My First Vegetable Garden

Fallbrook Garden Club
It was March 2020 that we first moved to Bonsall, California with it’s spacious ranch style homes, horse properties and endless view of the agricultural growing on the hillsides. Our new home is a gem of a place on the top of a hill overlooking the tomato fields. We have 2 acres of land with 30 plus avocado trees. Like my husband says, we are now by fault Gentlemen Farmers or Gentlewomen Farmers in my case. I have always enjoyed gardening, each plant is like a baby coming into the world, it is so exciting to see them birth. Before coming to the country, we lived in a townhouse in Carlsbad, which obviously limited my growing abilities, but I did have a small “secret g ew place, especially seeing the tomatoes growing right across the street, plus the areas is well known for citrus, avocados, dragon plants etc. Because we did move at the beginning of COVID lockdown, we did not start our garden at that time. But I do have to say, it was a great place to be on lockdown, in the country away from the crowds. So we spent the first year settling into our new place. And now, 1 year later it is time to start our garden.  "What to do now”, that was the question?So I started reading and watching YouTube video’s to learn more about vegetable gardens. As we know water is a necessity with any garden, so that is where we started. We have more than 20 irrigation stations on the property, but as you may expect not all of them were working properly. Initially, I looked online to find sprinkler experts, but I wasn’t feeling really secure about knowing who was good and not. Then I decided to contact the Fallbrook Garden Club to request information on local irrigation experts. That lead me to the Fallbrook Irrigation Department which gave me a couple of great guys that came out and fixed a lot of my irrigation problems. By the way I am now an official member of the Fallbrook Garden Club.org and love it.What to grow and when?Next steps included finding out what actually grows in this area and what the season is. Learning about the zone you are in is essentially to having a successful garden. Ok, now I know what to grow and when to grow it.The garden design came next. How do we want our garden to look and how much do we really what to grow. We are basically feeding the two of us plus some extended family. At this point we are not growing for the community at large so we don’t need to have rows and rows of plants, just enough for us. I have a large plot of land 65 ft. x 40 ft. to use for the garden. Although it is a large area, I don’t plan to fill it with crops, I would also like to have some flowers, a couple of trestles and benches. Also I would like to have a area for melons and corn.As I began searching Pinterest for ideas on designs, I came across what was called “A French Inspired Kitchen Garden”. Loved the name first of all, also found that the idea of having all the plants needed for a salad in one location, one garden bed basically, was a great way to organize especially for harvesting on an ongoing basis. In other words you would grow your basil near your lettuce and tomatoes. Some plants are better to grow next to each other then others so I will need to keep that in mind while designing the garden bed
.kitchen garden

Should I do raised garden beds or ground garden?

Since we have a bit of a problem with squirrels, moles and gophers, I am going to do the raised bed with the gopher wire on the bottom for protection.

What size garden beds do I want?

I plan to have at least 4 (4×8) raised garden beds. I found that 4×8 beds are the most popular size of beds, mainly because you can easily reach from side to side to weed your garden. I plan to put a 2×4 seat on top so I can sit down while weeding. I am currently trying to decide whether to use treated or untreated wood for the beds. Treated wood last longer but it has chemicals in it that you may not want in your food. Whereas untreated wood will rot in 4-5 years, then you will have to make them over. I will let you know what we decide to use later.

Land Preparation:

 

 

Choosing your Garden Location:

See above photo: My designated location for my garden is Southwest corner of our property on a flat 1/4 acre of land.  Currently filled with weeds and artificial grass.  Choosing your location is of upmost importance in the success of your garden.  Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunshine per day. South facing locations are the best for growing.

Now is the fun part clearing the land. Wow it was a lot of work, day after day shovel in hand scrapping the weeds out. I had to take at least 2 Ibuprofen everyday for about a week while doing this laboring work. But I was determined, I would work for a couple of hours in the morning and evening and soak in the tub. My allergies were going crazy due to all dusk and weeds flying around. I filled up so many trash cans and my husband was starting to complain about how heavy they were, that I started to just throw the debris into the side yard and make a mountain of it. I did listen to some good podcast while working and finally it is done. Now to fill all the gopher holes.

Growing from Seeds or Transplants?

Some plants grow well from seeds and others are better from transplants. Here is a short list of what I found out:

Seedlings in garden: carrots, herbs, peas, pole, sunflowers, lettuce, spinach, arugula, beets and corn.

Transplant: Tomatoes, pepper, squash, zucchini, melons, basil, cabbage and celery. Choose indeterminate plants that will continue to give you products ongoing.

I started my seedlings using a seed starter kit with seed starter soil purchased from Joe’s Hardware. So far I have grown some arugula and basil. I recently transplanted them into planters so I could start growing new sunflower seeds. I also plan to attend a seed growing class in March, to learn more about the techniques available.

Next will be soil blends:

What kind of soil do I have? What is the ph? Nitrogen level? But if I am doing a raised bed do I really need to know all that? The beds will give us a more control environment for our soil blend. Should I buy small bags from the local garden stores? How much and which one? So many choices. Ok, so what I have found out so far is that there are many ways to skin a cat or I mean grow a garden. Everyone has an opinion on the best method. I found a soil calculator online that gave me the basics of what and how much. Their recommendation was to have 60% Top Soil, 30% Compost, 10% Potting Mix and Organic Fertilizer. For each 4×8 bed I would need 24 cu ft soil or 0.9 cu yards. For 4 beds that would be 24 x 4 = 96 cu ft or 3.6 cu yards. I don’t know about you but I did not realize I would have to do math to grow vegetables. As you can probably tell, this is going to be a lot of soil, bags and bags and expensive if I do it that way. So, how can I do it cheaper? Well as it turns out, you can buy it in bulk and have it trucked to your place. My goal now is to find a local distributor to purchase the soil from and have it delivered. I have also noted that you can put twigs, leaves and grass as a bottom layer of your bed to help fill the space, allowing the bed also to make it’s own mulch.

Next steps to take for my garden will include:

Setting up my drip irrigation for each bed with timers or soaker hose?

    • Drip Irrigation or Soaker Hose?  Which is better for my garden?
      • Drip irrigation systems deliver water directly to the base of your plants, little water is misdirected or lost to evaporation. They also generally water slowly, over a long period of time. Drip systems are basically easy to install and repair if needed. Clogging can be an issue with these systems.  Drips also work on timers so that you could water anytime day or night.  However, drip systems can be costly to put into place.
      • Soaker hoses are like garden hoses except they leak water through holes in the tubes.  Soakers are easy to install and inexpensive. They also keep the plants leaves dry. A negative would be that you can not turn off one area, while watering others as you can with the drip system.
      • I chose the soaker hose due to the simplicity and ease of the hoses. 

Seed Starter to Seedlings:

    • So far I have a few seedlings growing: Arugula, Sunflowers and Corn
      • A neighbor gardener also gave me a Cucumber, Tomato and Flower Seedling.
      • I attended a recent Seed Starter Class with Brijette Pena, founder of San Diego Seed Company and Christine Benton of Chrissie's Garden
      • I also ended up purchasing some seedlings from Chrissie's Garden

My New Plant Nursery/Art Gallery:

 

Here are some of the tips I picked up:

  • Soil most important thing to get right for seed starting.
    • Propagation mix - Light Warrior or Seed Starter mix -
    • Saturate soil with water, then check with finger to make sure it is wet. Put water in bottom of tray to soak up. No stagnant water. Don’t let it get dried out completely. Once seedling germinate take some off.
  • Plant small seeds close and large deeper
  • Temp 60-80 degree need airflow mini fan
  • Fertilize thin

Direct Sowing information:

    • Growing in ground
    • Prep soil
    • Use potting mix or seed starter on top of reg soil
    • Water your soil before planting
    • Most seeds do not require light to germinate can start in cooler environments
    • Once they come out then they need sun
    • Fertilizer numbers low 2%
    • Don’t use Miracle Grow when plants are small
    • First fertilizer to be used when plants get first leaves
    • Don’t use peat pods
    • Veg crops flower when hot to go to seed
    • Plant seed twice as deep as size of seed
    • Flatten soil, on top of soil then cover it with good

Plan plant layout design

After visiting Chrissie's Garden and purchasing some of her plants she volunteered to come over to my place to help me design the best plant layout.  She basically used the concepts of Square Foot Gardening Layout where you space your plants according to how many seedlings of a particular plant should go into each square foot.  For instance 1 Watermelon plant goes into 1 square foot, whereas 16 radish can also go into 1 square foot.

Once we layed out the plants into their assigned sections we discussed how and when to plant them.  It was decided that they should be planted in the evening so that the shock of the day heat would be lessened.  We also talked about the best way to grow the tomatoes.

Here is a video of the method I will be applying to my tomatoes:

Don't Bother Growing Tomatoes Any Other Way! Video from San Diego Seed Company.

Types of tomatoes I have chosen to grow this season:

  • San Marzano tomato
  • Beefsteak
  • Sun Gold
  • Lucid Gem
  • Citrine
  • Artemis
  • Sakura

Flowers:

  • Mexican Marigold
  • Zinna

Squash:

  • Split pic
  • Dunja
  • Red Kurt
  • Sunshine

Peppers:

  • Padron
  • Cornito Rosso
  • Merlot

Basil:

  • Prospera
  • Purple Opal
  • Sweet Thai
  • Lemon Balm

Melon:

  • Kajori
  • New Queen Watermelon
  • Mary's Hearts of Gold Cantaloupe
  • California Sweet Bush Watermelon
  • Mary's Garden Watermelon

Identify Companion plants:

There is some thought that certain plants coexist better together than others.  Keep this in mind when designing your garden layout.

More Steps to include in your garden preparation:

  • Laying down weed cloth and cover with mulch to prevent weed growth
  • Design details in the garden: Arbors, benches, bird bath with solar water device
  • Add cement to my arbors to make sure they don't blow over on a windy day
  • Seed or Plant vegetables that will be grown outside garden box, i.e. melons, sunflowers, corn
  • Plant Raised Beds
  • Plant bee attracting shrubs like Rosemary
  • Decide where my Greenhouse and Tool Shed will be located
  • Water plants heavily once or twice a week 1-2 inches in the late afternoon or early evening.
  • Water again when the soil is dry 1/2-inch below the surface.
  • Using a Drip or Soaker Hose
  • Use a garden trowel to make holes 2 x deeper and wider than the container.  Most plants should be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart, so they’ll have room to grow and get plenty of sunlight.
  • Make sure you know what size your plant will actually be when it grows up, in order to space it properly.
  • Plan to add stakes and trellises to support your vines
  • Feed my plants with a vegetable fertilizer, organic matter mulch
  • Keep an eye out for pesky bugs and diseases.
  • Tend my garden regularly, to remove weeds quickly
  • Good Gardener's make lots of mistakes but they learn from them.
  • Before the season ends, go back to your garden plan or design and make notes about what you planted in each area. This will help you rotate your food crops next year to keep your soil healthy and discourage pests and diseases from building up in one place.

Keep on growing...

Harvesting Your Vegetables

Tips for harvesting:

  • Pick small when the vegetables have the more flavor and don't wait for your crop to be big because it may harden and lose it taste.
  • Be gentle when harvesting, otherwise you may knock unripen ones off the branch by mistake or bruise them.
  • Use a 5-gallon bucket to carry your veggies.
  • Check for disease or pest while harvesting.  My squash ended up suffering from mildew on its leaves and had to be taken out early due to spreading of the disease.
  • Pest were also found in the melon patch, stealing one melon at a time.  We ended up doing a catch and release program with a few rabbits and squirrels.  My melons also ended up with mildew and loosing most of their leaves.
  • My tomatoes were very prolific producing much fruit all at one time and hard to harvest.  The plants ended up falling on the ground, making it hard to get to the tomatoes without trimming the plants as I went. When picking the red tomatoes, some of the green ones also fell off the branches.   Next time I would recommend keeping the tomato plants upright attached to their string device, it probably would have been easier to harvest.
  • Share your crops at your local Crop Swap location.  Also consider given your extra crops to the homeless shelters.
  • The Oceanside Crop Swap is a group of gardeners, farmers and plant enthusiasts who swap, among other things, homegrown fruit, vegetables, succulents, and ornamental plants online and at monthly events. They meet for swaps on the last Saturday of each month from 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. at the historic Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. In addition to homegrown fruits and vegetables, we also welcome a wide variety of other items for trade including baked goods, homemade foods, seeds, seedlings, cut flowers, plants and cuttings, succulents and succulent starts, eggs, nuts, honey, fresh spices, and any equipment, tools or materials related to gardening. In addition to going home with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables after a swap, you'll meet interesting and like-minded gardeners to swap advice, ideas, and recipes.
  • The Vista Crop Swap also encourages trade of homegrown produce and home crafted canned, baked, and jarred goods, succulents and plants. They meet the second Saturday of every month at Brengle Terrace Park.
  • Another way to give back to our community is through a program called Produce Good. They are 100% committed to harvesting and collecting excess citrus and avocados to benefit San Diego’s Charitable Food System.  So, once you have given away all of your vegetables, you can start donating your citrus and avocados as well.
  • Whatever you do, don't let your crops go to waste... Give them to your friends and family.

 

  1. Herbs

Herbs can be harvested as needed.  Cutting them back frequently to hold back the flowering of the plant.  You can also store them in a dry paper towel in your fridge to absorb any moisture they might have or dry them out.

  1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes ripen based on their color. You also know they are ripe when the tomato releases easily from the stem.

  1. Peppers

If it’s a green pepper plant, you should pick them when their small and tasty. Don’t wait for them to turn red, orange, or yellow because their flavor changes.

  1. Lettuce

The best time to pick lettuce is while the weather is still cool outside.  Lettuce can burn it's leaves if left out in the heat too long.

  1. Green Beans

Green beans should be picked when they have almost reached their full size. You don’t want them to reach full maturity because they become tough and full of large beans.

  1. Melons

The best way to know if a melon is ready to harvest is to thump it. If you get a hollow sound, it should be ripe. You can also smell it, if there is a sweet aroma coming from it, they should be ripe.

  1. Watermelon

Harvesting watermelon is easy. Check the spot where the watermelon has been on the ground. When the spot turns yellowish instead of light brown or white, you know the watermelon is ready to harvest.

  1. Corn

When the silk on the top of the ears turns brown and a milk-colored sap from the kernel, they are ready to be picked.  Twist off the ears.

Already starting the fall crops in my seed starter kits; broccoli, cabbage, radishes, carrots, flowers...