Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Garden Planting Notes and Tips

This is a collection of notes I have received or written down from gardening courses - specific to getting started and planting.

Step 1: Decide on a Site
- Select a plot of ground that receives at least 6 hours of full sun daily.
- Avoid planting the garden close to shrubs or trees, which may cast shade and can compete with crops for water and nutrients.
- Avoid "frost pockets".  Cold air seeks the lowest level, so late frosts will strike harder in garden low spots.
- Place the garden near a convenient water source.
- Try to select a level piece of land, which will make watering and car easier.
Step 2: Determine Garden Size and Variety
- Start Small.  If you are new to vegetable gardening, you will have more success if you start with a fairly small plot and a limited variety and number of plants.
Decide what to plant:
- Pick vegetables that you and your family really enjoy.
- Determine how much of each you will have to grow to satisfy your needs.
- Consider your climate and length of growing season when making your choices.
- How much room will the individual vegetables occupy?
- How productive will the vegetables be for the amount of space they take up?
- How long does it take for the plants to bear a crop?

Step 3: Lay out your Garden
Whether your garden is large or small, a thoughtful plan can insure that you have no wasted space and, at the same time, that the vegetables you select will have enough room to grow successfully to maturity.

Points to consider when planning your garden:
- What kinds of vegetables does your family like?
- What are the reasons for gardening - to reduce food costs, for tastier vegetables, or for recreation?
- How much time do you have to garden?
- How much space is available?
- How much to plant?  It depends partly on if you want to use the produce fresh or preserve it.
Step 4: Buy Seeds and Plants
- You can purchase seeds and plants from local nurseries and garden centers or order them from mail-order catalogs.
- If you buy from mail-order catalogs, read the descriptions of vegetables carefully.  Compare the conditions that the plants need with the climate of your area, and order plants that will do well in your locale.  Also, remember to order early to assure you receive the seeds and/or plants in time for planting.
- To help discover what varieties of vegetables will do well in your area, you may consult several different sources, including local nursery workers, the Internet, and gardening friends.
- Purchase young, healthy plants that will grow quickly after you plant them.
- You want to select compact plants with good leaf color and a vigorous appearance.
- When reading seed packets, check the suggested planting times.

Step 5: Prepare the Soil
- Properly prepared soil will be fertile, will drain well yet retain enough water to meet the needs of plants and allow enough air to enter to keep roots healthy.
- Add a layer of compost or other soil amendment, or sprinkle commercial fertilizer over the top of the soil according to directions on the package.  Adding a soil amendment or fertilizer prior to planting is recommended, but not required.
- Then, spade or till the layer into the soil.
- Once the soil has been tilled or spaded, and raked, it is ready to be planted.

Step 6: Sow the Seeds or Set Out Seedling or Plants
- Seeds are planted two ways: 1) indoors in flats, trays, or pack; and 2) in the garden
- By starting seeds indoors, you can carefully control the light, heat, and moisture.  You can also get a head-start on the growing season.
- Some vegetables are difficult to transplant and are customarily sown directly in the garden.
- Sow seeds outdoors, or transplant young seedlings and plants, when the weather is right for the kind of vegetable you are growing.
- For vegetables that were started indoors, it is best to give them an opportunity to "harden", or become gradually adjusted to being outside, before you transplant them in your garden.  You can do this by moving the plants outdoors during the day for increasing lengths of time until they can stay out overnight.
- Most seed packets give clear instructions on how to plant seeds; how deep, how far apart, and when.
- Remember that seeds are very delicate when they are sprouting.  Be sure they have enough moisture, but no too much.  In hot weather you may have to water seedlings growing outdoors twice a day or more.  If the weather is extremely hot, you may want to shade seedlings for the first few days until their roots are well established.
- When the vegetables are well established, usually 3-4 weeks after planting, thin the crowded seedlings to the distances recommended on the seed packets.
- Water all transplants thoroughly so their roots will grow deep.
- Be sure to place tall crops, such as corn and pole beans, on the north side of the garden so that as they mature they won't shade the lower-growing plants.
- Pu perennial plants, such as asparagus and berries, in their own section of the garden.  This way you won't disturb their roots each year (or season) when you prepare the soil for other crops.
- Consider your water source when planting.  If you use a sprinkler system, don't plant tall or large leaved plants where they will be blocking the sprinklers.  If you use an irrigation system, do not plant irrigation rows that will run downhill.
- Plan for how you will gain access to the plants.  Be sure to allow yourself enough room to get in easily when you want to harvest the crops.

Step 7: Set up a Plant Care Program
- Once your vegetables are planted, you need to care for them - water, week, fertilize, and protect.
- You will need to water often enough to keep plants growing steadily throughout the season.  When plants are young, you must water often enough to keep the soil around the shallow roots moist.  Later, as the roots grow deeper, you can water less often.
- When seedlings and plants are well established, you can put down a mulch to help conserve moisture in the soil.
- The best way to tell how often to water is to look at the plants and to examine the soil.  One good way to test soil moisture is to dig down an inch or so and fell the soil with your finger.  If the soil sis damp, you probably don't need to water immediately.  But, if it's dry, water right away.
- Weeding is an important task in food gardens.  It is necessary to week when seedlings are sprouting and growing, because weeds can rob the young plants of vital moisture and nutrients.
- Once plants are well established, putting down a mulch will help keep weeds from growing.
- Depending on how well you prepared the soil, you may want to give plants an extra boost of growth by fertilizing them.  If you do fertilize, wait until plants are well established.  Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package.
- Inspect your garden regularly for signs of damage by insects and other devouring creatures.

Step 8: Harvest and Store
- Different vegetables are harvested at different times and in different ways.  You will need to look at each plant for its special signs of readiness for harvest.
- Generally, it's a good idea to pick leafy vegetables and herbs in the early morning while they are still moist with dew.  For best flavor, harvest just before you plan to eat or preserve the produce.
- Most vegetables should be watched and picked at the peak of ripeness.  Corn is an example.
- Some vegetables, such as carrots, an be left in the ground or on the vine until it's convenient for you to harvest them.
- Once picked, crops can be eaten immediately, stored at room temperature or below, kept in the refrigerator, frozen, dried, canned, or pickled.

Tips for Small-Space Gardens:
- You may want to limit how many space-grabbing vegetables with low yields you plant, such as corn, melons and winter squash.
- For maximum yields, look at varieties that are especially productive.
- You can also maximize the productivity of your garden by planting both early-maturing and late-maturing varieties of the same vegetable.
- Whenever possible, use vertical supports for your plants, such as stakes, frames and trellises to conserve space.
- Make use of continuous harvest planting techniques (see below).
- Consider planting some vegetables in blocks, rather than rows.

Continuous Harvest Garden
- Succession Planting: for vegetables that come to maturity all at once, or within a short period of time, you can stretch the harvest period by staggering plantings of seeds or young plants at roughly 2-week intervals.  These successive plantings will produce a continuous supply or a given vegetable.  Examples include carrots and bush beans.
- Double-Cropping: Some vegetables grow so quickly that you can raise a second crop in the same spot within the same season after the first crop has been completely harvested.  Examples include carrots, green onions and radishes.  Double-cropping is usually dependent on climate.
- Intercropping: Two vegetables can occupy the same allotted space if one matures quickly before the slower growing one crops it out.  Example: Spinach, lettuce, scallions, or radishes can be planted when the weather is cooler between tomato plants.  They will then be harvested before the tomato plants mature with the warmer weather.

General Notes on Planting:
- For a Spring Garden: Plant around March 15th (cold weather plants)
- For a Summer Garden: Plant after the last frost - usually after Mother's Day - May 10-12 (warm weather plants)
- For a Fall Garden: Plant the first of July (cold weather plants)

Planting Tips:
- Plant crops together according to their watering schedule
- Covering with black plastic keeps soil soaked and weeds to a minimum
- Plant seeds at a depth 3-4 times the length of the seed
Write everything down:
- When you plant
- When it produced
- What variety you used
- What it tasted like (good or bad)
- The yield (how much it produced)

Start seeds in a furrow:
- Put seed in a furrow within your planting area
- Cover with dirt and water extensively
- When seed is planted in a furrow the soil stays moist since it is below ground level
- Once plant begins to come up, gradually cover with dirt until it is up to ground level
- This establishes better rooting systems

Planting in Peat Pellet Trays:
- Start at least 3 weeks before planting outdoors
- Water pellets and plant seeds
- Cover with lid (condensation will form)
- The day they come up (green shows through the surface), they need to be in direct light so the leaves can develop close to the ground.
- The best is to put them outside on the south side of your house (where the sun hits the most)
- Once plants are up, water them (with fertilized water) and leave the lid off
- Since the pellets are only peat moss, fertilization is necessary.  Use the BB (Bloom Booster Miracle Gro 15-30-15).  In 1 qt. of water, mix 1/16 tsp. of BB.

- Thin plants with scissors by cutting under the first leaves of the unwanted plants.  Don't 'pluck' out the plants - you might pull up and disturb the roots you want.
- Leave outside or under sun light/lamp indoors until you plant them in the ground.
- If you keep them inside under a light, you must harden them off: move them outside for 1 hour the first day, 2 hours the 2nd day, etc.

Plant Maturity:
You must pay attention to the span of time it takes for the plant to mature.  For example, if you are planting spring/fall plants that have a 40-45 day maturity, you'll want to plant them in the spring.  That gives the plant time to develop before it gets too hot.  If it has a 90 day maturity plant it in the fall garden so it has plenty of time to develop before winter.

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