The master gardening program is a volunteer program that teaches and trains individuals the art and science of gardening. In exchange for this inexpensive training, they promise to offer service and share their gardening knowledge with others.
Several years ago I attended a class by a knowledgeable master gardener. My teacher clearly had a love for all things gardening, and helped me assess my own garden to figure out why it wasn’t the garden of my dreams. You can get my Gardening Self-Assessment here for free.
Improve the Soil
- Find a way to re-use all organic matter on your property. When you mow, allow the clippings to settle back on to the ground as free, natural compost material. Spread fallen leaves along paths between raised planters and over your yard. Nutrients percolate through decomposing organic matter every time it rains. Learn other no-work tricks for your garden in this book by Ruth Stout.
- Soil nearly always needs nitrogen. It’s washed away by rainfall and your watering system. Always add nitrogen according to the needs of specific plants.
- It may take 3 or more years to develop good soil. Don’t compact soil by walking on it and don’t work it when wet.
- The deeper the soil, the fewer the microbes, so keep your amendments and compost in the top 4-6 inches. That really is as deep as you need.
- If you have a patch of ground whose soil needs improvement, grow a crop of Southern Peas in the soil. When they sprout and start to produce, plow them under. This particular plant produces a lot of nitrogen, which will enrich your soil.
Prevent Disease and Pests
- Know “The Disease Triangle”. All 3 factors must be in place and in the right amounts for plant diseases to develop and grow. Fight a disease by removing or minimizing any one of these:
- Susceptibility of the host plant.
- Favorability of the environment.
- Virulence of disease-causing agent.
- Even in a small garden or container garden, it’s important to rotate your crops. Many pathogens infect all plants in the same family. So, if you plant tomatoes, next year avoid anything in the Nightshade family. Instead, plant something from another plant family, such as squash, onions, or green beans. The reverse is true. If you’ve grown green onions in an area, next time around plant tomatoes or something from a different family.
- Plant a “trap crop” to attract pests so they leave your most desirable plants alone. For example, cucumber beetles are attracted to radishes. If you love your cucumbers and want to keep them safe from this beetle, plant some radishes a few yards away. The cucumber beetles will swarm the radishes and leave the cucumbers alone. This is a natural technique for pest control.
- If slugs and snails are a problem, set out hollowed-out cantaloupe halves in your garden. They’ll attract these pests and you can kill them once they’ve entered this organic pest trap.
- Whenever possible use insecticidal soap for pest control. It’s safe to use, doesn’t burn plants and kills soft-bodied insects. Direct the spray toward the underside of leaves to get rid of aphids using the most powerful setting on your sprayer.
- If deer are a problem in your garden, the only real solution is high fences.
- Heirloom varieties are very prone to diseases. Only grow heirloom varieties you know have been grown over the years in your area.
- Purposely plant things that attract beneficial insects who will eat the pest insects. Paper wasps, for example, will prey upon hundreds of caterpillars in a growing season. Provide friendly environments for toads and anoles. Both consume insects and will make your gardening job easier. Also, provide shallow containers of water, and plant things in the umbelliferae and compositae families.
- Avoid pesticides that have a combination of ingredients. These end up killing things you don’t have or don’t want to kill.
- The best location for a garden is right out in the middle of nowhere — full sun, away from trees, their debris, and tree roots. It should also be placed where you will see it every day. This will allow you to notice problems early on and treat them.
- Make sure the size of your garden isn’t too big to handle. Evaluate how much time you realistically have for tending a garden. It’s better to start small.
- Anything that vines can be grown vertically. This saves space in your garden and makes it easier to harvest.
- A dibble is an invaluable tool in the garden.
- Buy seedlings at the beginning of the week. Set them outside in the shade to harden and then plant them over the weekend.
- Plant flowers and herbs along with your vegetables. The flowers will attract beneficial insects. Basil is a good example.
- Pay attention to plant spacing. When plants are too close together, you’ll end up with pest and disease problems. Plants need air movement to thrive and remain healthy.
- Before your next big garden project, take time to send a soil sample to your county extension office. You’ll learn which type of soil you have and what you should do to amend the soil for the best possible garden.
- There are many household Items That Can Be Used as Organic Fertilizer
- Pick tomatoes when they are pink and let them fully ripen indoors. Although they’re pink, they ripen from the inside out, so the inside of the tomato is already ripe at this stage.
- If you grow and harvest potatoes, store them dirty. Do not wash off the soil and keep them in a dry location.
- Most people wait too long before harvesting vegetables. The veggies become bitter and tough. It’s better to harvest while they are small and tender.
- It takes time for a green bell pepper to turn red, which is why red bell peppers are more expensive.
- Sweet potatoes need to be cured before eating them. Harvest one, snap it in half, and if the inside is orange, it’s cured and will be tasty. If the inside turns brown, it’s not cured. Only harvest the sweet potatoes you’ll soon be eating and leave the others to cure.
Don’t miss my original “27 Tips From a Master Gardener“.