Beginning a New Garden

I'm starting a new garden with only the compost I can buy and I'm on a budget. Would it be best to do soil tests, till in amendments, and plant directly into the ground, or better to buy compost and plant directly into the compost? I usually build raised beds and fill them with homemade compost, but I'm in a new place and don't want to spend money on things like raised beds until I've done it for a season and love the layout, etc. I'm second guessing everything I thought I knew! Help!

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  • Slippy
    Slippy Posts: 117 ✭✭✭

    Local soil Plus amendments might be the most economical way to start. Kindly keep us posted on your results!

  • MaryRowe
    MaryRowe Posts: 672 ✭✭✭✭

    It does sound like soil testing and amendments would be the least expensive way to go, especially if you haven't decided on layouts and such yet, and if your soil is pretty decent to begin with.

    If the soil isn't very good though, you might end up putting in a whole lot of effort for not much result. Have you thought about maybe doing container gardening the first year, with whatever containers you can scrounge? The containers and whatever you fill them with would still be useful even after you decide on what your main garden will be. As another option, there are a number of websites and videos that show lasagna gardening methods that let you build the garden in the fall and plant it in the spring--here's one example:

    I think your best choice really depends on how good your soil is to begin with, and how much it would take to make it productive right away.

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    I guess I should just do the soil test and see from there. How bad can it be? 😬

  • Grounded
    Grounded Posts: 154 ✭✭✭

    I know that soil testing is the best way to ensure you balance your soil for best results, but, if you are really on a light budget, I would probably just dig the soil by hand (about 6 inches deep) and add compost ( during this season, I lift bags of leaves neighbors put out to be collected by recycling companies. You can also lift bags of grass clippings so long as you trust that the neighbor hasn't used too many chemicals on their lawn. In the spring I might add some other purchased compost/supplements/manure to mix into the ground as I prepare it for planting. I try not to go overboard on what I purchase.

    If you are renting and don't want to invest alot in repairing soil, raised beds are probably about as cheap as you can go. If you can, look for natural materials, left over materials that might work to establish a raised bed. I have made raised beds with no borders and although not optimum, have worked. There are several sources for instruction on improvised raised beds on the internet. That way you know what soil quality you have by what you put into it.

  • Tave
    Tave Moderator In the AndesPosts: 854 admin

    @Megan Venturella David the Good wrote this article, and he mentioned that he got a free soil test at the local extension office. It might be worth a try.

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    I’m getting pigs in January or February. I may use them with electric fencing to destroy all the grass and just plant straight into that after adding compost- but I think I’ll also do a soil test to see if I have any major issues I should know about in the future.

    Thank you, all. I don’t know why it feels so intimidating all of the sudden! I think I just get hit by the urge to do everything perfectly right away. Silly me.

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    Here we go. The pigs arrive tomorrow. Let the games begin!!!


  • lewis.mary.e
    lewis.mary.e Posts: 207 ✭✭✭

    Testing the soil is the first thing I would do. It will influence everything you need to do. New gardens are so exciting, but also kind of nerve wracking. :)

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    An update. The pigs did their work brilliantly. They have successfully tilled a 16’ by 32’ area and are on to kill more grass. I’ve been so excited to make Charles Dowding style no-till beds, and ran into a big catch. A $55 scoop of organic compost only covered a 4’ by 16’ area. I put it down thickly, 4-6 inches, but also realize that unless I switch to a different method I will be planting the most expensive garden ever. So I may do one more million dollar compost row, and then I think I will be forced to get creative. So here are a few ideas, but feel free to chime in with something better!

    I’m going to collect cow patties and spent hay. I might layer cardboard, cow manure, and then hay and top it off with a THIN layer of compost. My hope is that would break down enough that in a month or two I can plant straight I to that.

    I may try a row where I just work in manure from around the farm.

    One row I may cover in the bedding from the goat area- wood chips and, obviously, goat pellets. That’s the best combo, but only if it breaks down sufficiently.

    My concern is that it won’t all break down quickly enough. It’s going to be nearly impossible to collect enough material that will break down quickly enough.

    I also have a small creek I could probably muck out, but it’ll be hard to get a wheelbarrow all the way down there and back in the mud. We’ll see! Open to ideas...


  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 944 ✭✭✭✭

    Megan Venturella Pigs can do a wonderful job of fertilizing as well as removing vegetation and roots and tilling the soil and they do so fairly quickly.

    Do you happen to have a lawn tractor or a 4 wheeler? Any type of small mechanical transport, it could pull a small trailer or even an old trunk lid turned into a sled. This would make hauling whatever material you can scavenge from other areas of your property easier to haul around. Growing up my dad took an old truck lid that had the curved edge on it and attached a chain to haul it with. He was able to pull it with our full size tractor (we had 8 acres) it was great for hauling anything from leaves in the fall, chicken manure, sacks of feed you name it. We have a small lawn tractor (riding mower) with the mowing deck removed. We haul a small trailer built for a 4 wheeler that we use to haul buckets of everything from rocks to sand, top soil, etc. But can also haul it directly in the trailer if we want.

    Good luck and hope you are able to figure out something to help get your soil amended without costing a small fortune.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    I get a lot of amendments free. Leaves, sometimes compost, wood chips, ashes, old straw, etc.. I ask around and often people have these sitting around. Most of the time its free but I barter too.

    Call tree trimmers for chips. Farmers for manure, the locla township for leaves.

    I would think your pigs would have done a great job getting ther soil ready with rooting and fertilizing it.

    Many of ther garden shops will have a soil testing kit for 5 to 8 dollars. My extension office charges 11 dollars.

    I use my chickens to prep a bed. They will have it cleaned and fertilized in a week or two

    It looks like you have a good start. Good luck!~

  • JennyT Upstate South Carolina
    JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 689 ✭✭✭✭

    If you're still interested in raised beds you could look at building sites, in their dumpsters. That's how I get all my wood. It's free and often the builders stop and give me a hand or even give me extra wood they haven't yet had the chance to put in the dumpster yet.

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    @vickeym We have a riding mower! My ten year old daughter has been riding it everywhere since the mower is broken. Maybe we can rig something up!

    @JennyT Thats a great idea too for edging. I feel ridiculous I didn’t think of it- we have old lumber in the barn. I think I’m just so used to buying what I need.

    @Denise Grant The pigs certainly did poop everywhere and dig it all up. Do you think that’s enough fertility to just go ahead and plant in it? I saw a sign recently for leaf mulch from the city, so I’ll call around and see if I can pick that up. This probably sounds silly, but where I lived before I couldn’t plant in the ground. I wonder if maybe I don’t even need to add loads of compost. 🤔

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    @JennyT

    I have the same responses when I go to construction sites. I get more than I ask for and they often help load it.

    One time I stopped for doors that were stacked up. They were totally remodeling a house. I left with 12 and it took two loads. That was cool was half the doors were made to be one large door. I loved the look!

    I was picking up supplies from a place they were making a bridge and I could not take the bigger pieces. A man there offered to take them home for me since it was not far. Once I got home, he helped unload. I offered him money but he refused. But he said if I had any daylilles he would take some. I did and he in return gave me hostas.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    @Megan Venturella

    Take a handfull of soil and look at it. Does it break up. What does it smell like. (OK, wait a bit for the smell test) Check what it looks like compared to where the pigs were not. If there is a noticeable difference you have improved the soil.

    The first year of a garden bed will never be as good as good as a garden area that has been worked and replenished. It takes time to build and grow good soil.

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    We bought one more scoop and it turned out to be triple the size of the first! So we are done for a while. 😊 Now it’s gotten colder and I think I really need a greenhouse... 🤔


  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    @Megan Venturella Looks beautiful.

    When will you be able to start planting in your climate?

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    @Denise Grant According to the local garden store, two days ago! But it’s been frosty in the mornings, so I wonder how anything could come up. I put seeds in a tray outside but between the cold and the fact that I was watering from a bucket and may have accidentally washed the seeds away, my expectations are low. 😭 But I’m online right now to buy a greenhouse. I thought row covers would be a good idea too once I put starts in the ground, but they must be called something else because I’m having trouble finding them online.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    @Megan Venturella https://www.johnnyseeds.com/tools-supplies/row-covers-and-accessories/

    https://www.amazon.com/row-cover/s?k=row+cover

    Just a few I saw quickly

    They are usually for sale in most garden centers

    You can get plastic cover sheets and make a circular frame either from tree branches or old metal coat hanger. PVC pipe works well too. Just set up your half hoops and cove with plastic or a light cloth at night. i usually wait at least a week after they call for the last frost and am always prepared for cold weather just in case

    You could also set up temporary cold frames over you beds.

    I alwasy use a mister or small watering can with one of those sprinkler tops.

    Depending on ther seed I may still start seeds in a seed cell pack to keep a better eye on them and protect them more at night

    Good luck. Hopefully your seeds did not get washed away

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    @Megan Venturella

    I just saw this on grownetwork article page.

    https://thegrownetwork.com/build-low-tunnel/

  • torey
    torey Moderator Posts: 3,540 admin

    The TGN blog article is a good one.

    Last year my neighbour bought hula hoops at the dollar store to use for her row covers. Relatively inexpensive and lots of shiny colours to choose from that brighten up a garden.

    Floating row cover seems to be out of stock at a lot of places.

  • JennyT Upstate South Carolina
    JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 689 ✭✭✭✭

    That's awesome! It's looking good.

    @torey I love the idea of hula hoops to use for row covers. I'll need to remember that. 👍️😊

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    @Denise Grant I just read that article! I need row covers before I plant anything. I ordered a greenhouse kit and bought a watering can (for goodness sake). I was already contemplating fencing for deer when a herd of cows ran through the garden last night. So I guess that means a fence is a good idea too!

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    @Megan Venturella I always plan for everything when getting a garden set up. Fencing is a must for me anymore. It saves loss and gives you peace of mind. Now a determimced beast can stiil cause you problems once in a while but you cut that percentage way down

    Keep us posted on you adventure

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin

    @Megan Venturella How is the garden coming along?

  • Acequiamadre
    Acequiamadre Posts: 272 ✭✭✭

    Looks like a great start. I tried leaf mulch in the fall for new beds with chicken manure. Being in the desert it didn't break down as much as I thought it would so I will probably add compost on top and plant in--to see what happens.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,683 admin
    edited February 6

    @Acequiamadre Did you break down the leaves at all? I usually mow them, chop them up a bit or store them in black garbage bags for a bit to help soften them up.

    Compost on top should work. If you can get comfrey or yarrow chop that up and add to the mix. They help break down material. So does a can of Coke- but I don't go that route!

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 922 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Acequiamadre could a cover crop help with the soil? Annual Rye grass and Radish are supposedly good for breaking up hard soil.

  • Megan Venturella
    Megan Venturella Posts: 472 ✭✭✭✭

    Here’s the beginning of the garden. Doesn’t look like anything yet, but it’s coming!!

"Italy is known for tomatoes. Thailand for chilies. Germany for sauerkraut. But tomatoes originated in Peru. Thailand imported chilies from Central America. Sauerkraut started in China. Everything is a remix—and the world is better for it. Share what you know. Learn from others."

-Marjory Wildcraft