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Apr 13, 2012 06:34 AM

I'm a newbie gardener in N.J. (7a, not a parkway exit but our zone)

and I want to have a vegetable/herb garden in a portion of my backyard. My 1st inclination is to build 3 frames, fill them with topsoil and grow everything in there. Next I'd like to know about starting from seed vs. buying my plants and herbs from the nursery. I'm getting the impression from everything that I'm reading here that I'm too late to start from seed (not unhappy about that)
but for the future, does it make a difference? Thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. Hi jnk... I'm actually in Zone 6A but the process for preparing a garden is the same for every horticultural zone. Having frames is good because then rotating what you plant each season is very easy. But, I would not use top soil for the beds. You really don't know where that soil has come from..most likely hauled away from a building site with soil of questionable composition. First dig up the grass in the area where you'll put your frames then incorporate lots of composted organic material and aged composted manure into the soil. You can actually buy organic garden soil with amendments at the garden center of a big box store. And, choose a spot that gets full sun from 9 AM - 6 PM. That's a full day's growing length. This is important for strong and healthy plant growth.

    There are many web sites where you'll get seed-starting directions. I started All my vegetable and annual flowering plants for years. It's not difficult at all. Starting your own plants allows you to choose varieties that you don't ordinarily find in a grocery store.Buying plants from a good nursery saves a lot of time though.

    Take advantage of your state's University Extension Service. They'll have all the info you need for your garden. And they provide a list of which varieties of plants will do well in your location.

    1. Whether or not it's too late for seeds depends on what you're planning on growing. Some plants take only 30-60 days to mature, some can take well over 100 days. 7A is a decent length growing season. What kind of plants are you interested in growing? A lot of herbs are perennials in your climate (oregano, chives, parsley, etc.), so even if you start them from seed this year and don't get a big harvest, they'll come back next year.

      I start nearly everything from seed, but since you're new and it's late in the season I think it might be better to get your feet wet this year with buying some nursery plants, and then start from seed next year. Starting from seed, building and filling raised beds, and learning how to garden all at the same can be quite a bit of work. I would just work on building the beds and buying some plants and learning as much as you can, and then buy a grow light (and a cheap oscillating fan) and start from seed early next year.

      1. jnk, you can still direct seed beans and other vegetables. Since I in a colder zone, I'm not familiar with the planting schedule in yours. You might try one of the websites where you can put in your last frost free date. I think Johnny's seeds has one. Right now it's still too cold for me to plant warm weather vegetables like summer squash and beans. I'm very happy with a local grower as my source of tomato and pepper plants (you only have to buy one of each).

        I like the lasagna method of gardening which I might still use in the bed where you plant something like tomatoes or summer squash. You build layers of composting materials starting with a layer of wet newspapers (I did this right on sod). I top my beds every year with a few inches of composted horse manure. I prefer to start a bed in the fall to be ready in spring but my two new beds don't look like they have composted well due to the dry winter. I'll make a planting hole for each tomato plant and fill with composted manure. I always water new transplants with a fish emulsion solution and try to transplant on an overcast day or late in the day if it's sunny and water well.

        Perennial herbs will spread but you can always move them around as they get bigger.My sage has gotten enormous in 3 years while tarragon grows at a slower rate.

        Also, read up on fall planting. Maybe it's too late for you to plant spinach but you might be able to plant in August for a fall crop. The seed packets never give enough information. Find out which things prefer cool weather and which will do ok during the heat of summer.

        Enjoy the adventure and good eating.

        1 Reply
        1. re: dfrostnh

          i gotta question about lasagna composting/sheet mulching.....i always hear about it being done in the fall, not the spring. I'd like to give it a go in beds i'm planting seedingings in to reduce weed growth... i'm thinking of doing this on already established beds as a way of adding organic material & limiting weeds
          1. how many layers of newspaper do you lay down?
          2. how much compost do you heap on top?
          3. do you just cut a hole in the newspaper & plant in the plant?
          4. what exactly is a fish emulsion??
          5. I'm planting potatoes soon & thinking of using this method- your thoughts?

          Sorry for doing an uber brain pick, but thanks so much!

        2. As we still have snow on the ground (and in the air) and I garden in Zone 1a (about 80 frost-free days a year) I am very limited to what I can grow. We do not even think of seeding anything (even lettuces and spinach) until the end of May. So, you will definitely be safe direct seeding many things!

          You have been given great advice on starting seeds, amending soil and planting. I will just add using compost (i.e. veg peels, eggshells - kitchen scraps that do not include animal matter/meat) really boosts soil nutrients. As tomatoes often need potassium I usually throw in banana peels into the holes before transplanting.

          Good luck! Enjoy the process.

          1. Hi jnk, I am a newbie gardener as well (in Zone 7b) in NC. I set up 2 small (4x4') raised beds (bought pretty cheap pre-fab raised beds at Costco) and am loosely following Square foot gardening methods. So I filled my beds with a mix of compost, peat and vermiculite. I also set up my own compost bin to start making the good stuff at home for future. Not sure how much time you have to devote to gardening but I am trying to fit it in between fulltime work and 3 little kids, so time is the major constraint for me. I wanted to start small, but just last weekend I sowed a bunch of seeds for heat tolerant lettuce, cilantro, scallions, kale, carrots, beets, some companion plants (borage particularly) as well as planted the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil, marigolds and stawberries I bought at the nursery.

            Going to wait for the soil to warm a little bit more before I plant my cantelope and watermelon seeds (not in the raised beds-- Going to just find a sunny place to throw some compost in a mound and plant-- we'll see what happens). I have found lots of great books at my library for some basic info and inspiration.

            Let us know how your garden grows.... I am tired from a busy weekend gardening but excited to see what happens...