Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gardening Q & A

To try to answer the emails I received about organic gardening, I will tell you all I know. Maybe it isn't much but my food does grow and I get great crops. I am a simple Gardner. I feel that more is not always better. There are a million things you can add to a garden but the basics are really the only things needed.

First, you need good soil. If this is your first time gardening, it may take a few years to get a really great garden since the soil gets richer each year. You can still have a successful first year but it does get better. If you are doing a small grow box type garden, it is wise to just purchase a garden mixture from the store. If you want to go bigger, you can order some premixed garden dirt , if in AZ, I recommend Pioneer rock. If you are going to use the ground that came with the house, you need some muscle, a rototiller, manure, gypsum, Ammonium phosphate and sand. I can't give you exact measurements as it depends on the area but email me if you have questions on that.

Second, and very important, WORMS! Worms break down the soil and leave the soil rich in organic material. You need the red wiggler variety. I purchased mine on line from Ray's Worm Ranch. How does one get to be a worm rancher? Anyways, it doesn't take much as these little guys reproduce quickly. They need moist soil and they get to work.

Third, water. This is where you will kill the garden. It needs to be regular and deep. There are many systems. You can bury a water drip system in the ground but I just do the old standby of a hose on slow flow until my rows are swimming. In warmer weather, I water every other day. Just watch the ground. I don't wait for it to be dry, I water when is just beginning to look a little dry on top of the rows, the middle still wet. The plants will also tell you. If they are turning yellow, too much water. Some leaves at first will loose some leaves as they turn yellow but this is usually just root shock from planting them. The plants that have been in for a little while should not turn yellow unless it is a water issue.

Fourth, Structure; rows or flat. I like the rows mostly because it keeps the water in the sides and it just looks pretty. It raises the plants up a bit so that the fruits of the vine don't rest in the water also. But, I have done the flat bed gardening and that works too. That also is a good option if you have a smaller area and need to cram in as much as possible. Just make sure that you follow the guides on the plants or seeds for spacing. You don't want to choke out the plants.

Fifth, feeding the garden. Sometimes I put in some miracle grow which is wonderful. It really makes the plants take off and produce in higher quantities. I have regularly turned in cow manure every time I planted until I had my mulch bin. It is cheap and organic although stinky at first. When the garden was still in the early years, I would also turn in gypsum and sand before planting since I was gardening in the ground and my ground was still hard. After that, just cow manure and miracle grow. Now, just compost. The compost bin was free from the city. I don't know if they still do that but they just delivered it to my door step. You can get them anywhere, cheap and simple or complex and expensive. Stay with cheap. It works. Keep in next to your garden so you can easily dump garden scraps into it. It doesn't smell. You want to remember a few things to keep the mulch pile successful. Turn in up regularly with a shovel so that it gets mixed up and allows air in their. You want a good balance between leaves and grass type mulch and kitchen scraps. Layering is good. So, if you pile a heap of orange peels and apples you then want to add some grass or leaves next time. It helps keep the flies down and helps with the gas mixture of nitrogen to some other gas I can't remember. Google it. I keep a plastic container under my sink with a lid. I just throw in the scraps and dump it when it is full. Do not put anything with oils, dairy or meat in their. Just fruits, veggies, egg shells and plain noodles. If there are bigger things like watermelon rinds, just chop them up a bit. Don't put in sticks and wood chips. It takes too long to break down. Add a little soil to your mulch bin at first that has some worms in it. It will help the process. I also put a little water in their now and then if it looks dry. You don't want it dripping but it needs to be moist. It will take quite a few months for it to be good and dark. You will be amazed at how much you can add to this. It does break down quickly. When it is ready, turn it into the soil. It will get your soil dark and fertilized like it should be. You may be surprised as some of my bloggies commented when you get a mystery plant pop up from scraps that were in the mulch pile. It just adds more fun to the game!

Sixth, pests. Since my garden is organic and that is the goal of having a garden, no pesticides, I don't want to then add them just to kill pests. There are ways to avoid it. If you have white flies, you can go out before the sun is on the plants and spray down the plants. It will shoe off the white flies. They will return daily but doing this in the morning will help tremendously. Some years they come, some they don't. They will eat the leaves so watch out. They hide under leaves so you can wash under the leaves too if you want. Also watch for bugs and worms that hang on the leaves. Just pick them off. You can make a spray bottle of rosemary water that bugs don't like. Just take some fresh rosemary, put it in some water and boil it a bit. It will release the flavor. Spray on the plants after the water is cool of course. Other than that, I just inspect the plants regularly. Most years I don't get pests. Some years I do. You can also a little mixture of a good green natural dish soap with water on the leaves, not the food part of the plant. Some pests are friends. Lady bugs and bees. You want these. Bees are needed for pollination. If you plant allysum flowers next to your squash and tomato plants, the bees will come. The flowers also smell great, like honey. Likewise, marigolds help bugs stay away. I plant flowers along the borders sometimes to help with this. You may occasionally have a vine borer problem. This is a worm that gets into the vine for plants like tomatoes and squash. Not much you can do here, just clip that vine off that has been eaten from the inside and hopefully that will keep the worm from eating other vines. Sometimes they come from the store infected. Sometimes you will get a diseased tomato plant from the store or it will catch root rot where the bottoms of the tomatoes turn black. I have had that happen a few times. Not much to do here either. Mostly, I have been successful. Just look at the plants regularly to see if there is a problem. It really is not too time consuming once you get started.

Other than that, those are my tricks. I check for weeds regularly and clean it up a bit now and then. You can do so much more if you want. Shading tomato plants when it gets too hot with a screen type fabric. Set up trellises for vine plants , etc. I just keep it simple. It seems to work. You need sun so make sure you set up the garden in an area where it will get at least 6 hours of sun a day if not more. Watch for shading by the house.

Anymore questions, let me know. If I don't know it, I have a great contact who is a pro and I can ask him. Good luck! It really is easy once you start. I have a friend who is has a landscape business and is going to sell premade grow boxes and soil, delivered to your home. I will get prices soon so watch for that. How could it be an simpler that that. If you are just planting now, start with plants, not seeds if possible. Summer in AZ shortens our growing time so you need to get a head start.

Have fun!


Eric said...

We got our compost bin from the city of Gilbert as well. It is absolutely awesome! The number to get yours delivered is (480) 503-6400 (if they still do it). I figure it doesn't hurt to ask. They deliver fast too. I think I called on a saturday and on Monday, it was on my door step!

Kara said...

Do you use the bright blue miracle grow? I didn't know that was organic. I just figured by the color I guess. I will have to check that out, my garden is always in need of help.

Shari Goodman said...

The blue miracle grow is definitely not organic. I never have used the kind that you spray on the plants. There is now an organic miracle grow which I am sure is better but still not positive about what is in there. Now that I use my mulch, I am staying with that and I actually only used miracle grow 2 out of the 15 years I have gardened. I used manure other than that and it worked great. Miracle grow did help a bit more though but not worth the trade off I guess. You can also use bone meal, epsom salts for the garden and other organic manure products.