If you're new to vegetable gardening you might envision a mini farm in your back yard. While a mini farm isn't out of the question, without previous experience you'll probably become exasperated, frustrated and overwhelmed. Your own back yard vegetable garden ensures a healthy and bountiful stream of produce.
1. Site Selection
A well maintained out and planned vegetable garden can be just as aesthetically appealing as a flower garden. A Vegetable Garden can be Eye candy for you and your family, as well as the Jones, Smiths, and Rodríguezes' on your block, there's no need to hide it from view, unless of course, you feel jealous neighbors are going to steal your produce. The best site should be near the house for convenient access.
A. Your site should receive full sunshine - this may not always be feasible, but it should be as shade free as your yard allows. A minimum of 6 hour of sunlight daily. 8 -10 Hours daily is optimal, the more sunlight to your garden the longer your growing season will be. You may want to spend some time watching how the sun moves throughout the day. Exceptions are lettuce and radishes, which can get by with less sunlight.
Also make note of the sun's path and plant so that taller plants don't shade the shorter ones. You never want to plant corn on the South side of your garden if you are planting other crops behind it, they'll be shaded from the sunlight.
B. It should be sheltered from high winds, while at the same time having ample air circulation.
C. It should be kept free of perennial weeds and big rocks that will hinder root development [That's not to say you can't have a little boulder or two strategically placed as eye candy.]
D. Slope -Level sites are best, but not always possible. Unless you're a flat-lander, slope is a factor to consider in site selection. Hot air rises and Cooler air tends to run down the slopes. Early season plantings should be towards the top of the slope.
The slope shouldn't be so steep that soil washes downhill.
It should have easy access, and you are comfortable working on the surface.
E. Good drainage is a vital factor. Avoid areas that accumulate puddles from rain or irrigation runoff.
F. Soil chemistry - A neutral to mildly acidic soil is best for most vegetables, the actual soil pH can be adjusted in various sections of the garden, check individual requirements for specific crops. Most vegetables also need nutrient rich soils that are moisture retentive, while allowing for ample air penetration. [See Soil pH]
C. Mulch ensures soil moisture retention by reducing evaporation - watering can be minimized.
G. A layer of mulch can inhibit certain plant diseases.
4. Selection of Vegetable Varieties
A. Common sense dictates that you should select and plant vegetables you are going to make use of.
B. Depending on the regional climate, plant only suitable varieties. The length of the growing season and the growth habits of particular varieties.
Check the "average number of days to maturity" printed on seed packages or in catalog descriptions. And weigh against the first and last frost dates in your region. A few days difference can make the difference between a great harvest, and, a great disappointment.
C. Unfortunately - earliness and great flavor don't always go together. Many gardeners plant both an early variety of a crop, as well as a late variety. Tomatoes in particular, plant one for a quick early harvest and another of a later variety.
D. They should be able to withstand extremes of temperature and humidity.
E. The varieties you choose should be hardy and resistant to diseases prevalent in your area, or that you've had problems with in the past.
5. Visit your Garden Regularly
If you're an avid Gardener like me you visit your garden daily. It's a pleasant experience, not a chore.
A. Pests -insects, birds, rodents, neighborhood kids and take immediate steps to eliminate them. Inspect for insect damage and remove any damaged portions of plants, which are disease susceptible.
B. Disease - Watch for signs of disease, such as fungus, wilts ...
Early diagnosis will help you to control them in a timely fashion, before the damage can spread. Remove and destroy any diseased plant. Do not put them in the compost pile, destroy them.
C. Ripe crops - You don't want your fruits and veggies rotting on the vine, harvest as necessary.
6. Water as Necessary.
and only as necessary
A. A drip or soaker hose is best in vegetable gardens, not essential but best. Drip systems water only the base of the plant - the root system - where it is needed. The foliage of the plants, when possible, should be kept moisture free to avoid funguses, mildews and plant disease. The plants moisture is drawn up from the roots. Excessive watering can be as harmful as drought. Most vegetables need about an inch of water weekly.
B. Water in the morning, so that the plants don't remain wet all night, which makes them more susceptible to disease.
C. Organic matter and mulches in the soil enhances moisture retention , and prevents rapid evaporation.
7. A Tidy Garden is a Happy Garden
A. Proper sanitary practices are vital to the health of your garden. Proper sanitation can help to ensure disease-free and productive gardens.
B. Try to keep the garden free of any diseased dead or damaged plant materials. Remove cuttings from pruning and trimming and either destroy them - if diseased, or send them to the compost pile. Leaving rotting fruits and vegetables in the garden is like a written invitation to unwanted pests and diseases.
C. If a diseased or dead plant part has to be cut, the microorganism that caused the problem is probably on the tool you just used. Like a surgeon, sterilize all tools by washing in soap and water - rubbing alcohol wouldn't hurt either. If you pinch off diseased plant parts, wash hands before handling any other plants.
D. Keep Weeds under control.
E. Make sure that any compost you put in your garden is completely decomposed to prevent disease organisms that may contain, from spreading.
8. Proper Diagnosis and Treatment
Before applying any remedy, be sure you're curing the right disease. Improper diagnosis of a problem can be fatal for the patient - your plants. Incorrect use of chemical pesticides will generally cause more harm than good. Whenever feasible use organic alternatives.
9. Companion and Succession Planting
Too much of the same variety of plant in a condensed space attracts bugs that feed on that type of plant. Mingling your plants is a good concept. If you are inclined you might want to consider a companion planting scheme.
Companion planting is the placement of various crops in close physical proximity to on another so as to symbiotically complement each other's progress.
Companion plants can benefit each other in a number of different ways, including:
Flavor enhancement — some plants, especially herbs, seem to subtly change the flavor of other plants around them. Such as Basil is believed to enhance the flavor of tomatoes.
Hedged investment — multiple plants in the same space increase the odds of some yield being given, even if one category encounters catastrophic issues
Level interaction — plants which grow on different levels in the same space, perhaps providing ground cover or working as a trellis for another plant
Nitrogen fixation — plants which fix nitrogen in the ground, making it available to other plants
Pest suppression — plants which repel insects, plants, or other pests like nematodes or fungi, through chemical means
Positive hosting — attracts or is inhabited by insects or other organisms which benefit plants, as with ladybugs or some "good nematodes"
Protective shelter — one type of plant may serve as a wind break, or shade from noonday sun, for another
Trap Cropping — plants which attract pests away from others
[See: Companion Planting]
10. Don't bite off more than you can chew-Start Small
Last, but certainly not least - Start small, [Getting back to the point this article began at "If you're New to Vegetable Gardening"] you might envision a mini farm in your back yard. While a mini farm isn't out of the question, without previous experience you'll probably become exasperated, frustrated and overwhelmed. There much to learn about vegetable gardening, it's not rocket science but can be frustrating at times. Don't get disgusted if at first you don't succeed ... Stick with it.
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Thank You and Happy Gardening.