Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Top 10 Garden Tips

After having a wonderfully warm and sunny day, we're back to having snow on the ground, not a lot but enough to remind us we are in Indiana, in March and although we have snow today, tomorrow could be 70 degrees.  Then Friday could have more snow.  Hang in there, Winter is almost over!

The talk in my world is full of more and more gardening.  There are lots of people who have gardened for ages because they know that gardening not only brings you wonderfully fresh veggies but it drastically cuts down your grocery bill when you can walk to the back yard and pick what you eat.  I'm loving all the new gardeners who either started gardening last year or are wanting to start this year.  

I'd like to offer a few hints for those who are wanting to start a garden this year.

1.  Start SMALL.  Nothing will defeat a new gardener faster than 200 plants all needing weeding at once.

2.  Plant what you like to eat.  Just start with a favorite veggie or two.

3.  If you have kids, involve them.  A sure way to get kids to eat more veggies (or try a new one) is to let it be "theirs".  Let them chose it, plant it and tend to it.  When they watch it grow and become a veggie, they'll be more willing to eat it.  This is how I got my kids to eat carrots!  I even plant extra carrots so they can pull one every few weeks to check the size.  

4.  Know the costs.  A huge garden will require the services of a tiller.  Whether you have to buy one or hire a service that will come and till your area or even rent one for the weekend.  If you are starting small you'll need a shovel and possibly a hoe.

5.  Seeds vs. Plants.  It will be cheaper to start from seeds but it requires time and space in the house before you can get to the garden.  You'd need something like those seed starter kits with the domes.  A cheaper way that I have used in the past is using those small cardboard boxes that canned veggies are sent to the grocery in with Saran Wrap over the top until the seedlings come up.  I would set this on an old cookies sheet because, obviously water will seep through the cardboard.  I would set this somewhere warm until they sprouted.  Plants on the other hand, do cost a bit more but if you go to a nursery and not somewhere like a big box store, it's reasonable.  Where I go, I get veggie plants by the flat, which is 72 plants, for about $17. Starting with plants will give you a bit of a head start because seedlings are somewhat finicky.  Sometimes I still am not successful with seedlings, it varies from year to year.

6.  Start a garden notebook.  I talked about my garden notebook before and for those who read about the missing notebook, it is gone.  Not all is lost though.  Someone in my home by the name "not me" tore out most of the pages of my old garden notebook and tucked them inside my favorite gardening book.  At least I have some of my notes!  A garden notebook around here is just a simple spiral notebook that I keep a log of my garden in.  I have a rough sketch of the garden layout of what's planted where.  It has notes about what worked in what area of the garden.  Yes, it can happen where you plant something on one end of the garden and it will blow you out of the water with produce and you plant it somewhere else and it give you 3 veggies.  A notebook won't tell you 'why' this happens but will remind you a year or so later that you don't want to put it there.  A garden layout is also important in crop rotations.  Different plants take different nutrients from the soil, rotating them lets the soil recover those nutrients.  I also make a general note about the weather, a small entry such as noting last year's drought.  Don't worry, I'm not a weatherman either so I only note the overall season.

7.  Gardening does require some work but don't think of it as a dreaded chore.   Think of it as your nurturing this small seedling that will eventually feed your family.  I know it's hokey but I have a large garden and if I let myself think "I have a crap ton of work to do out there" I would get discouraged.  Quickly.  My garden is large and it works better for me if I focus on a bed or two a day.  Go tend to what they need that day, some weeding, some pruning, some harvesting, or whatever is needed.  Just break the work down so that you're not going out on Saturday morning for several hours of work.  Even if you work full time, if you focus 20 minutes a day and include your family in doing it, you can maintain a good sized garden for a family.  Remember, smaller gardens will take even less time.

8.  In the areas between my garden beds, I put down layers of newspapers and cover them with straw.  I justify the cost of the straw because after the garden season, I mow down my strawberry plants and rake up the straw from between my beds and cover the strawberry bed with it.  This "beds" (insulates) the strawberry plants for the winter.  I know many people don't bed down the strawberries, but this is what I was taught so it is what I do.  If you don't use straw, you can wet down the newspapers to hold them down but you'll have to do this occasionally to keep them from blowing away as they dry out.  You could also use rocks or even dirt to weigh it down.

9.  I would suggest the square-foot method for gardening.  This lets the plants "self-mulch" which cuts down on weeds.  This just means that you plant the plants closer than the traditional gardens our grandparents planted. Once the plants have some size on them, they will shade the areas between the plants helping to prevent weeds from growing.  And as any gardener will tell you, anything that helps to prevent weeds is GREAT!  The square foot gardening method can be found and described in great detail in the book "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" by Ed Scott.  This book can be found on  I LOVE this book.  

10.  The best piece of advice I can give is to get the book mentioned above.  This book is in some Public Libraries.  It not only discussed the square-foot method but so much more.  There is a section that discusses what plants can be interplanted, for example if you plant pumpkins in your corn it will deter raccoons because they don't like how the pumpkin vines and leaves feel.  This section also talks about what plants or plant families don't like to be planted together.  Each veggie (and some fruits) has a couple of pages devoted to it.  Its common types, how many days to harvest, any amendments it likes added to the soil, how much to anticipate harvesting and so much more.  I can't say this enough.....check out this book!

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