Gardening should be fun and easy to do and by following these tips, you can prevent some of the problems which may a chore out of even the smallest gardens.
1. Planting in the right location to begin with. An open area with lots of sunshine and good soil is the best location for your garden. Providing the proper amount of light alone will prevent so many stress problems with your plants, after all they are food making machines and need sunlight like a light bulb needs electricity! Too little light will prevent fruiting, keep the leaves too wet and can make the plants stretch to reach the sunlight. I know that it is nicer to garden in the shade but in reality the plants may suffer and may never produce well in shaded conditions. Plants always prefer to be in the ground, even if you don't have "good" soil, it will most definitely be better than potting soil for the roots of your vegetables.
2. Amending your garden to create "good" garden soil. Most longtime gardeners will tell you that there is nothing that will make more of a difference in your vegetable garden success than adding compost, mulch and any other type of organic material to the soil. By organic I mean that it should be a by product of nature, not a certified organic bag of dirt. Fallen leaves, peat moss, compost of any kind are all "organic materials" and will break down over time to create the "black" soil that many backyards are lacking. You don't need to buy soil. Everyone has soil that will grow plants, the amendments will lighten up heavy soil and improve drainage, add texture to sandy soil which helps it hold water and nutrients. For first time gardens, you should rototill as deeply as you can to loosen up compressed soil and add amendments as you till to mix them well.
3. Feeding and Watering should be done sparingly. Just because we have access to so many kinds of fertilizers, and the big box stores want to sell you sprinklers and hoses and all types of watering equipment, shouldn't mean that we try to alter natures cycles. Yes, with vegetables it is necessary to water in periods of drought but a 5 second hosing down of the leaves doesn't actually water where the plants need it. The roots are the natural intake for moisture and the leaves are the intake for carbon dioxide, so water the roots! Also, instead of a short quick watering after work every day, try a long, slow watering every Saturday that gets the moisture down deep in the soil where you want the roots to go. A dribbling soaker hose or a drip watering system run for about an hour can actually save water by putting it in the right place instead of a sprinkler that evaporates most of the moisture into the air. Feeding should also be done in the most natural way possible. By adding organic fertilizers, made from "organic materials", the feeding is a process of breaking down slowly and merging with the soil where the roots know how to find it. Spraying Miracle Gro on the leaves (again, why would the plants want their food through their leaves?) can create more problems such as adding too much nitrogen, building up salts in the garden and burning the leaves. Never mind that it is watering the wrong way which wastes water.
4. Space the plants so they have room to grow. If you have never grown a particular vegetable before, you may not be aware of how large some plants get. I have seen a squash plant that is 6 feet around. Needless to say, if you have a 6 X 10 foot garden, that may not be the best thing to grow. If tomatoes are planted too close together, they may have problems drying off their leaves and this can promote disease and also make it impossible to find the tomatoes! For estimated plant sizes and spacing please see our Kitchen Gardening Tips and Plans page.
5. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch. Recently featured on the TV show It's not easy being green we saw where the garden beds were laid out and then covered with brown Kraft paper to keep the moisture in the soil, shade out weeds, and keeping other top mulch from breaking down too quickly. Around here, it is the best way to recycle newspapers and many folks use them in a thick layer to accomplish the same objective. I have seen old towels, carpet and lots of other things "recycled" in the garden as mulch. There are really no rules except that they should be easy to use, protect the roots of the plants from the hot sun, and block weeds. Just be careful not to use anything treated with toxic chemicals of course. If you want to use rolls of Kraft paper, this item is available in our catalog as a special order item.
6. If you do need to grow in containers, make sure that you use large pots, good potting soil mixed with some compost, (about a third). Water deeply and regularly, fertilize regularly (about every 6 weeks), Mulch the top of the dirt, and give them plenty of sun.