Sunday, June 2, 2013

Making Gardening Work for You

During World Wars, most families had a victory garden to help with limited food supplies. It wasn’t a hardship because people usually gardened. Now, it seems like people make it into such an ordeal, that they do not want to garden. A garden, even a container garden, can help trim your budget. There are a few things to do to make your garden work.
1.       Sun-your garden will need it. Find a sunny spot in your yard, flower box, apartment rooftop, etc.  Lettuce can tolerate shade. Root vegetables do well with six hours of sunlight, but most veggies needs as much sun as they can get. 
2.       Now, you are ready to build your garden. Making a raised or container garden is often easier because you can control the soil, weeds, even ground funguses better. (Be careful where you get your supplies, some people think abandoned railroad ties would make a great raised garden, but the chemicals on the wood will end up killing your plants.)
3.       Soil-it depends on what you are growing and where you live. Blueberries need more acidy soil than my vegetables so they are all in containers with an acid soil base. (You can make your soil more acid by using sulphur usually available at hardware or home improvement stores in the garden section.) I usually mix top soil, compost with my pre-existing soil. Watch for sales because this is where you invest your most money.
4.       Watch the price of your supplies. Often you can get ordinary gardening tools and pots at yard sales. I wanted a huge pot for my blueberry bush. The cheapest I could find was $14, but I found the idea pot at a yard sale for $2.
5.       Water-your garden has to have access to water. Rain just won’t do it. Living in the Midwest, we suffered through two droughts the last two years. It is better to have a hose than a bucket because people get tired of toting the bucket and often skip watering their plants.
6.       Decide what plants you want.  Many people plant tomatoes, peppers, herbs, broccoli, beans and squash. These are easy growers. When buying seeds it is  good to buy seeds labeled disease resistant and drought resistant.  When planting seeds, realize if you can stagger your planting by planting a few seeds each week all the beans will not be ready for harvest at once.
7.       Getting rid of garden pests- about the time you decide to have a garden, a family of rabbits move in. You can plant marigolds around the edge of your garden, which offer an unpleasant smell to animals. Be aware now the rabbits may dine on your decorative plants. Use one tablespoon of hot sauce to one gallon of water and spray on plants to discourage chewing. (Do not spray this on the blossoms because it can burn them.) You can also buy granules containing fox urine at your hardware store. This makes the rabbit think a fox is patrolling the garden.
8.       Insects can be an issue too. I have almost no insects in the garden due to a three-prong approach. I have a bird feeder in my back yard and a large bird population that eat insects. I also use spent tealeaves around the plants, which repels insects. I spray the plants with insecticide soap if I spot any leaf damage or bugs.
9.       Pests from below the ground trouble gardens too, especially if they contain root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots.  My raised garden has a plywood bottom, but you can do the same with several layers of garden mesh or even newspapers. This will cut down on weeds too. Have a big garden. Plant an onion or garlic bulb between plants. The smell drives the ground dwellers away.
10.   Fungus occurs in plants that tend to hug the ground like melons and squash. You can trellis your squash to have it grow up saving space. Melons are too heavy to trellis, but you can carefully move the fruit so it does not consistently sit in a damp spot causing it to rot. You can even dry off damp areas on the melon with a paper towel too.
11.   Feeding your garden is necessary. Can’t plant it and forget it. Carefully washed crushed eggshells add calcium to the soil and spent coffee grounds around the tomato plants give the plants a caffeine jolt allowing them to grow faster. You can use plant food, but do not overuse it. Dilute properly because it can burn your plant.
12.   Pick your veggies before they are absolutely ripe. If you wait too long not only might your veggie become tough or bitter, but also your plant will start to die. Your plant has one mission to produce veggies. A completed perfect huge fruit signals the mission is done causing the plant to die. That’s why many people finish ripening their tomatoes in the window. I also pull up the herbs and repot them before winter hits to have fresh herbs inside for cooking.

At first, it sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t. I spend about 10-20 minutes a day on my garden. Most of it, is monitoring to see how things are growing. This is also an amazing opportunity to teach your children about nature too.  My garden produces for about twelve weeks saving me over $300 dollars in groceries. It is more about taste, convenience and knowing my produce isn’t harboring a disease.

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