UAC / SXP - organic gardening up on the hill...
2006 - its not called rock hill for nothing - the grounds are loaded with rocks of all sizes, making it quite the herculean task to dig in directly, so the alternative was clearly to make a raised bed... the frame was constructed and filled in late winter, with finishing touches being done progressively into the spring... a really nice local horse farm provided the free manure - beautifully fresh dark smoking hot stuff which was mixed in with the top soil and a bit of lime to create a great medium to start planting in... using organic seeds and local starter plants this seasons layout and selection came into being and is growing as you read this... please refer to the following guidelines for a simple, yet comprehensive overview of all the basics for GROWING YOUR OWN - preparing, planting, caring, and harvesting the fruits of this labor of love...
P R E P A R I N G
When your fall garden is finished and you've made the last harvest, preparation for next year's garden is best done now. Find someone who has horses and graciously offer to haul off some of their manure. Line garbage cans with plastic bags, fill, haul home, and invert, spacing them so each manure pile covers an area of about five square feet when raked out. Sprinkle with lime and leave it alone all winter. When the ground warms enough to be worked, you can turn small areas to plant cold weather crops such as spinach, cabbage, broccoli, kale, collards, peas, onions, salad greens, and asian vegetables. These crops can be seeded or transplanted 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. Prepreparation of the soil gives you a great jump on the growing season. Using your own organic compost is also highly recommended (more info coming soon.)
whats your growing season? check out this global hardiness zone map...
P L A N T I N G
Not all plants flourish in the same temperatures. Some like it HOT, some like it COLD. If you have prepared your soil in the fall, it's real easy to jump right in as soon as the ground is workable and plant the plants that are QUITE HARDY.
These plants can be seeded (or transplanted if you seeded them indoors) 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost.
The next batch of plants can go in 2 weeks before the last spring frost. These plants are HARDY.
The plants we are most familiar with in a family summer garden are NOT HARDY and require HOT WEATHER to thrive. Seed or transplant 1 week after the last spring frost (or protected earlier) May 15 is the date in our zone.
As various earlier crops are finished, you can replant in mid to late summer for fall crops. These AUTUMN HARDY crops should be seeded 6-8 weeks before frost in northern areas.
Succession crops are sown with 2 week intervals between each seeding so the crops come in throughout the season instead of all at once. Afterall, how many beets can you eat at one time! If you plant in rows, sow the first row, 2 weeks later sow a second row, and two weeks after that sow the final row (1st row north of following plantings so as not to shade the newer seedlings) If you broad row plant, follow the same pattern. You'll have 6-8 weeks of harvest instead of 2 weeks of excess. Succession cropping depends on the length of your growing season and temperature zone.
PLANT WITH THE FORCES THAT BE
Moon phases seem to effect the speed of germination and overall quality of plants. Moon phases go in a sequence of four quarters. The first two occur when the moon is WAXING or increasing from NEW to FULL. The third and forth quarter occur while the moon is WANING or decreasing from FULL to NEW. Aboveground annuals are best planted during the WAXING moon. Perrenials, biennials, and root crops do best planted with the WANING moon, especially the third quarter. Cultivate, harvest, and destroy weeds and pests during the fourth quarter. Avoid planting when the moon is void.
Vegetables and Herbs have BENEFICIAL COMPANIONS. Companion planting is a way of getting the most out of your plants and garden space. When planning your garden make sure you arrange your plants to be among FRIENDS. Your garden will thank you for your kindness and respond with gratitude and abundance.
CARING FOR YOUR GARDEN
Garden care can be minimal if you take a little extra time in planning and preparation. Probably the two most important aspects of caring for a garden involve WATERING and WEEDING. And both of these are effected by MULCHING.
After planting, mulch all walkways and in between beds and rows. Grass clippings are available all summer and provide an effective, replenishable mulch for this purpose. When you mow the grass, allow the clippings to dry, rake into piles, bag and lay thick carpets everywhere you don't want weeds. Tomatoes seem to prefer leaf mulch, and the color contrast adds artistry to the garden. In the fall, make a leaf pile, or fill a cylindrical compost bin, easily constructed from garden fencing. Over the winter the leaves will flatten and begin to decompose. In spring, when you need mulch for the perrenial and vegetable gardens, the leaves can be lifted in layers and placed around the plants. Leave a small area uncovered directly around the stem of the plant. Mulching not only keeps the weeds down but also keeps moisture in the ground reducing the need to water so frequently. Plus the decomposing plant material ads nutrients to the soil when it is time to turn the soil again. Strawberries prefer hay or straw as a mulch, and a well mulched strawberry patch will keep the fruit clean and dry, promoting a higher quality harvest.
Once you have mulched early in the season, weeding is just a periodic process of picking a few straglers everytime you're out in the garden. A small hoe or gardener's claw will clean out the remnants in no time, and keep the soil loose for better drainage and water absorption. Another approach to weed control is BROAD BED PLANTING and COMPANION PLANTING or INTERCROPPING. Instead of planting in rows, wide beds are used so there is less space in which weeds can grow. The shade and more extensive leaf coverage inhibits weed germination. Companion planting or intercropping uses the same philosophy. Plants that do well together, are planted together to increase yield per square foot, and to decrease weed problems by using the space to grow something you want instead of something you don't.
WATERING needs depend on the amount of rainfall in your area. Early in the season, lots of rain promotes early germination. Later on, adaquate rainfall insures a healthy and productive harvest. Generally, the garden demands one good soak a week, two if it has been exceptionally hot. If you are spot-watering single plants or beds manually, you may need to water more frequently.The best time to water is early in the morning when evaporation is at a minimum and the water has time to soak into the ground and roots before the sun gets strong. Also later in the day for the same reason but providing enough time for the sun to dry the leaves reducing the possibility of funguses and rots.
Certain flowers help in PEST CONTROL. Marigolds balance the energy and add beauty and bug protection. Nasturtiums also add color and balance, and draw pests away from other plants to the underside of their own leaves, check before eating! They also overtake the garden as they vine their way into every open spot. Toads in the garden can be encouraged with a small saucer of water dug in as a natural little pond. It also acts as a slug suicide trap which is gross but effective. Slugs can demolish your recently perfect tomatoes. The most effective insect predator is the praying mantis. Praying mantis egg cases are easily spotted in the fall. Break off the stalk it is attached to, tie it to a fencepost in your garden or stick it in the ground near a perrenial. In the spring you will have hundreds of hungry helpers, Ladybugs control aphids and other garden pests. These can be imported from garden supply mailorder places. And if you are fortunate enough to live in an area that houses a bat colony, they are truly the organic gardener's ally as nothing consumes more insects as rapidly as these furry night aerialists.
Certain crops require SUPPORT to flourish. Tomatoes need to be staked, trellised, or caged. Staked cages seem to be the easiest. Cut a 5 ft length of large mesh 4 ft wide wire, bend ends together to form cyliders, carefully cut bigger holes if necessary to accomodate your hand and a large tomato. You want to be able to get at your food. Then stake and tie the cages and they will withstand the heartiest thunderstorm (and we have them very frequently!) while packed with tomatoes. Peppers also respond well to caging. No more broken branches from the weight of too many ripening peppers. Cages about 18" in diameter and height are adaquate. Peas, cucumbers, and pole beans need to be planted along the fence, or given support netting of some kind to climb and vine.
With all this great care, the garden will thank you with a delicious, beautiful, and bountiful HARVEST.
A fruitful harvest involves simple planning, a small amount of preparation, timely planting, and a few minutes a day of maintenance.
Harvest begins early for greens, lettuce, and spinach as these beds need to be thinned in order to allow space for maturing plants. Just snip off above the root with a pair of scissors. Tender young plants are delightful in salads or lightly steamed for a pasta toss. Mature plants can be harvested whole or outside leaves can be cut as needed. When the plant appears ready to go to seed (leaves will become pointed and a center stalk will emerge) cut the plant above the root leaving a leaf or two, often new shoots will extend the growing season.
Root vegetables such as carrots and beets also need to be thinned to allow adaquate room for the root to develope. Thin as these vegetables grow. Early thinnings can be left on the bed adding nutrients to the soil. Thin again a few weeks later in the season. Young carrots and beets make a delicious addition to salads and vegetable dishes. Don't forget those yummy beet greens! Once the crop is mature, pull them as you need them. It doesn't get any fresher.
Vining crops such as cucumbers, zuccini, and yellow squash need to be picked when the fruit is still small and tender. This encourages the plant to continue flowering and producing. Especially watch your zuccini as it has a way of producing baseball bats right in front of your conscientious eyes.
Broccoli flowerettes should be cut a few inches below the head while still very green. Once the yellow flowers begin to appear, the taste becomes very pungent. New though smaller stalks will emerge in the plant's continuing quest to flower and seed.
Beans and peas should be picked regularly while tender. Older pods tend to be dry and stringy. Harvesting depends on the variey of bean, Bush beans come in pretty much at the same time, allowing you to pick, eat, can, freeze, or whatever in a short time span. The bed can then be turned and planted for a later crop. Pole beans produce over a longer period of time but in smaller quantities.
Dig potatoes and onions when the foliage dies off. This signifies that the plant has put the last of its energy into the root/bulb. Use a pitchfork to break the soil and reveal the bounty hidden beneath it. Store in a cool dark place like a root cellar, keep covered with a little dirt, slightly moist. The potatoes will think they are still in the ground.
Peppers can be picked green as soon as they are large enough. They become sweeter as they ripen to a glorious red. Bushes can be supported in 2 ft tall 2ft diameter staked cages. It gives them a little more stability in heavy weather (thunderstorms) when they are weighed down with peppers. Use your thumb to break off the pepper at the neck so as not to crack a producing branch by accident. Use fresh in salads, cooked with onions, or stuffed. Surplus peppers can be frozen for cooking, or prepared and canned as salsa with tomatoes, onions, and spices.
Finally, the summer garden favorite, the tomato. Well supported tomato plants are very productive for a longer period of time. It also makes the picking a lot easier. Use trellises, stakes, or my choice, staked 4 ft tall 2 ft diameter heavy wire cages. Make sure you have holes large enough to accommodate your hand and a large tomato. Pick the tomatoes as soon as they are red. Sometimes they get so prolific you just don't want to pick anymore but persevere and can your excess. When the winter months role in, there is nothing better than a chunky marinara sauce or a homemade vegetable soup made from the summer's labor and love.
Truly the harvest is a celebration of cooperation between the sun, the earth, and the life they birth by the caring hands and soul of the gardener. And this celebration is one of the great joys offered to all who share life on this marble world.