Fall Garden Ideas Help Beginners

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Fall Garden Ideas Includes Lettuce

By Richard Godke

Here are some fall garden ideas that will get the beginning vegetable gardener started without waiting for spring to arrive. August and September are perfect times to start a fall garden in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4B and higher. The warmth of summer gives the new vegetable plants a quick start and can provide some of the best quality produce of the year. Yes, this is the time for beginning gardeners to get started. The experienced gardeners have been enjoying fall vegetable gardens for years.

Fall Garden Ideas – Which vegetables do I plant?

My favorite quick harvest, cool loving fall crops are frost sensitive. They include: radishes (maturing in as little as 18 to 21 days), kohlrabi, (one of my favorites), leaf lettuce, arugula, and spinach, (maturing around 55 days). A frost blanket row cover can keep the plants 4-6 degrees F. warmer and greatly increases the length of your production. I like the frost tolerant brassica crops that can take some frost like: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. The frost sensitive root crops that I recommend are beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. If they are well covered with straw you can leave them in the ground until the soil starts to freeze, and they will become tastier. However don’t let them get frozen into the soil. I have had good luck with frost resistant crops like evergreen bunch onion, garlic, leeks, and chives wintering over in USDA zone 5A. Many gardeners recommend these risky frost crops including: bush beans, sugar snap peas, and cabbage. However, I would not recommend them for beginners. Any of these vegetables are great fall garden ideas.

 

Fall Garden Ideas – When do I plant?

How does a beginning gardener know the best date to plant a fall garden? First click on Plant Hardiness Zones, then enter your zip code, and click on the zone it provides. It will show you the date of the Average First Fall Frost. Count back from the Average First Fall Frost, the number of days needed for your crop to mature. It will be found on the seed package. This will give you an estimated planting date for that crop. These fall garden ideas are just an estimate; mother nature does not always follow the charts. Areas within a specific zone may be affected by buildings, trees, hills, lakes, etc. creating a micro climate. You can reduce the number of days needed by using a frost blanket, closures, covering plants with straw, or by purchasing vegetable transplant from your garden center.

Fall Garden Ideas – How do I start?

Gardening in a bag, square foot gardening, and straw bale gardening are fall garden ideas that are easy, cost efficient, and productive ways for the beginning gardener to get started. Bag gardening is when you plant your vegetables directly into the bags of soil you purchase from the store. Yes it really works! I had two bags going this summer and they produced sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, and meal after meal of okra. I am now getting ready for my fall crops. Straw bale gardening is a method where one takes a wheat or oat straw bale, tip it on edge, soak it with water, let it set for a week, make a depression in the bale, fill with potting soil, and plant. As the bale slowly decomposes the vegetables will grow into the decomposing bale. Square foot gardening take a little more planning and cost but is well worth the effort. Build a small raised bed 4 feet by 4 feet by 6-12 inches deep and then fill it with quality organic matter. I have had square foot gardens that yield four times as much produce compared with a traditional row garden.
Fall is a great time for beginning gardeners to get started. Fall gardens provide seeds with faster germination in the warm soil. It is very pleasant to work outside in the fall weather and the soil takes less water while many of the common insects are no longer around. Try these fall garden ideas and enjoy the cool loving crops that thrive in the pleasant fall weather. So if you are a new gardener it is time to get started with these great fall garden ideas.

Bag Gardening for Home Vegetables

By Richard Godke

Bag gardening is raising vegetables in the bag the soil comes in. This is an easy, convenient and a fun way to get your family involved with growing your own food (Figure
1). The bag gardening method is easy, low cost, and a quick way to get started with a garden. It takes no digging, plowing, tilling, and soil testing, or building expensive raised beds. Yes, it really works! I know several experienced gardeners who use this same method with multiple bags rather than tackling a large traditional garden.

Bag Gardening Advantages:

  • Easy soil preparation – no digging, plowing, and tilling or sod removal.
  • Space saving – all vegetables are concentrated with no rows.
  • Easy weeding – potting soil is free from weed seeds.
  • Low cost – It cost me about $13 to plant one bag with Swiss chard transplants in March 2013.
  • Little time – it took me about 15 minutes to plant one bag and I expect about 5 minutes a week to water and harvest.
  • Minimal soil diseases and insects common to vegetables like tomatoes.

Bag Gardening Disadvantages:

  • Ugly bags – try covering with mulch.
  • Water management is more involved with bags – regular soil has a deeper water reserve.
  • Bag breakage – be careful with the mower and string trimmer.
  • Not organic – no solution.
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Bag Gardening

Things You Will Need to Start Your Bag Gardening Project (Figure 1):

  • Plants either transplants or seeds
  • Bagged soil – two cubic feet, preferably potting soil
  • Utility knife or scissors to cut holes in bag
  • Tape measure or ruler
  • 3 yards of duct tape
  • Weed barrier (optional) – newspaper or brown paper bags

Procedure:

  • Choose a sunny location with at least 8 hours of direct sun each day with easy access to water.
  • Arrange bags so you can reach into the middle of each bag without stepping on the soil, about 4 feet maximum.
  • The best plants to start with are leafy vegetables: leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, or Swiss chard. After you get these mastered, try peas, kohlrabi, bush beans, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, and herbs like parsley or basil. I would avoid squash, pumpkins, melons and root crops. If you have had success raising these vegetables in a bag please let us know the secrets.
  • Use square foot gardening planting rates.
    • 1 plant per bag: tomato, pepper, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
    • 9 plants per bag: bush beans or spinach
    • 12 plants per bag: arugula, leaf lettuce, parsley, Swiss chard
    • 16 plants per square foot: kohlrabi or micro greens
  • Use duct tape on the outside seam edges and one strip around the middle of the bag to prevent breakage (Figure 2).
Taped Bag Gardening

 

  • On the bottom side of the bag, cut 6 to 12 ½-inch holes in the bottom of the bag. Sometimes the vegetable will grow through the bag and start growing into the soil under the bag.
  • Flip the bag back over.
  • On the uncut side of the bag, mark the locations that you want to cut for plant openings. See step 4 for the number of plants per bag.
  • Cut an X in the bag in the smallest size needed to plant the transplant or one square inch if you are planting seeds (Figure 3).
  • Fold back the triangular shaped flaps for seeds (Figure 4).
Cut X Holes
Fold back flaps
Ready to plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Make a hole in the soil by pushing the soil back just deep enough to cover the transplant or seeds. I found you do not need to remove the soil from the bag (Figure 5).
  • Put transplant or seeds in the soil.
  • Reach under the plastic and pull back the soil to cover the root ball or seeds
  • If you planted seeds, cut the plastic flaps off so the sun can help germinate the seeds quicker.
  • Water the plants as needed; ensure you have a good soil to seed or soil to root contact for a quick start.
  • After one 1 week or when the seeds grow 2 inches high make sure there is only one plant per hole. It is sometimes difficult to see the multiple plants (Figure 6). This process is called thinning. See the single plant after thinning (Figure 7)? One plant will produce more vegetables than two plants growing close together. I have tested this theory. Even though it hurts to cut out the extra plants, thinning is for the best with bag gardening. It is common for plant producers to leave multiple plants in a single plant pack cell. My last purchase had up to 3 plants per cell. It is possible to use each plant if they have not grown together. Use scissors or shears, if you pull it could also pull out the best plant you want to leave in.
Two plants
Single plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Check moisture level at least 3 times a week (Figure 8).
  • Harvest lots of fresh vegetables.
Newly planted
Bag Gardening After 3 Weeks

 

Bag Gardening After 3 Weeks

 

 

Watering:

Don’t over water. Leaving more plastic on the top will decrease the water loss and will help cut down on excess watering during rainy periods. Expect to increase watering during hot sunny days. Sticking your finger into the soil is the best way to tell if you need to water again.

Fertilizing:

Some potting soil has slow release fertilizer that usually last for 3 months. Check the bag to see if it is infused in the soil. Add liquid fertilizer as recommended on the package if the plants are growing slowly, or the plants have a light yellow-green color. Remember it is better to use too little fertilizer rather than too much.

Helpful Tips:

  • Be careful with string trimmers and mowers to prevent bag breakage.
  • When mowing blow grass away from the bags to prevent insects, diseases and dirt getting on the vegetables.
  • Root crops sometimes do not perform well in the bags.
  • Climbing tomato plants need a trellis.
  • I recommend transplants over direct seeding for beginners. Seeds are very sensitive to correct water management.
  • Mulch the soil bag beds mid-summer with compost, grass clippings, or bark. It will decrease water loss and keep soil temperatures lower during the hottest part of the season. It also helps to hide the ugly bags.
  • If using more than one bag, wedge them tightly together to stop weeds from growing between the bags.

Weed Control:

Placing old newspapers down on the grass or soil will serve as a good weed barrier. Weeds growing from the bag garden can be hand pulled.

End of Growing Season:

Plastic bags are designed by the manufacturers to last one year. At the end of the season you can pull the old plastic bag out of the garden area and add new bags on the top the next year. Or you can add amendments, and work the potting soil into the soil underneath. This will be a great start to enhancing your soil.

By: Richard Godke

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Bag Gardening Videos

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaXVO5F6zTI&feature=youtu.be

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL9ks3xw-E0&feature=youtu.be

Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Novices

By Richard Godke

A good soil calculator for raised bed is the most important decision a beginning gardener. It starts you on the right road for producing lots of high quality vegetables. I recommend the square foot gardening method that concentrates the production in a smaller space using less soil. Learn the important math calculations you will need to get started along with a connection to a spreadsheet that will do the calculations for you. Soil is a living breathing constantly changing substance. The soil must have the ability to hold water and also slowly release nutrients to the growing roots of the plants. During the growing season the organic part of the soil is broken down by organisms living in the soil. This happen if it has the soil has the proper water, air, microorganisms, soil nutrients and correct temperature. Here are some important questions a beginning gardener needs to ask.

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Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Novices

Should I purchase organic soil?

Do not let the marketer confuse you. Organic soil is soil that has some organic material in it. If you want soil that is produced without chemicals you need to purchase Organic Certified Soil. This is organic soil produced from plant materials that were not treated with pesticides, within standards set by an organic certification organization. You can check with the certifying organization for the details of the process and standards. If you want to eat truly organically grown vegetables you must start with organically certified soil. Be prepare – the organically certified soils will cost more.

How do I calculate the amount of soil I will need?

The formula is simple: The garden’s length times the width times the depth gives you the amount of soil you will need to purchase. Here are the calculations for a typical beginner’s square foot garden that is four feet wide by four feet long and eight inches deep. Calculate by multiplying the width 4 ft. X 12 in. = 48 in. and Length 4 ft. X 12 in. = 48 in. Take the 48 X 48 = 2304 square in. Multiply the 2304 square inches X 8 in. deep = 18432 cubic in. Finally divide the 18432 by 1728 [the number of cubic inches per cubic foot] = 10.7 cubic feet. For the non-math gardeners I have developed a simple spreadsheet link towards the end of this article where you enter the length, width and depth in yards, feet or inches and it will calculate the cubic feet or yards of soil you will need for your specific garden space.  The calculation for experience gardeners is the same as for beginners.

How do I compare prices among the different produces or brands?

Some manufacturers use cubic feet others use quarts and others use pounds abbreviated as lbs. For the non-math gardeners the spreadsheet link later in this article will also let you enter three different products, the number of cubic feet or US Quarts per bag, and the cost per bag. It calculates the total cost of each soil choice for your garden size. For the gardener that loves math, here are the calculations for converting US quarts to cubic feet. US Quarts X (57.75) cubic inches divided by the number of cubic inches in a cubic foot (1728). Example for a 10 US quart bag: 10 X 57.75 cubic inches per quart = 577.5cubic inches. Divide 577.5 by 1728 cubic inches in a cubic foot = 0.334 cubic feet. When it comes to comparing ingredients in pounds like cow manure you need to compare the percentage of moisture present.  My soil calculator for raised bed can help you with these calculations (see below).

How do I compare different bagged soil ingredients?

The Standard Soil Mix consists of ? peat moss, ? compost, and ? vermiculite or perlite (a non-organic soil additive). This mixture is very similar to bagged potting soil. Bagged Potting Soil provides great growing material for you vegetables if you can closely manage the watering. When this mix is moist you can squeeze ahandful and it will easily crumble into small pieces. Unfortunately this mix is expense, it tends to dry out more quickly in the garden and it will quickly decrease in volume. Bagged Garden Soil is the lower cost than potting soil and the watering of the garden is easier to manage. This is my pick for the beginning gardener. Bagged Compost is dead plant materials that have decomposed during an aerobic process that has reached 160 degrees F. This product varies a great deal among different manufacturers. It sometimes lowers the garden soil pH and requires nitrogen to be added during the growing season. It is less expensive than other products. Compost is a good additive but it will have a high soil replacement percentage, and should not be used as the only ingredient. Non Organic Soil Additives like perlite and vermiculite are used to lighten or aerate the soil. It is expensive, and increases the need for careful water management. Only use these produces in combination with other soil additives. Peat Moss is a partially decomposed ancient swamp material that is harvested from peat bogs. It loosens clay soil and provides organic material to your garden. It has a high decomposition rate and will lower you soil pH. This should only be used in combination with other soil additives.

Soil Calculator for Raised Bed Available

Soil is one of the biggest expenses when starting a home garden. I highly recommend that beginners purchase a mid-priced prepared bagged garden soil. Trying to mix you own individual ingredients may seem cheaper but it is more difficult. In most cases the soil has been prepared by an expert and has the proper nutrients, pH level and organic materials to set you on the road to a successful vegetable garden. You can use my garden soil calculator spreadsheet http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/soil-calculator/ to help you figure the volume of soil you will need, compare prices of different types of soil and experiment with your own soil mix combinations. Here is another link to a garden soil calculator http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/soil-calculator/7558.html. You can expect to replace from 10 to 20 percent of the soil each year because of the microbial break down in your soil – remember this is a good thing.  By Richard E. Godke.