Rural vegetable garden for beginner

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Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
I'm interested in starting a vegetable garden, and as @BrotherBart has pointed out a few times, I tend to not do anything real small.

I think I have a good location picked, shaded to the north side, wide open sun to the south. It's a high a dry area of my back yard, but I have a 1" irrigation system that I can run up there and set up with automatic watering. So, it seems like a good location to me, as water can be completely controlled as needed.

Size? Well, I need some advice on that. Looking at local small family farms and church gardens, it seems plowing a few rows and planting in rows is the way to go, around here. This is a rural/suburban environment, no shortage of space or need for raised bed gardening. Unfortunately, almost every guide I find on beginning with gardening is aimed at space saving gardens for more urban or residential environments.

I have a LOT of deer and birds, which almost pick my existing berry bushes clean. So, a fence might be considered wise, but it would interfere with plowing rows unless it's set mighty wide of the garden. The plow vehicle is a John Deere 855 MFWD.

Advice for the beginner? The last time I had a garden was as a young kid at my parents house, in a much more residential environment (i.e. small 30 foot x 15 foot garden, no deer).
 

Dr.Faustus

Minister of Fire
Well you have 3 options. Plowing and planting in rows is easy. However deer and other animals will show up for the feast in no time. You will have to overplant your needs big time to share with them.

or

You could use a fence, way bigger than the garden and still use the plow.

or forget the plow idea and fence in what you need. I have fenced in what i need and use a medium sized walk behind tiller. works fairly well. I used 4x4's for the posts set 2-3' deep in concrete and wire fencing. made 2 gates out of 2x4's one to use to tend the garden and the other big enough to get in equipment like wheel barrels etc.

i ran water pipe underground to the garden, on a timer and attached to soaker hose. I like the automatic watering but it makes a pain to weed it.

You will want some kind of defense from groundhogs. I got a nice .22 scoped nitro piston air rifle and it deals with them quite nicely.
 
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Dr.Faustus

Minister of Fire
dont forget to start a compost heap. mine is simple from a few old pallets wired together. throw everything in there. grass clippings, leaves, eggshells, coffee... no meat.

start 2 bins. this way each year you can use one bin while the other ages a year
 
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Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
Awesome advice, Faust. My only resistance to the walk-behind tiller is my very full shed of equipment, much of which is already used only a few times each year. It could be another large item to buy and maintain. Is the tilling a once per year activity, for which I might not mind driving to pick up a rental, or something you end up doing a few times each year.

That... and I'm going to hate myself while sweating behind a tiller, with that nice tractor sitting there in plain sight. ;lol I'm not certified old yet, but I'm clearly headed that direction.

Why did the soaker make weeding a pain? Since I wouldn't want to hit the irrigation with plow or tiller, I was debating between removable (eg. soaker hoses) or spray heads mounted up on the fence posts. Obviously the soakers are more efficient, but that's not the only consideration.
 
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Montanalocal

Feeling the Heat
Dec 22, 2014
494
Helena MT
I have over 60 years of large scale gardening experience, and consult with our local community gardens. Let me offer some thoughts on your garden.

Dealing with the grass will be your biggest problem. If it is not a rizominous grass then repeated tilling should kill it. If it is rizominous, you have a problem. It will take at least a year to kill everything.

Tilling with your tractor should probably be a one time occurrence to deal with the grass. After that you can put your fence up, and yes, a rototiller is a very good investment. They are the ideal tool to uniformly incorporate your compost in in the fall. Plows do not uniformly incorporate compost like a rototiller. I highly recommend the Sears black counterrotating model, I have tried a number of others and it is the best.

Then once you have one big garden, do not put permanent paths in. They will just get in the way of tillage.

I highly recommend you plant everything in beds, not rows. Make them 2-3 feet wide, enough that you can reach into from each side. Between beds, make your temporary paths as narrow as possible so as not to waste space. Simply mark out your beds, then walk back and forth alongside the beds a few time, and you have your path.

Within your beds plant as densely as you possibly can. You want the whole bed completely covered with plants. Once you get to mid summer, you should not be able to look down and see any soil in the beds. This is called self mulching.

Each plant will have its own spacing. Carrots for example can be planted two inches apart in each direction. Beets, onions etc. 4 inches, and so on. The best way to get an even spacing in each direction is to make little mini rows crosswise in you beds at the recommended spacing. Seed these rows with your normal technique, and you will have automatically spaced them apart the recommended spacing in one direction. Then when you do your thinning, you will only have to thin down each row to leave them in the recommended spacing in the other direction. The result is a plant every X inches in each direction covering the entire bed. It is important for good sized veggies that each plant has its own space. Most beginning gardeners do not thin near enough.

This technique enables one to get the maximum production per square ft. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but if you are serious about getting significant and substantial amounts of food, then something like this is the way you need to go. I get hundreds of pounds of easily stored root crops, and this year from Dixondale farms out of ten bundles of their onions I got 300 to 400 pounds of onions. They are still in storage, nice and firm.

I also highly recommend you do all your soil preparation work, adding amendments, etc in the fall. Then just till everything in, paths and all, and you will be all set to plant in the spring. Saves a bunch of time.

One other thing, about compost. I have tried every imaginable kind, and the best is composted tree bark. This is not the bark chips for paths, it is the the black broken down composted tree bark. It stays around for a few years and really helps the soil tilth. You can buy it in bags, or in bulk from sawmills, as they have to debark all their logs before running them through the saws, and they have mountains of it.

Some more tips. Run a 2X6 buried vertically all around the perimeter of your garden with its top at ground level. This will prevent most grass from creeping in around the edges. Overlap the ends of the individual boards a few inches, put a bead of silicon-seal between, and put a few 3 in. deck screws in the joint. They work much better than the plastic edging.

I would recommend you set up an above ground watering system, either a reciprocating or rain-bird type. The drip system does not uniformly wet the ground, which is vitally important when you have small tiny seedling trying to emerge uniformly over a bed type system.

Hope this gives you some ideas and is not too overwhelming.
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semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
4,218
SW Virginia
Having the space, money, and energy that you seem to have and knowing your penchant for "more power" maybe you could fence a larger area, use the tractor for row crops in a smaller area in the middle, and plant perennials including climbing plants around the inside and outside the fence, using the fence for support. Gourd crops work well in this area as you can hang gourds on the fence to prevent damage. Deer resistant plants (e.g. blueberries) go outside the fence. You'd probably need a mulched or turfed border area between the row area and outer border area to give your tractor some space to maneuver.

You could also build the fence so that sections are removable and your tractor and implement fit between the posts.

If you ever plan to keep chickens (maybe you already are) or install ground-mount solar PV consider how those are placed with respect to the garden. Solar PV just north of the garden can help increase garden insolation and ensure PV panel insolation, and chickens are great for pest control once you get past the seedling stage with plants. You need to be able to keep chickens out of the garden when you have seedings -- they'll scratch them up.

Personally, I prefer a more natural yet engineered approach using raised bed structures and no-till practices (http://tinyurl.com/hgdy2v7). I let the earth worms do most of the work for me. I'm on my 4th year of that versus tilling and am glad I went that way. I also have a tractor but it never enters the garden. I've been able to avoid pesticides thus far.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
Awesome responses, everyone. I really love that raised bed garden you linked, semipro. That is not what I had in mind, when I previously dismissed them. I could very much see that example working for me, although I'd probably start smaller, if building beds like that.

GGWTV-Raised-Beds-Reverse-Look-WM-LR-1024x690.jpg

My thought with the rows was that space is cheap (free), and plowing rows is cheap (fast), so why not just burn some space and get it done? But it seems no one is recommending planting in rows, so beds it is!

I see the example above has beds 18 inches high. In my case, a high and dry plateau as the chosen place for the gardens, I wonder if I'd be just as well settling for beds that aren't quite as tall and tilling deeper below the beds (almost a compromise between raised bed and Montanalocal's flat beds) would do me well. If I did raised beds like those shown above, and wanted to avoid pressure-treated wood, I'd be looking at $500 per bed to do them in white oak.

What I like above the above is the modularity, and ability to keep the rows and aisles neat, as well as obvious separation from the lawn. Split-rail fences are easily enough expanded and reconfigured.
 

EatenByLimestone

Super Moderator
Staff member
Split rail isn't going to work with deer.

You don't need 4x oak either. Pine will last a good, long time. My 2x beds are cheap 2x10s and 2x12s and are doing fine at 7 years now. The ones at the previous house are looking a bit rough and were put in in 04.
 

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
4,218
SW Virginia
One thing that's good about raised beds is that you can use a "french intensive" or "square foot garden" approach where dense plantings control weeds. I also rotate crops around the beds to prevent disease and pests. The raised beds do not have to be as high as those in the photo but higher beds are easier to work.
We use higher fences constructed of agricultural panels made of galvanized steel rod and attached to a galvanized fence post framework. I've seen split rail fences with mesh wire extensions above them to keep deer out.
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,178
Sand Lake, NY
Or, you could put a deer fence around your entire property, hah.
I say had, but we've gone on numerous flower garden tours where the nice houses have a considerable area fenced in.
 

Dobish

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2015
2,038
Golden CO
the really nice thing about beds is it is easier to weed, you don't have to bend down, and you can work 1 bed at a time without having to work the entire area. you an even use one of those metal things with a blade at the end to turn the dirt, what are those things called again? :)

Beds also make it easier to define the space and walk around the area. Make sure you are able to stay on top of maintaining the plants, as once they take off, a lot of lettuces, etc will bolt and you will be eating bitter tasting plants. deadheading is your friend, and you will get much longer production out of plants.

Look at various methods for picking and maintaining the plants, as certain plants act differently.

Plan for bigger, but you don't have to build it bigger. I have always found that I extend my gardens and wish I had started out bigger. Eating fresh veggies is fantastic, so when I started out last year with 4 raised beds, I knew it wasn't going to be enough. I am going to be doing some containers and some additional growing types this year. Eventually i want to do something a bit bigger out back, with a fence, but I also like having it in the front, by the kitchen.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
7,701
Northern NH
I have a new garden roughed in for spring. I have the corner posts set for the fencing. In addition to deer I need to deal with moose.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
Split rail isn't going to work with deer.

You don't need 4x oak either. Pine will last a good, long time. My 2x beds are cheap 2x10s and 2x12s and are doing fine at 7 years now. The ones at the previous house are looking a bit rough and were put in in 04.
You're right that deer will jump right over split rail in open space, but they're unlikely to jump over it into a crowded garden. I know this from my own experience with them, and Googling the subject has brought up several guides that seem to agree. They are likely to duck UNDER the split rail, but I had planned wire mesh attached to the inside of the split rail (and trenched into the ground) to keep smaller critters out, anyway.

I was thinking about making them out of fir or even pine, but thought it wouldn't last in direct contact with earth. In fact, I was wondering if corrugated drain board or even rigid blue insulation could be used to separate the soil from the wood inside the bed, which would eliminate a lot of the concerns with pressure treated wood, or conversely help untreated softwood last longer.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
I have a new garden roughed in for spring. I have the corner posts set for the fencing. In addition to deer I need to deal with moose.
I'm guessing they don't need to waste energy jumping over fences, they can just push it down!
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
7,701
Northern NH
Moose tend to run on autopilot, once they set up a game trail, they keep using it. If something changes on part of the game trail they just barge right through it. My septic system leach field was built on a moose trail years ago. I had to get cover growing on it to get the final sign off. They would walk through it almost nightly until I dropped a few trees in the middle of the path on both sides.

I dug down about 2' on the new garden plot and pulled all the rocks out, then filled it with 2" of new loam last summer. I didn't see a lot of hoof prints so I may just get lucky. Unfortunately the winter tick is hitting the moose in Northern NH hard so that's dropping back the population as the calves are mostly all dead by the end of the winter.
 

xman23

Minister of Fire
Oct 7, 2008
2,467
Lackawaxen PA
As said build the fence. I've seen deer go over a 8 foot fence, standing still.
 

Easy Livin’ 3000

Minister of Fire
Dec 23, 2015
2,942
SEPA
I like where you are going, Ashful. I have a LARGE garden near you, and can speak to the specific problems that you will encounter. Deer and groundhogs and squirrels and chipmunks and racoons will destroy your crops, but only right before they are ripe enough for you to eat and have spent months of time and effort.

You might start with your exclusion plan first, and you have two options, heavy artillery that will be very expensive and intrusive and labor intensive, or, you can outsmart them for way less of all of the above. Do a Google search on deer exclusion fences, and the study conducted at the University of Nebraska is what you are looking for, to weigh your options. The outsmarting option involves a three strand electric fence that is cheap, easy, and unabtrusive. Also keeps the groundhogs out if executed correctly. And, it is easy to take down and put up, so you can keep your options open regarding using your tractor and rows. Corn, squash and some other crops are ill suited for raised beds.
 
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Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
As said build the fence. I've seen deer go over a 8 foot fence, standing still.
Our deer barely move out of my way when I go out to get wood. I could literally hunt deer in my yard with a frying pan. ;lol
 

Dr.Faustus

Minister of Fire
Awesome advice, Faust. My only resistance to the walk-behind tiller is my very full shed of equipment, much of which is already used only a few times each year. It could be another large item to buy and maintain. Is the tilling a once per year activity, for which I might not mind driving to pick up a rental, or something you end up doing a few times each year.

That... and I'm going to hate myself while sweating behind a tiller, with that nice tractor sitting there in plain sight. ;lol I'm not certified old yet, but I'm clearly headed that direction.

Why did the soaker make weeding a pain? Since I wouldn't want to hit the irrigation with plow or tiller, I was debating between removable (eg. soaker hoses) or spray heads mounted up on the fence posts. Obviously the soakers are more efficient, but that's not the only consideration.


I till once or twice a year. its a largish cub cadet tiller. I had a small ryobi weed wacker attachment deal but it was more work than a shovel. the rear tine tiller with drive wheels was the way to go - at least for me. It loosens the soil nice and mixes in my compost/manure pretty good. You do have to put some muscle into it but a whole lot less than a shovel and or the mini tiller. I do sometimes till at the end of the season and then again at the very beginning before planting.

The soaker hose is a major pain because the garden needs weeding every weekend. if you do it often, a few passes with a hoe does the job easy. I would have to either work around the soaker hose or remove the soaker hose each time i weeded and re set it up. I used the hose on a timer.

If I were you i would build the fence to accommodate the tractor. Then experiment with making a spray bar for the garden. I might even try this. PVC low around the perimeter of the garden and drill tiny holes along it. low enough so that it is hooked up to the fence but doesnt really wet the leaves. then hook it to a hose and a timer. this way there is nothing on the ground to get in the way.

btw leftover wire fence makes great tomato cages. cut a piece, roll in a circle and cut the wires so you can fold them over the other side so it stays in a cylinder shape. on the bottom, cut the first horizonal wire so that it leaves the vertical spikes. these hold it in the ground. far outlasts store cages with bad welds and too small sizes.
 
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Dr.Faustus

Minister of Fire
about deer fence - i hand cut a picket fence around my entire backyard. 4.5 feet high. used 4x4 posts in cement, 1x4x6 pickets (pointy top) and 2x4 rails. nothing short of a speeding car might get through it and it might even stop a prius. I didnt do this to keep deer out - my garden fence is higher for that but i did it just to keep the dog in so he can play and roam about freely.

the first WEEK it was up, a deer tried to jump over it, landed on the fresh cut pickets and impaled himself to death right there on the fence. What a nightmare. I have pictures but might be too gory to post here. i had to take apart a whole panel, remove the few hundred pound deer, pressure wash the wood and put it back together.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
How'd the deer taste?

I've been trying to spend my spare time watching YouTube videos on raised beds, and see lots of folks growing corn in them on 1 sq ft spacings, sometimes tighter. Why is the supposition here that you can't do corn or squash in a raised bed?

For water, why not just put a pop-up irrigation spray head or two in each bed, and be done with it? I'm not into custom, when accurately-metered commercial options are cheap and available.
 

Easy Livin’ 3000

Minister of Fire
Dec 23, 2015
2,942
SEPA
Our deer barely move out of my way when I go out to get wood. I could literally hunt deer in my yard with a frying pan. ;lol
I know exactly what you mean. But, if you deliver a harmless shock to them as they try to slip through the three strands of electrified wire, they will associate that place in your yard with a discomfort that they really want to avoid. In my experience, they learn after two experiences to avoid the place. They don't try to jump over the fence, because it is so unobtrusive to them. Behavior modification. Outsmart them.

How'd the deer taste?

I've been trying to spend my spare time watching YouTube videos on raised beds, and see lots of folks growing corn in them on 1 sq ft spacings, sometimes tighter. Why is the supposition here that you can't do corn or squash in a raised bed?

For water, why not just put a pop-up irrigation spray head or two in each bed, and be done with it? I'm not into custom, when accurately-metered commercial options are cheap and available.

You can grow corn and squash in raised beds. I do, but I can tell you that it is not optimal. Corn should be planted in bunches that allow the individual stalks to support one another and also for pollination. Three or four rows spaced out a foot apart is not quite enough- I know, its what I have been doing for years. And I feel that if you are not going to plant more than a dozen or two corn plants, it is really not worth the effort for the resulting harvest. The squash and cucumber plants will sprawl over the sides of the raised beds and into your walkways and then into your other beds. Of course you could select bush varieties to minimize these issues, but I don't like being limited to bush varieties.

I am working on a section that will be about 10' wide, and once that is ready, the grain and squash will be planted there. I am somewhat limited by space (only because the rest of the acreage is still too wooded and I have only so much sunlight) and pitch, so I am more or less using terracing. If I was planting on open, flat ground, I'd have a bunch of raised beds and some traditional row space for the grains and squash, and some other beds that were lined but not raised more than a few inches.

If you use spray irrigation, it will work and be pretty convenient. But the more you get your plants wet, the more disease you will have in the plants. I doubt you have any of the water efficiency concerns that others in arid places have, where drip and soaker irrigation shine, particularly if you have a well. I keep my plants dry by hand watering at the base and using soaker hoses. They will have enough wet based diseases (fungus, etc.) here in southeast PA without me adding to the problem by spraying them down on the days that they have a chance to dry out.

One other thing I wanted to mention. You seem like a very busy guy, I think I read that you get most of your wood work done in two or three long weekends by necessity of time constraint. Even a medium sized garden is very time consuming and labor intensive (and this is after you have all of your initial layout work done). You up for that?
 
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Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,677
Philadelphia
I know exactly what you mean. But, if you deliver a harmless shock to them as they try to slip through the three strands of electrified wire, they will associate that place in your yard with a discomfort that they really want to avoid. In my experience, they learn after two experiences to avoid the place. They don't try to jump over the fence, because it is so unobtrusive to them. Behavior modification. Outsmart them.



You can grow corn and squash in raised beds. I do, but I can tell you that it is not optimal. Corn should be planted in bunches that allow the individual stalks to support one another and also for pollination. Three or four rows spaced out a foot apart is not quite enough- I know, its what I have been doing for years. And I feel that if you are not going to plant more than a dozen or two corn plants, it is really not worth the effort for the resulting harvest. The squash and cucumber plants will sprawl over the sides of the raised beds and into your walkways and then into your other beds. Of course you could select bush varieties to minimize these issues, but I don't like being limited to bush varieties.

I am working on a section that will be about 10' wide, and once that is ready, the grain and squash will be planted there. I am somewhat limited by space (only because the rest of the acreage is still too wooded and I have only so much sunlight) and pitch, so I am more or less using terracing. If I was planting on open, flat ground, I'd have a bunch of raised beds and some traditional row space for the grains and squash, and some other beds that were lined but not raised more than a few inches.

If you use spray irrigation, it will work and be pretty convenient. But the more you get your plants wet, the more disease you will have in the plants. I doubt you have any of the water efficiency concerns that others in arid places have, where drip and soaker irrigation shine, particularly if you have a well. I keep my plants dry by hand watering at the base and using soaker hoses. They will have enough wet based diseases (fungus, etc.) here in southeast PA without me adding to the problem by spraying them down on the days that they have a chance to dry out.

One other thing I wanted to mention. You seem like a very busy guy, I think I read that you get most of your wood work done in two or three long weekends by necessity of time constraint. Even a medium sized garden is very time consuming and labor intensive (and this is after you have all of your initial layout work done). You up for that?
Awesome info, Ed. Yeah, the time is the daunting part. I'm crazy busy these days, with the kids just coming online in sports and such, on top of my perpetual list of my own projects. I was hoping that beyond getting it set up, and the major planting and clean-out each year, that I could handle maintenance in a few minutes each evening, and maybe less than an hour each weekend. Hence the automatic wiring, with a smart weather-link controller. Is this unrealistic?

Those I've seen doing corn in raised beds are doing about 50 plants in a 4' x 8' bed. Maybe not ideal, but they are reporting success. At the same time, I have space, so doing as you are currently planning would be an option as well.

Disease, rot... yes. I have no problem running a soaker hose or similar solution in each bed. Just trying to find the best option, based on recommendations from those who've been there. Once I get a line run from the valve to each bed, the rest can be reconfigured as necessary.

I have a habit of jumping all-in on projects like this, which is something I often regret. It may be best to start off small, with this, maybe just two 3' x 10' beds, or something similar. I have other benefits of running the irrigation line up here, anyway (i.e. having water near my shop and chicken coop), so it's not entirely lost effort if this gardening thing doesn't take.
 

Easy Livin’ 3000

Minister of Fire
Dec 23, 2015
2,942
SEPA
Awesome info, Ed. Yeah, the time is the daunting part. I'm crazy busy these days, with the kids just coming online in sports and such, on top of my perpetual list of my own projects. I was hoping that beyond getting it set up, and the major planting and clean-out each year, that I could handle maintenance in a few minutes each evening, and maybe less than an hour each weekend. Hence the automatic wiring, with a smart weather-link controller. Is this unrealistic?

Those I've seen doing corn in raised beds are doing about 50 plants in a 4' x 8' bed. Maybe not ideal, but they are reporting success. At the same time, I have space, so doing as you are currently planning would be an option as well.

Disease, rot... yes. I have no problem running a soaker hose or similar solution in each bed. Just trying to find the best option, based on recommendations from those who've been there. Once I get a line run from the valve to each bed, the rest can be reconfigured as necessary.

I have a habit of jumping all-in on projects like this, which is something I often regret. It may be best to start off small, with this, maybe just two 3' x 10' beds, or something similar. I have other benefits of running the irrigation line up here, anyway (i.e. having water near my shop and chicken coop), so it's not entirely lost effort if this gardening thing doesn't take.