Branching out from Earthboxes
April 1, 2020 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I've been growing cherry tomatoes, baby eggplants, cucumbers, potatoes, peas, and strawberries in containers (mostly Earthboxes) for a few years. I now have access to a small backyard as well and would like to branch out, but I have no experience growing vegetables in the ground (only flowers). Can you recommend some beginner resources?

I live in northern Massachusetts (zone 6A). I'm also on a budget, so I've been hesitant to order raised beds and do the trial and error thing (raised beds are so expensive!).
posted by marfa, texas to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
They don't have to be expensive. I recommend Gary Pilarchik for general methodology, plus he's in the Northeast so his zone is close to yours. Also MIGardener. Both have done series on budget raised beds, along with pretty much everything else. My other go-to is CaliKim, who does backyard gardening in a combination of beds and grow bags, which is also mostly what I use in my backyard instead of more permanent raised beds. Unless you can be very certain about year-round sun exposure, raised beds aren't always the best choice.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:24 AM on April 1, 2020

Straw bale gardening! It's super easy and much cheaper than raised beds. And I've never had better results with any other kind of gardening. You get the bales (read up on the right kind of straw to get), place them where you want them, water them and fertilize them for about 10 days and then you can just stick your hands in and pull them apart to make a spot for planting (you add soil at this point). Weeding is hardly a problem and at the end of the season, you can toss the straw into a compost pile or just rake it out over the ground and let it break down over the winter. I used some on top of some ground that was impacted and so dense I could barely shovel it. After two seasons of using straw bales and just raking them out at the end of the season, you could just run your hands through the dirt.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:26 AM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

You can make slightly raised beds for free by raking some soil from the path to the bed. The advantages are to have a planting area that you don't step on so the soil doesn't get compacted and you add amendments (compost and fertilizer) to just that space. Make the beds narrow enough to work from the path, usually 3-4 feet, less is you can only work on one side.
When I am trying a new crop I look online for instructions for just that vegetable. That way you can assemble your own "book" and, if you print it make, notes. I print out a blank calendar each year to note when I plant and add fertilizer. I also keep track of my harvest so I can compare seed varieties.
One of the best resources I have is a Johnny's catalogue which has very good instructions for planting every vegetable, herb and flower with best soil temperatures for germination.
posted by Botanizer at 11:00 AM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

DC Park's and Recreation department is currently in the midst of putting on a zoom webinar for urban growing, end to end with an emphasis on food. Registration filled up in about 5 minutes but all the recordings are being posted here.

Weather here should be close enough to Mass - we're zone 7.
posted by Karaage at 11:55 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Johnny’s charts are great - those and a soil thermometer help a lot with planting in the ground.

Beyond that, I think you need to find models in very similar climates - eg your neighbors. One of the better things on Facebook for me is a regional backyard gardening group. Lots of stuff we don’t agree on, but it’s remarkably civil, and I see pictures of things it wouldn’t have occurred to me to try, or nice combinations of regional stalwarts, etc. Also the most glorious examples of whatever does well in my climate.
posted by clew at 12:09 PM on April 1, 2020

Hit up your local cooperative extension; ours has all kinds of stuff for home gardeners.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:03 PM on April 1, 2020

I'm not all that handy, though I do have a saw, and I made a raised bed out of 4 cedar fence slats and a 2x2 and some screws. Sum total probably $20. It's not going to win any prizes but it lasted out two years and things are still growing in it. Honestly the soil was probably more expensive.

If you just go for the ground: dig; if you're like everywhere I've ever tried this, dig again with a bit of something organic to loosen the soil up, both moss and compost work; and plant. If you want the 'is this even going to work' test for plants, I recommend a sachet of whatever radish seeds you can find. They're easy to sow and will do their thing even if you don't remember you have them, providing they don't dry out.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 8:06 PM on April 1, 2020

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