January 23, 2012

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Find Your Green Thumb

Techniques for the Novice Gardner

Pamela Ostermiller

January 23, 2012

“Let’s hear it for vegetables. Let’s hear it for fruits!” yelled First Lady Michelle Obama in March 2009 as she and a group of fifth-grade students broke ground on the first White House vegetable garden to be planted in decades. Whether wanting a victory garden of their own—or a recession garden, as some call it—or just wanting to know where their food comes from, many Americans have followed the example and turned a patch of Kentucky Blue into a bounty. In fact, this growing season the National Gardening Association (NGA) is expecting a 20 percent increase in personal home gardens. No matter your amount of time or space, you can design a productive garden that fits your level of commitment, aesthetics and lifestyle. In any plot, vegetables and herbs can be mixed with flowers to create a fabulous cutting garden, thereby turning two projects into one and giving color, structure and blooms to your space throughout the year. As with any new endeavor, it is wise to start small. “For a busy person who works 40 hours a week, it is hard to run a full-on garden,” says Jacob Hansen, local farmer and garden outreach specialist with Traces garden store in Sugarhouse. “You need to be aware of how much labor it takes and how much time you have. If you start small, with even a planter box, then you’ll have no regrets. Stagger plantings and in three to four years, you’ll have quite a productive garden.” Proper Prepping To get started, section off the piece of yard you’d like to plant and thoroughly remove its current contents, i.e. lawn. Your plot needs to receive six or more hours of sunlight per day. Next, prepare the soil by folding in a few bags of compost and peat moss. “Healthy soil holds your garden together,” says Hansen. “It holds water, provides nutrients, and limits diseases and pests.” Another option is to build an above-ground garden in wood frames, such as the popular and functional method of square foot gardening. “People are more and more interested in growing their own gardens, and many are implementing square foot gardening techniques due to limited spaces,” says Tracy Burnham, owner of Decorative Enterprises. “Well-drained soil is not as important in square foot gardening as it is in traditional gardening because you’re likely going to be importing a soil mix to fill your raised beds anyway.” Burnham advises gardeners to fill the box with a mixture of 1/3 soil, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 compost. Also be aware that this gardening method needs more water because the raised edges are exposed and dry out faster. Power Plot Once your plot is ready, it’s time to decide what to plant. This is the best part, since the options are endless and completely subjective. And you get to eat what you grow. At this stage, the busy person and those with limited space can put extra thought and care into choosing plants that will require less time and maintenance while producing maximum enjoyment. First of all, whenever possible, start with seedlings as opposed to seeds. Then you won’t be wondering if you actually have a cucumber sprouting or if it’s a weed. The seedlings will also produce herbs and vegetables quicker than the seeds. For small spaces, stretch the growing season by planting early and late. Start peas, lettuces and other cool-weather crops as early as March, and broccoli, chard and other tough greens in the fall. Think vertically—use fences or install lattice on patio edges to grow peas, beans, squashes or cucumbers. Vegetables can grow alongside flowering vines, such as clematis, to create a blooming, edible wall. Plant it Once In addition to other flowers and vegetables, Hansen recommends incorporating perennial vegetables into your plan so you are not replanting everything every year, such as asparagus, strawberries, mint, or watercress. “This makes gardening less stressful and gives your landscape structure,” he says. “Then you don’t need to start over every year.” Blooms and Bites While a segmented garden portrays a more modern style, planting vegetables, herbs and flowers together is how the original cottage garden style evolved and is still a beautiful and organic look, especially for small spaces. There are also additional benefits to mixing flowers with vegetables; it controls pests and facilitates pollination. Vegetables don’t always have the showiest flowers to attract pollinating bees, so blending in sunflowers, sweet peas or zinnias can help the bees find your garden. Welcome beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps, ladybird beetles and lacewings by planting dill, fennel, parsley, Shasta daisies and yarrow. Then the only one eating your bounty will be you. Garden Essentials Sun: 5 to 6 hours per day Soil: Add peat moss and compost Seasons: Push the limits of the season. Start early and end late with peas and lettuces. Plant plants: Start with seedlings. You’ll have produce quicker than starting from seed. Think vertical: For small spaces, train plants to grow on fences or border patios. Plant it once: Incorporate perennial vegetables and flowers so you are not replanting everything every year.
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