By Lynette L. Walther
It’s time to get those fall gardens up and running because growing your own food is not only economical but also invigorating, especially if you start with seeds. But in order to be successful, there are a few points that can make this possible.
Start with the earth
No matter what you plant or where you plant it, your garden will only be as good as the soil it grows in. Don’t waste money on seeds or seedlings without enriching your garden soil before planting.
Good garden soil is fragile and full of organic matter, according to the Home Garden Seed Association. Their soil is home to many organisms, including helpful bacteria, fungi, and a wide variety of insects. Good soil retains moisture but drains well. Adding compost is the best thing you can do for your soil and garden. Homemade compost is your most economical option, but you can buy good quality compost. Go over the entire garden plot for a 3-inch layer of compost that will be incorporated into the existing soil there.
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If this is your first time gardening, go small
It can be difficult for you to gauge how much time it will take to successfully maintain a garden. Planting a huge garden when you don’t have the time to care for it can result in weeds that cannot be controlled. A smaller lot, say 4 by 8 feet, gives you a good idea of ââwhat it takes to plant and maintain a garden and still have a variety of crops such as beans, lettuce, spinach, kale, peppers, and herbs for example to deliver.
Decide what type of garden you prefer
Raised bed gardens are popular, but keep in mind that farmers and gardeners have successfully grown crops directly in the ground for centuries (and many continue to do so). Raised beds are good if the area you plan to grow your garden in has drainage issues or if you are gardening on hard surfaces. But raised beds can be difficult to manage moisture levels, and in some cases they can overheat, literally boiling the roots of the plants in them. They are also expensive to build and fill with a good growing medium. And while they usually start out with a few weed control problems, they are all home to many unwanted weeds, eventually. A well-manicured garden bed with mulched paths can be just as neat and attractive as a number of raised beds.
Choose large containers
Your little seedlings will look lost in a 5 gallon pot, but once ripe they will more than fill the space. The larger the container, the less likely it will dry out if you don’t water for a day. In addition, the greater amount of soil will help create an environment for the plants’ roots and provide plenty of nutrients during the growing season. There is a wide variety of container vegetables specially designed for container growing. As with growing in soil, container growing requires a good growing medium, but don’t fill containers with your garden soil. It’s just too dense. Instead, choose good potting soil that will allow good drainage for the plants.
Starting from seeds
Starting seeds is easy and best in shallow halls with seed starter mix or, for larger seeds such as beans or sunflowers, in cell packs, for example. Once indoor seedlings have developed their first true leaves, the seedlings can be carefully separated and potted in small pots or cell packs for their roots to develop in. Once they’re about 3 to 6 inches tall, they can be placed in the ground – following the plant spacing suggestions on the seed packets – or in containers to grow and produce. Root vegetables, which must be sown directly in the ground or in containers, are exempt from this procedure. Again, follow the seed spacing recommendations on the seed packets and dilute them if necessary as soon as the seeds sprout.
Mulching and adding nutrients as needed
Mulch serves a number of useful purposes in any garden. It maintains and regulates the moisture content of the soil, softens the soil temperature and helps prevent weeds. Eventually, all organic mulches such as crushed leaves, pine needles, crushed wood mulches and the like will be broken down to further enrich the soil. The addition of organic food supplements such as fish emulsion or seaweed concentrate, if used regularly every three to four weeks, helps young vegetables to grow and develop. This is especially important with fall crops like cabbage (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc.).
Diversify, diversify, diversify
And variety is especially important in your vegetable garden. Flowers also belong there for a variety of reasons. Primarily, they attract pollinators and also bring in predatory insects that keep pests such as cabbage worms and aphids at bay. Diversity is healthy. Easy to grow flowers include poppy seeds, sugar peas, and nasturtiums – all of which love growing in cool weather.
Growing your own food is an invigorating experience, but only if you are successful. Follow these time-tested tips to ensure that your first experiences in growing food translate into a lifetime of home-cooked meals and enjoyment.
Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold Medalist for Writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the Exemplary Journalism Award from the National Garden Bureau, and she is the author of Florida Gardening on the Go. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Their gardens are on the banks of the St. Johns River.