As the garden section in the store starts to fill up, the drive to grow things in dirt might be kicking up. Now, is the perfect time for figuring out just what and how much you want to grow. These are some helpful tips to knowing where to start:

  • Location is Key: Make sure you are planting in an area with enough sunlight, air movement, and space to grow in. Keep in mind the plant hardiness zone, you are working with and what with thrive. You are looking for at least 6 hours of sunlight and when planting place the tallest ones, such as corn, indeterminate tomatoes or pole beans on the north or west side so they do not shade the smaller plants.
  • Soil Health: Know what type of soil your working with, is it sandy, silty, in need of lime? All questions you can have can be answered in our soil testing program. While it can be done at any point the soil is soft it is most recommended in mid-summer to ensure full accesses to micro-organisms. The best soil suitable for vegetables includes lots of compost and organic matter such as composted leaves and ground or shredded, aged bark. Whatever you’re starting with, incorporate enough organic material so that the amended soil is neither sandy nor compacted.
  • Water Wisely: Know your soil drainage level through testing in a bottle and timing the amount of time it takes the water to move through the soil. Also make sure you have a drainage area in your garden if using raised beds. For most vegetable plants, one inch of water per week, which includes any natural rainfall, is adequate . The most efficient and productive way to irrigate is by using soaker hoses and drip lines. These deliver water slowly, on target allowing roots time to absorb the moisture and soil to adequately hydrate and helps keep foliage dry. Wet foliage for extended periods can promote diseases. Automatic timers are a great way to take the effort and worry out of this all important step.
  • Use Mulch: Add a three-inch layer of any organic mulch around your plants and over the irrigation lines if possible. Mulch will insulate the soil, helping to keep it cooler in summer and warmer in winter. It also helps retain moisture, suppress weeds and acts as a protective barrier from diseases splashing up onto the plants from the soil. Knowing the source of your mulch is as important as using it. Especially in a vegetable garden. Some mulches can contain unacceptable amounts of harmful chemicals. Although there is no such certification for bulk mulch as yet the non-profit organization, The Mulch and Soil Council, certifies bagged mulches and soils to be free of any harmful ingredients. Look for their seal on the bag or ask your bulk mulch supplier if they know the source of their mulch.
  • Patience with Pests: Although pests are usually a given at some point in any vegetable garden, by exercising patience, nature will usually take care of the problem. After all, of all the insects in your garden only about 3% are actually harmful pests. As long as you practice the steps mentioned so far, you’ve already taken adequate measures to promote the growth of healthy plants which are better able to stand up to potential pest invasions. If you must resort to insecticides, apply them responsibly! That means only late in the day or evening and then only when necessary. Never apply pesticides in the morning when pollinators and beneficial insects are most active. Otherwise, you’ll likely kill them as well. I believe it is best to not use chemicals in a food garden, of all places! Instead, focus on growing healthy plants with great soil and sunny conditions and let nature take its course. Synthetic and even many organic/natural pesticides are non-selective meaning they will kill beneficial insects too.
  • Don’t over Fertilize: Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen (the first number on the fertilizer package) can promote plenty of lush green growth at the expense of less fruit and a smaller harvest. Excessive fertilizer can also be harmful to your plants and the soil. Instead, add as much organic compost as possible, up to about 20% of the total soil makeup. Incorporate it into the rest of the soil and you’ll be supplying your plants with the nutrients they need to thrive naturally. In other words, feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants.
  • Plan out the Harvest: Make sure when you are picking out all the fun things to grow you know an estimate of how much each plant with grow for harvest. It might be good to plant 2% to 10% more than you think you will want to ensure if any crops fail or there are pest issues. Keep in mind what your plans are for each type of crop for post-harvest storage, sale, or preservation so that you have the room, supplies, and ability to meet these goals.
  • Make a Map: You might think that there is no way you could every forget where everything is planted in your garden, but even if it is just one small box it is best to map it out. Keep in mind the size each plant will get to make sure they will not over shade other plants and that it will not have to fight the wind. Mapping will also give you a chance to play around with what will make the most out of plants that pair well together, share nutrients, and be easier for you to reach to take care of.
  • Put it on the Calendar: Everyone needs a reminder to get the basics done. Give yourself the best chance for success and put out when to plant in the ground, watering’s, weeding days, and harvest times for your garden. Make sure if you planning on leaving for any long period of time you have it not conflicting with when you might need to harvest or is a really dry spell for the summer season so that watering is planned or set to a timer.
  • Visit the Local Farmer’s Market: Get to know what others are having success with growing in your area, ask them questions about verities and successes, see what your savings are by growing it yourself, enjoy the greens for encouragement to grow your own.
  • Ask Questions: Join the Facebook groups, see what local garden groups are around, search the web for local agriculture answer sites. Overall, don’t be afraid to ask, even if you think its simple or silly, reach out and find out. Look for local gardening events to help you out and then you might hear your question being asked and answered.

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