Sunday, August 8, 2010

Growing your Garden

Growing your garden in the best soil and condition you can is better for you, your family, your community and the environment. Unfortunately, what's best isn't always what's easiest or most time efficient and we do have time, energy and limited resources in our very busy lives. A few tips that can help you:

Start out with healthy soil, it will cut down on the "bad bugs" and keep beneficial insects and organisms in your garden. Adding a good compost and other organic matter to your garden on a regular basis will keep the soil healthy.

Choose plants that will thrive in your area and growing conditions. If you have a short growing season, you don't want to plant a veggie that is going to take more time than you have to mature. It's a common sense thing that I know you already know!

Practice good plant care. Don't over water, over fertilize, or over prune your plants. Keep it simple! Water thoroughly but only as much or as often as is really needed. Mulch the soil to keep moisture in and you don't have to water as often. In any case, you don't have to water for an hour every day for your garden to flourish... a couple times a week in the hotter months and 3x in extreme heat is more than enough.

Bugs - Praying mantis are a good option instead of using a commercial bug killer on your veggies. They are a good bug and will take care of the bad bugs. Plus they are just interesting to have around! Lady bugs are helpful in ridding your gardens of aphids and other pests. Both can be purchased. Parasitic wasps, lacewings, birds and toads help keep your pest population down too. Check the Internet on how to keep them in your garden and provide them a good home.

Worm poop fertilizer - yes you read it right! Turning waste into plant food with the help of worms! Drill holes in the bottom of a large plastic box. Fill it with moistened shredded paper or cardboard. Add some peat moss or leaf mold to increase the water retention. Mix in a couple handfuls of soil that the worms need for grit. Occasionally add a pulverized eggshell for calcium and grit. Place red worms in the bedding. Bury kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and filters with the bedding in one corner of the box and cover loosely with black plastic. Place the next offering of scraps next to the first. Do NOT put dairy or meat in the box with your other kitchen scraps. Keep the bedding moist but not wet. The worms will be working in the box turning the scraps and bedding into "worm castings".. or "worm poop", if you will. Use the castings as a slow release organic fertilizer in your garden. NOTE: One pound of red worms can process about 1/2 pound of kitchen scraps per day! Add bedding every 4 months or when you have more castings than bedding in the box.

Some growing pointers:

Loose-leaf lettuce prefers cooler temps, so don't plant it in direct sun. Put straw near the lettuce to keep the soil cool and ward off weeds. Keep sowing small crops every couple of weeks as far into the fall as you can. Harvest outer leaves as soon as they're big enough to eat and the center will continue to grow for future harvests.

Peppers love hot weather so wait until the soil is at least 65 degrees to plant them and give each plant two feet of space. Support them with stakes or cages. Harvest the first green peppers to encourage future growth. After the first harvest, allow some green peppers to stay on the plant and turn yellow, orange or red for more flavor.

Green beans: Bush beans grow fast and mature all at once. Sow some seeds every two weeks to harvest them all season. Pole beans need a trellis to grow but will continue to grow all season as long as you keep picking them.

Grow your cucumbers on a trellis or along a fence to save space and make the picking much easier than letting them trail along the ground where slugs will eat on them. Sow a second set of seeds in mid summer to have a harvest all season. Keep your cukes well watered or they will become bitter.

Take your old CD's or DVD's that you don't want, run a string through the hole and suspend from the fence or tree branches where they will reflect the sun confusing squirrels and birds so they won't dine on your garden.

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