|How to Plant a Vegetable Garden|
|Thursday, 10 May 2012 10:00 | Written by Marina Hanes | Article|
If you've ever tasted fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes or other home-grown vegetables, you'll likely never forget the flavor. Maybe you've thought about starting your own vegetable garden--in your back yard or as part of a community plot—but you worried you didn't know enough to make it worth your while. Well, it's not as hard as you think. With the information provided in the following primer, even if your thumb is some color other than green, you can soon be harvesting delicious, nutritious and safe food for your family, friends and yourself—and saving money in the process.
Preparing the Soil
You can then work on adjusting the soil’s pH level and addressing its deficiencies. Adding organic materials such as straw, grass clippings and leaves to your garden plot will increase the amount nutrients available to your plants. During the spring or fall, you can till these organic materials into the soil. Just make sure that the ground is dry; it will be easier to break down the soil and evenly distribute organic materials if the earth is free of clumps.
Soil-borne diseases, fungi and pest nematodes (or roundworms) can have a negative impact on your plants, but a technique called solarizing—best started in early spring—can eliminate many of these nuisances. You will need clear or black gardening plastic to put over the soil. The plastic can be held down with rocks and should be left on the garden for several weeks. The plastic acts as an insulator, trapping the sun’s heat and sterilizing the soil’s top layer. This process works best in hot climates, but any garden can benefit from a little extra warmth. The increase in temperature will speed up the decomposition process of natural materials, activating nutrients from all those organic materials you’ve added.
Weeds can also be detrimental to plant growth, sucking up rainwater and nutrients that would otherwise be available to your crops. It’s important to apply a thick layer of mulch atop the soil, which will help it retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing and multiplying. Laying down additional mulch during the late season will also protect your plants from cold temperatures and frost.
There are three crop types. Late-maturing crops include beets, carrots, cauliflower and cabbage. Most mature within 90 days, and should be planted early in your growing season. Mid-season crops include leeks, turnips, collards, perennial flowers and herbs. These mature after 60 days, and should be planted about a month later. Early-maturing crops include chives, radishes, broccoli and spinach, which mature within 30 days and should be planted about a month before the growing season ends, unless you’d like several harvests. Exact planting times depend on the region, and gardeners can always ask their local nurseries for the best times to sow each crop.
For successful winter crops, you must know when the first hard freeze typically hits your area. Once you know the time frame, you will need to plant your winter crops far enough ahead so they reach maturity before the first killing frost. Makeshift hothouses using polyethylene plastic can be built in your garden to keep plants warm during the winter. These are common in the northern regions of the United States. Hothouses are also used during the germination process to allow seedlings to be planted early, giving them a head start on the season. It is always best, however, to choose crops native or suitable to your climate. This increases your probability of success and allows you to conserve the extra resources that non-native plants often require.
Natural Pest Protection
For insects, you can use repellents that are natural and garlic-based. You may also introduce beneficial insects to your garden such as ladybugs and praying mantises, which prey on aphids, whiteflies and other common pests. Another option is to create an insect barrier with a fine mesh netting, protecting your garden from larger insects like cicadas and grasshoppers. You can even introduce predatory nematodes, which prey on and control nematodes of the pest variety.
Home-vegetable gardening is a win-win-win… situation. You connect with nature, get fresh air and exercise, decrease your carbon footprint, guarantee your food is chemical fertilizer- and pesticide-free, save money and have the best-tasting food around. You might just say that growing a vegetable garden allows you to have your cake and eat it, too.
Of course, homegrown vegetables are much better for you than cake.
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