So I really want to start growing some of my own veggies so I am going to start a salsa garden in my backyard (garlic, cilantro, small tomatoes, etc.). I also want to grow carrots. Here are my main questions:

1. Last year I tried to grow strawberries and the birds got to every single one. How can I protect my little garden from these bastards? Please no plastic owl references. I need to know if there is something I can drape over the garden that will keep them away,

2. When is the best time to plant things like this?

Any other advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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1. Bird netting - it's cheap, but you need a bit of a support to keep it off the berries - use PVC hoops to support the net.

2. Cilantro - early to mid spring - I would just buy the plants, garlic - it's too late now - you start it mid-fall, but we have some wonderful garlic growers here who sell lots of different types at the farmer's markets, so buy locally. Tomatoes - buy plants (Italian plum are meaty) and plant around late April - early May when the soil has warmed to around 60. Chili peppers need a bit more soil heat, and they harvest around late August to mid-Sept. You'll probably be sick of tomatoes by then, so prepare to can or freeze most of your yield. Coffee grounds makes great fertilizer, btw - high in nitrogen and probably lots of interesting chemical concoctions - my pepper plants were huge last year.
Shotsie, thanks. I'll wait on the garlic until fall. I guess I'll just set aside a section for them this Spring. Do the chile peppers plant in spring as well?
Here's my thoughts:

For the birds: Nylon netting (like the stuff a shower puff is made out of) may be helpful. Try JoAnn's or Hancock Fabrics. Or you can try to distract the birds by planting something else that appeals to them.

Garlic, I believe, should be planted in the fall and harvested in the spring.

Tomatoes need to wait until after the last frost. After Cinco De Mayo is usually ok. You can start seeds indoors soon, though!

Cilantro should be planted after danger of frost. It should be easy enough to grow from seeds. When the weather gets hot it will bolt (go to seed), so you probably want do multiple plantings a few weeks apart to keep up your supply.

Hope this helps (and that the information provided is correct), and good luck gardening!
Thanks geofizx. This is the first real food garden that I have attempted. But, I was so excited last year when I started getting strawberries, which was short lived because of the obese little sparrows in our neighborhood. I will definitely be investing in bird netting.

This is going to sound like a dumb question, but what is the best way to start seeds indoors? I have heard of people putting them between wet paper towels until they sprout a bit and then planting them and keeping them indoors until they are ready to move outside. Is this what you recommend?
Personally, I haven't started seeds indoors for awhile due to the presence of a plant eating cat. Everyone has their own method. I know people who use the plastic containers that mini-cupcakes come in (bonus: you get cupcakes!). Put some potting soil in each cup, add seeds and keep moist (not too wet, though - you may want to poke small holes in the bottom). When the plants get bigger, move them to a larger container. Then move them outside when it is safe. Some people I know also buy seed-starting kits (not sure of the supplier they use, but I'm sure google will find some for you).

Chile peppers also get planted after the danger of frost. I can't wait until spring! I am ready to plant right now.
I am ready to plant now too. I can't wait until we get warmer weather. I always get the planting bug after Christmas and then drive myself crazy waiting until we can do something. If this veggie garden thing works out I'll be excited.
I'm a little slow seeing this but here's a few comments.

Most salad sorts of things, lettuce, spinach, etc. are cool season crops and can be started here as early as mid February if you put them in a cold frame. A cold frame takes advantage of our great sun here and allows you to stretch the growing season by about four months. Here's a blog I wrote last year about early salad gardens. The cool season crops should all be direct seeded in the soil, not pre-started. You can get in a cool season harvest before you can even plant many of the salsa crops you mentioned.

Both tomatos and chilis are warm season crops and should be started from seed in early April for transplanting after soil temps are reliablly at 60 degrees F overnight. That frequently won't be until mid to late May here. Ironically, tomatos may refuse to set fruit once the daytime highs are consistently over 90 so they can be touchy. Sometimes a mid-day shade cloth will be required to get a good fruit set. A lot depends on your particular garden exposure.

Carrots can be difficult here depending on where you live, or more importantly your soil type. In the valley areas of town there is a lot of clay. Carrots do NOT like clay. It is just too compacted for them to grow well, so, if you have a lot of clay in your soil amend it with sand and compost. Make sure the compost is broken down well and doesn't have large pieces of organic debris in it. Carrots will split if they hit obstructions in the soil as they grow. You will get some very interesting shapes but very funky looking carrots. :-) If you will use a shorter variety, like Danvers Half Long, they will do better because they naturally make stockier, shorter carrots and don't grow as deeply into the soil.

Carrot seed has difficulty sprouting here because of the crust that forms on the surface of most of our soils. An easy way to solve this problem is to interplant the carrot seed with radish seed. It is much larger, easier to see, will help mark the row until the much slower sprouting carrots do poke through and the rapidly sprouting and growing radishes keep the soil from crusting over. The radishes are ready to be harvested in a month, long before they are competing with the carrots for space. Carrots require a very long growing season to mature and you should generally let the weather get cold before you harvest them in the late fall. That will help convert the starches into sugars and you will get sweeter carrots.

Happy gardening.
Thank you NMBeek, this was very helpful. We live on the west side of town so the dirt stinks, but the planter that I would be planting the garden in is raised and filled with really nice dirt. So, the carrots might be ok. We'll see. I had considered radishes as well. So you are saying to plant the radishes among the carrots?
Last year I used bird netting on my strawberries. They kept the birds away but I ended up procrastinating on checking under the netting until too late. This year, I think I'll be growing strawberries in small pots and take them inside (on a sunny window) when they start to fruit.

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