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Newbie wondering when to start (it's fall now) Toplef10Newbie wondering when to start (it's fall now) 1zd3ho10

Hello Guest!
Welcome to the official Square Foot Gardening Forum.
There's lots to learn here by reading as a guest. However, if you become a member (it's free, ad free and spam-free) you'll have access to our large vermiculite databases, our seed exchange spreadsheets, Mel's Mix calculator, and many more members' pictures in the Gallery. Enjoy.

Newbie wondering when to start (it's fall now) I22gcj10Newbie wondering when to start (it's fall now) 14dhcg10

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Newbie wondering when to start (it's fall now)

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Post  frankSFG 10/20/2015, 1:07 pm

Hi, I'm a newbie to SF Gardening.  It's Mid October here in the desert southwest, and I'm at a point where I can start building the raised beds, but don't know if it would be better to start in the Spring, or can I get a head start now while I have some time on my hands.  Would it be premature to start building the sf garden wood frames and filling them in with the mixture and then waiting on planting?  

Thanks,
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Post  Marc Iverson 10/20/2015, 1:50 pm

I don't know anything about Texas gardening conditions, but remember if it gets cold out there, some people cover their boxes and get greens and root crops all through winter, and also to get an early start on spring. Even if you don't plant anything, it might be fun and useful to start looking into what you can do when growing under covers.
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Post  sanderson 10/20/2015, 2:02 pm

FrankSFG, Welcome to the Forum from California! glad you\'re here Definitely start them now while you have the time! I had to look up El Paso and your climate. Your climatYou should be able to garden year around with some sun shade in the summer months, and off-and-on use of gable-roofed plastic covers during the monsoon. There are several cold weather crops that can survive light freezing. Check out the Southwest Desert Region on the home page for gardening information in your region. Actually, my climate in Fresno, CA is quite similar to yours, hot summers, near freezing winters, and very little rain. I wouldn't even attempt to garden here without SFG boxes and Mel's Mix.

We are a friendly and gabby group, so ask any questions you have. We are here to help new SFG's.

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Post  Zmoore 10/20/2015, 3:24 pm

My 2 cents.
I second Sanderson, by all means start now.

I've done both, started with nothing in the spring and then go, and build over fall-winter and be ready to plant in spring.  

If you have the luxury of being able to start now, I say do it.  Of the two situations I enjoyed started some of the "grunt" work in the fall and winter at my leisure.  Make the boxes one weekend and enjoy a beer or two.  Paint the boxes (if you choose to) another weekend and enjoy a beer or two.  Enjoy another beer or two.  Set the boxes out where you think you want them and play with their location a little and enjoy a beer or two.  Once you have the boxes set go ahead and put down weed matting and.... well, you get the idea.  I think the main reason I liked that option better, other than the beer, was then in the spring when it comes time to plant you can focus on that and not be trying to plant and build everything at the same time.  Makes planting time more enjoyable IMO.

P.S.  Depending on your climate you may want to substitute a good bourbon for the beer.  All depends on how "nippy" it is outside Newbie wondering when to start (it's fall now) 3170584802
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Post  frankSFG 10/20/2015, 3:49 pm

Thanks for all your input.  So if I build the boxes, shall I also lay the mix in as well?  Assuming that I don't start to plant until the spring.
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Post  Zmoore 10/20/2015, 6:04 pm

Frank,
  In my case I bought all the mix supplies in the fall, late summer, but I held off on putting the mix into the beds until just before planting time.  I don't think you HAVE to do it that way.  My thought was I didn't want the fresh compost component of my mix sitting in rain and snow all winter and possibly loosing some nutrients to leeching before I even started.  So, I got everything else set up, and then waited until I had an opportunity a little closer to planting time before I put my mix in.  I put my mix in the new boxes and added new compost to the existing boxes to "freshen" them up and then when planting time came I was ready to go.  
You mentioned "desert", so I don't know if "leeching" from rain or snow is even a concern.  Maybe in your case it doesn't matter so much in timing, but if you do put it down early you might want to cover it with a mulch layer for the winter.  The "mix" is very light and "fluffy" when first installed.  You wet it of course, but if it sits dormant and exposed for a period of time and drys out you could lose some to wind.  
Hmmm, now that I look at what I jut said I think I'll change my mind and say wait.  Wait until it's a little closer to when you plan to start planting.  Within a month or a few weeks should be fine and can serve to give your mix some time to get "acclimated", but not too much time to where it's just plain exposed.  
My 2 cents.
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Post  yolos 10/20/2015, 7:10 pm

I don't know if you are making compost or buying it for your mix.  If buying bagged compost, in our area, it is hard to find during the winter.  In spring and summer everybody has it, but in winter only the local nursery.  Usually not the big box store.
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Post  Scorpio Rising 10/20/2015, 7:50 pm

Welcome from Ohio, Frank! You have come to the right place for tons of info and opinions, experiences, etc. about SFGing! Sounds like you have a great start. I think I would build my boxes, but wait to fill until closer to planting time, due to leaching and loss of MM, which is a bummer!

We love pictures, and look forward to hearing about your journey!
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Post  sanderson 10/21/2015, 3:23 am

I'm going to add one more thing about starting now, including filling the boxes.  I think Mel's Mix improves with time.  It takes microorganisms to release the nutrients so the more time they have to multiply, the richer the Mix, plus every time you add more compost.  Being in a year around growing environment your winter crops will give you practice getting to know your garden, and those pesky insects, before you start the summer garden.  Half of the US is putting their beds to sleep for the winter, but those of us with mild winter climate can grow something every month with just a little freeze protection.

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Post  yolos 10/21/2015, 8:40 am

I started in the fall of 2011.  I built my bed, put in Mel's Mix and planted fall veggies just to see what did well in my climate.  It gave me an education in what to plant and when to plant next years fall garden.
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Post  AtlantaMarie 10/21/2015, 8:56 am

Hi FrankSFG.  Welcome from Atlanta, GA.

I'd also say start now.  Just be sure to put a good amount of newspaper in the bottom (if they're sitting on the ground) to prevent grass, etc. from starting to grow in there.  And apparently worms like newspaper...  That's a good thing for our gardens!

Remember - it's all an experiment!
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Post  jimmy cee 10/21/2015, 10:32 am

Having 5 beds already made and needing to add height I started on one and finished before winter set in.
I had to wait till spring arrived before making my mix, did not have any compost and I knew that store stuff wouldnt do it for me...Our local recycle center had free compost in April, got a bunch , then added aged mushroom manure, chickity doo doo, a few other organic products and that did nicely for me.
If I had it to do over I would have concentrated on making compost before I did anything, that stuff from recycle saved my day.
Be careful of trees near your beds when you make them.
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Post  frankSFG 10/21/2015, 1:04 pm

I read Mel's book and was a bit dismayed about the warning about planting near trees.  In my case this is unavoidable, and I don't really want to add a plywood bottom or elevate my grow beds on a stand or something.  My plan was to use permeable fabric on the bottom along with newspaper.  Is this advisable or do I use one or the other?  

Also, the area that I wish to layout my growbeds is along the wall in my backyard. Currently there's a space that measures about 4'-7" wide - this is a bit wide for me to reach from one side.  Would it be okay if I built the boxes 3 feet wide instead - thereby giving me about 16" space in the back for servicing the growbeds?

Thanks for the help.
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Post  sanderson 10/21/2015, 2:08 pm

Frank,  Yes, you can make a bed 3' wide, or 2' wide, anything 4' or LESS.  Yes, you need to be able to walk around the bed.  16" is a little narrow for a servicing isle but it is better than no isle.

You don't have to raise the bed very high to keep the tree roots out of the box.  And they will come up!  Some of us learned the hard way and had to empty our boxes and raise them off the ground.  That was heartbreaking work.  This is just my suggestion:  roll out weed fabric where the box will go.  Cut studs or 2" x 4" of wood the width of the box (3' ??) and set them like railroad ties every 2' or less.  Set ply wood over the studs.  Drill holes as the book instructs, lay a layer of weed fabric over the plywood to keep the Mel's Mix from falling through the holes.  Set the box on top of the plywood platform and fill with Mi.  You will have a box that will last for a few years and no tree roots!!

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Post  frankSFG 10/21/2015, 2:24 pm

How about the lumber to be used for both the boxes and the 2x4 supports.  Does this need to be treated wood?
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Post  Zmoore 10/21/2015, 2:53 pm

Newbie wondering when to start (it's fall now) Sf_gar10

Absolutely.  I remember ages ago seeing a gardening show where they had 12" wide planks delineating a "walking" path through a garden of planting beds various sizes, I won't swear to it, but I think it may have been Mel way back in the day.  

I think in Mel's SFG book, either first or second one, he mentions bed sizes and spacing and how he came up with them and why he recommends the sizes he does.  Basically, the 4' dimension is based on generally a person can reach in about 2' to access for planting, maintenance, harvest, whatever, without having to step into the bed and compact the soil.  Wider than that and you can't get to stuff in the middle without stepping in it.  

By all means adjust to your site specific conditions.  Really, a lot of the SFG stuff is... suggestions really.  I think the suggestions are well thought out and there is some good rational there and even consideration for efficiency, but it's not "the law".  6" soil?  not a bad idea, good rational, but I want to use 8", 12", maybe even 13".  It can be done.  

Anyway, your case 3' wide with a 16" access in the back along the wall.  Can be done, if you can access within the 16" go for it.  Just consider for access 16" wide you may not be able squat down facing the bed from the back because your... backside is going to bump the wall.  You could however turn sideways (parallel) with the wall and still be able to work along.

Options for consideration:
Can you use the wall as a "trellis"?  Consider doing 4'x4' and push it up against the wall, you can still access from 3 sides and reach to the back center.  You didn't mention how much length you had across your yard.  Let's assume 30', you could put in 4- 4'x4' beds backed up against the wall with about 3' access between the beds on the side.  Use the wall as a trellis and/or that's where you plant your tall stuff, smaller stuff in the front.
Just go 2' wide in front of the wall, and just run it the entire length of the wall.  Sounds like you lose a lot, but in my example, 4-4'x4' boxes = 64 s.f., 2'x30'= 60 s.f.  Close.  
1' wide along whole length of wall, use for planting tall or vine plants.  Space about 16" and then put in a 2' box.  You'll have to "break" or space the 2' box periodically to give you room to walk from the front/yard to the access aisle.  This is very similar to yours, I'm just moving access aisle away from the wall and keeping the option open for using wall as a trellis.

My 2 cents.  Basically, it's your garden.  Do whatever you want to make it work for you Smile
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Post  Zmoore 10/21/2015, 2:56 pm

LOL!!
Whoops.  I started a "reply", then got distracted, finished it up and then posted it, now I see Sanderson already answered.
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Post  CapeCoddess 10/21/2015, 3:36 pm

frankSFG wrote:How about the lumber to be used for both the boxes and the 2x4 supports.  Does this need to be treated wood?

I don't use treated wood.  But if you do a little research on it you may decide it's safe for you.  Some do, some don't.
As for the tree roots, I'm in year 4 with my boxes on cardboard, placed about 10+ feet from pine trees and such.  So far so good, but I had 2 boxes this year that didn't do as well.  That's a sign of root invasion. Once my season is over I may dig down and find I've been invaded. :/
Or it could be something else.

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Post  Scorpio Rising 10/21/2015, 8:12 pm

sanderson wrote:I'm going to add one more thing about starting now, including filling the boxes.  I think Mel's Mix improves with time.  It takes microorganisms to release the nutrients so the more time they have to multiply, the richer the Mix, plus every time you add more compost.  Being in a year around growing environment your winter crops will give you practice getting to know your garden, and those pesky insects, before you start the summer garden.  Half of the US is putting their beds to sleep for the winter, but those of us with mild winter climate can grow something every month with just a little freeze protection.

True, with all that time, your MM will improve and you will gain experience. But there may be loss is medium, and leaching, just depends on weather.
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