Spring is here and, for some of us, so too is that deep urge to play in the dirt! It seems that now, more than in recent memory, folks are feeling the call to prep garden plots and grow food! Even if you’re convinced that you bring only doom to anything green, we assure you that growing food is a very rewarding and accessible project to take on during this time of self-isolation and social distancing.
To help you get started, we wanted to put together a short video series on some helpful tips and supply you with a few digital resources to assist you along the way. In this first video, Foxfire’s executive director, T. J. Smith, touches on a few essentials for starting your garden and gives a few tips on getting those prized tomatoes and peppers into the garden. Additionally, be sure to check out the links scattered throughout this post (the will be in blue) to get more information on various aspects of gardening at home.
As noted in the video, there are three essentials to any vegetable garden: Sun, Water, and Soil.
Sun: be sure to select a spot for your garden that gets good sunlight from morning until around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. That way, your plants get sufficient sunlight, but can avoid the burn that comes from the hottest part of the day.
WATER: there are a few approaches to watering your garden. Soaker hoses or drip hoses are a good approach, depending on the size of your garden. You can also build a drip system using plastic soda bottles. Broadcast watering is another approach, using a sprinkler, but you want to be sure to only use this system if you can water early, early morning or late at night. For this system, you can purchase a timer for relatively cheap so that you can set your watering times for those early morning or late night waterings.
SOIL: if you are creating a garden right into your yard, you want to be sure your soil has a good mix of clays, sandy soil, and organic material. The soil should have a nice deep brown or black color and a pH level of around 6.5 to 7. Depending on your soil’s composition, you’ll want to add in organic materials, such as compost, to be sure there are enough nutrients in your dirt. You want soil that drains well (no standing water!), but that also retains moisture. It may take some time to get there, but keep at it. Be sure to add some sort of mulch (we suggest leaf mulch, but non-treated wood chips are also great) to help hold the soil in place and maintain good moisture levels. Your state’s cooperative extension service should be able to help you create a plan for amending your soil for great vegetable growing.
If you elect to use a raised garden box, we suggest using an untreated wood (pine is fine) and adding soil right on top of wherever you decide to place your box(es). You can even grow right on top of concrete so long as you give your plants at least 4 to 6 inches of soil in which to grow. However, it’s our recommendation that you go with a box that is at least 1-foot deep, so as to provide ample soil depth for your garden. You’ll also want to line the inside of your box with some kind of liner – a heavy-duty weed liner, such as those you can find at most garden centers, works great! Go here for three approaches to garden boxes that we really like.
When growing a garden, it’s best to think of it as growing an ecology. You want to create an environment in which your plants help one another achieve the goal of producing fruit. You also want to invite some friends from nature to help your garden along. This means doing things like planting flowers and plants that attract pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc.) and using proximity planting plans to grow plants near one another that can be helpful to one another.
One of the best examples of companion planting is the three sisters approach to growing corn, beans, and squash. This method was used by many Native American groups to support bountiful harvests. In the three sisters plan, corn is planted first. Once it reaches a height of about six inches, vining beans are planted near the corn stalks. As the corn grows, the beans will supply the corn with much-needed nitrogen and the corn will provide the beans with a trellis on which to grow. Around the same time that the beans are planted, squash seeds are also put in the ground. The squash leaves will provide ground shade, that helps keep moisture in the ground. Additionally, the stick, spiny leaves and stalks deter bugs from attacking the corn and beans.
Another great example is planting marigolds near tomato and pepper plants. The marigolds deter root-knot nematodes. There is also a folk belief that the pungent smell of the marigolds deters other pests, such as hornworms and white flies!
You can find a full list of vegetables that companion well from our friends at the Farmer’s Almanac!
Tune in again next week for our video on square foot garden plans for garden boxes! And, if you’re a grower and have some tips to share, please do so in the comments below or email us at email@example.com and we will share any tips you may provide!