Need help starting sustainable garden : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Ok, I know this has probably been asked and answered before but I'm still unclear after hours of surfing the web and I'm exhausted. I really want to start sustainable gardening for vegetables on our small 5 1/2 acre place. Problem is I have no gardening knowledge or experience. As I stated, I have been researching on the web, but am unclear on what I need to do to get started. Composting simple as it may seem has boggled me. Should I sheet compost, bin or what to get started? Also, I know what I want to plant, but don't know when to plant it. I was thinking of tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cukes, raddishes and maybe some type of lettuce. I live in North Central Texas and have sandy loam type soil. I would like to buy a book on small scale sustainable gardening but don't know which title and author will give me the most bang for my buck. Please help me become a succesful sustainable gardenr!


-- David Valliant (, January 03, 2002


Get the book "Square Foot Gardening" - it will explain alot.

Does it frost where you are?

-- Paul Wheaton (, January 04, 2002.

I reccomend 3 books. Joy Of Gardening by Dick Raymond, Backyard Market Gardening by Andrew W. Lee and Sell What You Sow by Eric Gibson. The first because you sound very green about market gardening. The other two books give you many ideas of how to market,what you can market and tools of the trade. My personal favorite is Backyard Market gardening!! Also you need to find out about what your competition in that area is doing. I also have a preference for tillers,too! I know that in my favorite book they crow about the BCS, however I've talked to guys that sell BCS and they've encouraged me to stay away from them. I own a Troy-Bilt and had purchased it before I found out about the other. I would encourage you to cultivate the green thumb on a small scale to derive an idea of what you can produce in your area and the quanity. While I think of it! For small confined areas I hear the Mantis micro tiller is GREAT!!!

My favorite seed company is Rupp seed company. Last I knew their address was listed somewhere online, but they didn't have a web page. Also if you're serious about this, I've hired out for rototilling and people respond well to ads that state: Rototilling "the troy-bilt way" in the weekly off market shopper classified ads. Contact your local county extension office to learn more about your local home garden growing season, annual rainfall, last frost and other pertinent things like that!!

Hope this helps! Good Luck!

-- Katie (, January 04, 2002.

Forgot to tell you about Totally Tomatoes seed catalog! Excellent selection of tomato and pepper seeds.

-- Katie (, January 04, 2002.

A good seed catalog like Jonny's selected seeds in Maine will tell you what varieties to plant when. They have a nice chart showing the Zone you live in, and what the veggie plants need for your location. Select a good location with good sunlight for 6 hours a day. If you have lots of weeds there, try baking them dead using a thick black plastic covering. This way the soil underneath will not get rain and will get too hot, and kill many weeds for you. After several hot days, remove the plastic and rake away the dead things. Double dig the soil. Dig down one layer, heap it aside your row, then dig another layer and add it to the pile. Then the next row you dig, you dig from the fresh ground and fill the first row with the soil, so that you work your way down the garden site. As you go, ammend the soil. A soil testing kit is good if you're wanting to be sure you have what you need. I use compost and add enough so that when I take a handfull of soil and squeeze it, it makes a firm ball that breaks when you press on it. Then it's not to sandy, and it doesn't have too much clay. So, then you'll have a good start. Well dug, less weeds, healthy soil, good location. Plant according to each variety's needs, and good luck! :)

For compost, what I do is just pile in layers, brown layer is like leaves or dirt, and the green layer is grass clippings or veggie peelings. Then turn it now and then and keep it wet. The worms will do the rest. If you don't have worms, you can get some. There is also a book called lasagna gardening that gives a good start without all the digging. You layer dirt, leaves, grass clippings,newspapers and food scraps and plant right in there. I wouldn't have thought it would work, but people have reported success with the system and it's easy with no waiting for stuff to decompose. It turns to soil as the plants grow. Long answer, but that's what I know. Just MHO, Bobbi

-- Bobbi (, January 04, 2002.

The absolutely very best vegetable raising book I have ever seen is "Vegetable Gardening for Dummies". It is in "real" language, tells you how to do it in simple terms without all the stuff about trying to raise prize winning vegetables. It also gives you several options for how to set up your garden and suggestions for timesavers. The chapters are set up so the basics come first and advanced stuff is last so it is easy to get started. You won't regret getting this one! You can order it online at or or check Ebay.

-- Karen (, January 04, 2002.

As far as buying books, don't buy books until you've had a chance to look at them. Go to your local library or book store and see if some of the titles that people have listed here are there. Otherwise you may wind up paying for a book you don't want and trying to get your money back out of it. Another good source to buy books is:


Also, I've bought used books on line before that I'm positive were brand new, but I sure loved the used price!

-- Katie (, January 04, 2002.

Hi David, I can't help you out about the sustainable garden procedure, but as for starting your'll need to first find out when your last spring frost is. To be sure check with local extension office, but it sounds as though your in Zone 7 and the last spring frost should be around April 1 - 30. For Tomatoes count back 6-8 weeks from the last frost date to start them indoors, then plant them out after all danger of frost is gone. Broccoli, and brussel sprouts should be started indooors 4-6 weeks before setting out. You can put these cold tolerant plants out before your last spring frost, more than likely 2-3 weeks before. However they shouldn't be put out to endure really hard frost, so keep an eye on them after setting out. I always plant my cukes, radishes and lettuce by direct seeding outdoors right where they will grow and you should be able to also with the zone your in. Cucumbers after last frost date, they need a soil temp of 70-95 degrees. Radishes and lettuce do better when sown outdoors when it is cooler. This is a very general overview. First find out your last frost date, there are good sites on the web also that can tell ya, then get a good seed catalog which will tell you how may weeks to start a particular seed indoors and most important.....have a good place to put them when ya do set them outside! Good luck to ya, don't get frustrated when you first start out, just keep on plugging away. The rewards are worth it! Hey, no matter what you hear, the most experienced gardeners make plenty of mistakes, just keep at it. As a side note, when I started garening here, I made a trip to town to the extension office. They have a ton of brochures for free that were invaluable to my particular area and alot of helpful advice. Check em out. (or a really nice gardening neighbor!) :)

-- Annie (, January 04, 2002.

David, you might want to have your soil tested first to see if it needs any amendments. The county extension office can do this for you. They can also recommend varieties suited to your area. Remember to start small so you won't be overwhelmed. Good luck!

-- cowgirlone (, January 04, 2002.

I made indoor growing lights very cheaply. First I bought a set of metal shelves from Lowe's for $14.00. Then I attached a flourescent shop light fixture to the bottom of each shelf. It has four shelves and the fixtures are about $7.00 apiece. Experience has also shown me that the less expensive regular bulbs grow just as good if not better than the plant growing bulbs. As stated above the book "Joy of Gardening" by Dick Raymond is an excellent book for the beginner, although it most definitely is a marketing tool for the Troy Built Tiller, which incidentally I own one and love it to death. The book covers soil improvement, seed starting, growing methods for individual vegetables, and many other topics, all clear and easily understandable with a lot of color pictures. Check your local feed store. They will stock seeds for what tends to grow the best in your area and can give you gardening advice, much cheaper than the catalogs, although I do buy many novelty items from the catalogs I cannot get locally. With all the information out there gardening has been made into "rocket science". Keep it simple and you will be surprised how productive and enjoyable it can be.

-- Reggie Fletcher (, January 04, 2002.

Free garden help --

Tons of gardeners from all over the country (and world) with tons of past experience in all matters. I've used their advice for any number of projects. I've got various bins going with various composting experiments, a couple lasagna beds now, & leaf mold bins -- as many systems as possible to make use of as much organic matter as possible.

Maybe it would be a good idea to review what you have in the way of compostable matter that you will be using in future? Do you have cows or horses whose manure you should be hot composting to kill any possible pathogens? Do you have a lot of deciduous trees providing leaves that producing leaf mold might be the way to go? Are you into raiding the local supermarket dumpsters and Starbucks for coffee grounds? Things like that may determine which methods to start out with.

I personally like raised bed gardening to conserve my soil. We're very sandy here (no loam) as well with very little organic matter in the soil, so as I build it up, I want it contained and not being lost, and I don't want it being walked on, compacted and wasted. I also like Square Foot (Mel Bartholomew's book) gardening techniques for weed suppression since it's not my favorite thing to be doing. I have 6 horses, plus access to the product from 20 others, so that is featured highly in my composting and soil composition.

My most recent gardening book addition was 'The Vegetable Gardener's Bible' by Edward C. Smith. You might ask your local library if they can order any of the books mentioned from their resources for you, read then, and see if any of them are helpful to where you are in terms of gardening and then decide which ones to buy copies of.

-- julie f. (, January 04, 2002.

mr. valiant,

get thee to the county extension agent! use what your taxes have paid for. they can also help get you adopted by a local master gardener.

they will give you nice printouts of local cash & home crops with planting dates, row spacing, harvest dates, #s expected at harvest, selling & storage info. SANDY LOAM, ohh, makes my grey & yellow clay jealous ->carrots you can grow 'em year round!

on compost, let it rot. bins & fluffing & additives are for someone with more time than you will have this spring. once you have topped the learning curve of being a 'new gardener' you will have time to make your compost a well oiled/watered/areated nutrient machine!

common disease and pest info wiil be in nice little booklets. but unless you are seriously lucky the answers will not be organic/sustainable. so i would reccomend a trip to the library for a look at the organic gardening section, or rodale press for natural or low toxic bug & disease control.

once your extension agent has given you the spring & fall frost dates, you can get a lot of use out of the stokes seed catalogue. wonderfull thing, nearly a textbook & free,free,free!

and just as a thanx you to me for my help ;], put 4 bags of leaves in a pile 12-24" deep somewhere in your garden. plant a couple of your tomatoes & cukes there & impress your master gardener with your blight free beauties.

-- bj pepper in C. MS. (, January 04, 2002.

My suggestion is start small and use block planting instead of rows. Expand cautiously as you gain competency. Good luck.

-- Mitzi Giles (, January 04, 2002.

I suggest you take advantage of the free resources; like county extension agents and Texas A&M University agricultural web site. A&M web site also lists a group called Texas Master Gardners,, that help people for free with their gardening.

-- BC (, January 04, 2002.

David - I recommend Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. It has a great chapter about how to look at your whole property and decide what to plant where, and where to start. Published by Chelsea Green. Worth the price.

-- Bob (, January 04, 2002.

David, I would like to add my nod to square foot gardening. If you have to spend money on a gardening book, be it that one. Mel Bartholemew shows the economy of his method, and you can adapt things like Lasagne Gardening (layering compost, and mulches, and building raised beds a planting in it.) French intensif, is having deep beds that don't get stepped in ever, not so wide that you can't reach the middle from either side, and planting so the plants, when mature will form a complete leaf canopy. Companion planting; you'll have to look into this for details. Anyway, a lot is explained easily in Mel's book. More bang than most books, I'd say. Check out your library.

-- roberto pokachinni (, January 04, 2002.

David, wouldn't it be lots easier if there was only one method? We had our first real garden last year and learned a lot! I read lots of material and was more baffled than I was before reading. Finally, I just decided to "dig" in and just do it. We had successes and failures. I followed the backs of the seed packets for the when to plant guides. And, I really learned a lot. We got way more than I expected of some things and way less of others. I say, follow your instincts, read, and just dig-in. You'll be surprised at how easily things will grow. Even in unexperienced hands. Good luck and enjoy!

-- cindy palmer (, January 05, 2002.

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