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Greeting earth whisperers,

It's that time of the year again where I plan to start a garden, but never get around it and say "next year, for sure!" Except this time, I want to actually follow through with it. I don't like starting small and try to be as analytical as possible with any project I start, so bear with me as I lay out my findings/conclusions below:

For starters, I am in zone 6A.

The sun situation

My house is in the middle of the woods, therefore limited sunlight. The whole property is positioned East to West, and although I initially thought I would not be able to grow anything interesting - I believe I have found two areas of my backyard which have sufficient amount of sun. The last time I was "planning my garden" was last May and on May 22, 2019 I made an effort to go out into the backyard and take photos every hour. Unfortunately I woke up late that day so only started at 10am, however, the areas lit up by sun around 10am are lit up roughly starting 8-9am. I put together a little animation which you can see below. The red and blue areas is where I plan on planting the garden - these areas get roughly 5-6 hours of full late morning/afternoon sun and a couple more hours of dappled sun in the morning and evening hours. I spoke with a few gardeners and they claim this is sufficient to grow things like tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, etc. Any thoughts on this?

SUN ANIMATION

The soil situation / layout / structures

I'm in the Poconos in PA, and my soil is mostly rocky clay. For this and aesthetic reasons I plan on putting together a couple raised beds and a greenhouse and having a truckload of high quality topsoil delivered. In the red area, I plan on putting 2x 4'x8' raised beds with deer/squirrel netting similar to this: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f4/d5/28/f4d528a1e2cde5ac3efd210c52d80892.jpg (there are deer, squirrels and other wildlife roaming free all around here). In the blue area I plan on putting a 6'x8' greenhouse from harbor freight and another 4'x10ish' raised bed.

The plants

I came up with a list of about 25 different fruits, vegetables and herbs that I'd like to grow which I then whittled down to about 20 based on difficulty to grow vs how much I actually like said items. My list below (in alphabetical order):

  • Beets

  • Currants (white, black, red)

  • Carrots

  • Chives

  • Cilantro

  • Cucumbers

  • Dill

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Green onions

  • Parsley

  • Peas

  • Peppers

  • Radish

  • Raspberry

  • Strawberry

  • Tomatoes (a couple different kinds)

  • Zucchini

After trying to figure out how many of each, spacing, etc. I stumbled upon The Old Farmers Almanac Garden Planner which made my laying out a breeze. Using their software, this is what I came up with.

Garden Layout

Plants List

Based on these results I have several questions:

1. Has anyone used this and how accurate it is spacing wise? For example - Can I realistically only fit 5 tomato plants along 1 of the walls of an 8 foot long greenhouse? Is there actually enough space to fit 33 carrots plants as the software suggests?

2. What kind of yield can I expect from 7 plants of chives, 2 plants of zucchinis, 4 pepper plants - is it even worth the trouble for such a small number of plants?

3. The software provides a plant list with indoor/outdoor sowing times and plant out times. Could I just sow everything indoors at the same time and plant them all out at the same time (assuming there is no risk of frost)? Or sow everything indoors at the same time and plant them out according to the suggested schedule?

4. Not related to the software, but am I missing something or something you would get rid of or replace with something else? (Obviously each person has their preferences on what to eat, but just open to hearing ideas!)

Watering

This is a vacation house and I'm only there about once a week, so my plan is to have a 50 gallon drum filled with water connected to a timer and drip irrigation system. I would hook it up to a house bib, however, I am on a well and don't trust those timers shutting off every time - would hate to blow out my well pump. The idea is I would fill up the drum whenever I'm around and have the timer do the watering however often I set it. Has anyone tried doing a gravity fed drip irrigation system? I also considered having a solar powered setup which would charge a car battery, connected to a timer, connected to a pump which would pump the water from the drum through the system. Any thoughts/ideas/suggestions on this point would also be appreciated.

I think that's it for now. Thank you in advance for any input!

  • Your "question" is long, and it seems you ask to opinions (which are not "allowed" in this site. Your plan seems good, but: 1- you may start with a smaller plan: it takes a lot of effort and maybe diseases or unknown facts (wild animals) could destroy your crop and so your motivation. 2- you may over-plan: you should be more adaptive (weather, diseases, time). 3- your plan is "too much ordered". Avoid similar plants nearby (you have one sector with only root vegetables). Tip: do no seed the same crop on the same time, or you may get problem in the kitchen. – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 9 at 14:18
  • So, I would copy your question online (e.g. google documents), and ask here specific questions (and one per "stackexchange" question), possibly referring to the complete plan. – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 9 at 14:19
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Wow, Where to start? I guess with a critique of the plan...

  1. As Giacomo noted, vegetables in the same family can share diseases. For example, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and tomatoes should never be planted in succession on the same plot of ground. I always plant peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants in the same bed, then "move" that bed yearly. Yes, I'm taking a risk with this (if one variety picked up a nasty disease, I could loose ALL of my Solanacae). I do this because it's easier to rotate the crops (see below). Other related vegetables are the brassicas (cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower) and cucurbits (cucumbers, melons, pumpkins).

  2. To reduce possible disease issues, you need to rotate all of your crops each year (I use a three-year cycle). This means that you need a third raised bed.

  3. To get the third bed, it's not necessary to plant the currents and raspberries in a raised bed - plant them in the ground. Your soil should be just fine for them.

  4. Speaking of raspberries, plant them where you can have a "patch". They're often planted in a row, with cross-shaped supports used to hold the canes upright.

  5. You're not taking advantage of crop succession. For example, radishes will bolt in late spring, so you can plant them in the same bed that you plant your tomatoes and peppers. Peas will bolt later, and can be planted with zucchini or cucumbers (depends to some extent on pea variety). This also helps spread out your crops a bit. Dill and cilantro also will set seed rather early and then die (especially cilantro). If you use lots of those crops, then you should seed them periodically through late spring.

  6. To answer your chives question - one plant should be more than sufficient, unless you use massive amounts in your cooking.

  7. Garlic is always planted in the fall and harvested in late summer. I never plant it in the same bed as onions (same family).

  8. I plant three tomatoes in a ten foot bed (they're on three-foot centers, each with a two-foot diameter cage). Five in your greenhouse is a recipe for blights, insect pests, and other problems. You need the space between them for proper airflow, which is another reason you don't want to use the greenhouse for them.

  9. Use the greenhouse for starting plants only if you're going to be there to monitor the plants.

  10. Your watering setup may not be needed. I rely on rain for my vegetables, with maybe one or two waterings each season. Depends on your region's annual rainfall totals, though. Tomatoes and peppers can take an awful lot of dryness.

  11. Currants can carry white pine blister rust (see here for PA-specific info), so make sure you get resistant varieties of those plants.

  12. I'd mulch everything, every year. This will prevent water loss and severely restrict the growth of weeds. You could use wood chips/shredded bark on the currants and berries, because those never move. I use cocoa bean hulls for my other vegetables, because they break down yearly and add to soil tilth. Not sure if they're available in your area, though.

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For the gravity drip system, use a battery timer that has a rotating ball valve inside. That sort doesn't need pressure to operate. If you can find a friend to work with that will help with motivation. Good luck!

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