A few years ago, I attended a class taught by Marta Waddell, a Master Gardener in Arizona. I’ve referred to my class notes over and over again, and decided they were good enough to pass along to you!
February isn’t too early to think about gardening! It’s the perfect time to start planning, especially since some plants need to be started inside weeks before the final frost.
- Practice eating what’s in season locally. This will get your family used to eating seasonal produce, and, therefore, what you can grow in your own garden.
- Learn what herbs might help your family’s health issues.
- Marta recommends Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman.
- If you’re worried about too much shade in your garden area, plant dwarf trees rather than full-size trees.
- All heirloom plants are open pollinated, but not all open pollinated plants are heirloom.
- Try more than one variety of each vegetable to see what gives you the best results.
- Calorie crops, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, use much less space than grains.
- For survival, study what the poorest farmers in third world countries grow: Sorghum, peanuts, and chickpeas are three such crops.
- Another good book for those living in harsh desert climates is Extreme Gardening by David Owens.
- High quality tools are a must. Keep a bucket filled with sand and a bit of motor oil mixed in to clean off dirty gardening tools.
- Solarize your garden area to get rid of weeds a few weeks before planting season. Clear out weeds or scalp mow your garden beds. Moisten the ground well, and cover with a large sheet of clear plastic. Weight the plastic down around the edges with rocks or bricks. Weed seeds will germinate, but the heat will kill them. Leave the plastic sheet on for 6-8 weeks. This will reduce the rate of weed seed germination by 60-80%.
- A wire mesh trash can is good for sifting compost.
- Test the germination rate of your seeds yourself. Place ten seeds on a wet cloth. Cover and wait ten days. If eight seeds have sprouted, your germination rate is 80%. If only 5 have sprouted, the rate is 50%, and so on.
- Store seeds in the refrigerator in an airtight container. “Frost free” will draw moisture from seeds.
- It isn’t legal to save seeds that have been patented.
- Heat and moisture are enemies of seeds. The seeds may sprout, but they won’t grow anything. Stored properly, some seeds can last 5-10 years, but most will last just 2-3 years. Younger seeds will grow better.
- Mail order companies are best when it comes to buying seeds because they store their seeds in optimal conditions.
- Just because a nursery is selling certain plants does not mean that particular variety grows well in your area. They are selling what they know people will buy.
- Never work the soil when it is wet or very dry and have your soil tested so you will know what additives it needs.
- Recyling your kitchen waste by adding it to a compost pile is great but won’t necessarily result in balanced soil.
- Transplant when it’s either a cloudy day or at dusk.
- Plan your garden so you’re planting for a staggered harvest. Otherwise, you may be harvesting tons of zucchini, for example, during a single week and then have to wait several more weeks for another zucchini harvest.
- Don’t water at night, and be sure to water the soil, not the leaves.
- Consider using gray water or water from rain barrels. Drip hoses are good for raised beds.
- A couple tablespoons of oil or a teaspoon of soap in a rain barrel will prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs.
- The best pest control is the eyes and hands of the gardener. Use soapy water to get rid of many types of pests. (Don’t use a soap that contains citrus oils/ingredients.) Planting marigolds in the vegetable garden is another way to deter pests.
- Another of her favorite books, The Edible Ornamental Garden by John E. Bryan and Gardening When it Counts by Steve Solomon.
Originally published June 13, 2011.
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