Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gardening 101

This is the first in a series on Gardening starting with Soil Basics from a guest writer, avid gardener and noted C&W DJ.

If you haven't started a backyard garden yet, it's never too late!  But, the first step is really the most critical:  soil preparation.  If you begin with good soil and maintain it periodically, you will be blessed with a bountiful harvest!  If you would like to take time to prepare and create a fast garden in the interim, consider raised bed gardening. It's easier on the body than bending over!  You would be surprised how many plants you can fill in a 4' x 4' space, or even in buckets or troughs or whiskey barrels you've drilled holes into the bottom.  You can add bags of organically rich soil immediately, but the cost can add up.  Choose something you can use later to plant flowers in so they aren't useless once your permanent garden is complete.

JR Note:  Properly designed planters also serve as cover

As my Dad always said, "Plant it several times in your head and once in the ground".  Yep, I hate to admit it, but that ol' farm boy was usually right!  Map out an area on your land or in your backyard that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.  Research the minimum requirement of sun for vegetables you desire to plant.  The ground will need to drain well, but not be on too much of a slope as to cause the water to run off rather than soak in. Become a designer knowing which tall plants need to be planted so as to not shade low growing ones depending on where you choose to plant & sun coverage. Learn which plants make good companions and grow well together.

You can do a number of things to prep the soil and we will cover just a few here.  You will want the area loose at least 6 to 8" deep, a foot for root crops such as potatoes or carrots.  Hard, compacted soil takes too much energy for the roots to break through when they should be focusing on taking root and shooting up!  You can take a sample of your soil to your County Extension Agency to test, often have a special tool you can borrow to get a good sample.  Follow their recommendations to adjust to the correct PH for best growth.  Each terrain has special needs, be it rocky, sandy or lovely red clay!
Their suggestions are to be added to already prepared soil that's somehow loose already and not compact.  Ah, enter the tiller!  I had nightmares while using my Dad's monstrous tiller that it would tilt over on me while I was on a hill, pin me underneath it while I baked in the Texas sun until help arrived.  I purchased a Mantis tiller and those worries disappeared!  It's a lightweight workhorse but it still works hard.  Keeping your garden tilled for a few months before planting will help control weeds. 

Another excellent way to break the soil down naturally is by incorporating the practice of wood chip gardening.  I stumbled across a man's revelation of using God's example in the forest of natural decomposition in his garden and I was ecstatic to say the least!  Watch his one hour documentary as soon as you can at http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/ 

He is an awesome example of allowing the natural organic process to work for you so you don't have to work as hard!  The only drawback to his method is the initial wait.  I had a huge oak tree cut down and used the wood chips in my garden about a foot deep and it takes a full 8 months to decompose.  But when it does, you have "black gold"!  The best soil for your garden!  You can contact tree trimming companies and they will usually dump a load at no cost or just for the cost of the gas to get to you.  Spread it and wait!  Yea, I know, we don't like to wait these days.  That's why you have a smaller raised bed garden in the interim or start the wood chips in the fall and hope they are ready by spring planting season!

Some old timers swear by cover crops.  It enhances soil fertility.  Your local feed store can help you decide which nitrogen rich crops you need in your area.  They are typically planted in the fall and left until spring allowing the soil to recycle and renew.  Permitting the ground to remain unplanted for a season has many benefits and should be done every third year along with annual crop rotation. Spaghetti gardening takes time and patience too.  You place wet newspaper or cardboard, soil, repeat, water and let it break down.  This needs to be very thick and takes time to decompose. Any soil, even once it's adjusted, ideally needs an addition of good, organic compost and/or manure, preferably a 50/50 mix or more on the organic side.

Plants will thrive in loose, fertile, moisture retentive, rich organic soil. This is the key!!
You will benefit wildly by adding composted materials and pure manure.  But the manure must be aged, not "hot" or fresh as it will burn your plants.  Horse and chicken manure are absolutely the best addition to your garden.  You can buy bags or get with a friend who has horses, ask them for their manure!  Not a fun thought I realize, but boy, oh boy!  Your garden will be the envy of the town!  Aged manure is likely the quickest and most proficient way to guarantee you will have an abundant crop.

Build a compost bin or tumbler and start filling it with manure, kitchen scraps, grass clippings and leaves and it will be an excellent addition to your garden; dare I say, the most important.  Over time, this is much more economical than buying bags of manure.  Many cities now offer free compost from the city recycling program when you show them your water bill.  Take a trailer and load up!  It may not be the best compost, but it's the best free compost!  Again, having your own compost bin ensures you know what items are going into the process.

You can have an "okay" garden or you can have an "Oh my, what did you do to get your squash to grow 12 feet?" garden.  It's all in the soil prep.

To begin quickly, dig a hole, add a fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro or Osmo-Cote, sprinkle some granules before placing the plant and then around the base of the plant.  It will feed the plant up to 3 months.  Keep any weeds or other unwanted growths away by quickly plucking them by the roots.  They suck the water away from your precious vegetables each time you water!   You can always add bags of "good" vegetable soil initially, but to ensure a productive garden area over the long run, the intermittent addition of rich, organic material is the key!

Oh, and don't forget to water! Try to only water the base of the plant, not the leaves.  It's easy to decipher the base of certain plants such as peppers, tomatoes, okra and lettuce but hard to find the base of trailing plants such as cucumbers, squash, watermelon, peas & beans.  The water from municipal sources contains chlorine and other chemicals not found in water from above, so try to only water the roots or even better use captured rain water (where legal)!  Place a stake or a stick at the base when you plant initially before the plant takes off.

This will get your garden off to a good start and have your friends thinking you are a gardening wizard.

Happy gardening!

Diane Day
DJ on 105.7 KYKX & 104.1 - The Ranch, Longview/Tyler Tx and
Realtor @ Summers Real Estate Group

 

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Monday, July 13, 2015

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Why we are ALL Preppers (for skeptics); 

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