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Starting Sage & Lavender Indoors – Gary Pilarchik

Do both! Seeds and transplants! Here’s why and when!

If you are late planting seeds, it’s off to the nursery for transplants!
Some plants just don’t come in six packs, like radish. Seeds it is.

SEEDS

Watching seeds sprout and seedlings unfurl and grow is divine! It’s a miracle! Many have just never done it and find, to their delight, how easy and inspiring it is! Seeds can be started indoors at home or right where you want them, in the garden!

Pros:

  • The beauty of seeds is you can select plants your nursery doesn’t carry!
  • You can start them indoors 6 weeks earlier than you can plant seeds in the ground!
  • If you planted it right in the ground, you have saved yourself the step of transplanting!
  • Some plants just don’t like to be transplanted! Annuals, plants with large seeds, plants that require weathering, plants with fragile root systems and root crops – beets, carrots. Like snapdragons, nasturtiums, spinach, and peas.
    • Root crops like carrots need depth. If their tap root comes in contact with the bottom of a container it will fork or bend. Better to sow directly in your soil.
  • Plants that are quick to germinate, get up and get strong, are great to start from seed, like radishes, beans, peas, beets, and turnips.
  • If you are growing a lot or in succession, seeds are the most inexpensive way to grow your garden. Save seeds from your best veggies, flowers and herbs each year and you won’t need to buy any more! Plus they will be adapted to you and your soil!
  • Be prepared to thin your seedlings, which means pulling out a few plants so your crop is spaced apart enough. Beet seedlings need 2-4 inches apart, but the seed grows in fours, so each plant needs room to make a normal-sized beet. Crowded plants compete for light, water, and nutrients. Also, lack of airflow will encourage diseases. The pro here is those young tender seedlings are perfect in salads!
  • Seedlings thinned from over-crowded areas may be moved to fill in bare spots.
  • Growing seeds for transplants indoors are protected from the elements and garden pests while you can also control soil, moisture, fertility and heat.
  • You can select only the strongest seedlings to transplant.
  • All your plants are up when you plant them – no germination failures, empty spaces, no wondering, no replanting necessary, no lost time.
  • If you complete the circle by continually keeping the seeds from open-pollinated plants in your garden, you’ll create a vegetable strain (AKA: landrace) that thrives in your particular environment.
  • There is well deserved pride in growing your veggies from seed-to-plate!

Veggie Seeds Soil Planting Temps!
Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!
Soil for Seed Starting! DIY, Pre-made

Cons:

  • Seed germination in the ground isn’t guaranteed. You wait to find out and if it doesn’t start, you lose time, possibly it gets beyond the planting window and it was not a plant your nursery carries. Starting a few seeds indoors as backup is wise.
  • The number of days to germinate in your garden could be very different than those given on a seed packet due to soil conditions, weather, whereas with a transplant, there’s no guessing.
  • Extra tender care and time is needed as seedlings germinate and get going. Transplants are sure, up and ready! All you have to do is go get them…
    • Seedlings need to be weeded so they aren’t overgrown.
    • Sometimes seedlings need protection from birds, pests – especially slugs, and freezes or hot sun.
    • Right watering must be done, you can’t miss.
    • Tomatoes like moving air to development well, if starting indoors you may need a fan.
  • Yes, there is a learning curve with seeds. Research is important so you can choose the best for your climate, soil and light conditions, the season – first and last frosts.
  • You’ll need a seed germinating space. Regular shop lights are fine for germinating seeds, but there usually is an initial investment of some kind, like maybe that fan!

Image result for veggie Transplant pepper seedlings

Super healthy homegrown Pepper seedlings at New Life on a Homestead

TRANSPLANTS

Oh it’s so much fun to select transplants! It gives you the option of trying new plants, varieties, sometimes getting another one if one has failed. While you are shopping, there are marvelous other gardening tools, amendments, flowers you can get! Who knows what you will come back with?! And you can plant in the garden the same day!

From the Nursery Pros:

  • Nursery transplants take a whole lot less time! You just go get them.
  • If you don’t have a place to grow seeds, transplants from the nursery are terrific. You can ask, they may be able to get special varieties you would like.
  • Some plants are just plum hard to get started from seed. A transplant is perfect, thanks.
  • Starts are especially perfect for beginning gardeners who would like to skip the part that includes vulnerable, infant plants. Starting and babying tiny plants may not be your cup of tea either! Let the experts do it!
  • With transplants the seed is germinated, it’s showing vigor and chances for a successful garden are more likely from the outset. This is particularly important when you have a limited number of warm summer days or you are planting late!
  • On average, transplants give you a SIX WEEKS jump start on the season, because they will mature sooner and give you an earlier harvest. Transplants give higher early yields, and, one gardener says, in the case of watermelons, give larger fruits.
  • Transplants can give you a great boost with succession planting, which means planting the same thing several times per season to ensure continuous harvest. For great results with lettuce, for example, you can start your first succession via transplants, and then follow every 2-3 weeks with lettuce seeds sown directly into your garden.
  • If your seeds have failed, you can get transplants at the nursery!
  • Transplants can be more resistant to insect pests, because they are more mature and stronger when you first put them into your garden. Many insect pests, like slugs, just love teeny tiny seedlings. Put down Sluggo or something like it even before you transplant, but definitely at the same time you install your plants. An overnight slug fest can remove an entire plant!
  • Planting transplants gives you immediate satisfaction. Who doesn’t love starting their garden and seeing all those baby plants?
  • Buying transplants can be more cost effective, and provides you with a great way to support local farmers and garden centers.
  • Conscientious local nurseries carry starts that are grown specifically for your area. So you don’t have to worry about planting a variety that doesn’t do well in your zone. Box stores are less likely to be region specific.
  • Having strong, young plants gives you some leeway per correct planting times. Transplants can be put in the ground earlier than seeds can be planted! If you miss a planting window, go get transplants from the nursery and you are back on time!

From Your Nursery at Home Pros:

  • Start 6 weeks before safe outdoor soil planting temps. Head start!
  • Sow seeds indoors during cool weather, harden off, then move outdoors, when weather warms up, not before.
  • Since the seedbed produces many more plants than needed, choose only the very best plants!
  • Reduce loss. The disease and pest free, precise environment of indoor planting is more protected than seeds germinated and seedling growth in the ground.
  • You can plant exactly as many as you need.
  • You know they are organic all the way, seed and soil, feeds.

Importantly, if you are growing your own transplants indoors, harden them off well. Expose them to slightly cooler temps and some dryer conditions before putting them out. Most transplants have been raised in warm, favorable temperatures, spoiled with plenty of water. They may suffer transplant shock from suddenly changing those conditions. They may wilt or even die with cooler night temperatures, lots of temperature fluctuation, or drier conditions.

How to Transplant for Super Successful Returns!

Cons:

  • Starts from the nursery are the most expensive way to plant a garden. Prices can vary drastically depending on where you shop.
  • There is a carbon footprint. Yes, most do use plastic containers and you usually drive to the nursery.
  • Your variety choices are limited to the plants the nursery or garden center selects from their grower, which may be local or not. Box stores often carry out of season veggies for your locality.
  • You have to buy more than you need, they only come in four or six packs.
  • The nursery runs out or doesn’t have as many as you need or the plants aren’t in good condition.
  • Consider that transplants can introduce weeds, pests and diseases into your garden. Most producers of transplants are very careful about this, especially with respect to diseases, but it is not uncommon to get a little grass or other weed seed into your transplant pack now and then. Carefully check for pests, the undersides of leaves.
  • Transplants you start yourself are time and labor intensive, and sometimes the whole batch fails. For more assurance, plant backup seeds every few days. If you end up with too many, share them with other gardeners who will be so grateful!

Veggies easy to direct seed – that’s right in the ground!

  • Beans
  • Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi
  • Chard
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Melons, Watermelon
  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Root crops – beets, carrots, garlic, onion, radish, turnips
  • Spinach
  • Squashes
  • Sunflowers
  • Tomato grows rampantly from seed!
  • Zucchini

Veggies to transplant or start in trays or get at the nursery!

  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes are fun to get at the nursery because there are often so many exotic varieties! In Santa Barbara, that nursery is La Sumida!

Know that different gardeners do better with one plant than another! Their peppers always do well, they never get eggplant! Their onions never get big, but they get super big juicy celery stalks!

Garden Magic! Self-sowers & Volunteers

I have a soft spot for volunteers! I love the variety, surprises the birds bring already fertilized and ready to grow! Plants that self seed are a gift! They know where to grow and come up at the perfect time. Let your plants live out their life cycle, make flowers for the bees, butterflies and beneficial insects, seeds for the birds, before cleaning up. Leave a few of your very best tomatoes and cucumbers to decompose in the garden. Let sunflowers, calendula, violas and other annuals drop their seeds and make pretty next year. These plants will have natural vigor. Transplant them to your convenience if you must, but let them grow as they naturally are whenever possible.

Experienced gardeners do a little seed planting in the ground, some grow their own transplants indoors, and at times buy transplants for various reasons! Maybe the nursery got a new plant and you gotta try it!

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See the entire February Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

February – Final Plans, Preps, 1st Spring Plantings!
Calendula ~ Edible, Medicinal, Good for Your Garden, Easy to Grow!
January, February Seeds or Transplants, Pros & Cons
Other Community Gardens – Virginia Avenue Community Garden, Washington DC 
Events! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017!
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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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Harvest Basket - Rainshadow Organics

July is ripe with harvests!  Harvest beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes at least every other day to keep them coming.  It’s your summer religion!

Hot as it is, it is a garden transition time.  You are already noticing the shorter day lengths.  Get and start seeds for your first fall plantings in August.  Build your new raised beds, make compost, install gopher barriers!  As plants finish, prepare your soils.  Add compost, worm castings, as appropriate for what you will be planting there next. Many think we will be having a long summer that some call an Indian Summer.  It has other names in other places.  St Martin’s Summer in Britain, Old Ladies’ Summer or Crone’s Summer in Belgium, Hungary & Lithuania (Norse origins); in China, this period is called “qiū lǎohǔ” (秋老虎), which literally means ‘a tiger in autumn’.  So, if you have particular summer favorites, it is likely worth the chance to plants just a few more!  🙂

Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer-maturing lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach.  In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash.  Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut.  I’ve tomato transplants and seen bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October!  See what’s growing at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden right now!  (Santa Barbara CA)

Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun.  Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer pattern to filter the light.  Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch to save water.

At the end of the month, sow carrots (they do best from seed), celery and cole crops–broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time.

Get better germination during summer’s heat.

  • Sow seeds thickly in flats or beds.
  • Mulch the seeds thinly with sifted compost instead of heavy soil, which easily crusts over.
  • Frequently sprinkle the flat or bed to keep it moist, or leave a mister on for several hours each day.
  • Shield the bed with a piece of burlap or plywood–this will keep the seeds cooler than the air temperature, give them the moisture they need, and keep the soil surface from crusting.
  • Remove the shade board or burlap after one-fourth of the seeds have germinated. Continue keeping the bed moist until most of the seedlings are up.
  • If flats are used, place them in an area with less than full-day sun, and pay close attention to keeping them moist.
  • Transplant the seedlings when the second set of true leaves develops. These are the ones that look like miniature versions of the mature plant.

Carrots, parsley, and other slow-comers need to be kept moist.  Sow seed on the north side of a furrow, or right in the bottom of the furrow where it’s most moist.  Make the sides of the furrow low sloping, and sprinkle with water so you don’t degrade the sides of the furrow.  Cover the seeds lightly with potting soil or fine compost, and shade with cheesecloth, windowscreening, or slats of wood until they start to come up.

Still producing plants are hungry!  Manure can be applied as a mulch directly onto globe artichokes, asparagus, cabbages and other cole crops, cucumbers, melons, sweet corn, and squash–but don’t let it touch the stems or foliage, as it will burn them. Keep high-nitrogen fertilizers away from beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit.

Big plants need a lot of water!  Tomatoes and other large plants may need about one inch of water every three days of hot dry weather. Rinse the undersides of leaves with water to discourage spider mites.  Water and fertilize melons deeply once a week for juicy, fleshy fruits. Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate.

Protect vine crop fruits like melons and squash from snails and slugs by lifting the fruits or vegetables onto cans, berry baskets, or boards.  Metal cans speed ripening and sweetening of melons by concentrating the sun’s warmth and transferring it to the melons.  Place ripening melons onto upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage.

To your health and happiness!

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Harvest, Replant, Maintenance, Spring Preps, SEEDS! 

Keep harvesting!  Plant consideringly.  That means, summer planting starts in March.  January, February are generally cold, so slow growth though day length is getting longer.  Keep in mind what space you want available in March for the March starts.  If you are a winter plant lover gardener, one way to do this is to plant another round of your favorite winter plants, then in March designate a ‘nursery’ area, and start your summer seeds there.  Transplant the babies to their permanent locations as the spaces become available.  That in mind, plant more broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes.  Plant an understory of all year favorites – beets, carrots, parsley, radish, and turnips, on the sunny sides of taller plants.  And LETTUCES!  They love January!

January IS bareroot month!  Start bareroot artichokes, short day globe onions, strawberries (if you missed November), asparagus, horseradish (Be warned! Invasive).  Depending on the weather, strawberry flowers may appear shortly after planting.  Remove them so more energy goes into root development.  Seascape, developed by UC Davis, is an everbearer strawberry that produces well in our moderate coastal climate most of the year. Sequoia is an large berried everbearer; Chandler is a June bearer – produces May/June, then done.  For those of you at home, plant bareroot cane berries, blueberries, roses, deciduous fruit trees!  Visit Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero!

Clear overwintering pest habitat, debris; weed.  Turn top soil to aerate and let the bad fungi die, pray for the good ones.  Sidedress your producing plants lightly – add some fish emulsion with kelp.  Sprinkle and lightly dig in cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal or fish meal.  Keep a weather watch; keep those old sheets and coverings about in case of hard freezes.  Farmers’ Almanac on Frost   Weather.com Frost Map  Make this one your home page during cold winter months.  No mulch this time of year; it keeps the soil cold.  Rain Tips!  Secure peas and tall plants.

If you have been growing favas, time to secure them from winds, rain.  Pop in a few stakes and tie them with that green stretchy stuff, or some twine.  If they have too much shade, water or fertilizer, they will go to leaf and no bean pods.  If that happens, pinch off the growing tips.  Take ‘em straight to your kitchen for steaming or stir fry!  Back at your garden, side-dress with a sprinkly organic box fertilizer or fish emulsion with kelp, or whatever your choice is, water well!  Takes about a week for the beans to appear.  Let them get 5 to 8 inches, filled with beans, and their yours – tasty and high in protein!  If you are growing for seed, let the pods blacken and dry.  Black?  Yep, I know, counter intuitive.

Make compost, start preparing your soil for spring planting.  Make raised beds.  Plan your spring garden; get seeds, wait until March to start planting your summer veggies.  Wait for it.  Plants planted out of season struggle with weather, day length, temps, and are susceptible to pests and diseases they aren’t naturally able to fend off.  Now, if you have a greenhouse….

No greenhouse?  Start Seeds Indoors – we are now the prerequisite six to eight weeks away from March!  Start tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, cosmos, zucchini, impatiens, salvia, basil, and others.  Especially start peppers!  They take longer than other veggies.  Otherwise, wait until all chance of freezing temperatures have passed and buy transplants at your favorite nursery.  I’ve seen zucchini started in the ground in January thrive.  If it doesn’t come up, no problem!  Put some more seeds in soon again!  Keep planting.  I haven’t seen it work with tomatoes, but Marshall Chrostowski of Pacifica Institute’s Garden starts his toms in January for late March picking!  He uses heat transmitting black row covers on the ground, and floating row covers above.  That’s clear plastic with holes over hoops.  They make the soil 15 degrees warmer, with 15-20% warmer air!  You can buy floating row covers at your nursery.  Give it a try! Eating garden fresh organic tomatoes late March?! Yum! Row covers will speed up your notorious slow-grower peppers too! Not only do floating row covers warm things up, but they keep flying pests away from your plants! Check out Digital Seed’s Planting Schedule!

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FIRST WEEK OF MARCH!  

Tasty Provider Beans, Powdery Mildew Resistant

Go get your seeds, transplants, any amendments that make you happy, clear your space, and go for it!  Poke bean seeds in at the base of finishing peas, tomatoes, artichokes from transplants, corn, New Zealand spinach, cucumbers, summer and winter squash!  [Pilgrim Terrace gardeners, those of you in the lottery section this year, get your winter squash in early so they have plenty of time to mature and harden on the vine.]  If you have room and want to, plant last rounds of cool-season crops – broccoli (with cilantro & lettuce), cabbage, potatoes.  Add more year-rounds, beets, carrots, chard, bunch onions, radish, turnips.  Remember to leave space for your succession plantings!  

True heat lovers next month  – eggplant, limas, melons, okra, peppers and pumpkins.  Wait, wait…you can do it.  Unless you live in the foothills with a south facing wall, many wait to plant tomatoes until next month.  That means if you haven’t already, get those babies started in the greenhouse to get a head start!    

Keep in mind our June gloom that we had all summer last year.  Think about planting heat lovers within a south facing ‘U’ shape of taller plants to give them more captured heat.  The sides of the U act as a windbreak, and hold the heat in.  You could wedge the U sides a little, angled like outspread wings.  Maybe get more determinate toms, with different dates to maturity so you have a steady supply.  The shorter determinates will be closer to the ground in your U shape ‘enclosure,’ and the whole plant will stay warmer.  Be careful to plant far enough apart that the tomato leaves aren’t touching, lessening the spread of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts.  Eggplants may especially like this warm U shaped  environment because they like a little humidity.  Plant them closer to the plants behind them so they can snuggle happily.  If you plant in rows, stagger them one plant in from the end of a row.  The outmost/endmost plants are usually drier.  Just like with strawberries, don’t plant them right near a hot wicking wood bordered edge.  The board heats, dries the neighboring soil.  Strawberries like water, good drainage, not dry baked roots.

Or if you anticipate a coolish summer,  just love winter plants, keep planting them!

Plant flowers, chamomile for tea, poppy for seeds, veggie starts (hot peppers), to give as Mother’s Day living gifts!  That’s 9 weeks from now.  Plant a little extra all the time for ready gifts for any occasion!

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This post is the 2nd of how to plant a lot in your urban garden, and up your production in a small space!  Please also see the 4.17.10 post!  Thanks, and good planting to you!            

Gopher Basket

Gophers and other Blessed Pests First!   When I give this as a talk, you should hear the groans from my listeners when I say we must start by talking about gophers.  They know what I’m talking about.  I want to emphasize to take care of this before you even think of doing anything else.  I’ve seen so much heartache over lost plants, literally tears, some of them my own.  You lose the months it took your plant to grow, and the food you would have gotten from it.  All that work raising your little plant, having a personal relationship with it, and suddenly, with no mercy, our hungry little friend takes it, gone.  Just gone.  So, before you start planting, install 1/2″ aviary wire or hardware cloth barriers.  Aviary wire is cheaper, doesn’t last as long.  How long it lasts depends on your soil.  I’ve heard anywhere from 3 to 10 years.  Do what your budget lets you.  Not taking care of this means a lot of lost production time.  If you can’t do the whole bed, do parts, or buy or make gopher wire baskets, especially for your favorite plants you use all the time, the most.            

What to plant:  experiment with how much you need, KEEP RECORDS!  Over planting a veggie cuts down on space for variety, and may produce more than you can or want to eat.  In your records include where you got your plant, the name of its variety, planting and harvest dates, yield, what you liked about it, didn’t, could have done better for it, comparisons with other varieties of the same plant, other kinds of plants.              

Avoid loss of production time by choosing plants for success!             

  • Choose disease & pest resistant varieties for your area.
  • Choose slow bolting varieties for longer harvest per square foot.
  • Choose heat tolerant varieties that need less water, cold tolerant.
  • Choose tomato and pepper varieties that produce small fruit. The smaller the size of the fruit, the more fruit the plant will produce.
  • Choose a plant that produces year round, year after year.
  • Don’t raise onions, potatoes (unless you are Irish 🙂 ), winter squash and cabbage. Those crops are relatively cheap to buy and don’t rely on “just picked” freshness for quality.

When to plant:  In a small garden this becomes critical mass.  If you plant a seed when the ground is too cold for it, it rots, no plant, you lose time.  If you plant too soon, it may be too cold and no blooms are able to form, or if they do, no set fruit.  Learn your plants’ needs.              

Greenhouse, Lots of Solar

Greenhouse!  Getting a head start is an age-old planter’s trick, just about required repertoire for a gardener’s tool basket!  There are so many ways to do it!  Greenhouses are the cat’s meow!  But if you don’t have one, don’t let that stop you.  Dig a protected underground spot, cover with glass or plastic and raise your plant babies while the over head winds are howling!  Start ’em in your south-facing kitchen window, in the garage with grow lights, in a free-standing clear plastic wardrobe closet you pop into your garden, use a protected spot in your garden as a mini nursery!  Be creative!  While your winter or summer plants are finishing, start your next season’s plants!  You will be 6 to 8 weeks ahead!  Now that’s excellent use of production time!              

How much to plant:  Think of how much production per square foot you will get.  Will that serve your needs compared to the variety of the production of the entire garden, that plant itself?  For example, would a wide Romano bean be more productive than a slim bean?  Would a plant that has a longer production period be more useful?  Are you wanting to can and have a lot of harvest at once, or do you want table tomatoes all summer?             

Don’t plant too much of one vegetable. Two zucchini plants may produce more than enough.             

Or, plant a lot of what you grow well, grows well on your space, then trade for other goodies?             

Where to plant:  Do you need to assure having that plant?  Biodiversity, planting in different places throughout your garden, may be more effective that row cropping or putting all of one plant in one place where if disease or a pest comes, you lose them all as the disease or pest spreads from one to all.  See also Rotation, below.                          

Succession planting:  Limited by a small available area, choose your favorites that you want a steady supply of and use your self-discipline to wait to periodically plant another installment of your crop.  We have heard about spring planting, and most of us ask, ‘Did you plant your garden?’  With succession planting, part of your garden is going to be bare unless you have planted successively before, and each area that is finishing becomes available sequentially.  The question, ‘Did you plant your garden?’ no longer applies.              

If you have a short season garden, fast maturing plants like radishes, lettuces, can be planted successively as fillers in any spare spot.             

With succession crops, plant in the northmost area first; later plantings will not shade previous plantings too much as the first plantings finish.              

Rotation:  Hard to do in a small plot.  What is the size of a ‘small’ plot?  10′ X 20′ would be considered a small plot.  Small for what?  In a 10′ X 20′  plot, the length north to south, it is logical to put tall plants to the North, shorter to the South so they don’t shade each other.  That is especially true in winter when the sun is low in the South.  So where do you rotate your tall tomatoes too?!?              

You can space them with 2’ open space between them one year, plant in the open spaces the next year.  But is that enough tomatoes?  Do you want more?  In a small plot, dig your planting hole, fill with compost and worm castings and any other amendments you want to use, ie mycorrhizal fungi, then plant in the compost!  If your plant is a manure lover, add some.  As you water, the compost, etc., juices (compost tea), go down into the soil below feeding the roots as they grow.  You have to ‘build’ new soil as you go.             

If your 10′ X 20′  plot is lengthwise east to west, you have more ‘tall’ area to plant in the north.  But it is still hard to rotate in small plots.  Feed your soil well.             

Soil Depletion:  In a small plot, this is an issue.  The soil simply gets used up, turned into plants, pulled up with the roots.  If at all possible, make compost!  Bring in alfalfa/manure/fresh organic green trim and make a hot pile.  You can do this simply with a removable reusable chicken wire enclosure.  When not in use if folds up into little space.  You can plant where the compost was made.  Start your pile in enough time to use before major planting.              

  • Compost:  You put in your soil.  It contributes to the slow release of Nitrogen, the prime ingredient plants need for good growth.  It can also be used as mulch, 2” minimum, 4” better!  http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/hortcrop/h885w.htm           
  • Vermicompost:  Worm castings are very low in N (Nitrogen) but have special plant-growth hormones.  The humus in castings improves your soil’s capacity to hold water.  Castings suppress several diseases and significantly reduce parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites.
  • Mulch – You put on the surface to preserve your soil, keep it cool and moist, to prevent light germinating weed seeds from sprouting.  Organic mulches, like barks, straw, leaves, what you chop and drop, deliberately grown mulch plants that are then felled in place, can be nutritious to your soil as they decompose.  Mulch especially makes sense if you are a busy person since it cuts down on weeds.  Weeds use up your soil, nutrients your plants need.  So in the long run, as it prevents weeds and feeds your garden, you also have less expense feeding your soil. 

   

Irrigation:  In a tightly planted biodiverse veggie garden where things are changing rapidly, soaker hoses may not be the answer.  They are more useful for row planting and more permanent non-veggie plantings.  It is hard to tell how much water your plants are getting when water pressure varies much, not just from others using water at a community garden, but from the part of the hose nearest the spigot to the end of the hose.  If you use mulch it may be hard to tell how much water your plants are getting, and in time, the hoses can get buried more deeply than your most shallow rooted plants!  Plants that no longer need water, some tomatoes, mature onions that you want to dry, may get water you no longer want them to have and it may be difficult to move your hose far enough away unless  you plant at the end of the line, remove the hose, double it back on itself.  But all that finagling may be tiresome if not time-wasting.  If you are a vigorous farmer, you may cut your hose while digging.  And there are going to be times when the hose simply gets old and tired and the holes get bigger.  Repairs are easy, but it does take your time.   

Simple Sprayer

I have come to prefer hand watering and I find I have a closer relationship with my garden as I watch and water.  It is difficult to water underneath when you hand water, but keep it in mind to do, especially if you have just done some foliar feeding – don’t wash away all that food on the leaf.  Water plantings of small seeds very gently with a low flow, or by hand with a sprinkler can so seeds don’t get washed away, buried or unburied, or tiny seedlings damaged.             

That said, it is easy to lay soaker hoses in a small plot.  If you intend to leave them there once laid, put them about 8” apart,  so you can plant just about anywhere without relaying the hose.  Slightly bury or lay mulch on top of your hose, to prevent evaporation loss and to keep your plants from getting wet and mildewing, reduce snail/slug habitat!   Well laid hoses save time and water.  You can be watering while you do maintenance and harvesting.             

If you are really busy or are gone for periods of time, get an automatic timer.  Some water is better than no water.             

Pollination:  Put some buzz in your population by having a few bee attractor plants either in your garden or nearby!  Pollination equals production, so this is critical.  Otherwise, you hand pollinate.              

Managing Pests and Diseases:  First rules are to keep your plants healthy – well fed, make healthy soil, and reduce risky habitat.  Make habitat, plants for beneficial insects, poles for birds, rocks for lizards!                  

The small plot advantage is you can hand manage pests, cutting expenses.  You can track individual plants and see what they really need when they need it, remove immediately if necessary.  The disadvantage is it you lose it, it’s gone and you have to start over if there is time.  For some plants, if you miss the growing window, you are out of luck.              

Harvest:  In a small plot you can’t afford not to harvest plants that stop production if not harvested frequently, peas, beans, cucumbers.              

Seed Saving:  There may be little space or time to let plants grow to the seeding stage.  But if you have a very favorite plant – tasty crop, strong, exceptional production, it may pay to let it seed.             

Cover cropping:  If you need to miss a season or want to give your soil a rest and a boost, plant nitrogen fixers that as they grow, are living mulch, then later you knock down, chop into the soil, becoming green manure.              

Your rewards:  The freshest, most nutritious, tastiest organic veggies ever!  And the outdoor enjoyment, therapy, and relaxation a garden can give.
 
Go ahead, do it, turn off your cell.

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