Growing up on a farm we grew most of what we ate, and boy, did we eat well! Peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, green beans, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, corn, potatoes, greens, squash, and strawberries. I learned to love gardening. My mother was an amazing gardener and we spent many happy hours “playing in the dirt.” She taught me a lot about life and the importance of always “hoeing to the end of the row.” I’ve wondered at times why I enjoy gardening so much and I think I’ve figured it out. The benefits are incredible!
Gardening can reduce stress. It’s a great place to work out your frustrations, as you rid the garden of weeds. Exposure to soil and plants can help improve your immune system. It’s a great physical work out, better than the gym! Working in the soil can make you happier. You eat better, because you are eating fresh vegetables from your own garden. It also exercises your brain as you plan and research your seeds and plants, and figure the best way to maintain and care for your garden. Gardening is also an amazing way to spend time with your family!
Tips for success!
With these terrific benefits, no one can say, “no” to gardening! Now that we have answered the question, “Why Grow a Garden”, let’s go on to the How-To of gardening.
Step 1: Pick the right garden spot and prepare the soil. You want an area that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. You will want to get a soil test of your garden (www.usual.usu.edu) for about $15. That will tell you what fertilizer you need to add to your soil. Because of our wonderful Syracuse clay soil, you will need to add 2-3 inches of organic matter each year to maintain a good growing soil. What is organic matter? It is material that was once living, such as compost, leaves, grass clippings, and manures. It is best if the material has been composted. But if it hasn’t, add nitrogen to help break it up. If your soil is so bad that it won’t grow anything, consider using raised beds, grow boxes, or container gardens.
Step 2: Create a plan. Decide what type of watering system you want to use in your garden. Probably the easiest and most efficient is a drip system. Research the vegetables you want to grow and know how much area each plant type will need. Draw a “garden map.” Make sure your plants will have adequate room to grow. Plant vegetables that you and your family will enjoy eating. Buy good quality seed and seedlings. Remember, you reap what you sow! Make sure you have the proper tools for gardening, such as, gloves, shovel, hoe, rake, and weeder. It is always easier to do the job with the right tools!
Step 3: Follow your garden plan. Till your garden area when it is dry enough (i.e., when you pick up a handful of dirt, squeeze it into a ball, and toss it up in the air; if it falls apart it’s time.) Rake your garden smooth. Plant your seeds and seedlings according to their planting instructions. I like to use a string to keep the rows somewhat straight. Carefully water the seeds and keep them moist for proper germination. Also, water the seedlings carefully so as to not damage the leaves, stems or roots.
Step 4: Water, weed, and fertilize, as needed. A simple way to see if your plants have enough water is to put a finger in the soil two or three inches below the surface and make sure it feels moist. It is better to water one or two times a week rather than a little every day. . .as my dad use to say “water deep.” Weed from the beginning and weed almost every day. . .your plants will love you for it! Never give up the fight! And remember, it’s great exercise! Keep your hoe sharp. Pull weeds when the soil is wet and hoe weeds when it is dry. Also, mulch can prove effective in reducing weeds and holding in the soil’s moisture. There are two types of mulch, organic and inorganic. Organic mulches include bark, grass clippings, leaves and newspaper, which will decompose over time and become rich organic matter. Inorganic mulch includes plastic film or landscape fabric, which mainly block weeds. Fertilize as the plants require. If you encounter problems with insects or disease, ask local professionals or do a little online research. And I like to think that it helps to talk to your plants; sometimes they just need an encouraging word!
Step 5: Harvest your crops and enjoy! Make the most of what you grow. Pick the vegetables at the peak of ripeness. Remember to keep picking since the more you pick, the more new fruits will form. Preserve what you don’t use immediately by freezing, canning, or drying. You will enjoy the fruits of your labors during the long winter.