Get Going on Gardening – Part 3, by St. Funogas

  1. Figure out the crop timing for your exact location

The last frost date indicated on the USDA frost maps is only a ballpark figure for your area. You should have a garden journal where you keep track of the date each year for future reference and planning. Some crops such as beets, turnips, potatoes, and radishes can take some frost. Other crops like tomatoes, peppers, and sweet potatoes will be pretty upset if you plant them and they get frosted so don’t take any chances with those.

Timing is important for other reasons as well. Some crops should be harvested after a certain number of days, others should be harvested before they go to seed or they will become pithy and the quality will be greatly reduced. Other crops you want to go to seed so you will have some for next year’s planting. All of this will come with experience so the sooner you can get your garden going, the sooner you can start making mistakes and having successes and getting all of this experience under your belt.

And keep a garden journal, no matter how small and basic! Write down planting dates and harvest dates. It will come in handy in the future, you can bet on it. You’ll need to start tomato and pepper seeds indoors so write the date down when you sow the seeds. If they get too big by the time you plant them outdoors, or they’re not big enough, make a note in your garden journal so you can adjust next year’s seed-planting date accordingly.

And last but not least, the last reason why you need to get going on gardening this year is to…

  1. Figure out the best weed strategy for your location

The number one reason why people give up on gardening is the miserable weeds! They never show you weeds on the covers of those gardening magazines. All you see are the pictures of the beautiful people smiling in their beautiful gardens. The harsh reality is that weeds exist for the sole purpose of ruining your gardening experience. At least it will seem that way.

But, there are some things you can do to minimize the weeds. And you can even get to the point where the weeds are not a curse. I’m finally at that point. I don’t see weeds any more, I see green stalks of compost material waiting to be added to the pile. I love compost.

There are two main strategies I highly recommend to keep the weeds as your little friends instead of your big enemies.

Weed Strategy #1: Mulch. I have a 10,000 ft2 garden so if it weren’t for mulch, I’d be spending a lot of hours every week out in the garden weeding, or more accurately, zero hours gardening and a lot more hours fishing and kayaking.

Since I hear the word “mulch” misused a lot of the time, let me define what mulch is: Mulch is any kind of material that is laid on top of the soil to prevent weed seeds from germinating and to prevent weeds from growing. Generally it is some sort of organic matter but in reality it can be anything from plastic film to old carpet to newspaper, cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, rolls of black “weed barrier,” or whatever you have that will cover the soil and keep the weeds down.

There is a sawmill not far from my house where I can get 50-year old sawdust for free and it makes an excellent mulch for my garden. One section of my garden, when I was reclaiming it from the pasture it had been in a former life, was infested with a noxious perennial weed with a gnarly root system. The only way to permanently get rid of it was to cover it with a 30’ x 30’ tarp, then cover the tarp with sawdust to completely block out the light, and then leave it for a year. I left it for two years just to be sure. On top of the sawdust, I put some containers filled with soil and planted my melon/squash patch there. It worked like a charm and the tarp/mulch combination eliminated the noxious weeds.

Do some web searching to get some ideas on which mulch strategies you may want to try for your garden. In western states where some gardeners set up tube irrigation systems, black plastic sheeting is put down over the water tubes and slits or holes are cut in the plastic for planting strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and other crops. These slits allow only minimal places for weeds to come up and it is very effective in controlling weeds while retaining moisture at the same time.

In eastern states where deciduous trees are common, leaves are easy to come by and make great mulch for the garden. On my own homestead I have about three acres of pasture and grass which I rake each fall to collect the oak and hickory leaves. I use a large tarp and rake the leaves onto that, then drag the tarp into the garden where I offload the leaves before going out to rake up another load. It’s a very quick way to move a lot of leaves. I also use it with my pickup to get a neighbor’s leaves as well. The beauty of leaves as mulch is that by the end of the growing season, they’ve decomposed quite a bit and improve the soil in the process. The leaf mulch also attracts earthworms who aerate and recycle the soil, greatly improving it in the process.

One last word on mulch. If you’ve ever thrown fresh grass clippings into the compost pile, you’ve noticed they mat down and don’t end up composting very well. I like to take some fresh clippings and put them in the garden instead, in any spots where mulch might need touching up during the summer. They mat down so well that weeds never stand a chance of breaking through. At the end of the growing season, then I toss them into the compost pile.

Weed Strategy #2: The Diamond Hoe. There aren’t too many tools I want to stand on a soap box in Times Square and shout to the world about but there is one. It’s called a diamond hoe or a scuffle weeder (not to be confused with a triangle hoe.) I honestly believe that this tool all by itself could keep more people in gardening than any other item. I’m not certain where you can buy these on a local level because I’ve never seen them in stores. (No, it’s not made by Ronco!) Amazon carries a version for $45 and if you want the real McCoy, you can’t go wrong with the heavy-duty, hand-forged one that I have which has a hardwood handle and a lifetime guarantee from Homestead Iron. One of my daughters tells me I’m so tight with money that my wallet screams when I open it but this diamond hoe has been well worth the $75 I paid for it. The extra-long handle means no bending over, plus, the way it’s attached assures me it won’t be coming apart like garden tools with handles tend to do.

A diamond hoe works like a floor mop: the head always stays in contact with the ground, cutting weeds on both the forward and backward strokes. It’s super-efficient compared to a normal hoe which wastes a lot of energy rising up, then coming back down, and finally doing a tiny little chop right at the end. This tool alone would probably keep more people in gardening than any other since weeds are what make people give up and go fishing or quilting instead.

There are a few other hoes that use this back-and-forth action but what makes the diamond hoe better is the shape of the head. None of the other types I’ve tried come close to the agility and dexterity the diamond hoe offers. You can hoe very quickly when there are no garden plants nearby, but when you get near the tomato plants, for example, you can slow down, and with the very pointy sides of the diamond hoe, you can get right up close to the base of the tomato plant and get the weeds, then as you move farther away from the good plants and back out into pure weed territory, speed back up again.

The other excellent feature about the diamond hoe is that, since the head rides flat on the ground, it will ride underneath whatever mulch you may have down such as leaves or sawdust and cut the weeds off right at ground level. It’s a wonderful invention and I could never garden again without my diamond hoe. One correction on the Homestead Iron website. It says this is for “baby weeds.” That is incorrect. This is for mommy and daddy weeds too and may even work on those teenager weeds. I’ve had mine for four years now. I’ve used this on some very large weeds when clearing a new area in early spring where no mulch was in place. It does very well on large weeds, even things like Queen Anne’s lace with larger taproots.

Summary

Well, that about sums up the important reasons why you should start gardening in 2020 if you’re not yet a gardener.

As I mentioned about your Italian mother-in-law, it’s one thing to have your garden producing poorly while Safeway is still open for business. Your garden is going to produce poorly in the beginning just like every other beginner’s. Over time as you learn more about gardening, get experience, improve your soil, hone in on your variety list, and start to get a handle on the finer points, your garden will begin producing more and more each year. Pretty soon, you’ll be an old pro and people will be knocking on your door with baskets of muffins asking for advice.

Best of all, you can have some salad, squash, and corn-on-the-cob to go with that Raccoon Curry, Deer Mouse Delight, and Ground Groundhog after TEOTWAWKI comes knocking on your door. And TEOTWAWKI ain’t gonna have no basket of muffins in her hand, so Get Goin’ on Gardening!




28 Comments

  1. Good morning!
    This is a spectacular article, all parts.
    I just ordered the tool you mentioned above through the link you provided, plus a couple extra things that they have. I like to support small businesses

    Have a Rockin great day!

  2. For those of you that do not have space for gardens, or you don’t know where to start, there is a great elderly gentleman from Oklahoma that has 71 videos on youtube. I will link to the latest one below. He has grown in greenhouses for over fifty years and is dedicating his remaining years to teach as many people his methods that have worked.
    In the ninety’s his electrical bill for one month was over $20,000. At that point he starting figuring out a way to garden in greenhouses without electricity for heat. There is something for everyone in these videos. What he teaches is how to grow in wicking tubs. He also teaches you what to use to build these tubs cheaply, and exactly what to fertilize with. I used his method last year and am expanding this year. Don’t let lack of knowledge intimidate you. I planted tomatoes on Friday in mine. It still is early here by a few weeks but I know I can protect them from late frost if I need to. It works folks. He also sells hoop houses in all kinds of sizes if any of you are interested. In this latest video, he is teaching how to apply plastic to one of the hoop houses.
    https://youtu.be/TWE-wrrCXSA

  3. Hey RKRGRL68 that’s awesome, I know you’re gonna love it. I also have one of his little hand V-hoes that I use for doing all my planting and it’s a handy little tool as well. I use it to dig my furrows for seeding and dig holes for transplanting tomatoes and such.

    https://homesteadiron.com/products/v-hoe-warren-hoe-aggressive-hoe-hand-forged-garden-tool

    If you ever get to any of the Mother Earth News festivals or the Baker Creek Seed festivals, this guy is usually a vendor. He’s quite an interesting guy to talk to.

    Good luck with your garden this year!

    1. St. Funogas,
      Just wanted to let you know that Mr Will Dobkins from Homestead Iron sent out an email to each customer letting us know that over the weekend he has received a massive increase in orders and to please be patient while he crafts each item for everyone’s orders. I think that you should get a SPECIAL “THANK YOU “ for mentioning this business!!

      It makes me feel great that my Order (and obviously lots of others) will help keep a small business busy and prosperous in these dark and uncertain times.

      Rock on

      1. Hey RKRGRL, thanks so much for passing that info along! I too like to support small business, especially ones like this that not only make such high-quality implements, but that use such “old-fashioned” methodologies. It’s really a piece of artwork you get to hold in your hands while you’re getting the weeding and other garden chores done. 🙂

    1. Do you mean Farm Bureau or the local ASCS? ASCS sent out many page questionnaires several years ago that asked far too many detailed questions much like the ones you mentioned. We decided we did not need them and withdrew from programs.

  4. JW ,,,,,we have had the shadow of what you posted hanging over us for some time ,the USDA has sent people out to inspect and record what we have at the ranch. GPS ing grain storage tanks ,barns ,greenhouses ,wells and so on ,,when we ran them off they sent out drones , we were threatened for noncompliance, we in turn stopped almost all farming ,at one time I shipped over 3,000 finished steers a year ,last year not so much only 3,,,,we also farmed over 1,000 ac of ground. Now it grows weeds and woodies ,
    In the book Atlas Shrugged the producers stop producing ,a good read ,,,
    We have over 5,000 sf of commerce greenhouses that sit empty ,
    Thing is we know how to grow and produce food , that is the most important factor in farming and ranching ,all the tools and land are of little value if you don’t know how to do it ,
    Our knowledge is price less ,,,,,,,,,

  5. St Funogas; Thank you kindly for the informative articles. And regarding the comments provided by JW & Oldhomesteader, as well as anyone else out there in sight of the written word!
    This should be a mighty slap in the face as a wake up call to where this country is ultimately headed. This virus pandemic is just the latest and could very well be the tipping point from which there will be no return. 1776 part II seems to be approaching at breakneck speed now that reliance upon the goobermint is all but receiving stand up ovations.
    Case in point:
    Who enabled corporations and allowed 90% of Pharma products to be mfg. overseas, whether China or elsewhere.
    Who enabled corporations to mfg technology, especially national security required technology in foreign countries, namely China.
    Who enabled corporations to remove basic necessary (for a healthy/stable economy) mfg abilities to foreign countries, China/Mexico etc.
    Who “invents” un-Constitutional agencies filled with unelected, but appointed bureaucrats, in which citizens have no say, to invent regulations and laws which we must follow or be deemed out of compliance or “jail ready”.
    And don’t even get me started on the immigration fiasco that has enveloped the country for the last 40 years.
    There are many other examples to numerous to name. But the correct answer is in one word – “Politicians”
    The very same that you the citizen elected and allowed to violate our Constitution with seemingly every breath they take. And through your apathy and pointing the finger (it’s not my job mentality – goobermint needs to do something) not taking the time to actually learn what is purposely not taught in public indoctrination centers, it has now brought us to this point where we are on the verge of losing ALL our rights, freedoms, liberties, and will be plunged into the depths of tyranny at it’s finest – “Papers Please”, may soon be the norm when walking down the street.
    As this recent pandemic evolves, if you do not currently have enough of everything you need for at least 6 months, it’s to late! The recent hoarding and buying spree of everything by those who haven’t are making it tough for everyone, as there was plenty to go around, unless the hoarding goes ballistic.
    I recently finished 2 novels regarding a very possible scenario and can see very well the possibility of this scenario actually happening here. “Peoples Republic” and Indian Country” by Kurt Schlichter. Fun reads, but unfortunately temporarily unavailable since all the libraries are closed. Maybe Amazon will ship, who knows at this time.

    On another note, Welcome back Mr. Rawles, I trust your travels were successful.

  6. Row covers. Get row covers. Both the ones that have (home expedient) weighted edges and just float over the newly seeded crop, and the ones with fiberglass rods you poke into the soil an bend over to poke the other end into soil

    Row covers protect from frost, increase heat retention in early spring for more favorable growing conditions, reduce moisture loss, stop lots of insect damage.

  7. Hollis and Nancy’s Homestead

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPVn9bDOp3DfMMKjPrEsIOw
    Early videos show their gardening on a suburban lot, including container gardening. Later ones on their 15 acre homestead. Some might find their info helpful.

    Ruth Stout’s Garden
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNU8IJzRHZk&t=628s
    I’m helping my daughter establish a garden on her new property. My daughter’s goal is  also to ‘shop’ in her garden. First year was an utter failure due to hard pack soil, no visible worms, and a jungle of unmanageable weeds. The following year we used the Ruth Stout method, but first we buttered the earth with compost laden with worms, then covered it thickly with hay. We did minimal weeding and watering.The result was a jungle of useful plant growth. Last fall we expanded the size of the garden in the same manner, and topped off the older area with fresh hay. Seedlings started, many from saved seeds, and we look forward to what this year’s garden brings.

  8. Just got an email from Will at Homestead Iron, saying his tools will be back ordered due to incredible demand. I replied to him that an article from Survival blog, and sent him a link, was the reason for the incredible demand. Be safe,

  9. I, too, use oak leaves for mulch. One problem, slugs love to live under them then come out at night and ruin many crops. After years of experimenting, very labor intensive, I discovered a lazy approach: old boards laid near the mulch, sometimes on top. The slugs shelter under the board. First morning chore is relocate slugs, still on the board, to a roof or other sunny and dry spot. Dehydrated slugs.

    The sawdust and leaves could draw nitrogen from the soil in the breaking down process. Urine to the rescue. This is also the time of year, before plants are in to use urine on the compost bin if most of it is leaves, straw, or other carbon material. Then, after harvest, urine with carbon material helps the compost stay hot into winter. This year mine was still hot and melting snow well into the late days of December.

    Carry on in grace

    1. Has anyone heard of using beer to attract slugs and kill them? I think my grandpa used to put beer in shallow containers, and the slugs would crawl into them, attracted by the smell, and then drown in it?? Does this ring a bell? I was a little thing when I used to watch him garden. I haven’t used it myself. We have slugs but they haven’t been a huge problem, yet.

      He also used to carry around a little can with a quarter inch of gasoline, and would pick the potato bugs off of the leaves of the potato plants and pop them into the jar. This was 48 years or so ago…

      Up to this point, we’ve also have not had potato bugs.

      Goodnight Ya’all

      Blessings,

      Lily

      1. I actually saw a scientific paper many decades ago testing all kinds of different beers and near beer. They were measured against Budweiser and measured in “Bud units.” The paper was a riot, but serious at the same time. Near beer was found to be the most effective. If I recall correctly, slugs had no taste whatsoever for premium beers.

        1. Interesting!

          Funny that the slugs had no taste for premium beers, but, then, I am in their camp.

          Beer and any other form of alcohol just can’t make it past my tongue. Ick! 😉

          Actually, I only drink water, and once in awhile, fruit juice, and even more rarely, a mild tea, Rooibois or mint.

          Let it be said, I’m not against others having a drink or two of their favorite beverage in moderation.

          Thank You St. Funogas for your excellent gardening article. I too, enjoyed reading it and gleaned helpful ideas.

          May you have a blessed and healthy day,

          Lily

      2. I have personally picked potato bugs and larvae and put them in the can of gas or oil. Fun, fun, fun. Yes a shallow dish of beer will draw and kill slugs.

  10. My grandfather also put out beer for the slugs. I seem to remember positive results the next morning. Don’t remember the gasoline, doesn’t mean they didn’t use it and keep it from us young ones, though. Good luck.

  11. I used beer for many years. Sigh. Like St. Funogas, I am beyond thrifty and the cost bothered me. So, I went to my local liquor store on a monday and asked if they had any kegs from weekend parties with beer still in them. I could usually come home with a gallon of less-than-premium beer and all the money in my pocket. Good deal.

    However, checking all the traps meant a lot of bending over for this injured back (since rehabilitated–another story) and rain would wash the beer out of the shallow container, usually a jar lid.

    Thus, I went with old planks. Less bending over…sometimes as many as a dozen slugs on the board. Time saved from going to the liquor store. Rain was an advantage, in that the slugs used the moisture to get over to the boards. Efficient. And…still free.

    Carry on with grace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.