Hi there, I'm your garden. We've been together for a couple of years now, and it kind of seems like lately all you do is complain about the size of my squash and the yellow tinge on my bug-riddled leaves. I hate to break it to you, but it takes two to tango, my friend. If you want tomatoes for your summer salad and some rosemary for those big steaks you grill, it's going to require a little more effort from you. I have some things to tell you that I wish you already knew. Take heed, and we'll get on the right track.
Lighten up on the water, please! Just because I'm a garden doesn't mean I can handle the small pond's worth of H2O you're dumping on me each day. Even a garden has its limits, you know. In fact, putting too much water on me can be just as bad as not enough water. You have to strike a balance. My roots need to breathe, and when you drown me, they don't have the chance. You know what too much water leads to? Rot. Fungal disease. Mold. So, please put down the hose and back away from the spigot.
OK, so don't drown me, but don't deny me. I'm thirsty. Like, dying of thirst, actually. So, how about meeting me in the middle with the water thing? I have a sneaking suspicion that I have a drainage problem, and my soil is too loose. Here's a trick -- dig a hole in me over there near the okra, about a foot deep and 6 inches wide. Now, fill it up with water and let it drain out. OK, now fill it up again, and make a note of the time. If this batch of water takes less than three hours to drain, then it means my soil drains too fast and I need more water on a regular basis.
You did a great job of planting me, but you've kind of left me out to dry here. I could use a little protective layer, like some bark or pine straw or even leaves. Not only will it help keep water from evaporating, but it will also keep rain and wind from washing away my top soil. And you know those weeds you don't particularly care to deal with? Mulch helps block the sun from helping them grow. Get some good, organic stuff and it will even help feed me as it decomposes.
I think my soil needs some work. Think of it like taking me to the doctor. My soil is really the key to that whole "green thumb" thing. Your local garden center will have a test kit, but you also can check with the county. Sometimes, they have free soil testing through their agricultural extension services.
When you test your soil, you'll be able to find out all about my nutrients and my pH levels. It'll also tell you about what kind of organic stuff I have in me, which is pretty important. Once you find out about all of this, you may have to add some stuff to get me all squared away -- nutrients, compost, that kind of thing. You'll know you're on the right track when my levels are where they should be. As always, I appreciate the help. I'm trying to grow some stuff here!
Weeding is an important part of the gig, guys and gals. You see, I really need all of the sunlight, water and nutrients I can get. Those weeds over there steal my sun. They steal my water. They steal my nutrients. So, maybe if you came around about once a week and gave me some face time, we could take care of this weed thing together. I'll walk you through the whole process, but it's pretty simple. Just make sure you pull out the weed roots and all -- those suckers are tenacious. It's delicate work, and you'll be on your hands and knees, so maybe a gardening knee pad is in order? While you're at it, why don't you splurge on some new gloves, too? Yours are a bit out of fashion.
I know you're hopping on the farm-to-table train, and I'd love to help you with that, but you might want to read up on why some of my plants aren't faring so well. Lettuce is a cool weather crop, so when you plant it in June, you're not going to have very tasty salads. The same goes for peas and carrots. All of these guys need to be put in the ground in early spring. And those beautiful sweet pea flowers that you like to grow from seed? They need to be started somewhere around February if you want actual flowers. You should probably consider creating a planting calendar so you'll know exactly when to plant what.
I know you want me to reward you with huge vegetables and beautiful blooms. And you think that will happen as long as every spring you sprinkle me with fertilizer. But I'd like to give you a little lesson on when I need it and how to use it. Ideally, over the years, you've amended me with lots of organic matter and plenty of earthworms so that I'm a fully functioning, plant-growing machine. If that's the case, I shouldn't need a lot of extra fertilizer. But sometimes, when you add a new plant that has evolved in a different kind of soil, some fertilizer may help it acclimate. Just know that you should only add it when plants are in a growing phase. And if my plants look sick or struggling, dumping a bunch of fertilizer on them will probably do more harm than good.
I truly admire your gusto and the fact that you came out in the dead of winter in your furry boots and mittened hands with your trowel and spade, but you may have jumped the gun. Have you ever heard about the rule of last frost? Generally, it means you should wait to plant anything until you're absolutely sure that Mother Nature is done making winter. Every region has a different date, but you can be sure that if working in the garden requires a hooded parka, you're probably a tad early.
Garden pests are a fact of my life. Some insects are beneficial, like butterflies and bees, but most are predators that just want a piece of my greenery. I know you panic when you see those creepy-crawlies running all over my beautiful leaves, and it's tempting to take that aerosol can full of bug poison and just drown them all. But please think before you spray. While your pesticides are killing the bugs, their chemicals are dripping into my soil, messing up the balance that you've been working so hard to achieve. Sometimes, a simple solution of soap and water in a spray bottle is all you need. It takes a little more work -- you'll need to wipe it off of the leaves and give it a good rinse -- but it sure beats eating bug poison.
You know the heirloom lilac bush that you took from your mom's garden in Ohio and transplanted to your garden in Atlanta? I was really happy to have it because the smells were heavenly. But then it died, and you were really bummed about your brown thumb. You were mad at me because I couldn't support it. Lay off, kid, because there's not much you or I could have done. Lilacs just weren't meant to be grown in the South. They need a longer period of cold than we can offer. I know it's a tough lesson, but certain plants only thrive in particular climates. The sooner you learn that, the less heartbreak the future holds.
A new website is designed to bring farmers and heirloom seeds together. HowStuffWorks takes a look at why seed saving is more important than ever.
- Botts, Beth. "5 things to know about using fertilizer in the garden." The Seattle Times, July 12, 2008. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/homegarden/2008047227_gardenfertilizer12.html
- "How to test your soil, and how to change the pH level." Howtogardenadvice.com, 2011. http://www.howtogardenadvice.com/soil_prep/ph_soil_testing.html''
- Janssen, Don. "Thinning Plants in the Garden." Unl.edu, 2011. http://lancaster.unl.edu/hort/articles/2007/ThinPlants.shtml
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- Palazzo, Richard. "In the garden: Too much water can be as bad as too little." Norwichbulletin.com, July 9, 2009. http://www.norwichbulletin.com/living/x1885888905/In-the-garden-Too-much-water-can-be-as-bad-as-too-little#axzz1HpfB2LGn
- "Things You Should Know About Gardening." Coolgardenthings.net, 2010. http://coolgardenthings.net/gardening/245/things-you-should-know-about-gardening/
- "Watering Home Gardens and Landscape Plants." Wsu.edu, 2011. http://gardening.wsu.edu/library/lanb002/lanb002.htm
- "Why Mulch? 6 Benefits of Mulching." Doityourself.com, 2010. http://www.doityourself.com/stry/why-mulch-6-benefits-of-mulching