Charlotte Talks recently discussed spring vegetable gardening – choosing the right beds, the right soil, the right things to plant and more with Don Rosenberg and others. Listen here.
Republished with permission from Don Rosenberg.
Don Rosenberg is owner of Instant Organic Garden and author of “No Green Thumb Required! Organic Family Gardening Made Easy.” He builds back yard vegetable gardens for families throughout the greater Charlotte, NC area and talks to local groups on how to make gardening easy.
1. Using native soil. To start a garden you scrape off the sod, loosen the existing soil, add compost and fertilizer, and grind it all up with a tiller, right? That’s the way 95% of all back yard gardens are started. The problem is that most native soil is full of dormant weed seeds that can wait 20-50 YEARS before they germinate. You end up with a very productive weed patch instead of a vegetable garden. Even if your soil doesn’t have a lot of weeds, you don’t know it’s composition and soil tests for one spot won’t be valid for a different part of your yard. You’re never sure if anything toxic was spilled in any particular part of your garden.
Raised beds are better. Build a raised bed as an open box on top of your soil, and fill it with inexpensive potting mix, and add organic fertilizers to the top 4” of soil. Raised beds allow for perfect drainage, and heat up faster in the spring and stay warmer in the fall, extending your harvest.
Read more common vegetable gardening mistakes and how to correct them ‘below the fold.’ You’ll also find a veggie planting guide.
2. Using synthetic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers are like an electric shock to a plant. They cause it to grow whether it wants to or not. The resulting growth is weak and spindly and susceptible to pests and diseases. Furthermore, synthetic fertilizers are usually salts and they kill the life in the soil, which is needed to convert the minerals in the soil into a form the plants can take up…
Instead, use organic fertilizers like worm castings or other organic mixes. They enhance the biological life in your soil, they won’t burn plant roots, and remain in the soil until your plants need them.
3. Planting at the wrong time. Picking the right time to plant is essential. Plant too early in the spring and your seeds will rot in the soil. Too late the fall and they’ll freeze before you get a good harvest. There are two numbers you need to know – your first frost date in the winter and your last frost date in the spring. To find your dates, search for “frost dates by zip code.”
Your summer crop will be finished with the first frost. Plant your fall garden about 90 days before your first frost date and your winter garden 60 days before your first frost date.
Your spring garden is planted 60 days before your LAST frost date and your summer garden is planted around your last frost date depending on the weather reports during that time.
4. Planting too close together. It seems like no one likes bare soil and no one wants to thin seedlings. If one plant is good, wouldn’t five plants be five times better? The truth is, plants need room for their roots to spread out. A tiny tomato plant will grow 20 feet tall if you let it. It needs a whiskey-barrel’s worth of soil to grow in – at least.
When you crowd your plants you don’t get a better yield, you actually get less of a harvest and unhealthy plants. Plants that are too close together compete for water, nutrients and sunlight. They are starved for nutrients, poor air circulation makes them susceptible to pests and diseases, and reaching for sunlight makes the growth spindly and weak. Plant your seeds evenly, but make sure you thin them as they grow – saving the best plants to go to proper spacing.
Don’t use the spacing information on the seed package! It is for gardens with “average soil,” which has less fertility than a raised bed garden using organic fertilizers. Don’t plant in rows – instead plant in blocks. So if the package says “plants should be 12” apart in rows 18” apart,” space your plants in blocks 9” apart.
5. Watering – too much or too little. Most people kill plants with too MUCH water – it waterlogs the roots so they rot and washes out the nutrients in the soil. The trick is to water SELDOM and DEEPLY, perhaps once every two or three days depending on weather conditions. This puts the water deep in the soil and encourages the plant roots to grow deeply, where water is more abundant. Plants will be able to resist dry spells much more easily. If you water daily, root growth will be in the top inch of soil only and if you miss a day, your plants will be severely impacted.
Don’t use an automated watering system. It encourages you to visit your garden less often. If the system breaks down you may not notice until it’s too late. And the best gardens are those that are visited every day or so, to keep up with growing progress and to watch out for problems.
Different plants may need differing amounts of watering in the same garden. One trick is to watch the leaves – if they’re bright green, perky and shiny, then they don’t need much water. If they’re a bit dull and somewhat droopy, they need a drink. But don’t wait until your plants are dying of thirst before you water them!
Water the base of the plants with a watering wand, not from above. Water early in the day, not late in the afternoon. The enemy of a healthy garden is wet leaves. Keep them dry and your disease problems will go away!
Vegetable Planting Guide (pdf)
- WFAEats | Backyard Vegetable Gardening – Planting Guide and Planting Calendar
- More WFAEats stories from ‘The Foodie’s Garden.”
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