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Finally....an excuse to put in a garden, after 30 years of farm stands

When we got married in the 70s, my husband was really into gardening (runs in the family) and we had amazing "square foot" vegetables that were the talk of the town. Since then we never had the right light, plus my job became a 24/7 gig in the summer so I got out of the habit. Now I find myself prematurely "retired" and am so psyched to dig up a nice patch on our acre of yard and get going again this spring.

So refresh my memory please. Should I be starting a compost pile now or is it too late (Long Island NY)? Should I rent a rototiller in the spring or should I hire someone? (Probably will only start with 20 x20 I'm thinking). Home Depot is 3 minutes away. I go to the gym but hear it's pretty rough on your body to do yourself. I'm positive it will be half tomatoes, the rest eggplant, zuccini, lettuce and maybe radish, but always something new and interesting too, any suggestions on must haves? I've always done herbs up on the front porch and will continue to do so, easier when I'm cooking. Should I do from seed the first year or just buy seedlings because there will so much other work involved? Raised beds or ground level? I can't wait til next year to really learn about canning too, so far all I've done is jams and mostardos.

I don't know too many people that have gardens anymore, plenty of farm stands around here but their prices are getting too high with my new status in life. So I come here to you, my Chowpals, in case you have any words of wisdom. TIA!

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  1. Kudos to you!! I was born & raised on Long Island, & it was a gardening paradise for me.

    First off - it's never too late to start a compost pile. Go to it.

    As far as raised beds - that's up to you. I make impromptu raised beds here by just tossing the soil up into mounds. It definitely helps due to our clay soil.

    What you grow is definitely up to you - but definitely grow what YOU enjoy cooking/eating. And while starting from seed is interesting - particularly since you have so many varieties to choose from - if I were you, I'd probably do a little of both. Start some greens, beans, & squash from seed; buy a few seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Breezychow

      Thanks I was thinking to buy everything this year already growing, and then expand into seeds after that. I was also thinking to get chickens and maybe even a goat right away but found a website that said, one thing at a time! Guess I waited a bit too long, I'm all revved up.

    2. I'm another retired gardener. It's not too late to start a compost pile. Lawn clippings and fall leaves should get you started for next year. If your dirt is fairly good, in-ground plants should do fine. Mine is not, so I put some herbs, radish, squash, cucumbers, cress, kale and some tomatoes in the ground, more lettuce, herbs, broccoli and eggplant in raised beds, and peppers and some tomatoes in containers. Going from seed is fun, but you need a sunroom, greenhouse or artificial light setup to make it work. Why not buy mostly plants the first year and try some lettuce and radish from seed until you figure out how much work you want to do. Check out sites like Johnny's Seeds and Daves Garden who provide lots of advice. Look up layering or lasagna methods of creating new beds that avoid the pain of rototilling. Be sure to protect young plants from hungry critters (a tip from bitter experience!).

      4 Replies
      1. re: DonShirer

        We have plenty of deer here but the neighbors complain about the gophers more. Time will tell I guess, maybe time to get a dog too!!

        Good to know that lawn clippings and leaves are good, I've got PLENTY of both. I've always felt guilty throwing out all my kitchen scraps but hope if I just throw them out in the pile the wild animals won't start pulling it apart. When we had our old garden, we discovered the most massive colony of ants had taken the mulch over, we had to throw the whole thing in the woods far far away. It was like a horror movie, and scares me about an open compost pile. I always thought I should get some type of container this time.....

        We have top soil and then lots of sand, most plants seem to love it. I always wonder if everyone makes the raised gardens because they look neater? Agway usually has a nice selection of seeds but you're right, I'll just pick a few easy ones at first. Wish I had a window greenhouse but may have to get a gro lite set up like we used to have, my house plants take up all the sunniest windows. After next year, I'd love to save seeds from my favorite plants and play around with that too.

        1. re: coll

          I made a compost container out of an old 30-gal plastic garbage can: cut a circle out of the bottom with a reciprocating saw, drill a bunch of holes around the sides with a largish drill bit. Put it upside-down in the garden and put the lid on top, weighted down with a brick. (We also cut an access panel with the recip. saw but that part got a little tricky). I throw in my kitchen scraps and some shredded newspaper every now & then. It's probably functioing more like a worm bin than a compospile - I don't turn it or tend it much at all - but the good get broken down eventually and ther'es no smell, no trouble with small critters.

          I save fallen leaves separately to use as mulch around my tomatoes - make it thick enough an no weeding all summer long! My sis-in-law swears by fallen leaves, too. For the last 20 years all they've done is pile leave onto their garden before the deep freeze. In the spring they push 'em aside and plant the tomatoes.

          1. re: coll

            PS something that might be fun to try is sorrel. It's a perennial and it might not bee too late to sprinkle some seeds on the ground to get started for next spring. I'm in zone 6 (north of Boston) and my sorrel is usually up in March, very pickable by early April. It's fun to have a fresh green from the garden so early. Plus a roasted beet and sorrel salad is awesome.

            If you can get your hands on some garlic bulbs or multiplier onions, you can get them in the ground now for next summer's harvest, too. throw some leek or scallion seeds around now and they'll be ready for you to eat in mid-late spring, too.

            1. re: gimlis1mum

              Oh I grew sorrel up on the porch this summer, maybe I can plant what I have left next spring. It was a really hardy plant. I always wanted to try planting the ends of fennel, or throwing some shallots from the grocery in the ground and see what happens.

              Thanks for idea of a garbage can, I'll use my rottiest old one; buying a brand new one to replace it will be lots cheaper than the composters I see for sale. So just add things through the hole in the top? and then cover with the lid. Very smart.

        2. And sweet corn! You'll want peas and kohlrabi too. From seed. No one eats kohlrabi like they used to. Or spell it correctly either. I hope I did though.

          Maybe think of raspberries or blackberries at time point. That's a longer term thing.

          4 Replies
          1. re: FireFlyFiftyFive

            Oh I know, everyone is doing corn, and usually in the front yard for some reason. More useful than a hedge I guess. And peas definitely, thanks for reminding me.

            My yard is half wild and is covered with wild blueberry, raspberry and strawberries that must have been there before the house was built. Must have been part of a farm is my guess. As a matter of fact, where I plan to put the garden there isn't even any grass, it's all strawberries although I keep it mowed so no fruit. The ones that invaded my front garden have the most luscious strawberries in the spring, if I can beat the squirrels to it.

            1. re: FireFlyFiftyFive

              You spelled kohlrabi correctly — one of my favorites too!

              1. re: odkaty

                Is kohlrabi related to broccoli rabe? I use that enough. I definitely want some unusal things in there.

                1. re: coll

                  I don't grow either but like different things. You'll find them in the seed catalogs I just posted. Some catalogs have a great variety of Asian greens, too. Plus, when you grow your own, you discover that different varieties taste different. I grew dinosaur kale for the first time this year but my husband doesn't care for kale salads. I like them. I'll keep experimenting with recipes. This kind of kale as long narrow leaves. Also have Gilfeather turnips for the first time. Husband doesn't care for anything in the cabbage family very much but this is a very tender, sweet rutabaga with a white flesh.

            2. If you are planning to dig up lawn, spade it this fall to kill the grass and let it compost in place. Bonus points for adding a layer of leaves before spading. Waiting until spring to till grass or other perennial vegetation is a mistake. Spend half an hour a day spading to start. Buy a good spade with handle appropriate for your height, sharpen the blade with a file periodically and learn to spade with your legs doing some of the lifting. If you are going to use raised beds, leave strips of turf for walkways when you do the initial spading. Building and maintaining organic matter is key for good tilth. If you must use a rotary tiller, try not to overwork the soil.

              Never plant members of the nightshade family in the same bed two years in a row because of risk of soil-born disease buildup. Once in three or four years is better. Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant are members of the nightshade family.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Eldon Kreider

                So much good advice, thank you!

                Guess I better start mapping a layout, if I dig a little at a time (and with the warmer winter weather lately I can work on it throughout the winter) maybe I won't need a rototiller. I would like that.

              2. Go for it! I have about an acre that I cultivate in NJ and there's nothing like the tase or satisfaction of growing your own. Fall is a great time to start compost, since you have so many leaves avaialble. By a cheap square tarp at Home Depot and keep your compost covered, it will cook all through the winter. I used to be a purist, but now use a compost starter if I don't have a lot of green matter to offset the amount of leaves. Zucchini & radishes you can do from seed. I'd also recommend any kind of beans from seed, but I agree, grow what you like to eat. If you don't have experience rototilling, you might be better off getting someone to do it for you.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bropaul

                  A few years back I tried to get some guy from the Pennysaver to rototill, what a flake. A different excuse everytime I called, and when I finally said forget it he was irate. Guess that's why I was thinking of doing it myself.

                  Thanks, the tarp sounds like a great idea, and I will keep compost starter in mind. I have a Cornell Extension in the area, since farming is pretty big around here. Offices in town for testing soil and whatnot, plus an experimental farm up on the country road. Good neighbors to have around, I use them all the time.