Saturday, May 2, 2015

5 Ways to Make Your Garden Great

Me in my little garden. 
I love gardening!

About 15 years ago I can remember telling someone how gardening wasn't for me, no thank you! Then a few years later I decided to give it a try.

Now I can't wait to get the seeds in the ground and watch in amazement as the seeds quickly turn into plants. Not just a plant, but a plant that can grow a large amount of food from just one tiny seed. It's truly amazing to watch!

At first I just dug and planted seeds, then watered them and was happy anything grew. That method works for about a year, then if you want a better garden a little more thought is required.

I've learned a little bit over my 5 years of home gardening, and this year I intentionally studied to learn even more. There are many things that can benefit a garden, but for the sake of helping you, my fellow just starting gardeners, I'm going to try and stick to the basics.

First and foremost your soil is everything.  The condition of it is almost all that matters when gardening.
     Bad soil= Lousy garden. 
Great soil= Great garden

Garden stores have kits you can buy to have your soil tested, then they'll recommend what your garden needs to thrive.  This is a great place to start, but not a necessary one.


There are 3 main nutrients every garden needs...

Nitrogen- makes plants green and keeps them growing.
Phosphorus- needed for flower budding and fruit production.
Potassium- determines plants hardiness and resistance to disease.

When you are looking at fertilizers the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are what the numbers represent, and in the order I've listed them.
Organic Compost with Fertilizer

For example a package of fertilizer might say 3-1-1. That means the ratio in that kind of fertilizer is 3 nitrogen to 1 phosphorus to 1 potassium.

There are many different kinds of natural fertilizers available, and it's best to choose one based on the needs of your soil. If you haven't had your soil tested, then seeing what your garden lacks is a good way to see what it needs.

Last year I didn't do much of anything to fertilizer the garden, and I noticed a lack of fruit production and only a so so amount of hardiness from the plants.  I have some concern that it could have been from a lack of bees to pollinate the flowers and produce a vegetable, but for now I'm going to apply more potassium and phosphorus this year.

It's easy to skip the synthetic chemical fertilizers because there are so many great choices of natural fertilizers available. Your local garden center should have at least a couple of different kinds.

The kind you should choose depends on the needs of your soil, as each fertilizer has different naturally occurring amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Here are some of the common kinds of natural fertilizer and the ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that they each have...

Hydrolized liquid fish fertilizer  4-2-2
Bonemeal  3-15-0
Compost  2-1-1 (can vary depending on the source of compost)
Chicken manure  3-1-1
Alfalfa meal  2-1-2
Blood meal  12-0-0
Fish Emulsion 5-2-2
Feather meal (used in Fall)  7-0-0: 12-0-0
Liquid Kelp- used for plant growth and improved flowering
Kelp meal- provides a quick potassium release

pH Levels

StrawberriesDifferent plants prefer slightly different pH levels in the soil.

For instance strawberries prefer a lower pH level, but asparagus prefer a slightly higher pH level. A neutral pH level is 7.      
Kits at garden centers should be able to tell you what the pH levels in your garden are (they might vary from the different areas in the garden and by what was previously planted there).

Wood Ash increases pH levels when mixed with compost. Coffee grounds lower pH levels.

I personally have yet to bother with pH levels. Unless you are growing a huge garden I wouldn't be too concerned about them.

Planning Out Your Garden

Now that you've got your soil ready for planting and your fertilizer picked out, it's time to decide where in the garden is the best place to put each kind of vegetable.

Sun or shade plants?
If you're whole garden is in the sun then skip this part. If your garden is part shade part sun then it's worth taking the time to check whether each of the plants you are planting do better in the sun or shade. For instance tomatoes do better in full sun while lettuce prefers some shade. All plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.

Companion Planting
Many people have never heard of companion planting, but it's a good thing to know about. Not all vegetables grow well beside each other. Last year I planted carrots beside my tomato plants and the carrots barely grew.

Here is a great chart that clearly shows which vegetables are okay to plant by each other, and which should be separated.

Map the Garden
Drawing a simple map before planting is an easy way to stay organized and remember where you want to plant each item. Feel free to change things as you go, as long as they're in the necessary shade/sun area and are good for companion planting.

My 2015 garden map.

Trace Minerals

Think of trace minerals as a bonus for your garden. Trace minerals are in all food and dirt, and are necessary for our bodies to function correctly.
"Every second of every day your body relies on ionic minerals and trace minerals to conduct and generate billions of tiny electrical impulses.
Without these impulses, not a single muscle, including your heart, would be able to function. Your brain would not function and the cells would not be able to use osmosis to balance your water pressure and absorb nutrients."
For the source of this quote and more information on trace minerals click here.

For garden plants that are grown in soil lacking in trace minerals (which unfortunately most soil is lacking, especially soil that hasn't been maintained properly like at many commercial non-organic farms), the food ends up being deficient in necessary minerals for our bodies.

If you are drinking water that has been through reverse osmosis then that water has no trace minerals unless they've been added back in.

This year I decided to add trace minerals to my garden plants as they're growing. I bought my bottle of trace minerals through Ocean Trace. According to their site, and those who have used their product, using the trace minerals causes plants to taste better, grow bigger, have a longer shelf life after being picked, better yields, less fungus, better soil, and fewer insect problems.

I bought this bottle for $14.95. The 8 oz. bottle should last me a long time. For my 4 x 20 ft. garden I need to only mix 1/4 tsp. of the trace minerals with 26 oz of water, and spray them on my plant leaves up to once a week.

When to Water

Garden WateringI've been making a mistake for years. I have frequently watered my garden at night. This can, and likely did, cause fungus to grow on the plants.

The best time of day to water is in the morning. This allows the plants to get lots of moisture stored up for the coming heat of the afternoon, and allows the leaves time to dry before night time.

The second best time to water is late afternoon/ early evening, just as long as there is enough time left for the leaves to dry before night time.

I hope you find these gardening tips helpful. What are some of your favorite gardening tips you'd like to share? Click on the pencil below to add a comment. :-)

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