Beginner question: I've got a small backyard at my townhouse, and have
a space of weedy, poor soil along a shed there that I'd like to use
(thinking for tomatoes, basil, herbs, and such.) It's almost 2 feet
wide and 15 feet long, running between the shed and a straight stone
path. Gets a medium (at best) amount of sun, here in warm Virginia. Can
anyone advise the best way to get started?
I'm assuming I'll need some better soil, am wondering how much (and how
deep?), some stone or wood to help hold it in at the border, and am
trying to figure out best varieties of easy, fun stuff to grow. Stuff
that survives the woes of a beginning gardner!
Tool rec's for getting at those weeds?
Many thanks for all advice!
How much sun a day during the summer? 6 hrs is enough for the things you
list. However, tomatoes will do better in richer, wetter soil than
herbs, which prefer a drier, not quite so rich soil to develop best flavor.
Any idea of species of weeds there now? That'll give us some clues to the
type of soil, amount of sun, and nutrient level of the soil.
What's the shed made of? You may not want something really bushy
right up against a wooden structure. That way lies rot...
I'd start by simply pulling all the weeds you can at the moment, then
turning the soil over and pulling out as many roots as you can. Take
some of the soil you've turned over and mix a shovelful from several spots
along the wall in a clean bucket. Fill a clean glass jar or tall glass
about 1/3 full of the mixed soil, then up to about the 2/3 mark with
water. Shake or stir thoroughly (a couple of minutes!), and watch what
settles out in the next hour or so. Gravel and sand on the bottom,
then silt, then clay. Equal parts is supposed to be "ideal soil" -- but
you can grow good veggies in just about anything... you just need to be
mindful of your soil type and/or amend it to suit the crops you want to
Also moisten a handful of soil till it's about as damp as a washrag --
not drippy, but moist. Squeeze it hard. Now poke the lump you've just
made. Does it hold your finger impressions and not fall apart, and perhaps
feels a little greasy? You've got clay-rich soil, and it's not what you're
going to want for growing root crops like carrots and potatoes. Does it
fall apart with just a poke, but doesn't feel sandy? You've got a nice
loamy soil, and the envy of the rest of us. Does it feel very gritty?
You've got a sandy soil, good for root crops.
If you've got clay soils, don't dig or walk on them when they're wet...
you'll squeeze all the airspace out and plants won't do well. Amend
well with compost and save your sanity. <g>
Some easy veggie combinations for various soils and water regimens:
carrots, onions and potatoes or sweet potatoes: sandy soils
tomatoes (you'll probably want patio types in such a small area) + zucchini +
lettuce + peas and beans -- clay or loamy soils
basil, parsley, mint (watch out... this one gets away easily!), chives,
oregano, rosemary, nasturtium -- dry-ish soils, often clayish or sandy.
Not a bad looking combo: border of leaf lettuce, butterhead lettuce behind,
Hands, spading fork and hoe or japanese garden knife for later weeding.
Clean mulch so you don't have to weed so much, and you'll have fewer
disease problems. Buy a good spading fork -- you'll use it a lot. I like
the fiberglas handled jobbies with a D handle, rather than a straight
handle. Here's one that's passable:
This is similar to my favorite:
The forks with round tines are hay or manure forks, and not what you want.
More choices here: http://www.taunton.com/finegardening/pages/g00011.asp
A hoe can be cheap, as you're going to use it to get at weeds *before*
they're very big. This is what I'm calling
a garden knife... they call it an oriental garden tool:
http://www.superseeds.com/tools,_gloves,_etc.htm (BTW, Pinetree
(=superseeds.com) has been a good source of seeds and supplies over the years,
ime.) Keep your tools cleaned and oiled.
More info on various weeders here:
My favorite gardening book for newbies: Rodales Chemical-free Lawn and Garden
by Anna Carr et al. I see about 25 copies over on abe.com for under $10.
Kay, who gardens in icky sandy, gravelly clay soil in the pnw, and misses
her former prairie loams.
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