first year. And then realize where the sun is. The beauty of using some lightweight pots like Smart Pots is maybe you don't know where the sun or shade is going to be. You can at least pick them up and move them.
Debbie Flower 19:46
Or put them on a rolling base. But use big pots. Because the pots are a more stressful environment to grow for the plant and for you to maintain the plant because it's a limited amount of media in the root zone. It heats up quickly, cools off quickly, it accepts water quickly and it dries out quickly, you have to spend a lot more time out there watering and weeding and, and taking care of fertilizing, the roots can't go as far to get nutrients. So it's a more intensive type of gardening. The bigger the pot more those problems are reduced and less stress on the plant.
Farmer Fred 20:25
The benefit of having those big pots is you can use a potting mix, a soil mix to start off with. We should be dissuading people from filling those pots with their native soil, right? Because what's in that native soil? Weeds, for one.
Debbie Flower 20:44
Right, lots of live things that can harm your plant. And also the water relations of field soil are very different than container soil. And you need the water relations to be correct for the container, thus use container soil.
Farmer Fred 20:57
Right. And again, going back to pathways, I would make your pathways at least four feet wide. So you can take wheelbarrows through without compacting the soil around the plants. What area of the plant roots do you need to protect as it spreads out? Would you want a demilitarized zone that you don't want to be stepping on and not compacting the soil? Two feet? a foot?
Debbie Flower 21:19
Well, it depends on the plant, I think you need to know how big is that plant going to get?
Farmer Fred 21:22
If it was vegetable roots, they don't get that spread out, right?
Debbie Flower 21:25
They don't have the time, for one thing. It's just an annual plant in an ornamental garden. If it's very deep, I just have what I call "gardeners' paths". And they're just big enough for me to walk through. And I mulch heavily, which helps distribute weight, so that I'm not harming roots as much. Wood mulch is good for paths for that reason, for many reasons, but that's one of them. I think you can do the same fora vegetable garden. You could make every other path that width, if you had a whole bunch of raised beds next to each other. So itwould looked like a couple of long lines. You could have a four footpath on one side and a very narrow path on the other side of that raised bed between that one and the next one, then another four footpath so you can get the wheelbarrow to just one side of the raised bed. Did we mention why you don't want to compact the soil?
Debbie Flower 21:34
No, no, you should.
Farmer Fred 22:14
Yeah, air will disappear if you do that. And for some reason, roots like air.
Debbie Flower 22:19
Roots like air, they have to do respiration, it's called. Plants make food and they store it in their pantry, which is all over the plants in the stem. It's in the leaves, it's in the roots, it's everywhere. And when they need to do something, anything, they need to eat. And so they go through a process called respiration, which is when they get one of those food packets, and they break it down so they can use the food. Roots store food, and they do respiration to break it down so that they can grow new roots.
Farmer Fred 22:50
I'm pretty picky about who I allowed to advertise on this podcast. My criteria though is pretty simple. It has to be a product I like a product I use and a product I would buy again. And you know who checks all those boxes? It's Smart Pots. Smart Pots is the oldest and still the best of all the fabric plant containers that you might find. Smart Pots are sold around the world and they're proudly made 100% right here in the USA. Smart Pots come in a wide array of sizes and colors and can be reused year after year. Some models even have handles and that makes them a lot easier to move around the yard. Because the fabric breathes, Smart Pots are better suited than plastic pots especially for hot climates. That breathable fabric has other benefits, too. Water drainage issues? Not with Smart Pots. The roots that go round and round choking the root ball like they do in plastic pots doesn't happen with Smart Pots. These benefits will help you get a bigger, better plant than what you've gotten in the past with the same size plastic or other hard container. Smart Pots are available at independent garden centers as well as select Ace and True Value Hardware stores, nationwide. To find a store near you or to buy online, visit smartpots.com/fred. And don't forget that slash Fred part. On that page are details about how for a limited time you can get 10% off your Smart Pot order by using the coupon code Fred, F-R-E-D. Use it at checkout from the Smart Pots store. Visit smartpots.com/fred For more information about the complete line of Smart Pots lightweight, colorful, award winning fabric containers. And don't forget that special Farmer Fred 10% discount. Smart Pots. The original, award-winning fabric planter. Go to smartpots.com/fred.
First Garden? We Have Tips, Pt. 2
Farmer Fred 24:46
There is a situation that gardeners sometimes endure, especially first time gardeners, and that is sort of an exhaustion from gardening, and it usually happens sometime in late summer, when they're tired of harvesting, tired of eating the same thing.
Debbie Flower 25:01
And the weather is getting less conducive to being outside and enjoying puttering.
Farmer Fred 25:07
So, you have to sort of motivate yourself to get out there. And one way is the placement of the garden. You've tangled with landscapers on this one, right?
Debbie Flower 25:18
When I first designed my yard, it came partially with some vegetation. But the landscaper wanted to put the vegetable garden in a place where I couldn't see it from the house. And I said, Absolutely not. I need to be able to see it. So that I know what's going on out there. I can't see it from many places. I can see it from my bedroom. And I can see it from my patio. And that's enough, but I need to know that. Last summer, the irrigation timer broke.
Farmer Fred 25:46
Yeah, you want to see some browning leaves as a warning.
Debbie Flower 25:48
You want to know that things like that happen so that you can fix them before you lose everything.
Farmer Fred 25:52
Yeah, ideally, it should be visible from the kitchen window, to remind you to go out there and pick crops. Or see what's there.
Debbie Flower 25:58
And just plan dinner. Oh, look, the asparagus is ready. We'll have that tonight.
Farmer Fred 26:03
The healthiest food you can eat is the food you grow yourself. And tasty. the tastiest is the freshest food. The next best option, like you mentioned earlier, was a farmers market. Right? And that's the greatest way I know of is to taste what the real taste of food is, not something that's been sitting in a refrigerator for months, like some supermarket fruits do. But something that was picked that morning, right? Yeah, if you're curious about what to grow, that's the other thing, is to visit a farmers market.
Debbie Flower 26:32
Or join a CSA community supported agriculture service. that's where you get delivery of a certain amount of vegetation, edible vegetation. Vegetables, well, some flowers are edible, too.
Farmer Fred 26:45
Yes, they are. Watering your garden. That's important. You don't want to be lugging a hose 50, 60, 70 feet, right? So when you're planning your garden, you want it to be near a watering source, or to set it up ahead of time. If you're going to build raised beds by putting in drip irrigation systems, and hooked up to a faucet or its own valve and on a timer.
Debbie Flower 27:10
Right, or both. You set it up near a faucet and then that faucet can be come the source of water for that system that will fit into your raised bed.
Farmer Fred 27:18
But watering is not an event you set by a calendar, right? Watering is an event that you set up based on the day's weather and the week's weather and the consistency of your soil. Raised beds tend to drain a lot quicker. They also drain a lot narrower. But if you have heavy clay soil, that water tends to spread out and can cover the entire root zone of a plant it might be 18 inches wide, as that footprint descends into this heavy clay soil. In a raised bed, that soil is so loose that the cylinder-shape of the water footprint, if you will, might only be eight inches wide or even less.
Debbie Flower 27:57
The water footprint is like a carrot, it'd be like a carrot shape, if the media is very open.
Farmer Fred 28:03
So, don't skimp on emitters. If you're putting in a raised bed, take a look at some good information about drip irrigation systems and garden layouts. One of the best I know is a drip irrigation company called Drip Works. It's based here in California, you can go to dripworks.com. And they have plans and information and very good tutorials about setting up a drip irrigation system in a garden.
Debbie Flower 28:26
You and I use different types of irrigation in our raised beds. I like spray irrigation, it's a micro spray. But it allows me to plant anywhere in the bed. You use the tortuous path emitters that are embedded every six inches or a foot in the half inch tube. So it emits water at only at that location.
Farmer Fred 28:49
It's a good name for a band, Torturous Path.
Debbie Flower 28:52
I use the tortuous path emitters in my landscape, but I don't use them in my raised beds.
Farmer Fred 28:57
And remember too, that the listed gallons per minute on emitters may not be true if you don't have the pressure, or you are running the lines too long. A lot of people like to use the quarter inch tubing which is really small. And if you've got emitters spaced on those quarter inch lines a foot apart, you're only going to get that one gallon per hour release based on a maximum run of 17 feet.
Debbie Flower 29:28
Right I did mine at 10 feet. And I had supply lines on both ends in case something happens in the middle.
Farmer Fred 29:34
Yeah, exactly. If you're going to run quarter inch tubing around your plants in sort of a spiral fashion, have it come off a main line, a half inch line and limit your runs. But we're getting into a whole different topic. It's still important to know. That's why purchasing a moisture meter is not a bad idea.
Debbie Flower 29:56
right. but you got to learn how to use it so you need to calibrate it. You need to go out to your raised bed when the soil is dry. Stick that moisture meter in and see where it reads. Then soak the raised bed and let it drain. And stick that moisture meter back into the same depth, and see where it reads. Moisture meters really read electrical conductivity. If you then did a third test by adding a bunch of ammonium sulfate to the surface and watered it in, or used chicken manure would be another source, water it in, let it drain and put the moisture meter in a third time. It would read wetter than it did the second time. And that's because it has more salts in it. And the salts come from fertilizers.
Farmer Fred 30:36
And again, we should reinforce that weeding never ends. If you do it before you'll do it during and you'll do it after harvesting.
Debbie Flower 30:43
You try to get the weeds when they're young. I taught my students BISS. Before It Sets Seed. Pull the weed before it sets seed. Because weeds are weeds, in part because they produce lots and lots of seeds, which successfully germinate when they find a new place to grow.
Farmer Fred 30:57
One of the things we should stress. though. If you're planting from seed, and you've got the little sprouts coming up, and you see weeds popping up as well, maybe instead of pulling those weeds out where it might disturb the soil around that new plant that you want to keep, you may want to just cut off the top of the weeds.
Debbie Flower 31:13
Right, If you never gardened before, and you are direct seeding, you might want to put a few seeds in a pot indoors and care for them. Just to see what the seedling looks like. So when you go out to the garden bed, you know which one is the desirable plant.
Farmer Fred 31:34
And start off growing something easy and dramatic, especially if you have kids, like a sunflower plant. Some flowers, too can grow quickly. If you're looking for a real quick vegetable to grow, and you can use it as a marker plant, use radish seeds. Because radishes germinate in, what, 10 days?
Debbie Flower 31:53
Yeah, so they're harvestable in 20-30 days, probably.
Farmer Fred 31:58
But you can use those radish sprouts to remind you that's where you planted the carrots, too. Because the carrots might take three weeks to show up.
Debbie Flower 32:05
And they have tiny seeds.
Farmer Fred 32:07
so, if you want to do that, you can. But basically start with training wheel plants. Plants that grow quickly. And the beauty of a vegetable garden they're usually annuals, right? So there's not that much care with them. If you're growing something like asparagus, which is a perennial, you need to learn how to care for asparagus.
Debbie Flower 32:23
I don't think I would, if I was a first time gardener. I don't know if I'd want to start off with asparagus.
Farmer Fred 32:29
For one thing, don't plant it as a focal point of your garden. It's damn ugly during the summer.
Debbie Flower 32:36
it is, yes. it's pokey too.
Farmer Fred 32:39
Its Pokey and Ferny.
Debbie Flower 32:41
Beans are good with kids. So is corn, I planted corn with my younger son and his friends one summer and you have to plant corn in a mass, not in a row for it to pollinate and create corn kernels.
Farmer Fred 32:54
They still need separation though.
Debbie Flower 32:55
They need separation.
Farmer Fred 32:56
Yes, like six inches, right?
Debbie Flower 32:58
But not a row. You need a minimum of three by three feet square. Yes. And that's a really small minimum. And these were were probably sixth graders. So how old is a sixth grader, 10 or 12? Something like that. And those boys came back wanting to know, wanting to see their corn.
Farmer Fred 33:15
Yeah, I don't blame them. That's why I grow popcorn, to get them interested. And it's dramatic. All right.
DAVE WILSON NURSERY
Farmer Fred 33:30
You want to start the backyard fruit and nut orchard of your dreams? But maybe you don't know where to begin? Or maybe you're currently growing fruit trees and you've got a million questions such as, what are the tastiest fruits to grow? Where can I go to buy some of these delectable fruit and nut trees you've been reading about? And then, how do you care for all of these trees including planting, pruning and harvesting? I've got one online stop in mind for you where all these questions you might have will get answered. It's Davewilson.com. That's Dave Wilson Nursery, the nation's largest wholesaler of fruit and nut trees for the backyard garden. They have planting tips, taste test results and links to nurseries in your area that carry Dave Wilson fruit trees. Click on the home garden tab at Davewilson.com for all of these links, including a link to their years of informative videos about growing fruit and nut trees that they've posted on the Dave Wilson nursery YouTube channel. Start the backyard orchard of your dreams at Davewilson.com.
FIRST GARDEN? WE HAVE TIPS, Pt. 3
Farmer Fred 34:38
You've always stressed that cucumbers are easy to grow from seed. I mean if you're looking for dramatic plants to grow quickly. It's hard to beat zucchini right?
Debbie Flower 34:48
But you also want something they're going to be willing to eat. Now if you talk it up, they'll eat it. "Oh, you grew that? You're gonna love it!" They'll eat it. But consider that if you have a very picky eater and you're trying to garden, have them choose something that you can get them to eat.
Farmer Fred 35:04
One thing that you've always said about a garden is spend time in your garden. Walk it every day. Get out there. Become friends with your plants. Check the leaves. check under the leaves. Talk to them. pull weeds.
Debbie Flower 35:19
Yes. I always carry pruning shears with me, because if I don't, then I start breaking things. I walk the paths in the garden, there are certain places where I have dedicated paths, and they need to be kept open. My neighbor has a Wisteria vine on the fence which grows toward my property, so I'm often cutting there. So just for the health of the plants, I carry pruning shears with me. Sometimes I carry a bucket with me to put the prunings in. But you notice the beginning of an aphid problem or, in my case, the Wisteria growing and twining up on my side of the fence. The weed patch that's taking off. These are things you can deal with immediately. It only takes 10 minutes, and if you left it there, it would take you hours to fix later.
Farmer Fred 36:03
I often say mulch, mulch, mulch. And that's true of the garden as well. Because mulch, especially natural mulch and organic mulch such as chipped and shredded tree branches, for example, does a whole host of good. It maintains soil moisture at a more even rate, it moderates soil temperatures as well. It inhibits weeds from forming and as it breaks down, it feeds the soil.
Debbie Flower 36:27
Right. There are certain plants that will not survive in a heavily mulched soil. It creates an organic soil that holds moisture better than one that has less organic matter in it. And the plants I'm thinking of are drought tolerant natives. If you don't have drought tolerant native plants, then mulch your whole yard. I have one little area , we call it the hump. One little hill of soil that is not mulched in my yard. And I have some California natives growing on that. Natives are plants things that need soil that dries out more quickly.
Farmer Fred 36:37
One of the downsides of using leaves as mulch is the fact that it can kind of form a pretty solid mat that does make that soil just a little too wet for too long. Which is why I like to take the leaves that have fallen in November and put them in a metal trash can . Then I stick my weedwacker down there and break them up into little pieces. Or I run over them with a mulching mower. Because those smaller leaf portions tend to break down quicker and feed the soil and don't necessarily form that thick mat.
Debbie Flower 37:32
And put those around your plants. Not on your paths. My husband, bless him, put them on the path, and they stick to my shoes, then I track them in the house. It's annoying. So put them on around the plants and put the wood on the path.
Farmer Fred 37:48
So I hope he isn't listening, but I have a neighbor who made very kind offer a year ago. He said, "I've got this bale of straw, if you on it". Yeah, I like straw mulch. You know, that's fine. I'll take it. And I took it. I broke it apart, a very big bale too. And I spread it around on the walking areas and in some of the raised beds as well. Guess what? It wasn't straw it was hay.
Debbie Flower 38:16
oh, no, which means it's full of seed.
Farmer Fred 38:19
It's full of seed. And it's germinating now. And if you'd like to join me in the backyard, and pull the sprouts, you're more than welcome.
Debbie Flower 38:25
Farmer Fred 38:27
but it, too, can form not only a mat, but also, like you experienced with leaves, it could stick to your feet, and you drag it in.
Debbie Flower 38:36
I had students tell me about using those bales of straw however, not hay, as the sides of their rised beds. And, you know, the first year you can sit on them, you can put tools on them. And you fill in between with your media that you're going to grow your plants in., And then at the end of the first year, they leave them and they start to break down. And then they would use them as mulch on top of the bed and get another set for the following year.
Farmer Fred 39:02
We should mention things of convenience. Such as, you carry your shears with you out to the garden every time you go out there. They are probably placed near the door that you normally exit to go to the yard.
Debbie Flower 39:11
Farmer Fred 39:12
All right. Well, that's a good idea and a good habit to get into. Some people I know use old rural mailboxes on a post to store some of their smaller tools. And they have it right there in the garden. So they can just reach in the old mailbox and pull out their shears. But have things handy so that you remember to do things. This begs the question too. Which is, how much time do you have for the garden? This isn't a instant, "set it and forget it" type of experience.
Debbie Flower 39:42
It's not. These days, I work in two hour shifts, so to speak. I'll go out and I don't time myself, but I find that after about two hours, I'm ready to go in, get a drink of water. Take a break. And I'll do that . Probably only at this time of year, I'm doing it once or twice a week and that's all. So I'm spending two to four hours a week in the garden now.
Farmer Fred 40:02
Yeah, we tend to automate the things we do. So then you have less work. But as any experienced gardener will tell you, you have a list of things to do when you go outside to do, and something else pops up. You get distracted. And, hours later when you're coming back in, you realize, oh, I didn't go out there to do what I intended to do. So you might want to write it down.
Debbie Flower 40:24
I do start a list and that's pushes me out the door. I have one in my head right now for my garden.
Farmer Fred 40:30
Also keep a garden diary. And that means basically writing it down in some sort of book or keeping track of it on your handheld computer or smartphone, just to remind you of what you planted, when you planted it, how it performed. Because, if you think, "oh, I'll just put the little stick that it came with next to it and always know what it is." Well, not necessarily. Those sticks disappear as the plant grows.
Debbie Flower 40:55
Yes, they do. Snails break them. They disappear for whatever reason.
Farmer Fred 41:00
So yes, keep an interior record of what you've done in the garden. I have one book on my shelf. I have books, you know.
Debbie Flower 41:09
I noticed that yeah. I have books too.
Farmer Fred 41:11
I've shelves of books. And one of those books I'm going to reach for it right now. It comes from 1990 and it was just a blank calendar book for 1990, but I have used it to write down everything I did in the garden from 1990 to 2016. And so I can tell you, for instance, back in January 1997 I planted a Fuyu persimmon tree. That was the time of the year because bare root trees are usually available in California in January. I love the persimmon tree. I also planted Conadria fig and a Black Mission fig.
Debbie Flower 41:57
Wow. you were busy.
Farmer Fred 41:58
I was busy. Yeah. I also replaced a dead, all-in-one almond tree.
Debbie Flower 42:03
Farmer Fred 42:04
So anyway, having a book like this not only serves as a record for what you've done, it serves as a reminder for maybe when you've grown something successfully. For instance, you'll know that 20 years ago you wrote, "I planted a Dr. Wyche tomato. It was really good". And over the years, you forget about Dr. Wyche, you've moved on. And then you go back to this book and go, Why am I not planting the doctor? I should plant it again. You can use any blank book. Make it a garden diary.By the way, it will be jam packed in April and May. Right?
Debbie Flower 42:34
You call it the holiday season for the gardening industry.
Farmer Fred 42:38
Yes, Christmas time for nurseries. Anyway, keep a garden diary. Do it in pencil. All right, so we've written it down. What else should we do for a first garden?
Debbie Flower 42:50
Well, let's see. We talked about weeding it. Prepping the soil. Spacing the plants correctly. Choose to keep it simple, at first. Right plant in the right place.
Farmer Fred 43:03
I think too, we should stress if it's your first garden, choose the training wheel plants that are easy to grow with great results. Things like cherry tomatoes. You're gonna get a lot of fruit quickly with cherry tomatoes. Varieties of vegetables that just grow quickly that are dramatic and will produce quickly. Beans, for example. Cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, if you got the space.
Debbie Flower 43:29
I did that one year with my kids and let them put them in the wagon and walk up and down the neighborhood and sell them.
Farmer Fred 43:37
By the way, you too, have had experience in pawning off excess vegetables with neighbors who have grown tired of them. They lock the door when they see you coming.
Farmer Fred 43:40
Food Banks will accept garden produce if you have excess produce.
Farmer Fred 43:52
Thank you for mentioning that. AmpleHarvest.org is a great website to go to in order to find the food bank, the food pantry nearest you that will take your excess produce on a regular basis. Whenever you have excess produce. AmpleHarvest.org . you enter in your zip code and it'll tell you where those pantries are nearest to you. You may be surprised how close they are. After moving here, I discovered there was one just a couple of blocks away. Wow. So that's nice. Yeah.
Debbie Flower 44:22
And you could use your produce for helping people out. Yeah, use it.
Farmer Fred 44:26
You grew it. Now eat it. And so it's always nice if somebody in the house is the chef who wants to gather the harvest. Or, you can gather it for them if necessary, but just come up with recipes right for it and also preserving the food.
Debbie Flower 44:40
One thing that is relatively easy to grow and that I really appreciate especially having a smaller vegetable garden is growing my herbs. Basil is an annual, and I have sage in a pot. I have oregano, thyme, marjoram. No parsley, at the moment. Okay, obviously it's a biannual. It's a biannual right and I get the timing wrong. So if you get the timing right. It will last two years. I get the timing wrong, so I keep having to replant it every year.
Farmer Fred 45:09
The parsley does last over winter for one year, but in the second year, it blooms. It blooms and then it gets ready to die. Yes, but it's still harvestable in that second year, despite the flowers. And I like to leave it on there with the flowers because it attracts beneficial insects.
Debbie Flower 45:26
Yes, that's one of those that attracts many wasps that don't sting humans, but eats the bad bugs in the garden.
Farmer Fred 45:33
That would be something else to to consider too, when you're gardening. Don't be in a rush to tear out those plants, because a lot of them, especially the cool season plants that you might put in, such as the lettuces, the cabbages, the broccoli, the cauliflower. The others that like it when the weather is cool, they'll tend to bolt or develop seed heads as the weather warms the following spring. And you may go, "Oh, I better get rid of that it's getting bitter". Well, leave the flower heads for the bees.
Debbie Flower 45:59
I have arugula now, that is growing actively right now. And it has flowered and seeded around. And so then the arugula patch gets bigger. So I'm doing two things, I I'm allowing it to flower and allowing the insects to feed on it. And I'm getting seed that is germinating. That doesn't happen with my parsley, the seeds aren't germinating, but sometimes you can get a two for one punch.
Farmer Fred 46:24
There's a lot of good information online about establishing a garden. There's a lot of poor information online about starting a garden, one of your best resources, as I'm fond of saying is, all gardening is local. Choose a resource that's based near you. And that's usually a university or a college that has a horticulture department or a master gardener program, a cooperative extension program in your county or state. So basically, end your online search about gardening with the letters.edu. It is going to bring up results on the first page that have been not only tested, but verified. As opposed to some people out there who just are following the advice of their grandmother, as well intended as it may be.
Debbie Flower 47:11
And yes, you don't know that's the problem. You don't know what's good or bad. But the colleges do test it before they put it online. Right. end your search with the suffixes .edu and .org.
Farmer Fred 47:22
Some botanical Institutes or botanical gardens are usually dot.org , and have a lot of good gardening information as well.
Debbie Flower 47:28
Yes. If you were an aficionado of a particular type of plant begonia plant or something, that would include societies with people that know a lot about those things.
Farmer Fred 47:39
And probably locally too. That's the other thing, too. Join a local garden club. Yes, hang out with the Master Gardeners if they have a garden, a public garden and get answers from them. If your neighbor can grow it, you can probably grow it too. That's another thing I always say. If you're just thinking, "what plants can I grow in my yard?" and you just moved to a new area, walk your neighborhood, strike up conversations with somebody who has obviously spent a lot of time in their yard working. They will love to show you their garden. They will try to give you plants Yes, yes. Take advantage of that for heaven's sake. I'm done.
Debbie Flower 48:16
Yeah, I am, too.
Farmer Fred 48:19
All right, it's your first garden. It's a fun experience. You're gonna enjoy it. Get the whole family involved. It's a lifetime hobby. It's good exercise. And like I said, the healthiest food you can eat is the food you grow yourself. Debbie Flower, thanks for your help on this one.
Debbie Flower 48:35
You're welcome, Fred.
HAVE A GARDEN QUESTION?
Farmer Fred 48:45
Want to leave us a garden question, you'll find a link at Gardenbasics.net Also, when you click on any episode at Gardenbasics dot net, you're going to find a link to speakpipe. You'll find it in the show notes. And when you bring up SpeakPipe.com on your computer or smartphone, you can leave us an audio question without making a phone call. Or you can go to speakpipe directly. That's speakpipe.com/gardenbasics. You want to call or text us? we have that number posted at Garden Basics with Farmer Fred. It's 916-292-8964. 916-292-8964. email? sure! we like email. Send it along with your pictures to Fred at farmerfred.com. Or, again , go to gardenbasics.net and get that link. And if you send us a question, be sure to tell us where you're gardening, because all gardening is local. Find it all at Gardenbasics.net
Farmer Fred 49:41
The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast comes out every Tuesday and Friday, and it's brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics. It's available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, GardenBasics dot net. And that's where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much.
Got a question, press inquiry or idea you'd like to share? Contact us through the form below and let us know how we can help.