Spring vegetable season is well on its way but you still have time to start a garden. We hope you were able to join us for some of the amazing seminars we have had so far but if you haven’t had a chance yet, take heart, we’ve got a lot more on the way. I’m also taking the time today to do my best mash up of the great tips from our speakers to date. What I realized while attending these seminars is that when you hear the same advice from the gardening experts, it is probably a wise decision to heed it. There is a reason they all stress certain important steps, and that is because if you skip those steps, you will be missing out on some of the easiest ways you can ensure a successful gardening season. I felt a tug to list the steps that seemed to be brought up often enough that there is no denying they are some of the most important to follow.
Let there be light! There is no getting around it. Your vegetables are sun worshippers. They crave the sun more than a teenager on Spring Break. A minimum of 8 hours of full sun is required for your vegetables to reach their full potential. Now, in saying that, the hot afternoon sun can cause some of your more tender veggies to crisp. Strategically placing taller plants, such as tomatoes, where they can offer some shade to more sensitive veggies like leafy lettuces will allow them to both get the sun requirements they desire. When choosing a site, go out at many times of the day to see how the sun is striking the area you wish to plant in, and then make adjustments as needed.
Dirt is not dirt! When it comes to what you plant your veggies in, not all dirt is the same. In fact, this is where you should really splurge and get the good stuff. Whether you plant in the ground or build a raised bed, you want to add a lot of good, organic matter to your soil. You can make your own mix of compost, peat moss, vermiculite, earthworm castings, etc…, or buy premium soils that have it all mixed in already. Whether you choose to make your own mix or buy bags from Fox Farm or Lady Bug, be sure to choose the top of the line to start your plants off with amazing nutrients. Don’t skimp on this step. You can also mix your favorite organic granular fertilizer right into the soil to give your plants a leg up. The beauty of organic fertilizers is that they wont burn, allowing you to plant your vegetables right away.
Don’t encroach on personal space! When planting your veggies, you need to think of their size at maturity. We know you love your tomatoes so it seems like the more planted the better, right? Not if you are going to squeeze them in right next to each other so that when they start branching out they become intertwined and begin choking each other! Plants need room to stretch out. Staggering your plants in somewhat of a zigzag pattern can allow adequate space for your plants to grow while also allowing air to circulate freely. Proper air circulation is an essential part of preventing disease.
Feed Me, Seymor! You’re going to plant your vegetables in the best soil ever, and they are going to be super happy for awhile. But then they are going to rapidly use up the micronutrients in that rich, organic compost and they are going to get hungry all over again. You wouldn’t let your loved ones starve, would you? No, I didn’t think so. You are going to feed your baby vegetables right away and continue to feed them as they grow. At first planting, you should water your transplants in with a soluble fertilizer. Lady Bug’s John’s Recipe is a blend of fish emulsion, molasses, seaweed and more that will promote healthy microbial activity for both your plants and your soil. Fox Farm has a whole line of soluble fertilizers for every possible need, from Grow Big for lush, vegetative growth, to Big Bloom for growing super fruits and boosting flowering. Watering your new transplants with soluble fertilizers weekly for about 4 weeks gives them a huge boost to their root systems and creates the foundation for strong and healthy plants. Follow up with a side dressing of organic, granular fertilizer if you didn’t add it to the soil prior to planting. Even if you did, just follow the directions on the bag for the correct time to reapply. Feeding is not a do “set it and forget it” type of thing. If your plants are growing healthfully, they will be using up nutrients in the soil regularly. Keep giving them what they want.
Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink! Watering your garden deeply and watering your transplants in their pots before planting is important. If a rainy day is in the forecast, let it rain and then plant the day after. Watering in the morning is best, as well as deep and consistent watering. Tomatoes, especially, can suffer when water is infrequent and sporadic causing the fruit to swell and split. When the days get longer and hotter, it takes but a day or two of neglect and you may find a shriveled up pile of vines where your cucumbers used to be. Water focus should be under the foliage of your plants and for a duration long enough to get deep below the surface of the soil. Stick your finger into the soil and if it is dry two inches down, water, if not, don’t. It is possible to water too often, so check your soil regularly. A drip system is highly recommended.
Cover up, Buttercup! Mulch, mulch, mulch. A two inch layer of mulch is the perfect amount to help keep your garden free from weeds that are competing for the soil’s nutrients. If any tricky weeds manage to wriggle through the mulch, pluck them out while they are little, this will save you much back-breaking work in the future. Mulch is also insulation for your soil. It keeps the soil temperature regulated and reduces evaporation. It can help protect against soil borne diseases, like leaf blight, from splashing up on your tomato leaves during watering and rainy periods. And it can create a barrier against the pill bugs creeping along the soil who want nothing more than to munch on the tender foliage or any fruit that is touching the surface.
Lean on me, when you’re not strong! Be sure to provide support for your plants as they grow. And if you are doing all the above steps, they will definitely be growing! Even determinate, or patio-type tomatoes will need support. They will become top-heavy with fruit and can topple over or be blown down on a windy day. As for indeterminate tomatoes, they will need something taller than your average tomato cage (save those for peppers, eggplants, and beans). Six foot bamboo stakes in a teepee shape can be great for your larger tomato plants. Supporting or training your veggies on a trellis, cage or tower also opens up more space in your garden to plant in. A cucumber that would normally sprawl over half your bed can grow vertically and another plant can fill in the empty space. Growing vertical also keeps the fruits off the ground helping to prevent rot, disease, and insects from devouring them.
I hope this summary offered a little help to those of you getting ready to embark on your vegetable gardening adventure. I definitely was not able to cover all the information that our incredible guests have offered in their seminars and workshops, and this is one reason why we encourage you to make it to our seminars when time allows. You can personally ask your own questions and they are always willing to help. The other reason we encourage you to come is that we believe that we can all learn from one another. We want to help you find solutions to your struggles and also be there to celebrate your successes. When we share our stories and experience we all benefit. So we hope to see you this weekend at one of our upcoming seminars. They are sure to be very informative and a whole lot of fun! See you Saturday! Here’s what we have lined up: Bandera Rd., April 8th, 10AM, Uprooted Gardens. They’ll share their expertise on building raised beds, ideas for different designs, and how to care for them. Thousand Oaks, April 8th, 2PM, Backyard Chickens with Kim Rocha. Ever wanted to know how you can raise chickens within the city limits? Us too! Kim will be here to give us all the ins and outs of raising these fine-feathered friends.
The Happy Gardener