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Planning My Garden

November 17, 2011

Now that I had successfully mulched my garden, I felt I was finally ready to start planting.  But wait!  I had no idea what I was going to plant, or where I was going to plant it.  I did some quick research on the internet to figure out what I could plant right now (late October ish), and then planned out where I was going to plant everything.  This was no easy task!  It took some serious thought, but I think my time spent properly planning my garden is going to pay off.

First, I had to figure out what I could plant in late October in southern California.  I did some research on the internet, and found a great month by month planting guide.  Credit for this planting guide goes to Digital Seed.  Based on what the planting guide said I could plant, I decided on peas, broccoli, lettuce, herbs, strawberries, onions, carrots, spinach, and wild flowers.

Okay cool.  I now knew what I would be planting for this fall/winter.  But where was I going to put it?!?  I had to plan my garden!  I chose to draw it out by hand, and it took me many attempts, but I finally came up with a plan that was efficient, well thought out, and visually pleasing.  So…without any further delay…a picture of my 2011/2012 fall/winter garden plan!

It is ugly and sloppy. But it gets the job done!


As you can see from the picture (hopefully), I have designated areas for all of the different vegetables/fruits/flowers I plan to grow.  I was even nice enough to give my girlfriend Brianne a corner in my garden!  Man I’m such a good boyfriend!

Even though this layout looks simple, it took me quite a while to figure out and plan correctly.  I have never planned my own garden from the ground up before, so this was all new to me.  I only have books and resources to tell me how much space to give certain plants.  This is my first garden attempt, and I hope to gain valuable experience through this first attempt.

Next, I wanted to get a rough estimate of what my garden beds would look like in real life.  Brianne was nice enough to get me some free string from her work which I could use to section off areas in my garden.  I used some left over wood stakes on each corner, and tied the string around each stake to make the outlines for me bed.  When all was said and done, I was pretty proud of what I had designed!

I used left over wood stakes and string to section off the beds in my garden.


Overall, I am very happy with the design that I came up with.  I feel it suits my style of gardening, and I cannot wait to see what it looks like when everything has grown in.  In the mean time, I need to figure out what I’m going to do about irrigation, and also whether I’m going to direct seed or buy transplants!




Mulching My Garden

November 14, 2011

I was desperate to improve the quality of my soil.  I could barely sink my shovel more than a couple inches into the soil.  Weeds would germinate but never really take off probably due to a lack of healthy soil.  If weeds couldn’t survive in my garden, I had a problem.  I decided the most cost effective way to improve my soil was to mulch my garden.

Mulching your garden is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your garden.  Your soil is arguably the most important part of your garden in regards to how well your plants grow.

What a good mulch should look like.


When you mulch your garden, you are adding organic matter to the soil.  Organic matter has numerous benefits that are all extremely important.  Organic matter in the soil can act as a slow release fertilizer, increase water holding capacity, improve soil structure, and even prevent erosion.

Compost would have been my first choice for organic matter, but it was too expensive.  I had to find an alternative.  Luckily, one of my coworkers knew about a free mulch give away near Pasadena.  It turns out LA county started a program where they are offering free mulch to anyone who wants to come pick it up.  I’m not going to argue with free!

Unfortunately, I had a problem.  I do not own a truck.  How was I going to pick up a significant amount of mulch in my sedan?  In black trash bags of course!  I went out and bought black trash bags at the store, with the plan to double them up, fill them with mulch, and throw them in my car.  That was the plan.

So, before I left for work one morning, I loaded up my car with a shovel, gloves, a change of clothes, and the trash bags.  That day after work I stopped by the pick up site.  I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw.  In my opinion, the mulch was more similar to compost!  The pile was very warm after heating up from decomposition, and it had a very dark, rich color.  Unfortunately, it still smelled like poop!

I decided to say screw the gloves, and I attempted to shovel the mulch into my doubled up plastic bags.  This was almost impossible.  The plastic bags wouldn’t stay open, and I was getting really frustrated.  I decided to just dive in with my hand and manually fill up my plastic bags.

The filling with my hands idea was working great.  Until I sliced my finger open on a piece of glass that was in the pile!  So I was now using my bloody hand to shovel poop into a bag.  This probably wasn’t the most sanitary and smart thing to do.  Oh well.  I continued.  I had no choice if I wanted this amazing free mulch!  I ended up filling four bags that day, and I took them home and spread them in my garden.

The first trip to the mulch pile only covered about a third of my garden.


They covered about a third of my garden.  Awesome.  I needed a lot more of this stuff.  So the next day I went back.  I got six bags on this second trip.  Luckily, this was enough to cover the surface.  I was happy…even though my car now smelled like poop.  I’m hoping this will pay off in the long run in terms of improving my soil!

My garden completely covered with mulch. Finally!

Two New Blogs I found

November 11, 2011

I found a couple new blogs recently, and I would just like to share them because I find them really interesting!

The first one is called Growing Groceries.  I really like this blog because the author is young like me! It’s rare to find someone else my age that is interested in gardening like me.  He works on a farm that sells to a local farmer’s market in Louisiana.

The second blog is called Curbstone Valley Farm.  I was blown away the first time I visited this blog.  It has a clean look, is easy to navigate, and includes topics that I am really interested in such as vegetable gardening, chickens, and bee keeping.  This blog provides me with something to aspire to!

Explaining My Weed Control Program

November 9, 2011

Once again, here is my weed control program:

Zach’s IPM Approach to Eliminating Weeds

  • Follow OCD habits and clip off every seed head from every weed in garden
  • Manually dig up and turn over every weed in garden with a shovel
  • Follow weed seed bank control cycle (I did this about 5 times!)
    • Liberally irrigate entire garden
    • Wait for dormant weed seeds to germinate
    • Manually till them under when they are baby weeds
    • Repeat
  • Continue with a preventative weed control program
    • Constantly monitor for weed germination
    • Manually pull any straggler weeds
    • Use smart planting techniques that will cut down weed seed germination and survivability
    • Adjust program if needed based on monitoring observations
Look at all those seeds! Can you see why I clipped off every seed head?!?!


I’m kinda proud of this picture. It’s pretty cool. Even if they are weeds.


The four parts of an IPM program, as described by the EPA, are setting action thresholds, monitoring, prevention, and control.

In terms of the prevention and control parts, there are different approaches that can be taken.  The three main methods of prevention and control are cultural, mechanical, and chemical control.  Cultural control refers to practices you employ in growing your plants that can help prevent a pest.  This could be planting resistant varieties of plants or companion planting.  Mechanical control refers to physically removing pests.  This could be accomplished with a shovel, your hand, or a mechanical tiller.  Chemical control is a no brainer.  Chemical control means you spray a chemical in hopes of killing whatever pest you are trying to eliminate.

Lets look at my approach and see how my program fits perfectly into the real definition of IPM.

Setting Action Thresholds – This is an idea that is meant more for large scale agricultural farmers, as opposed to home gardeners.  However, we can still apply it to my plan!  Basically, my action threshold is zero tolerance.  Farmers need to see a certain percentage of infestation by a pest before they decide it is economical to control the pest.  I’m saying that my percentage is 0%.  One weed is too much for me.  I don’t want to give any weed a chance to multiply in my garden.

Monitoring – In my plan I said how I am going to monitor my garden for weeds.  This is extremely important.  How will you know when you need to take action if you never walk through your garden and monitor what the weeds are doing?  Then, monitoring does you no good if you do not react to what you see during your monitoring.  You need to react, and adjust your program based on what you see out in your garden.

Prevention – My weed seed bank control cycle is a perfect example of prevention.  Prevention usually refers to practices you follow when the pest is not present, that will help in the future when a pest tries to invade your garden.  If I did not follow my weed seed bank control cycle, the first time I watered my garden after planting, tons of weeds would germinate all at the same time, and smother all of my vegetables!  I am preventing this from happening by follow my weed seed bank control cycle.  I will also plant my vegetables so that they are capable of preventing seeds from thriving.  I will use close plant spacing so that the leaves of my vegetables shade the soil underneath.  In this way, I will be helping my vegetables out compete any weed that tries to germinate.

Control – Control means something you do when the pest is present in order to eliminate it.  In my case, I took my shovel and manually turned over any soil that had weeds growing in it.  This was a pain in the butt (and my back!), but it was worth it.  By turning them over, I exposed their roots to the sun, and killed them.  The fancy term for this is solarization.  This is an example of a mechanical control method.  In the future, if I see a weed, I will probably just pull it out with my hand.  This is another mechanical control method.

So, as you can see, my IPM weed control program is actually pretty extensive!  I’m not necessarily against spraying chemicals, I would just like to avoid it if I can.  That’s why my program is heavy in the cultural and mechanical control departments.

I’m interested to see if all my hard work will pay off with my IPM weed control program!

My Weed Control Program

November 9, 2011

The plot of dirt next to my house that I call my garden was filled with weeds and weed seed.  I had no doubt that if I did not control them, they would out compete and smother anything that I planted in my garden.  I was determined to control these weeds.

Weed coverage a little more than a week after I watered my dirt.

I’m going to bust out a big fancy word.  Integrated pest management.  I took a whole class on integrated pest management in college.  In reality, the concept of integrated pest management is so simple, and it boggles my mind that people don’t get it.

  •  Integrated Pest Management (my own definition) – Common sense.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM for short) is so simple!  All IPM entails is using multiple methods to control pests.  Whether it be weeds, insects, or disease, it will be more effective to use multiple methods of control rather than just one.  That is what IPM boils down to.  Doesn’t that make complete sense?  People get all impressed when they hear about IPM, but it’s really nothing special.  Some “green” businesses even use IPM as a big fancy selling point!  Although, maybe it is because I hear and see so many people not using it.

People think they can go to Home Depot, buy an herbicide, spray their weeds, and then be done with weed control.  Wrong! It takes more than one spray to control weeds in your garden!  Okay sorry I’m ending my rant now.

Okay so I’ve given you my take on the definition of IPM, and what not to do, but I haven’t given an example.  So, here is an example.  And it just so happens that it is my own weed control program.

Zach’s IPM Approach to Eliminating Weeds

  • Follow OCD habits and clip off every seed head from every weed in garden
  • Manually dig up and turn over every weed in garden with a shovel
  • Follow weed seed bank control cycle (I did this about 5 times!)
    • Liberally irrigate entire garden
    • Wait for dormant weed seeds to germinate
    • Manually till them under when they are baby weeds
    • Repeat
  • Continue with a preventative weed control program
    • Constantly monitor for weed germination
    • Manually pull any straggler weeds
    • Use smart planting techniques that will cut down weed seed germination and survivability
    • Adjust program if needed based on monitoring observations

That is my program that I have followed so far.  This is already a long post again.  For now, this will have to do.  In my next post I will explain my program, as well as how it fits into the definition of IPM.

Weed Control in the Garden

November 8, 2011

Weeds are a pain.  Good weed control is crucial to having a successful garden.

After battling with the weeds in my garden for a while, I realized that my little plot of dirt was filled with weeds and weed seed.

What is a weed though?  People have different definitions about what a weed actually is.  If you think about it, the concept of a weed is 100% man made.  There is no family of plants that are classified as “weeds.”  What I might call a weed, another person might call a California native.

Weed (my own definition) – Any plant that is growing somewhere you don’t want it to be  growing.

If you think about it, that is really what it comes down to.  We can’t blame these native plants for trying to reestablish a population in our gardens!  That is what nature does.  Growing and multiplying is every plant’s sole purpose!  This means that we need to learn how to deal with nature.

If left alone, nature will win every time.  Even if you give it your all, nature can still win.  So how do you deal with nature?  You have to research, and learn how nature works, and only then will you have a small chance at controlling nature, and weeds, in your garden.

Weeds can cause significant damage to your garden!  If left alone, weeds can steal moisture, nutrients, sunlight, and space from your vegetables.  In most cases, weeds (being that they are for the most part natives) are more vigorous, and can out compete the vegetables that you are planting in your garden.  This means that it is extremely important to control weeds in your garden!

The first important thing to learn about is the weed seed bank.  Over time, weeds have grown, flowered, set seed, dispersed their seed, and then died in your garden.  This is called a life cycle.  This means that the weeds you see growing on the surface are nothing compared to what is lying dormant in the soil.  So, proper weed control will include eliminating these dormant seeds that are waiting to germinate in the soil.

The next thing to learn about is a weed’s life cycle.  This is pretty much a no brainer, but it still needs to be said.  A weed’s main purpose in life is to multiply.  The weed will flower, set seed, and then die.  If these seeds get in your garden, you’re done.  One weed is capable of producing hundreds of thousands of seeds!  What I’m really trying to say is don’t let weeds flower and set seed.  Weeds need to be eliminated before this happens.  You have done yourself no good if you dig up a weed after it has set seed in your garden.

With that said, an effective weed control program will include initial control of weeds on the surface, huge reduction (you can’t get them all!) of the dormant weed seed in the soil, and a follow up preventative weed control system.

This is a lot of information for one post.  My next post will talk about how I controlled, and am controlling, the weeds in my garden.

Cleaning Up My Garden

November 8, 2011

After completing my compost area on September 22, 2011, it was time to start cleaning up my garden.  To be honest, the area was a disaster.  Check out the picture of my garden before I did anything to it in my About Me section.  There was a huge overgrown tomato plant in the back corner from the previous season, a dilapidated barbeque, random piles of stepping stones, huge rocks that needed removing, shattered pieces of wood, metal rebar, and even a metal head board from a bed frame!

The biggest pain in the butt was removing the tomato plant.  I didn’t have a good pair of clippers yet, and the tomato plant had tendrilized itself around the stupid tomato cages.  I had to use the edge of my shovel to cut away at the stems! It was a pain to remove.  But, I finally removed it and put it straight into the compost pile!


In the back left corner you can see the tomato plant that I had to deal with.


This thing was a pain to remove. It went straight into the compost pile!


After removing all the junk and debris and overgrown plants, my garden looked like a plot of dirt!  With weeds!  Yay!  Believe it or not, this was progress, and I was pretty proud of myself!

My humble plot of dirt without any junk or debris!


My next project was to eliminate all the weeds.  Fun.  I didn’t realize it at first, but this turned out to be a project in itself.  It didn’t help that I was a perfectionist about it, and wanted every single last weed gone.  I think it will pay off later though to have good weed control before I plant anything.