May 23, 2012

7 Things to Avoid when Preparing a Vegetable Garden

THESE SNAP PEAS MIGHT BE ABLE TO SURVIVE WITH SIX TO EIGHT HOURS OF SUNLIGHT IS FINE, BUT TEN TO TWELVE HOURS CAN ADD TO YOUR HARVEST SUBSTANTIALLY.

1. Avoid Shade - Duh - But Count Your Hours of Sunlight


There are many factors to consider when selecting the perfect site for your vegetable garden. most can be fixed or altered after you have constructed it, so focus on what you can't change - the weather. Not all plants need sunlight in order to grow, but generally speaking, vegetables are the exception to the rule. But shade can be a sneaky thing - shade can be cast long distances in the morning and in the evening, and a tall tree in a neighbors yard, or a garage may block the sun at sunrise or near sunset, which may seem minor, but ever hour of extra sun may mean the difference between early tomatoes, or late ones.

When planning you raised bed, look for the sunniest place in your yard. Consider cast shadows from neighboring trees, especially in the morning and in the evening, and notice if the canopy of  a tree extends over your garden.  I have a high fence along the southern end of my property which casts a long shadow across several raised beds for most of the year, but between late May and late August, these beds receive nearly 16 hours of sunlight.



WITH LOTS OF ORGANIC MATERIAL ADDED TO YOUR SOIL, VERY LITTLE TILLING WILL BE REQUIRED.


2. Avoid Rototilling


Soil texture is one of the least talked about aspects of gardening, but in many ways, it can be the most essential, as the root zone can be the most opportunistic place where you can improve your growing conditions. All too often, mechanical rototillers and out-dated concepts such as 'double digging' do more harm than good.  Soil is a very local and complex issue, and soil does need to be worked, but in many raised beds, all one needs to do is to turn over the soil with a pitch fork to loosen it. The more organic material there is in the soil, the less the soil needs to be worked.

A perfect example of re-invention is happening in the rock garden world. For nearly 100 years alpine plant enthusiasts have insisted on using a granualar, fast-draining soil mixture akin to canary gravel, sand and pebbles, with just a little organic material added. The new method redefines the entire cultivation process by suggesting growers use pure clay. Wet, sloppy, clay.

Fundamentally, adding organic material to your raised bed is the best advice. But try not to add peat moss. Recent trends are to reduce our consumption on peat and peat products, a limited resource exists and many gardeners are looking at more sustainable resources such as compost.



3. Avoid Adding Bagged 'soil' To Your Vegetable Garden


I have no idea where this trend started, but all commercial brands of bagged soil or bagged top soil are some of the worst products one can add to your vegetable gardens. Even bagged composted manure is often un-tested, or less than 1% manure, plus, you never know where it comes from. More likely than not, it is just aged wood mulch, which, by itself, is not bad, but you should not be paying a premium for it.
Also, take some time to understand the difference between POTTING SOIL, TOP SOIL and LOAM.  Top soil is just wild, sandy or clay soil ( dirt) dug from the ground, and potting soil is SOILESS, meaning, it is composed from often three ingredients - peat moss, perlite and vermiculite ( generally speaking). Most commerical brands might be fine for containers, in fact, I highly reccomend them for containers, but for nothing else.

Best practices suggest that you add anything organic, even un-dyed bark mulch from the previous season. The best soil comes from composted leaves, which would require you to rent or buy a leaf shredder. Shred leaves in the autumn, and make a pile in the corner of your yard ( no need for fancy structures). By spring, the leaves will be perfect - absolutely perfect- as an organic additive to your garden. Second best- add hay from your barn, your chicken coop or from the zoo. Third best? Use your old bark mulch, that you stored in another pile for a year. Many commerical growers just this exact material when they grow specialty plants, it actually makes a terrific organic additive - and don't worry about it being too acidy, acid levels in soil is not affected by adding pine or hemlock.

CHOOSE YOUNGER TOMATO PLANTS FOR TRANSPLANTS VS LARGE PLANTS WITH FRUIT

3. Avoid Large Pre-Started Transplants. Go For Small


I know, it's so hard to resist those huge tomato plants in May, but resist, and go for the smallest ones. In the end, you will be happier with the results. Now that you are ready to plant, be careful about proper planting times. The greatest mistake is planting warm weather crops too early ( tomatoes and peppers), or, buying plants that are too large at the nursery. I know it is tempting, but remember that tomatoes will not set fruit until night time temperatures remain above 65 degrees. A tomato seed planted today on May 23 will over-take a store bought tomato plant with fruit on it in 6 weeks. There is absolutely no reason to buy a large, healthy tomato in May.

Learn what crops grow in cool weather, and which ones demand heat and humidity. Many crops must be grown as autumn crops and not in the spring. Dinosaur Kale or Tuscan Black kale is one that comes to mind, and many, such as Cauliflower like the 'Chedder Cheese' variety bred in the 1980's, performs much better as a fall crop. So save your seed catalogs, and use well-resected planting charts from good sources for exact planting dates ( I like Johnny's Selected Seeds' as a source for tested and true growing information).

HEIRLOOM VARIETIES LIKE THIS GERMAN GARLIC FROM 1850 ARE MORE THAN 100 HUNDRED YEARS OLD . CUCUMBERS, GARLIC AND  TOMATO VARIETIES ARE OFTEN HANDED DOWN THROUGH GENERATIONS AND MOST ARE CHOICE SELECTIONS , BUT BE WARY OF MORE RECENT CROSSES FROM THE LATE 2oth CENTURY CLAIMING TO BE HEIRLOOM. LEARN THEIR INTRODUCTION DATE, AND MAKE YOUR OWN CHOICES.

4. Avoid Weak Varieties, and Choose Heirlooms Choicefully


I know, heirlooms are hot and I highly recommend them, but be very careful about what some people call 'heirloom' and what are not true heirlooms. There are not rules here, so some people are labeling many old late 20th century open polinated ( meaning that they will come true from saved seed) varieties heirloom, when what they are is actually just 'old varieties. Many of these 'old varieties are just un-improved hybrids or un-improved selections that were introduced in the 1960's 70's and 80's, such as Marketmore cucumber strains. There are more than one.

As for hybrids? I would relax about them too, Hybrids are perfectly fine, if not preferred for performance and disease resistance. I hybridize myself, and people have been doing it for 150 years, and nature has been doing it long before that. There are hundreds of natural hybrids, just as in what happens to primroses in the wild. Natural crosses and those done with a paint brush are fine and safe - and no naturalist or botanist is running around freaking out about how hybrids are going to kill us, it's natural.

Genetically Modified Organisms ( GMO)? That's a different story. I have not made my mind up there yet, but my opinion is that is some places, it's perfectly fine. All I will say is unless you are a conspiracy theorist, and not a home gardener- don't worry about Monsanto selling you GMO seed. You could not buy any even if you wanted to.


ONE CANNOT PLANT ENOUGH SPINACH, EVEN A BROAD BAND ROW 60 FEET LONG WILL ONLY PRODUCE A COUPLE OF MEALS. STILL, THOSE FEW MEALS WILL BE OH, SO MEMORABLE.

5. Try to avoid under-planting - grow enough to prepare more than one meal.


Remember, it takes 60 feet  of peas to pick a bushel. 20 square feet of spinach planted thickly to pick a pound. I know it can be discouraging, but this is that 'ol it takes 100 gallons of raw maple syrup to produce on gallon - thingy. Don't let this stop you, just be realistic if you are planning to live off of your vegetable garden, and he honest with yourself about why you are growing one in the first place. For health, your kids, the exercise, to learn, a few fine meals 'in season'- what ever, there is no bad reason.

OVER FERTILIZED TOMATOES WITH MIRACLE GRO 10-10-10 WILL PRODUCE LUSH FOLIAGE AND TALL STEMS, BUT FEW FRUIT. OPT FOR TOMATO FERTILIZER AND MAKE SURE THAT IT IS LOW IN NITROGEN ( THE FIRST NUMBER).

6. Be aware about Fertilizing Too Much or Too Little

But contrary to what many advise, must growing vegetables well will require that you use fertilizer of some sort. I use both, a granular feed which some will say is in-organic, but I feel is still chemically the same ( nitrogen, phosphorus, etc from natural sources, combined with slow-release analysis products such as lime, blood meal, green sand, cottonseed ( for nitrogen) and bone meal.

Organic dry fertilizer is generally slower to decompose than liquid, so plan on using both. The problem is, bone meal is released into the soil over years, so if I added it now, it's not very useful in the short run. It is slow and weak, which is why it is often suggested for use with bulbs. I also augment with liquid feed, both from organic sources like fish, and yes, I use some Miracle-Gro for foliar feeds on some plants ( like fast crops such as arugula, spinach and other leafy crops),

Like people-food, I strive for a balance, since my primary goal is not to save the environment, as there is little to no run-off from my tiny raised beds or containers, but I also need to harvest sizable cabbages. All living creatures need nutrition, and learning the proper nutritional needs of every plant you will be growing is essential. A radish will require the opposite in nutritional needs than does a tomato, root crops need an analysis where nitrogen is barely an element, and the worst fertilizer you can use on a tomato plant is the 10-10-10 version of Miracle Gro, as yes, you will get a beautiful 12 foot tall dark green plant, but few, if any tomatoes.

I recommend:

For Tomatoes - 2.10.5
For Leaf crops - 10-5-5
For Root crops  2-10-10

Test your soil for pH, for what spinach or peas require for a pH ( 7) may not be what tomatoes want ( 5.5).



6 comments :

  1. Keep it up; keep posting more n more n more.
    Tree Doctor

    ReplyDelete
  2. hopflower9:35 AM

    Compost piles are a must for the garden, too.Re-using your gArden waste matter along with leaves and other clippings if suitable,go along way toward cutting down on landfills and building health in the garden. And, you know what is in your soil and vegetables!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really notice a difference in the sugar snap peas that I plant in the spring versus the fall. The spring plants get so much bigger. I am sure it is because everyday in the spring they get more sunlight as in the fall they get less! Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Shanna6:50 PM

    Lost me on the conspiracy theorist comment. Perhaps it would have been better to advise folks to do their own research if you don't have an opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Really find interesting to read.. Thanks for Sharing..

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