So you resolved to eat more veggies this year? The National Gardening Association has a few helpful resolutions for you, and your garden, too.
1. Improve your soil. Start with a soil test. In early spring, add organic fertilizers, lime, sulfur, and compost as indicated by the test results. Adding these amendments early allows them to break down before the plants really start to grow.
2. Use raised beds. Unless your soil is sandy, gardening in raised beds leads to better plant growth. Raised beds warm up faster and dry out more quickly in spring, and they also use less space. Learn how to build your own: “Raised Garden Bed: A Green Project for the Family,” from the Jul/Aug 2009 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
3. Grow in containers. Containers are ideal for gardeners who only have a small deck or balcony to work with. Self-watering containers are productive and easy to use. Even if you have space to grow vegetables in garden soil, containers are especially good for raising specialty crops that may not do well in cool soils, such as eggplant.
4. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Organic mulches—hay, straw, chopped leaves, and untreated grass clippings—suppress weed growth, conserve soil moisture, and add nutrients to the soil. Wait until your seedlings are up and growing well, then place a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of mulch around them. In cold climates, preheat the soil with plastic mulches to give your garden a jump on the growing season.
5. Garden regularly. The best sign of a healthy garden is the gardener’s footprint. Even just 5 to 10 minutes a day is enough to be sure the plants are well tended and problems are noticed quickly and dealt with. Make it a habit to visit the garden at a scheduled time to pull weeds, pick mature vegetables, water thirsty plants, and check for pests.
6. Pick early; pick often. For many fruiting vegetables—e.g., tomatoes, peppers, beans, summer squash, and cucumbers—the more often you pick, the more the plants will produce. Even if your refrigerator is full, keep picking! You can always give extra produce away to a neighbor or donate it to a local food shelf.
7. Don’t stop planting. Once a crop is finished, don’t just leave the ground fallow. Instead, plant something! Succession planting allows you to keep the vegetables coming right into fall. For example, plan to follow a crop of bush beans with lettuce. When spinach plants go to seed, sow another bed of carrots. If a squash plant dies from disease or insects, yank it out and sow some greens.
Happy 2010 Gardening!