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Grow A Garden
A backyard garden can supply a wealth of fresh vegetables all summer long and stock your cold cellar for the winter. Here are four basic areas to consider when planning your garden:
- Physical Constraints
- Fresh vs Stored Veggies
- Inter Planting & Rotation
- Feed and Water
CLIMATE: Which vegetables thrive in your local climate? What is the length of the growing season, normal high and low temperature ranges, the wet and dry periods and the local pests. And on a much smaller scale, what is the "micro climate" for your gardens? This takes into consideration shade from nearby trees, fences and buildings, wet areas, and wind protected areas. I have a small garden plot against the west wall of my house, where the bricks heat up during the later part of the day. These bricks then radiate heat back onto the garden after the sun drops in the sky - my tomatoes thrive on these extra hours of heat each day.
PHYSCIAL LAYOUT: Do you have one huge garden plot or several small areas? With a large plot, you have much more freedom to select your plants and locations to place them. With smaller areas, you need to consider high density planting techniques and crops. Consider how you will maintain the garden once everything is planted. Is there space to get at the plants to water and fertilize? Can you easily get to the weeds? Consider the use of a TRELLIS in both large and small plots. A trellis will make it easier to weed around the vegetables, provides more space for additional crops, and can keep some of the animals (rabbits) at bay.
RAISED BEDS: Raised beds can be as simple as soil mounds around your plants, or they can be permanent boxes made of bricks, stone or timber. Since the soil doesn't get walked on, it requires less tilling. Less tilling means fewer weed seeds are disturbed and thus germinate. Permanent raised beds can also make gardening much easier on the back and like a trellis, can discourage pests such as rabbits.
Fresh vs Stored Veggies
FRESH VEGETABLES: I love to walk out to the garden and grab a handful of "lunch". Food tastes so much better when it's fresh and you've grown it yourself. Our STORED list of vegetables tend to mature near the end of the growing season, while our list of FRESH veggies can typically be harvested earlier and quite often will produce several crops if you keep replanting throughout the season. Our fresh veggies include:
- green onions (scallions)
Another option we use in order to have fresh vegetables all summer long, is to plant several varieties of the same vegetable, with different maturing rates. Tomatoes are a prime example - our first tomatoes arrive 50 days from planting while larger canning plants mature in 70-80 days. Corn and peas are also available with a variety of maturing ranges.
STORED VEGETABLES: Your vegetable garden can keep you in food all year round. "Winter" vegetables can be stored in a cool dry location (COLD CELLAR) for months after harvesting. Crops that typically store well include:
- winter squash
- sweet potatoes
- turnip (rutabagas)
For vegetables that don't store well on their own, CANNING makes a great alternative. The canning process can vary widely depending on the vegetable and final product desired. Typical canning vegetables include:
- tomatoes - fruit, paste, juice
- green beans
- cucumbers (pickles)
- peppers - sweet and hot
Inter Planting & Rotation
INTER PLANTING: Combining compatible vegetables in the same row or general area, can have several advantages. Consider planting slow growing plants along with fast growing plants. By the time the slow growing plants need more space, the fast growing plants, lettuce for example, will be done and gone.
You can also position a trellis or tall plants such as corn, so they provide shade for cool-weather plants such as lettuce, spinach and radish.
COMPANION PLANTING: Look into plant pairs that create a natural deterrent for pests. For example, growing corn, broccoli, or radishes near cucumbers can deter cucumber beetles. Onions, garlic, and chives have a strong odor which repels aphids, carrot flies, moles, and weevils. They also help prevent fungal diseases and their flowers attract beneficial insects.
ROTATION: Crop rotation is an important part of your planning process. Each vegetable family takes certain nutrients from the ground and puts others back in. One area of your garden may also contain pests and diseases related to a specific crop. Rotate your crops so they don't end up in the same location for at least a three year period - four years is even better.
Feed and Water
WATER: People tend to over water their gardens, just like they over water their lawns. Watering too often tends to cause the roots to stay near the surface, thus they will dry out quicker and need watering more often. Only water your garden if there has been a shortfall in rain. If your soil is rich in compost, it will hold the moisture for a much longer interval. When you water the garden, always ensure the water penetrates down to 6-8 inches. Use a spade to check.
Apply water in the early part of the day. This gives the plant leaves a chance to dry, avoiding fungal diseases. It also allows the soil a chance to warm up before more moisture arrives.
FEED: COMPOST - All soils benefit from nutrient rich applications of compost at any time. Compost from rotted organic matter is the best all round soil conditioner. It improves drainage, provides plant nutrients and provides beneficial micro-organisms. Apply any time of the year and often.
FERTILIZER: There is a wide variety of organic fertilizers available for your garden. Unlike your lawn, you should pick a version that is lower in Nitrogen (the first number, out of the 3 listed on the bag), 5-10-10 for example. Nitrogen promotes quick leaf growth. For vegetables, we are interested in flower and root growth, thus a higher middle number is often better.