Thursday, February 24, 2011

Successfully Starting Your First Garden

I am often asked tips and hints about gardening and although I am not a professional I have had my fair share of success in the garden and with plants.

One of the things that I have often been asked about are tips on growing your own food/planting a garden.

So I thought I would share a few ideas here with you on how to start your first garden successfully. Things that have helped me personally.

1. When planning out your garden you will need to know the following things first and foremost. Your planting zone and your last frost date for your region.

These 2 things are very important in learning what can and cannot be grown successfully in your area of the country.

For example: Asparagus can be grown in just about all areas of the U.S. except for Florida. Here it is just too hot and humid to attempt growing things like that . Also things like raspberries just won’t work here either, the photosynthesis on a raspberry plant will shut down once the temperatures rise above 90 degrees which happens often in the Florida summertime.

So, know your zone and know your last frost date for planting.

Knowing your last frost date is important as well, because if you try to plant things too early they’ll simply freeze and its a lot of work putting in a garden and sowing seeds only to have your hard work destroyed by frost damage. and in the same regards you don’t want to start items like peas and lettuces too late, when these types of items rely upon early Spring’s cooler weather to germinate and grow properly. Timing and zone are key to success.

2. Not only are timing and knowing your planting zone a key to a successful garden, but knowing your soil is also key. In fact one of the most important elements in a garden is the proper soil blend and ph balance. To grow most any type of vegetable successfully try for a ph balance of 6.0.

6.0 is the magic number to try to achieve in your garden. Once you have reached that number you will be on your way to success.

Proper soil blend. One of the best soil blends that works for me and that is extremely successful in my being able to have seeds/plants sprouting up and growing beautifully in no time at all, is a soil blend that includes the following: an aged blend of mushroom compost, horse manure, cow manure, chicken manure and top soil. We have this type of soil hauled in from a dirt company to use in our raised beds they call it “Gardener’s Friend” and it definitely is at that. Yes it stinks a little bit but not too much, but it is this blend of ingredients that makes the soil a great growing medium.

If you do not have a local source for a specially blended soil like this you can create your own special soil blend by using equal parts of the following: top soil, cow manure, peat. Blend all together in a wheel barrow and use in the garden.

3. Weed control: I do not and will not use chemicals in or on my garden. When I create my raised bed gardens I use a thick layer of newspapers (not the glossy kind, just the black and white printed paper) and get it all moistened and then add the soil on top of that. If a weed happens to stray into the bed I remove it the good old fashioned way, by simply pulling it out roots and all. If you decide to plant your garden in rows instead of utilizing a raised bed method the moistened newspapers are a good way to keep weeds down between the rows of your garden.

4. Siting the garden. Where to put your garden is just as important as the other elements I have mentioned in numbers 1-3. You will want to site the garden in an area that is within close proximity to a water source and is also located in full sun. The garden will need at least 6 hours of full sun a day.

5. What to plant? Sometimes when one begins a garden they can get a bit overwhelmed with the decisions on what to grow. Sometimes it may seem enticing to try to grow something new and exotic the first year you attempt a garden. My advice to you: Don’t! don’t try anything unusual or new. Start out with the baby steps first or you will be disappointed before the journey has even begun. Get a bit of experience under your belt first before you branch out into other areas of gardening.

O.k., back to “what to plant?” Start with the basics and the easy to grow. They are: radishes which take only 28 days to mature, peas (look for bush varieties of peas if you do not wish to build a trellis your first year into gardening, bush beans (try varieties like Blue Lake 274, Provider, Royal Burgundy: these varieties all are hardy and grow quickly)lettuces: a good variety to try and fun for kids is Tom Thumb an heirloom variety that is about 6 inches around when mature and only takes about 55 days to get to harvest stage. Try a type of lettuce called Mervielles des quatre saisons (or Marvel of the 4 seasons) this variety germinates quickly and makes large heads of lettuce, allow about 12 inches between each head of lettuce. Try some cut and come again varieties of lettuces such as Salad Bowl Red lettuce. You can harvest this type of lettuce by cutting the outer leaves as the plant grows. Squash is one of the easiest garden vegetables to grow. Try a variety like yellow crookneck summer squash or even zucchini. But, be warned only plant a few seeds of the squash or you’ll find yourself trying very hard to come up with creative ways to cook up this very productive vegetable. Carrots: a hardy variety is Chantenay or try Danvers. Tomatoes: tomatoes will need to be started indoors in a good quality seed starting mix. Transplant outdoors when 6-8 inches tall. Try varieties like Roma, Green Zebra these are easy to grow varieties. Peppers: peppers can be a challenge for the first time gardener as they need a soil temperature of at least 70 degrees to germinate properly. Start indoors, one way to get the proper soil temperature needed for germination is to use a heat mat under your seed starting pots.Once the plants are about 6 inches tall transfer to the garden. Cucumber: plant 2 seeds per hill and space about 3 feet apart. Provide a trellis.

6. Proper moisture. One of a new gardener’s worst enemies can be too much moisture or not enough moisture. One thing to remember when siting your garden in full sun and when the seeds have not yet sprouted is that the garden will need to be watered daily, yes, every day. Do not make your garden look like a big mud field, but do make sure that you have provided at least an inch of moisture per day on the garden. Basically is you have raised bed gardens that you have created you will need to spray the garden bed for about 5-6 minutes per garden bed with a light shower of water.

7. Proper spacing once seeds have sprouted. Once the seeds have sprouted in your garden you’ll want to ensure that the plants have adequate spacing and air flow around the plants to allow them to grow properly to maturity. Follow directions on the seed packets on spacing your plants. Of course some plants can grow successfully a bit closer together than the seed packets suggest but with your first garden do try to provide the plants a bit of the room that the seed packets suggest. Simply pluck out the extra seedlings in your row and discard or…if you haven’t the heart to discard them pot them up into containers and give as gifts to friends that may wish to start their own garden also.

8. Fertilizer. While I do not typically use a fertilizer of any kind on my garden, but choose rather to make sure that I start with a manure rich growing medium and rely upon the manures to provide the fertilizing elements that my plants need I will be utilizing an organic fish emulsion liquid (Dramm products) in my garden this year and will also be using a liquid horse manure tea from Ubiogrow. The products I will be using are natural earth friendly,chemical free products. If you decide to utilize fertilizers on your garden I hope that you’ll choose organic products only and avoid chemicals as much as possible. Remember to always read the instructions and to wear gloves and or a face mask while using any types of fertilizers/chemicals. I do not in any way advocate the use of chemicals in the garden but I do know that some people choose to use them. Exercise caution.

9. Research. I always research a new to me plant. With so much information available via the Internet you will find so many helpful hints and tips on how to grow all types of plants. Utilize this tool. It is a gardener’s friend for sure. Simply do google searches for things like “how to grow carrots successfully” and so forth. You’ll be amazed at the information that is out there that can really help you to succeed.

10. Books that I personally recommend: Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail, Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, One Magic Square by Lolo Houbien, All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew, Small Plot High Yield Gardening by Sal Gilbertie. These are just a few of my favorites to get you started in the right direction.

These are just a few of my tried and true tips that have helped me to have a successful garden. I hope that they will be of help to you. Gardening is absolutely wonderful to get started in as it is a terrific stress reducer and it is also just absolutely terrific to watch a plant grow and mature and to know that you helped it to do so.

~Happy Gardening!~

copyright: Tina Wilson/Small Town Living