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May 5, 2012 03:09 PM

Newbie gardener in San Diego questions

Hi. I just decided to pull out a small side yard and build a garden box 18' x 3' x 2' high in Mission Hills.

Right now have several basic questions

What is the best soil / compost mixture for growing a range of vegetables and herbs? I've looked a little at square foot gardening. It does not interest me in the least. I just want to go to City Farmers Nursery and get some nice soil + additives.

I'm building the box out of redwood. Does it make sense to line it with visqueen in order to preserve the wood?

Are burrowing mammals a problem around here? Do I need to line the bottom with hardware cloth?

I know raccoons are a problem. Any suggestions how to keep them out of the patch?

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  1. I don't know what to suggest for a soil mix, your box is pretty large, so I think you would want something you can buy in bulk, If you decide to go with something sold in bags Fox Farms' "Happy Frog" is a premium product but it is about $12 per bag so it would get expensive. "Supersoil" is also a good product for less money.

    I can't tell if you want to amend your native soil or replace it entirely, but one thing to keep in mind is that the soil in some parts of Mission Hills is pretty heavy clay that wouldn't be worth the trouble of amending for use in a raised bed.

    If you are thinking about using your native soil why don't you gather a sample and take it to a good nursery (not Home Depot) where the staff knows what they are talking about and see what they recommend?

    I wouldn't line it with plastic, the moisture trapped between the plastic and the wood will cause more rot than the soil will.

    I would absolutely line the bottom with some kind of mesh to keep out roadents.

    1. First, take a soil sample from the area you'll be using to your county extension office (if you have one). You'll indicate on the form they have you fill out that your purpose with this soil is a home garden. They'll send back the results with a "prescription" of what you need to do. This is specifically for you and that area of soil you sent in taking into account what your purpose with that area is.

      Next, simply follow their instructions on how to amend your soil (if it needs to be).

      Also, how long-term do you see this being for you? If you're planning on gardening year-after-year, you may want to look into an electric fence. You can make one for very little money.

      Also, and I cannot stress this enough, even for your very first year, I highly encourage you to look into plasticulture. Simply put, it's an irrigation system that is made up of a drip tape that goes down your rows which is then covered by a thin, black (or white if you're planting late in the summer season) plastic. There's more to it than that and I am happy to help you with it if you're interested. But, the benefits of plasiculture are simply phenomenal. If you ever did it, you'd never go back to the "regular" way of gardening. Most strawberries you've ever seen we're probably grown using plasticulture. About 85% of all tomatoes grown in the United States are grown using plasticulture. Farmers use this technique because it works and it's smart business.

      In short, with plasticulture you will double or triple your yield as well as have an earlier harvest all while using less than half the water, half the fertilizer, less disease from soil that splashes up on the leaves of the plants, less than half the work (no more weeding) (no more watering if you use a water timer), and less money.

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        1. I am in N Cal, Sunset 14/15, but I have five raised redwood boxes that I've used for about 8 to 10ears. They ate not sealed or lined, and I don't have wire netting. They have not rotted, although I reverse the bards occasionally when they start to bow. I have had a few moles, but nothing that makes me what to rip them up and add wire. I have used an evolving mix, something called a "raised bed mix" from a local place, sold in bulk, using more and more of my native clay soil, and less amendment over time, as it is very hot and dry, and a retentive soil seems to work better for me. I use drip irrigation in the summer, and grow mostly tomatoes and peppers, and rely primarily on rain in the winter, when I grow alliums like shallots and garlic, or legumes like sugar snaps and fava beans. My biggest problem is roots from a nearby redwood tree, second biggest are raccoons, that seem to dig up plants exactly twice, each time I plant them. Of and cats. I use gardener's supply company tomato cages laid flat, until the plants are pretty big.