Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about getting ready for gardening season – and wishing it was already warm enough to plant! But we’ve got a ways to go yet…
I have several goals this year that are a bit different than last year. Last year I was just trying to get my plants to actually produce. This may seem strange, as many people might think that if you are growing a garden, it should produce something. But the previous year, our plants were growing but they weren’t producing much. And, the weeds were so proliferate, I couldn’t keep up.
So, last year I made one simple change that made a huge difference – I added one large bag of organic fertilizer, Happy Frog, which cost me $20, to my topsoil and mixed it in. During the whole season I had great success with plants producing and little to no weeds in my box.
Gardening is an activity that doesn’t come naturally to me, just like cooking. But as my interest in food and sustainability has grown over the last five years, I’ve been introduced to many new, great things and started to learn so many interesting and wonderful aspects of food I never knew existed. I’m so grateful to have all the amazing resources available to me both in my local and Internet communities – and especially with all the wonderful people who keep their own web sites with useful information about these topics.
I’m really excited to become engaged in gardening again this year. Gardening is not only a way to produce your own food and save money, but to understand how our food comes to us and to connect with the earth – something we as humans are constantly in danger of losing as we become more technologically-advanced. I’m concerned about the overtake of corporate farming and the destruction of our precious ecosystem and diversity of organisms in our soil. That’s why I want to do my part to set an example for my son and others, by cultivating and maintaining an interest in growing clean food.
Some new things I’ve learned this year:
Succession planting – staggering the same crop or type of plant by planting every several weeks so you can be assured of continued harvesting as the season goes on.
Composting – there are 85 percent more vitamins and minerals in compost soil than just what’s in your backyard. Yeah, really. The odor coming from your pile may mean you need to adjust your ph by using a moderate amount of wood ashes (but not treated wood with chemicals on it), eggshells, or bonemeal. These substances are alkaline and help raise the ph level of your compost.
Good compost should be moist like a sponge, but should be well-drained. To allow for air and drainage, use a base with brush or wood chips to allow aeration under the pile. It’s also good to sprinkle each layer with a watering can or slow dripping hose. It’s useful to layer really wet, sloppy layers with dry, more absorbent ingredients such as sawdust or dead leaves. Frequent turning is also essential to provide adequate breathing “air” to the compost. I need to work on all of these tips, as I didn’t turn mine once last year. But it’s getting pretty big, so I really need to get this done!
Soil – fluffy or loosened soil is best for growing healthy, hearty plants. Enrich the soil in the land you are planting in, raised beds, or pots with a nice covering of about 1/2 inch of good soil mixture and/or organic fertilizer.
Raised beds - provide a shelter for plants when it rains heavily and will allow the rain to seep in instead of collect in puddles (unless you have uneven ground). They also allow you to dedicate your soil and planting area to the items you wish to grow, and keep out other plants or weeds. Level out your dirt with a rake and if you have room, make lanes between your planting beds for walking between.
Chemical pesticides and pest removal – are dangerous not only to the environment and children, but they eliminate a variety of insect species indiscriminately – and sometimes those that are useful. Many pests are now resistant to commercial pesticides, making them harder to eradicate (sound familiar? Think antibiotics and drug-resistant bacteria).
One of the best natural aides in control of unwanted pests is to allow ladybugs and green lacewings in your garden. Another ally in the war against pests is birds. Encourage birds to come into your garden by providing a bird bath and growing plants that attract birds such as sunflowers (which happen to be perennials and will return year after year).
If you have trouble with birds or critters eating your harvest, put up chicken wire or hang an artificial “owl” in your garden from a stick. When the wind blows, the shape and movement of this fake “bird of prey” will startle intruders and frighten them away. To discourage larger insects, cover with a light netting over your plants.
This web site is a great resource for organic gardening – The Helpful Gardener.
Recap of 2009
I got a late start planting because I had a sinus infection that lasted for a long while, so I didn’t get my plants in until June 12th. Most of what we planted didn’t come up until mid-to late August.
Here’s what we grew:
- hot peppers
In May I bought peppers, some herbs, and tomato plants from a local organic farm just on the outskirts of Boise called Peaceful Belly. They have expanded their farm and relocated over the last season, and I’m excited to see how their efforts have gone so far when I go to visit them for their annual plant sale again this year.
I had some seeds I intended to plant…peas, carrots, and some watermelon. I had also picked up a few other plants at a local nursery, but they weren’t organic – some lettuces, chives, cucumbers, broccoli, and brussels sprouts (which didn’t come up). When I developed the sinus infection that lasted 7 weeks (read about how I finally cured myself of it naturally here), my gardening efforts were limited during the first part of the summer. I was lucky to get the plants in my box that I’d purchased from the farm.
We had six tomato plants in all and got a lot of tomatoes. Some were cherries and some were larger size. I was able to give a lot away to family and friends, which was great (I love sharing!). We got about two or three cucumbers a week, and used our hot peppers in a variety of meals we ate.
Chives grew in the spring and we used them up early because we only had two plants. Our strawberries were few and far between, but we enjoyed them when we got them. The broccoli was slow to harvest, but then when it came we got several florets out of it (we only had one plant because the year before our broccoli didn’t do well, so I had pulled it all out, but one plant re-germinated itself and came back).
Plans for 2010
This year, my goals are to increase my yield of all our plants and start jarring my tomatoes. I’m going to start just with doing tomatoes, and then next year I’ll add something else.
Yesterday I ordered some seeds from Heirloom Acres Seeds. Thanks to Diana from A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa for pointing this and several other great seed companies out to her readers! As usual, I’m flying by the seat of my pants with most everything I do. And my planting and growing efforts each year are usually sporadic and few and far between. Here’s what I’ve ordered this year:
- romaine lettuce
- red leaf lettuce
- Swiss chard
I may also buy a few other seeds or plants such as broccoli or other leafy greens like kale or collards. Two years ago we got some pumpkin seeds and they grew fine, but then my whole patch got attacked by squash bugs. Doh! I was really frustrated at not being able to find a way to eliminate these horrible pests without resorting to chemical pesticides.
I tried everything I could think of that was natural – apple cider vinegar spray with Dr. Bronner’s soap and water worked great to kill the bugs, but it also killed my pumpkins. After all the bugs were dead and my plants too, I abandoned all further efforts because it was early August and too late to plant anything new.
I put myself on a $20 budget for seeds. When I go to the farm, I’ll probably spend $25 – 30 on pepper, tomato, and whatever other plants I find that look good. My organic fertilizer will cost $20 if I stick to one bag. I’m thinking about buying two bags this year for additional extra soil enrichment.
I’m going to try to find a better method of getting my strawberries to come to full maturation and find a way to ensure they don’t get eaten by the squirrels and other critters that enter my yard. Everyone keeps telling me to get chicken wire, but that won’t really work since my strawberry plants are all in pots and I have limited room and cannot plant strawberries in my garden box (which is 7 x 7 feet).
What else? Well, I have a big pot that I usually plant most of my herbs in – basil, rosemary, sage, parsley. For some reason, I completely forgot to put fertilizer in my pots last year, which is probably why my basil has never done well and why my strawberries didn’t grow as well as they could have. So that’s another important thing I can’t forget to do this year (I’m SO absent-minded!).
My handy-man husband built a compost bin for us in our alley near the new shed. We have an older home in a historic district. The shed, also built by my husband, used to be a very dilapidated garage. This summer will be our first complete year with the compost bin, and we’ve been adding to it since last year.
Oh, and I’m also keenly interested in learning about natural ways to keep pests away that actually work and learning about which plants help each other grow by being planted next to each other, which I think is referred to as “companion” planting. You see, there are so many new things I have to learn about the whole gardening process, what works, and what doesn’t. By the end of this season, I expect to have learned a whole handful of new things and be ready for the next level of gardening for 2011!
Here are some other great garden resource pages I found:
Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply – organic gardening supplies, fertilizer, seeds, heirloom seeds, organic pest control, gardening tools, and more
Natural Gardening Company - complete organic gardening resource – seeds, plants, herbs, accessories
Clean Air Gardening - environmentally friendly gardening tools and supplies
Irish Eyes Garden Seeds - large selection of untreated organic seeds - flower, vegetable, and garden seed varieties
Salt Spring Seeds – heritage and heirloom seed catalog
eGardenSeed – heirloom seeds and suppiles
Amishland Heirloom Seeds a one-woman, master-gardener operation that sells heirloom seeds from her own land – all grown and produced on her property, specializing in rare varieties grown since the 1700′s.
If you have any tips or advice you want to share, I’d love to hear what has worked for you and what’s coming up in your garden once you get planting this spring.
This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays carnival. Please visit Kristen’s site and read all the other great posts linked there.