SPRING INTO GARDENING
With Spring here I decided it was time to plant a garden. It’s not an elaborate garden with rows upon rows of corn, green bean stalks or a watermelon patch. No, this is a simple two-by-fifteen foot piece of earth in my back yard overlooking the lake. What made it even more special for me was my daughter helping create it. There’s something special about digging your hands in garden soil. For me it brings back memories of my childhood when we would visit my grandmother’s farm in West Virginia. As a kid, the experience of cultivating fresh organic fruits and vegetables that ended up on the lunch and dinner table was truly amazing. This season we plated herbs like basil, dill, lemon grass and mint. We also planted stevia for the first time. Stevia leaves are 200 times sweeter than sugar which will be great to add to blended smoothies or drop into a cup of hot herbal tea. We also planted veggies to throw into salads like cucumber and sweet bell peppers. If you purchase these in the grocery store chances are that they will be covered in wax…but not ours! Of course we had to plant strawberries too since they are my daughters favorite fruit. And since strawberries are on the “dirty dozen” list it was a smart choice to add to our garden.
First of all, this isn’t rocket science, but you do want to consider some of the following tips to ensure you get the best results out of your garden. Here are my top 5:
1. CREATE THE SPACE
You need to create the space for your garden. I had a flower bed that I converted into my garden, but you may need to pull out some sod in order to get yours ready to go. Be sure to pay attention to the location. You want an area that has full sun for a good portion of the day. Some plants will grow well in partial shade, but most veggie plants like full sun. I bought my plants at Home Depot where they have small plastic stakes in each pot that tells you all the info you need, including how much light they require, how high they grow, the spacing needed between plants and more.
2. GO DOWN UNDER
Dig down at least 6-8 inches and get rid of rocks, roots and dried nutrient depleted soil. You need to allow room for your new plants to root-in and drain properly. This is a pain in the back, but it is well worth the effort. If you do it once you won’t need to do it again!
3. GET SOILED
Add a good quality garden soil to your prepared garden area. Home Depot has a bunch of different garden soils and they come in large 1, 1.5 and 2 cubic feet bags that are all under $10 bucks a piece. Most bagged garden soil will come with added plant food, sphagnum peat moss to help control moisture and manure to help improve soil conditions. Depending on the size of your garden you’ll need anywhere from a few to several bags to create the proper environment for your plants.
4. FEEDING TIME
Even though most garden soils already come with plant food mixed in, it’s still a good idea to use a vegetable fertilizer every couple months to ensure you get the most veggies possible from the garden to the plate! They can help to create a strong root system, greener plants and can improve gestation times.
5. BUG ME NOT
This can be an issue for every farmer, including us part-timers. The beauty of growing our own fruits, herbs and vegetables is that we can control exactly what goes on our plants. Unless you’re buying organic all the time there’s a very good chance store bought produce will have some kind of herbicide sprayed on it or wax added to help preserve its shelf life. With that said, we still have to contend with critters that want to eat our plants before we do. One way to keep your foliage from acquiring a fungus and discourage plant eating pests is to water early in the day rather than at the end of the day. This will help keep leaves dry during the evening hours. (If you’re a garden nerd you can install a drip irrigation system that will keep the soil and roots moist without getting on the leaves.) See below under Natural Pest Control for a troubleshooting chart to control insects organically.
YOU DON’T NEED A PATCH OF EARTH
If you live in an apartment or somewhere that doesn’t have access to a yard you can still create a garden. Pots and planters make great herb and vegetable gardens. There’s even upside down planters that will hang from a deck or balcony like the Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter. They claim it will give you up to 30 pounds of tomatoes and you can grow other things in it like zucchinis, egg plant, herbs and more.
There is an organic farmer’s market near my house and I was surprised to find that they grow just about everything in pots. I spoke with the women there and she gave me some insight to creating a successful pot and planter based garden. Here are 5 quick tips from what she told me:
1. The types of plants should match the space that you have. Herbs are usually easier to manage while plants with vines can quickly spill over the pots and take over the limited space you may have.
2. Consider the light conditions where the potted plants will be. Do they get early sun and very little late sun? How many hours per day does the sun come onto the area where they will be? Usually vegetables and herbs require a good span of sunlight to properly grow. Home Depot offers herbs and vegetable plants that come with a small plastic stake in each pot that has information about the plant (how much sun/shade, watering, spacing, etc).
3. Make sure the pots or planters are large enough for proper root growth and drainage. Some pots come with a built-in drainage system, but they can get costly so add a layer of stones at the bottom of each pot or planter to allow for water drainage. You never want to have your plants drowning in water, but you also don’t want to let them dry out as they will die very quickly. This is something that should be checked every day and watered accordingly.
4. Soil is an important factor for growing happy and healthy plants. Most come with fertilizer already mixed in. Because you’re growing plants in pots and not the ground it’s better to get potting soil over garden soil. Potting mix is designed to hold onto moisture longer and won’t dry out as quickly.
5. Fertilizer is also important. Just because the potting mix comes with fertilizer already mixed in, you should still have a basic vegetable fertilizer that you can simply sprinkle in the soil around your plants every 1-2 months. Miracle-Grow offers a great vegetable fertilizer that comes in a handy shaker bottle. This will ensure you get the best results with your potted garden.
NATURAL PEST CONTROL
The following natural pest control chart can be found at: http://eartheasy.com
Soft-bodied insects (mites, aphids, mealybugs):
Mix one tablespoon canola oil and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Shake well and pour into a spray bottle. Spray plant from above down, and from below up to get the underside of the leaves. The oil smothers the insects.
For lawn or garden grubs, there is a natural remedy called milky spore. The granules are spread on the soil and cause the grubs to contract a disease that kills them. This natural control affects only the grubs, leaving the beneficial organisms unharmed. Milky spore multiplies over time and will sit inactive, waiting for grubs to infect. One treatment is said to last 40 years. The grubs are actually the larvae of Japanese beetles. So, when you kill the grubs you kill the beetle.
Mites and other insects:
Mix two tablespoons of hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper with a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Let stand overnight, then stir and pour into a spray bottle and apply as above. Shake container frequently during application.
Earwigs, slugs, and other soft-bodied garden pests:
Sprinkle diatomaceous earth over plants and around edges of garden beds. The diatoms particles are very small and sharp – but only harmful to the small exoskeletons of insects, slugs and snails. Insects cannot become immune to its action, as it is a mechanical killer – not a chemical one.
Mix two tablespoons of baking soda into a quart of water. Pour into a spray container and spray affected areas. Repeat this process every few days until problem ceases.
Mix equal parts milk and water and spray on infected plants. Three treatments a week apart should control the disease.
Insects and fungal diseases:
Combine one tablespoon of cooking oil, two tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Pour into a spray container and apply as above.
So I hope you take some time this season to get outside in the fresh air bring in Springtime. I had a great day with my daughter creating a garden that will last through the summer. And it’s sure to give our family more quality time together as we cultivate and harvest it together. The bonus is having a garden that’s going to produce fresh organic herbs and vegetables to help nourish the whole family.Here’s to Living High Integrity, Gregg (all pictures by Gregg Avedon)
Tags: basil, bell peppers, cucumber, cultivating fruits, dill, earwigs, egg plant, fertilizer, fun, fungal diseases, fungus, garden, grubs, herbal tea, herbs, home depot, insectsbaking soda, int, lemon grass, mildew, miracle-grow, mites, planter, pots, slugs, smoothies, soil, spring, springtime, stevia, strawberries, sugar, tomato, topsy turvy, vegetables, veggies, west virginia, zucchini