I encourage everyone I meet to start a little Garden, whether a plot in the yard or a container on the patio the joy from tending to your garden is priceless. So many people I meet want to start but just don’t know how, so let me offer a few tips.
I like to start with four separate raised beds, containers or garden plots. This allows me to easily rotate my plantings. I group crops together in each separate spot:
1) Brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers and brussels sprouts)
2) Root crops (radishes, carrots, parsnips, beets and/or potatoes)
3) Peppers (green, cayenne, banana) with Tomatoes
4) Legumes (peas and beans) and squash (zucchini, pumpkins).
5) As an herbalist my favorite plants to grow….herbs…. try a medicinal or culinary herb bed.
The real benefit of starting your garden with separate beds it’s easy to remember to rotate plantings every 1 to 4 years. There is no guarantee but this will help to manage pests and diseases. In addition to planning rotation ahead of time I add amendments to the soil in anticipation of the next season.
A fertile soil contains a mixture of clay, sand, and silt; gardeners call these soils loamy.
• Clay alone is heavy and difficult to cultivate; can be wet, poor drainage and slow to warm in spring. The advantage is it does retain more moisture through summer.
• Sandy soils drain much faster, are easy to cultivate and tend to warm up quickly in spring, the drawback is that they do not retain water or fertilizer well, and will need to be watered and amended more often.
• Silt soils are similar to sandy soils but are richer and less prone to drying.
A simple home test to determine the type of soil, try rubbing a handful between your wet fingers. Sandy soil feels gritty and does not stick together. Clay soil feels sticky and rolls into a ball. Silt soils feel silky and smooth. If you have Loamy soil, you may be able to feel all of the constituents in the mixture in varying proportions.
The pH of soil will also determine the success of the garden – above 7 on the pH scale is alkaline and below 7 is acidic. Most vegetables do best in a pH of 6.5, just slightly acidic. Simple home soil tests are available at nurseries and home store garden centers. I prefer to use organic amendments like fish emulsion, kelp or alfalfa, bone and blood meal and compost. There are many options so ask for help at the garden center. Remember soil pH is not constant and its wise to test every few years.
If that “soil stuff” is just too complicated….may I suggest buying “garden soil” for raised beds or garden plots in the ground and “potting soil” for containers. Many garden centers offer pre-mixed soils that will help to get started, just remember to add amendments every planting to keep the soil fertile and producing. I often add a bag of clean sand, compost and organic amendments to my soil for improved drainage and added nutrients. I started gardening in the desert and it took me years to develop good soil. The Master Gardeners of Southern Nevada taught me: “if you only have $100 to spend on the garden, spend $80 of it on the soil”.
Tips for Small Space Gardening
1. Select ‘compact,’ ‘dwarf’ and ‘mini’ varieties.
2. Plant seeds closely and harvest vegetables small, following with additional planting or space plantings out so plants mature over a 2-4 week period.
3. Select sunny areas of the yard and include containers. Replace soil in pots every couple years to avoid disease.
4. Chose plants that mature quickly and consider size of plants at maturity (read the seed packets or use a seed catalog for detailed plant information).
5. Inter plant (planting between rows) carrots, turnips and beets, which produce small, tender roots quickly, and fast-growing green, leafy vegetables such as spinach.
6. Grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in pots, cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets, and beans and cucumbers vertically on trellises.
What to Grow
1. Salad Greens : arugula, lettuce, spinach, and romaine. Seed companies have mixed lettuce blends for both summer and winter gardening. Plant seeds in spring and fall for salads year-round. I have used containers to keep my lettuce garden going even indoors.
2. Potatoes. Potatoes store well when kept cool. A simple and low-maintenance approach is to plant potatoes directly in straw (with just a little dirt added) rather than soil. Buy “Seeds potatoes” or use leftover whole or cut sections of potatoes. Only plant organic potatoes or those sold in nurseries as seed potatoes. Conventional grocery-store potatoes are sprayed with an anti-sprouting agent.
3. Green Beans. Easy to grow and highly productive, green beans freeze well, and they’re delicious pickled as dilly beans. Start with seeds after danger of frost has passed.
4. Radishes. Radishes do well in almost any soil and terrific in containers. Maturity for many varieties is 22 days so inter-planting with long maturing vegetables will utilize garden space. Plant seeds in spring and fall.
5. Onions. Start with small plants. If they do well, you can harvest bulb onions. If not, you can eat the greens.
6. Strawberries are a hardy, perennial plant that needs a sunny spot. Buy bare-root plants from your local garden center in early spring.
7. Peppers. I call these gardener starters because they are so easy to grow from seed or seedling. Peppers turn from green to red or purple over time, becoming sweeter the longer on the vine.
8. Bush Zucchini. Is a smaller squash than many other types, and it’s very prolific. Start from seeds or seedling. Only a few plants is all you need in a backyard garden.
9. Tomatoes. Homegrown tomatoes are the only tomatoes to eat. Seedlings are easy to find but I like to start from seed in a greenhouse or under grow lights 6-8 weeks before transplanting to the garden. If you get a big crop, consider canning or freezing.
10. Herbs. I start all new gardeners with the mint family (Lamiaceae). Basil, one of the easiest herbs to grow with so many varieties you can have a whole yard of basils try: Thai, sweet, lemon, cinnamon, purple, globe and more. Peppermint, spearmint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, orange mint are all growing in containers in my garden. These plants are invasive and spread quickly so do contain them. Both basil and the other mints are easy to use in cooking, herbal remedies and wonderful iced teas. Easy to grow and easy to use.
See you in the Garden.