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Gardening for Beginners - January 2010

Oxford Community Garden Association

Gardening for Beginners with Linda Boyd

January 23, 2010 Ÿ Workshop Notes


Soil.  Take care of and build your soil. It is alive!  It’s alive with plant roots, bacteria, animals, insects, and fungi.


·       What we know about the soil at the community garden is that it lacks good soil structure, is too acidic, and retains water.  We will need to incorporate organic matter into the soil to feed the soil. We will also need to apply lime on our plots as soon as possible.


·       Soil needs the same nutrients as we do.  Healthy soil leads to healthy plants.  The healthier the soil, the healthier the plant can be.


·       How to feed soil--compost, which is a combination of dirt, aged manure, sometimes food, and other stuff.    Try to grow according to natural law and try not to overpower soil.


What to grow?  In deciding what to grow, consider the time of year, the season, planting dates for the particular plants. Decide if you want to start with small plants or seeds. Seed catalogs give a lot of good information about plants.


Companion Planting.  Learn what is grows well together.  Some plants attract beneficial insects, and some plants may deter pests.  Certain plants, such as marigolds and basil, make good companion plants for other vegetables.


There are some organically approved pesticides though Linda does not use them much.  If you do use them, it is safer to use it on a plant 3-5” tall and not in bloom.  Linda uses Bt (see terms) whenever she can, but her personal opinion is to use Neem oil sparingly.


It is important to observe your plants.  It is a good idea to inspect them with a magnifying glass because if you detect a problem or an insect presence early, you can take care of it before it gets out of control.


Mulch.  There are a lot of advantages to using mulch.  It helps to control weeds.  It prevents evaporation of moisture.  It keeps the roots cool in the summer and warm in the winter.


Harvest. Learn the best time to pick your produce—aim for medium size, not too big or small.  Harvest from the outside of the plant in. 

Keep your site clean!  Pick up dropped leaves and dropped fruit, take care of weeds immediately, and always put your tools up when you are done.


Also, Linda recommends keeping notes or a journal to keep track of your successes and failures to learn from them.



Amendmentan alteration or addition to soil to correct a problem. (


Bt - Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a spore forming bacterium that produces crystals protein (cry proteins), which are toxic to many species of insects. (


Bt proteins have been used in many organic farms for over 50 years as a microbial pest control agent (MCPA). Bt proteins are allowed in organic farming as an insecticide because Bt is a natural, non-pathogenic bacterium that is found naturally in the soil. Bt has also been found to be safe to all higher animals tested. (


Compost Compost is partially decomposed plant material mixed with soil. Since compost is rich in organic matter, use it to improve soil structure, tilth, fertility, and water- and nutrient-holding capacity. 


Compost can be mixed directly into the garden soil or used as a mulching material that is mixed with the soil after the growing season. (MSU’s Extension Service’s Garden Tabloid page 3.)


Raised beda gardening area where the soil has been elevated above ground level. This gardening technique is especially used where soil drainage is poor. Beds can be raised in a structure of wood, brick, cement blocks, etc. (


From MSU’s Extension Service’s Garden Tabloid:   “Where the native soil is adequate, raised beds can be made by removing several inches of soil from the bed area, filling the excavation with organic matter like manure or old hay, and mixing the soil with the added organic matter. It is also possible to pull soil from the walkways between beds and place it on the beds, filling the walkways with mulch materials like pine needles. Raised beds can be framed with wood, bricks, or cement blocks, or they can be left unframed. Framing adds to the appearance, and depending on the materials used, may provide seating. …Raised beds require more water than ground-level beds, but when the alternative is no garden at all, it’s worth the extra effort” (page 3).


Recommended Reading

Great Garden Companions (Sally Jean Cunningham)

Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Rodale's Great Garden Fix-Its

Straight Ahead Organic (Shepherd Ogden)

The Biological Farmer (Gary F. Zimmerman)

Organic Gardening magazine