Plant Sale

8 Steps to a Successful Spring Garden!

It's time for the planning to begin!  What will you plant, where will you plant it, what kind of container will you use? January and February are the months to decide and prepare so you will be ready to go in late March or early April.

Southern gardens are blessed with a long growing season and usually plenty of rain, but also can be plagued with disease and insects, especially in the heat of summer.  Successful gardening in the South means the three "Ps" - Planning, Preparation, and Prevention.

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(1) CHOOSE YOUR GARDEN SPOT
Choose a sunny, well‐drained site for your garden spot, raised beds or container garden. Plants need a minimum of 6 hours of sunshine per day. Too many gardeners try to grow vegetables in competition with trees, shade from buildings, or fences.

(2) PREPARE YOUR SOIL
After you choose your site, you can improve your garden soil by adding organic matter—compost or leaf mold, and lime if needed. Work it into the soil in the winter. You can use Miracle‐Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix for container gardens, but keep in mind it contains chemical fertilizers.

Soil pH: Garden soil should be rich and slightly acidic to neutral. Most nutrients that plants need can dissolve easily when the pH of the soil solution ranges from 6.0 to 7.5. Below pH 6.0, some nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, are less available. When pH exceeds 7.5, iron, manganese, and phosphorus are less available.

Soil Test: Determine your soil’s pH with a simple soil test kit. You can get a “Rapid Test” soil sampler test kit at Ace Hardware, Lowe's or Home Depot for about $5.00.

Lime: A soil test is the best way to determine lime and fertilizer needs. To be effective, the lime must be mixed into the soil well‐ahead of planting. Use lime to raise the pH of the soil.

Timing: Prepare soil in winter/early spring so nutrients will be available for late spring planting. Be prepared to plant root vegetables in February, leafy greens in March and fruiting plants in April.

(3) SELECT YOUR SEED AND/OR PLANT VARIETIES
At our annual Heirloom Garden Plant sale in late March and early April, you can choose from our selection of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and cucumber.  For crops like beans, order seed from a reputable, seed company or buy certified organic seed. We order a lot of our seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  Many of the garden centers now carry organic seed as well.

Heirloom Seeds and Plants: Heirloom vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs are varieties that have remained popular with home gardeners because they grow well and taste great. Heirlooms are loosely defined as plant varieties that have been grown for at least three generations, or pre‐1940. Heirloom food plants are varieties that have been selected for their flavor, resistance to pests and diseases, and other traits important to home gardeners. Unlike modern hybrids, heirloom seeds are open‐pollinated, which means they will breed true and can be saved by the gardener from year to year — an important consideration for food security and self‐sufficiency.

Note: Hybrid means simply selectively breeding more than one variety – they are not GMO, and perfectly fine to use! But hybrid seeds will not breed true, so they are not good for seed saving.

(4) PLANT YOUR SEEDLINGS OR SEEDS
If you are going to grow your own tomato, pepper, eggplant, greens and herbs, you’ll need to plant your seedlings in early to mid‐February. Once they sprout they need full sun, so you’ll need to move them to a place where full sun is available. You can use Miracle‐Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix, but if you want to mix your own, here’s our mix:

4 parts screened, homemade compost; 1 part perlite; 1 part vermiculite; 2 parts sphagnum peat moss

Seeds:  Seed is inexpensive, so get the best available. Don’t seed too thickly. Plant small seed, such as turnips and carrots, about 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch deep. Plant larger seed, such as beans, about 1 inch deep.

Plants: Use only stocky, healthy, fresh plants. Always water transplants to settle soil around roots. Set tall plants deeper in the ground than they grew originally.

Timing: Depends on your crop. Root vegetables on Valentine’s Day; summer vegetables on April 1.

Spacing: Depends on your crop – follow directions on seed packets.

Depth: Plant to the same slightly deeper than they were in the nursery pot. Lightly firm the soil around the plant and water thoroughly.

Fertilization: Long‐season crops such as tomatoes, cabbage, pepper, okra, and potatoes need more fertilizer than short‐season crops. Experience and close observation are the best guides for additional side dressing.

Irrigation. Water is essential for a top‐notch garden. During long dry periods, soak the garden
thoroughly twice per week; don’t just sprinkle daily. Light, frequent irrigation helps only during the period of seed germination. If you use overhead irrigation, use early in the day so plants can dry before night.

(5) HARVESTING
During the peak growing season it is very important to harvest your garden daily to pick vegetables at the proper stage of maturity. Over‐ripe fruits and vegetables attract insects, and quickly become targets for disease and fungus. If beans, okra, cucumbers, etc., are left to mature fully, the plant will stop producing. Pick off any damaged fruits immediately, even if they are not ripe to keep them from rotting.

The main reason for a home garden is to produce high‐quality vegetables. Early morning harvest, before vegetables absorb heat from the sun, is best for most vegetables. Freeze or can the surplus if you want to enjoy your garden all year.

(6) INSECT CONTROL
For a successful garden, you must control insects. Early planting will miss some insects, but usually you’ll have to use insecticides. Garlic and diatomaceous earth combined with insecticidal soaps are very effective. Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt (Dipel, Thuricide) is good biological control for cabbage worm.

(7) WEED CONTROL
To control weeds, use a mulch, weed often, and pull weeds when very small. Deep cultivation after plants are older will damage roots. Chemical weed killers are not recommended.

(8) DISEASE CONTROL
The best practices in disease control are rotation, clean seed, resistant varieties, and early planting.

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10 Reasons to Grow Your Own Food in a Busy World

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Most of our parents or grandparents (depending on your age) gardened.  Many even full-fledged farmed, and nearly all cooked.  In recent decades however, our increasingly busy lifestyles have most people not even cooking, much less growing some of our own food

All you have to do is take a quick peek at Pinterest or other social media to know that the desire to cook and garden has never left us.  And with good reason.  Growing food, and cooking the food you grow is the most fundamental way to connect to the earth.  Nothing beats fresh-from-the-garden taste and nutrition.  In case you need any more convincing than tasting a homegrown cucumber, tomato or strawberry, consider the following 10 reasons to grow your own food:

  1. Enjoy the unbeatable taste of homegrown, freshly picked veggies and fruits. Not only do organically grown foods from your yard or community garden taste better than pesticide-laden ones, they also contain more nutrients to keep you and your family healthy and happy.
     
  2. Reduce the number of chemicals you ingest. The EPA considers 90 percent of fungicides, 60 percent of herbicides, and 30 percent of insecticides carcinogenic, while the National Academy of Sciences considers pesticides to cause 4 million yearly cases of cancer, birth defects, nerve damage and genetic mutations in the US. Yuck!  Use natural products like garlic, natural soaps and diatomaceous earth to combat pests.
     
  3. Enjoy the exercise that gardening tasks provide. Building raised beds, raking rows, weeding, planting, turning compost and moving dirt, are all very useful forms of exercise. Focus on your movements and get in a good workout, plus a healthy dose of Vitamin D.
     
  4. Enjoy the financial savings of growing your own food. Investing it the materials for a garden may take a chunk of money to start off, but will keep your food costs down in the long run. The valuable experiences gained through growing your own food and the added nutritional value cannot be measured in money.
     
  5. Appreciate all food more. When you see what it takes to grow a ripe tomato, pepper, onion, and cilantro; to chop it up and combine it with the perfect seasonings; you'll never look at fresh salsa the same way again.
     
  6. Enjoy seasonal eating. Growing your own produce allows you to reconnect with the natural food year, eating more fresh produce when it is in season, and preserved produce in the winter.
     
  7. Enjoy improving biodiversity. Gardening automatically sets up an environment that attracts beneficial wildlife such as pollinator insects, birds and in some cases even amphibians.  Planting a diversified garden is a far cry from the huge monocultures of corporate agriculture.
     
  8. Prevent soil erosion. Growing your own food decreases the demand for the destructive practices of corporate agriculture. The health of the soil is demonstrated in the quality of the food grown in it.  Using hand tools and small tillers, plus adding organic compost to your soil builds topsoil rather than destroying it.
     
  9. Enjoy family time. Slow down. Get the kids and grandkids, or sisters and brothers involved.  Plan, plant, tend and harvest together.  Cook the bounty together.  Discuss the successes and failures and lessons learned!  They may grumble, but ask any adult if they are glad they worked in a garden as kids, and the answer is a unanimous, "Yes!"
     
  10. Enjoy reconnecting to your community and your roots through food sharing. Gardening and growing food have been and integral part of our lives since humans first began to cultivate food. The simple act of growing your own food will bring you closer to your roots, allowing you to grow, care and share it with gratitude and respect.