Ag Biz News Column
By: Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent–Ag/NR
The Home Garden
The home garden continues to grow in popularity. Large or small, the rewards for many folks are satisfying. Today, gardens are planted in containers on the patio, in flower beds, and in the traditional field. For many people, a sense of accomplishment is achieved when their gardens grow and produce fresh, healthy vegetables right in their own backyards.
Home gardens can be a successful venture if you follow the proper plan. To have a successful garden, you must select the garden site carefully. Select a site that is exposed to full or near-full sunlight. A well-drained, fertile soil is important. Water is also important. It is important to also locate the garden near a water source in the event of a dry growing season.
The home gardener should also take a soil test of the potential garden site well in advance of the planting season. This is advantageous in the event lime is needed to raise pH of the soil. Lime can be applied anytime. Lime applications made in the fall or winter months during the dormant period allows more time for the lime to begin to work. Another advantage of soil testing is to determine what nutrient requirements are needed and at what rates.
Crop selection is another important decision that needs to be made. Will you have enough space to grow various vegetable varieties? Plants such as watermelons, cucumbers, and cantaloupes, for example, will take up more space as they grow. Selecting the proper variety for your area is also important to maximize yield potential of the vegetable variety planted.
Develop a garden plan. This will require selecting which vegetable varieties to grow together. Taller plants may shade out shorter growing plants that require full or near-full sunlight. Group vegetables together according to their rate of maturity. Crop rotation is important to prevent diseases and insect problems.
The home gardener should also know when to plant specific crops. Prepare your soil ahead of time to be prepared to plant your crop once conditions are favorable. Vegetables need a well-drained, fertile soil in order to produce well. Heavy clay soils may need organic matter added. Organic matter can include grass clippings and other compost materials. Turn the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. The deeper the better. An ideal soil if granular and not powdery fine.
Planting your crops should be done as early as possible in the spring or fall so vegetables will grow and mature during ideal growing conditions. Planting and transplanting depth is important as well. Planting seeds and plants too deep or too shallow effects the root development and thus causes root death. Many vegetable crops, if planted too early, will need to be protected from frost and freezes that may occur. Where applicable, planting vegetables indoors such as in a greenhouse can help these plants grow big enough to transplant at the opportune time in the spring.
February to early March is a good time to begin planting cool season crops such as onions, Irish potatoes, greens, carrots, radishes, broccoli, spinach, beets, and turnips. Early planting assures a good harvest prior to hot summer weather. Warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, etc. should be planted later when there is a less chance of frost or freeze. Otherwise, you may have to repeat plant those frost damaged plants.
Fertilization and watering are both important to a successful garden. Be sure to apply fertilizer at the recommended rates and avoid heavy doses directly near the base of the plant. Death of the seed or severe burn can result from improper application of the fertilizers. Plants need adequate amounts of water to survive. Most plants require a moisture equivalency to 1 inch of rain each week during the growing season. Your soil type will also determine water requirements. Light, sandy soils will require more water than heavy, dark soils.
Weeds and insects are two factors that need to be controlled to have a successful garden. Weeds rob your plants of much need nutrients as well as water. Weeds can be controlled manually, chemically, or through mulching. Mulching may also help with moisture requirements as well. Insects should be controlled using biological controls or approved chemicals. Read and follow the label carefully when applying pesticides to your vegetable crops. Pesticide labels indicate the type of pest controlled, safe harvest date since the last application, rate of chemical to apply, and various other important information.
Although there may be a lot of work initially, the rewards can be great for the home gardener. Most people raise vegetables for home use, while others intend to market their crops. Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.