Saturday, June 7, 2008

Grow a Garden where 'er You Go

Ever since learning about the lost nutrients and over use of pesticides and preservatives on our, store bought, fruits and vegetables I have been striving to keep fresh fruits and vegetables available in my own back yard. Living a military life we are asked to uproot and start fresh about every 3-4 years. I never thought it possible to be able to have a "mobile" garden all my own. My, container bed, garden has come a long way from from the the soggy mess it was last year when I started. I am now excited to share all the mistakes and successes I have had to get to the point of full blown production.

Before I planted or even purchased any materials I studied books about gardening, that I checked out from the library, for about a month. I got acquainted with the very important details of choosing a garden location, watering schedules and of course how to produce and preserve nutrient dense soils. Of course with all this studying, I came up with the "perfect" plan to have a fabulous garden the fist time around. Right! I learned the hard way that regardless of how prepared the plan...the first try at a garden is most likely going to prove to be a frustrating sequence of trial and error to find what works best for you and your plants.
I new water was important. But what I learned is too much water is damaging.
I watered for about 1/2 hour a day using a sprinkler that sprayed the water overhead. Everything seemed to be doing ok until my cute, bright yellow squash soon filled up to look like water balloons. Plus overhead watering made it easy for vegetable worms and bugs to get from plant to plant, therefore getting around and treating it as though it was there own private buffet line.
Now, I water the base of the plants only. The roots are what needs the water. Checking the garden soil daily using a very simple finger check. I poke my finger through the surface layer to feel how the soil underneath is. If it has a rich, dark color and a moist feel you probably shouldn't water that day. Sometimes i can go 2-3 days without watering and some days i have to water everyday. Of course this depends on the last time it rained and how hot it has been, consecutively.
I live in Florida so container gardening is a must, for me. I am no expert and am having an interesting enough time getting my garden growing and producing . But I do know what mistakes not to make again and over and under watering is one of them.
Another vital life line to the production quality of your garden is soil nutrients. At the beginning of my experiment with growing, my husband and I went to the local garden center to buy soil to fill the containers. We searched for what would be best and I chose a basic soil made from manure. Manure is a proven additive to supply nutrients to soil but what I learned is that, on it's own, just doesn't cut it. There must be other nutrient sources and one of them must be from the plants themselves. Not only using compost (as well as coffee grounds) last year to fertilize the soil I also allowed the plants to stay in the ground and wither away to decompose in the containers themselves throughout the winter. This is a very important step in preserving the proper nutrients in soil. The practice (used by many farmers who provide our basic supply of produce) of removing part or all of the crops grown from the soil accelerates the loss of nutrients from the soil. The cycling of nutrients from plant uptake and release is interrupted by crop removal. This loss, if not corrected by fertilization, must be made up by nutrient release from primary soil minerals and from soil organic matter. Even if you "fertilize" vital nutrients will be stripped away from your produce that you will never even know were depleted. Yes you still will get a production after stripping the soil but your body will suffer due to lack of immunity strength, energy levels and longevity.
How to make your own "Compost"
Compost is the best all natural soil amendment you can use. It contains valuable plant nutrients and plant disease fighting organisms and it also makes soil moisture retentive and easier to till. Best of all, compost is free when you make your own. You can make compost in a bin (3 feet square is ideal) or simply pile the ingredients on the ground. If you turn the pile periodically, it will break down faster, but even if you pile it and leave it for a year, it will break down.
6 parts dried (brown) plant material such as dry leaves straw, sawdust, paper
1 part fresh (green) plant material such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, horse, cow or chicken manure.
1. Put a layer of brown material directly on the ground, then add a layer of green material. Continue to layer brown and green material to a height of 3 feet. Water with a hose as needed to keep the pile as moist as a wrong out sponge.
2. To speed up decomposition, use a hay fork to puncture and turn the pile to allow air into its center. In rainy weather cover the pile with a tarp to prevent saturating it.
3. If the pile becomes smelly, it is too wet. Mix in more brown ingredients. When the pile looks like rich, crumbly black soil and has a sweet, earthy fragrance, it is ready to use in the garden or as mulch.
Helpful Hint: An inexpensive, very helpful soil test
A complete soil test, available from your local cooperative extension office or your state agricultural university, costs less that $20 and is the best investment you can make in your garden. The results will provide an exact prescription for fertilization, liming and adding trace elements. Knowing what your soil needs allows you to furnish your plants with ideal conditions with no wasted effort. For testing locations and to order a kit by mail, check the government pages of your phone book or do an Internet search
Garden location is the final, vital, lesson I learned. A successful garden needs 6-8 hours of non-shaded sunlight a day. This is the only thing I did do right the first time around. Before setting up my garden I picked a few spots in the yard I thought would be pleasing to work in. I then monitored these spots throughout the day to see which spots were kept completely unshaded throughout the day. Unfortunately I only had 1 spot that was left uncovered by shade during the 6-8 hour window so I had no choice but to set up shop in that location. It's a cute little corner out at the far end of our back yard. I enjoy checking on the garden daily for sense of satisfaction and relaxation. There is just something so natural and satisfying with working with my hands. The greatest joy for me is having Abigail by my side and watching her, eager to learn, about how to one day have a garden of her own.
Knowing we would one day have to pack up and head out to a new assignment, new life and new adventure, my sweet husband built stands for my containers. When we move it will all come with us to start fresh at a new home and on a new garden. Taking with me will be sweet memories and valuable lessons.
Happy Gardening

4 comments:

Rebecca said...

I loved reading your gardening post - my favorite subject!It sounds like you and Abigail are having a blast!It is such a rewarding,and humbling at times, experience to have your own garden and learn from mistakes and successes. Book smarts can help, but nothing beats getting your hands dirty :)

Quick tip on your topic of nutrition: In the fall when your plants are dead you can choose to remove them and replant a cover crop - a legume, like vetch, is best because they help fix nitrogen into the soil. In the spring you till them up and incorporate into the soil when you prep your soil.

Robin@creations-anew.com said...

Great post Sarah....!!
Hubby has 1/2 acre veggie garden, and I have the herb garden and cherry tree, blueberry bushes and strawberry plants. YUM!
Robin

Teri's Treasures said...

Great Post Sarah! I am attempting my first garden this year but all out of pots.. so its not working so hot! :) haha

April said...

Awesome post. I cannot wait to have a little garden. I have killed everything I have planted here in HI.