Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Learning Curve Continues its Upward Trend

Gardening is a full-on mix of triumphs and defeats. It's so exciting when your plants first start to flower, because you know what comes next! There's a real sense of pride in raising a plant from a tiny seed, watching it grow, and then reaping a harvest.

But it's hard work. The "work" is not simply plopping some seeds in some dirt and remembering to splash some water on them from time to time. There is a lot of research that goes into a successful garden:

What type of plants grow well in your area?

What type of soil/nutrients does each plant need? How often should you water?

What time of year should you plant each plant? Should you start indoors or out? Should you start from seed or from a plant purchased at a nursery? How many of each plant should you plant?

What type of diseases or pests are the plants prone to? How can you protect them?

What plants grow well next to each other? What plants don't grow well next to each other? How much room does each plant need to grow?

Do your plants need sun, shade or partial shade?

The list goes on, and that doesn't even include personal preferences: do you want to go all organic? Do plan to save seeds, and if so, how will you keep plants in the same family from cross-pollinating?

I wish I had all the answers for you, but I'm just learning as I go. Here are some things I have learned:

Plant plants with similar needs in the same bed. For example, plants spring vegetables in one bed, summer vegetables in another, and winter vegetables in another. In this way, all plants will be harvested around the same time, and the bed can be replanted with the next season's crop.

If you have several beds, stagger your plants so if, say, a squash plant gets squash bugs in one bed, your other squash plants in other beds may not be infested.

Use natural techniques to help your plants along, such as companion planting (here's a great book).

Draw a diagram of your garden, and keep track of what you plant where. This will help you while plants are small and difficult to identify. It will also help you when you begin to plan next year's garden; you don't want to plant the same plant in the same soil two years in a row, because the soil may be depleted of the nutrients that plant requires. Also, some plants should not be planted in the same soil as certain other plants.

Begin planning your spring garden in December. This will give you plenty of time to decide on varieties, order seeds, and get seedlings started indoors, in time to transplant them after the last chance of frost.

I didn't do all these things myself this year, but I plan to implement as many as I can next year.

Another thing I'm doing is making notes on the seed varieties I bought. How was the germination rate? How difficult was the plant to grow? How did it fare in the weather here? What was the yield like? How did it taste? I'm trying to answer all these questions in order to determine which plants I want to grow again next year.

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