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Apr 15, 2009 08:22 AM

Dream Garden: 2 years away!

We own a piece of property on the east coast (Zone 6a) and are planning to move there in just 24 short months. The kitchen garden is my pet project and I have mapped it out on paper.

I have been researching from local gardening books and, as time gets closer, will join a local garden club (though most seem geared to flowers, in which I have little interest-mostly you can't eat 'em!).

Last year, we put in a well-protected asparagus bed. Well-protected because we share the land with white-tail deer, rabbits and chipmunks. Asparagus (from seed) because it will take 3 years until harvest.

We are also reviving some ancient Macintosh and Russet apple trees (the land was once an orchard). We have pruned back into shape and are fertilizing.

Beyond my favourite annuals (peas, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes), I have some perennials in mind: blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb.

Given that we can't be there more than 2 or 3 times during the growing season and maintenance is a once-a-week hour or two from a local organic gardening student team, can I reasonably make an advance on anything beyond the asparagus? planting? bed prep? building enclosures?

What else could I do to feed the need to plan?

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  1. We moved Memorial Day weekend 2007 and began major house renovations. I discovered lasagna gardening that year so when time and materials were available I started layering a garden. This worked a lot better than trying to dig a garden because the old sod was very deep. We collected old grass clippings from a neighbor, used our own plus had old leaves, etc to layer. A lasagna bed starts off with a layer of wet newspapers right on top of sod and then layers of composting materials. In spring 2008 we topped it off with a layer of composted horse manure and shavings. Our 2008 garden was wonderful. Originally I think I built up at least 24" of lasagna layers but now the garden is only slightly higher than the surrounding sod. I recommend building a lasagna garden the year before your move so it will be ready for planting your first year.

    We also had to hurriedly open up a garden bed just to hold plants from the old house. The new owners (son and DIL) didn't want any of my perennials. My lovely kitchen herb garden at the old house is now a grilling area. Surely there are some flowering plants you will want and surely you will want some perennial herbs. A well-mulched bed won't need a lot of weeding ... just avoid planting things like mint that can take over a bed. A holding bed will also allow you to test out the hardiness of plants before you place them in a permanent location. It will also give you a chance to get some good growth so you can divide plants the year you move in.

    You might also want to start a wildlife area or at least have a few shrubs and trees the birds will enjoy. In addition to those you listed, we also host wild turkeys, porcupines and skunks. I have planted a cottoneaster and a small growing viburnum next to the poles that hold the bird feeders. On my wish list is a crab apple that has tiny fruit that cedar wax wings like.

    Best wishes.

    7 Replies
    1. re: dfrostnh

      dfrostnh: Thank you for the lasagna bed idea...great name, great notion..and the holding bed idea works for me, too...I can make this close to the house and plant one or two sample things before I get carried away.

      Yes, there will be herbs...there is already a lavendar bed (which has bolted) and I put in summer savoury last year-thats a Newfoundland (my original home) thing and very hardy.

      The asparagus bed is a raised enclosed bed with a removeable wire "cage" on top (about 3' x 8'). I am debating 4 or 5 of those versus jumping right in with a large 40 x 40 fenced enclosure. ( We can and will start bed prep next year and I am going to start saving newspapers right now)

      Any opinion on cow manure versus horse manure? There is a dairy farm down the road.

      As to the wildlife, you made me grin about the welcome you have provided for your guests. We have 3 acres fronting on the ocean and backed by a couple of miles of deep woods before hitting water again: the deer, foxes, pheasants, rabbits, skunks, eagles, jays, egrets, hummingbirds, etc definitely know this land belongs to them and treat US as intruders!

      I have already been warned by neighbours that we will have to do battle for every edible crop we grow, but thats okay, they were here first and they are part of what makes this place so special.

      1. re: LJS

        LJS, I have to admit I do not plan on growing corn. We tried all sorts of deterrents at our other house. The first year or two we had a great crop but then the racoons discovered it. A radio playing all night in the middle of the planting seemed to work for awhile. Then we went to an electric fence and were still outwitted.

        Last year the composted horse manure was a great find but I'll take what I can get. I've talked with a horse owner who won't use horse manure because of the weed problem. I think I recall that because cows have 4 stomachs they do a better job of digesting the seeds. Last fall we got some very fresh cow/steer manure which we put on two of the new lasagna beds for the winter. I hope others will chime in on the manure debate. I have hopes that I'll see some free chicken manure on Craigslist. Fortunately my husband is willing to haul manure in a borrowed utility trailer.

        Right now you could start composting with worms where you live now. Mine live happily in a modified plastic tub from Target. I bought red wigglers from 'the worm lady' at the farmers market. A neighbor says she puts a handful of worm compost under each tomato plant. I will do that this year. The worms will multiply as long as they have plenty of food. If you have to go away for a week or two, they will be fine. If food gets scarce they stop multiplying.

        You are so fortunate to have an established lavendar bed. NH winters can be harsh on plants. I hope to grow alpine strawberries from seed this year to have enough for an eventual border. Our little granddaughters think picking strawberries is great fun.

        Years ago our neighbors thought racoons were getting their corn but only a couple of stalks would be torn down. Turned out it was their own dog who liked corn.

        1. re: dfrostnh

          DFrostnh: I have a hunch that I will be thanking you for a long time to come!

          I found (the original?) Lasagna Gardening article by Patricia Lanza at

          I shared it with my husband who will provide the brawn for the garden layout. We both agreed that this is exactly the method and the encouragement we have been looking for. We even have all the cardboard boxes left over from the move and our intermittent re-cycling depot visits. We will have the newspapers needed to get started. We are composting already. And then the dairy farm down the road and seaweed close to hand! Couldn't imagine a better set-up for this type of garden (though we will be contending with years/centuries of old pine-needles in the soil).

          Thank you SO much... BTW, we live on the South Shore near Lunenburg in Nova Scotia (well, we will soon) so I suspect our winters are not too dissimilar. from what you get in NH. We get less snow, for sure, but more dramatic upheavals in temperature. Let us know what happens with the strawberries as that is also a crop I would like to start.

          And we are agreed: leave the corn to others!

          1. re: dfrostnh

            I read that if you plant winter squash between the corn rows that deters raccoons 'cause they don' t like to step on those leaves. I tried it a few years ago (when I was over zealous in the size of my garden) and sure enough no raccoons. But the corn did have worms, but that's somethin else . . .

            1. re: NYchowcook

              I've heard that the worms only go for the sweetest corn :)

          2. re: LJS

            I would start very, very small with your garden and see if you will be able to come up with methods to thwart the animals. We can romanticize it as much as we want to but gardening in that kind of environment is a HUGE challenge. A friend of mine who is the best amateur gardener I know finally gave up on anything that is outside the fenced area. And 40x40 will probably feed the whole community!!! I recomended on another thread the book The Square Foot Garden. You might see if your library has it.

            Re manure, you may want to check to see if there are any llama ranches in your area. Llama manure isn't "hot" like others are and can go straight from the "source" into your garden.

            1. re: c oliver

              Square Foot Garden is an excellent recommendation.

        2. I'm interested in "green manure" and cover crops. I wonder if it would be good to do some passive soil amendment by planting beneficial cover crops in areas that you will want to plant in the future, then plow it under at the end of the season.

          4 Replies
          1. re: WCchopper

            WC: I am a complete novice when it comes to the technique you are describing. As a child, I recall farmers fields lying fallow and/or being planted with clover. But this is, I suspect, hopelessly out of date.

            What cover crop would be the best soil boost in Zone 6a?

            The plot of land I have my eye on lies in full sun, is part neglected lawn (grass and weeds), part brush with some rocks, and, as we live at the edge of a mixed hardwood, pine forest, is likely quite full of decomposed pine needles. There is lots of rich loam just beneath the surface, but piney.

            1. re: LJS

              Since you have two years, you can start ridding the future garden plot of the rocks by digging them out. I've killed grass and weeds by laying down black plastic. You might be able to find someone with a tractor to come in and till it all under for you, but most that I've had experience with won't come out for small jobs like that. Maybe you can borrow a neighbor's garden tiller. Snce you have two years that will probably be just about enough time to get all those "unsexy" jobs done. And then when you do arrive, ALL (hahaha) you have to do is keep it up.

              1. re: LJS

                I'm a novice myself, but have been told that legumes are generally good everywhere. An organic gardener I know plants peas in all of his spare or spring garden beds and then digs them under a few weeks before planting. He showed me the nitrogen on the roots of a pea plant- it was really interesting! Seeds of Change has some good information on other cover crops that might be more specific than what I can tell you.

                1. re: WCchopper

                  After living in Italy for some time and being spoiled by the varities of fresh beans, we definitely want to try fava beans (hold the Hannibal Lector jokes) and boroletti and peas for sure. One of my first memories is shelling peas in my Auntie Vi's garden in England and I'd like to offer something similar to a little one.

            2. The deer we have here in the West can jump any height fence shorter than 8 feet and can jump eight feet if the land slopes down to the fenced area. And to keep the rabbits and chipmunks out, you're going to have to have some type of barrier buried. That might keep you busy for the next two years :)

              Regarding cover crops, you can probably get info from the county extension office and also the master gardeners if they have one in that county.

              2 Replies
              1. re: c oliver

                Coliver: yep...looks like there some muscle-building labour in our future!

                Our deer are white-tail deer and though I have seen them jump,I don't think they could make it up and over what we have in mind... we are patterning our fence after a friend who has a long-time veggie bed, totally surrounded in coastal Maine, right near a wildlife sanctuary where there are similar visitors. Her fence is around 8-9 feet. I recognize this is ugly, (chainlink?), but am hoping that the beans and peas will grow up there, maybe tomatoes, too, and soften the look without getting in the way of sunlight for interior plants.

                Dfrostnh: do you post on Fodors or is there someone else out there with the same name...I don't know which would be the more intriguing co-incidence!

                1. re: LJS

                  Ugly be damned!!!!! Gotta keep those deer out :) You're going to love it, I'm sure.

              2. Reading your post made me so wistful. I stumbled onto a long forgotten notebook filled with my garden ideas. Be sure to enjoy the process and plan carefully. My poor husband has moved more plants than he would care to recall. But 5 years into our giant project of a farm we have lots of chickens and ducks, one lone sheep, all manner of veggie beds and a pretty big orchard.

                My garden antics and strange doings have probably brought many laughs to our neighbors. Their first laugh was probably when I asked "How hard would it be to keep a cow?"

                Next on my list are goats.

                Lucky you to have student helpers!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sal Vanilla

                  Sounds wonderful and very encouraging to me...tell me, were you already experienced with farm life when you embarked on this, the veggies, ducks, chickens and sheep? neither of us have even done anything ambitious with either flora or fauna before (just city gardens and pet ownership). But we are big on research and listening to our neighbours (real farmers, with cows and cabbage). I have faith!