Growing a Successful Garden

A Successful Garden

Part 2

Growing a successful garden is important to everyone and something we all want to achieve.

Growing a successful garden takes planning and deciding on the size, in-ground or raised beds, and what plants. Where you live and the room you have will dictate how you will grow your food. For instance, if you live in an apartment or Condo with a balcony or patio, you can do container gardening provided you have enough sunlight coming in that area. If you are fortunate to have more room, stretch out and expand your horizons!

What do you want to grow the most? Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce? For strawberries, you need quite a few plants to produce a good crop but even 3-4 plants will give you some fruit to eat. Do you like to pickles? Then you can plant pickling cucumbers and you will need to let it either spread out or climb on a trellis. For pickles, I prefer the Boston Pickling cucumbers. Generally, squash and cucumbers can take up a lot of room but there are a few smaller varieties. Make a list of what you want to grow.

And always plant a little marigold in spots by your tomatoes to help ward off pests. Onion bulbs work as well to repel.

What To Plant

Now that my garden has been re-designed, the entire back of the original wood beds will be all my tomato plants. You want to plan out the things you would like to grow and how. Do you want to start from seed or buy seedlings? I recommend going online to Twilleys or Baker Creek and having them send you a catalog. The reason? You can see so many different varieties and it is coded as to what is disease resistant, what zone, etc.

This year I plan to grow tomatoes, peppers (different varieties), onions, garlic, lettuce, celery, beets, radishes, cabbage, carrots, and herbs. I also have strawberries. Everbearing strawberry plants produce fruit throughout the entire growing season rather than just in June. Beginning in spring, with intermittent crops throughout summer and early fall. They are a delicious source of fresh fruit in the home garden. They are also perennial and will come back year after year. The best ones are Ozark and Quinalt. They are bigger and very tasty. There is another variety I tried this year called Merlin but it did not test out well. The fruits were small and did not spread out like the Ozark or Quinalt. You should able to find the plants at places like Home Depot, and Menards. My #1 favorite is Quinalt. Check your local nursery.

I did have 1 bed previously for potatoes that produced about 25 lbs of potatoes, this year it has become another bed for my canning tomatoes (Amish Roma tomatoes are spectacular). Now these beds have been moved to the back and all 3 are devoted to tomatoes – Celebrity, Amish Roma, Husky Red Cherry, and Big Boy.

Since I was experimenting with several different kinds, I wanted to see how they did in a raised bed. In addition, I needed to know how they compared not only in taste but growing time, diseases, etc. For Roma tomatoes, the Amish tomato scored a 10! Not only in abundance but in taste as well. Brad’s atomic tomatoes were a wonderful treat. They are more like grape tomatoes in size but the color is a wow factor. Celebrity and Big Boy won out over the other “large” tomatoes. Plus the celebrity does well against diseases. I also tried a “chocolate” tomato that was interesting. A little hard to find unless you grow from seed.

Different Plants

Having a successful garden can be very rewarding in many ways. You even get to experiment with different types of vegetables. After reviewing the various plants/brands and testing them, Beefmaster and Beefsteak were great (as they always are). Big Boy wasn’t bad either but my first choice would be the other two. As far as cherry tomatoes go, by far, the Husky Red Cherry tomato was a 10 for taste and the huge amount it produces. I happened to find these at Home Depot and they are Prolific in bearing tomatoes. They do have a dwarf variety you can get for smaller spaces.

When it comes to Roma tomatoes, Both the Roma and the San Marzano were great! But the #1 producer is the Amish Roma. Oh my goodness – they were so meaty and the plants were loaded with fruit. They all produced well, and the taste was slightly different. San Marzano is loved by many and I found the Amish roma slightly sweeter.

To be successful you want to omake sure you get tomato cages that are tall enough. I would not advise getting the shorter ones as mine have gotten as high as 6.5′ tall. Tomato cages sell out quickly so get them early. Anything over 54″ should be good. You may have to order them online.

Now if you want something really different in cherry/grape tomatoes – Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes were incredible. They mature a little later and watching them grow and turn into several colors is amazing. Most of the insides of them are green with some slightly different.

Amending Your Soil

When I started creating my own garden, I received a lot of great advice and questions from my sister Barbara, who has her degree as a Master Gardener. With our soil here, there is quite a bit of sand. And since we were not going to go in-ground due to the multiple residences of the pesky moles, our gardening is done in raised beds. You will first want to evaluate your soil to see what you have unless you will be growing them in some sort of a raised bed.

Evaluating Your Soil

The only definitive way to know your soil quality is to have it tested. Your local Cooperative Extension Service likely provides this service for a nominal fee. Many nurseries also test soil. The soil report you receive will give you a wealth of information on your soil’s texture, pH, and nutritional composition. It will even offer recommendations on what amendments to use, and in what quantities, to correct any deficiencies.

You can make a guesstimate of your soil quality by looking at your plants’ health. If they are thriving, don’t fix what isn’t broken. But if your plants are yellowing or otherwise looking sickly, it could be worth testing your soil. It’s best not to guess when it comes to amending your soil because it’s difficult to identify exactly what it needs. For example, what appears to be a nutritional deficiency calling for fertilizer might turn out to be a pH issue.

Adjusting The Soil

Adjust the Soil pH. Soil pH is critical because plants can’t properly take up nutrients unless the acid/alkaline levels are in their ideal range. If a soil test shows your pH is off, you will get a recommendation to add either lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it. In an existing garden, this should be done in stages, so you don’t shock the plants.

Adjusting the Soil Texture With Organic Material

Proper soil texture is essential. It allows roots to take up moisture and air. Dense, clay-type soils can remain too moist, which in turn causes roots to drown, while sandy soils can drain too quickly for roots to absorb moisture. The soil where I live has a lot of sand. So I needed to bring in good soil/compost mix. The best way to improve soil texture is by adding organic material, such as compost or peat moss. Decaying organic matter helps sandy soil by retaining water that would otherwise drain away. And it corrects clay soil by making it looser, so air, water, and roots all can penetrate. Plus, for all soils, it encourages beneficial microbial activity and provides nutritional benefits.

Common forms of organic material to amend garden soil include:

  • Compost: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Compost makes an excellent amendment, and it’s free if you’re composting your garden waste and kitchen scraps. I get a plant-based compost.
  • Manure: You often can obtain manure from local farms and stables. It should be composted until it turns dark black, crumbly, and odorless. Besides the smell, fresh manure has too much ammonia and can burn your plants. If growing organic, you do not want to use manure. I do not use manure for other reasons. I try to keep my vegetables growing as clean as possible.
  • Peat moss:  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Peat moss is cheap and works well to loosen soil. It’s also very dusty, so wet it first to make it easier to work with.
  • Grass clippings: You can work grass clippings and other plant debris directly into a garden bed to decompose slowly. Be sure whatever you put down is free of seeds and hasn’t been treated with pesticides or herbicides.
  • Worm Castings: 100% pure Organic – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Worm Castings are the rich digested soil that red wiggler worms leave behind. Savvy gardeners know them to be chock-full of organic plant food, plus beneficial microbes that aid plant growth and help fight off disease. What makes worm castings so great? It’s the worm. As it digests the organic materials it consumes, it refines them. Nutrients, including minerals and trace elements, are reduced to their most usable form. The castings have a neutral pH of 7.0. The process of making worm castings is commonly known as vermicomposting or vermiculture.
  • Mushroom compost: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! It is a type of slow-release, organic plant fertilizer. The compost is made by mushroom growers using organic materials such as hay, straw, corn cobs and hulls, and poultry or horse manure. Since the mushroom growing process varies slightly between individual growers, mushroom compost recipes may differ here and there. For instance, additional materials like gypsum, peat moss, lime, soybean meal, and various other organic items may be added to the compost as well. Mushroom compost is generally sold in bags labeled as SMC or SMS (spent mushroom compost or spent mushroom substrate). It is available at many garden centers or through landscape supply companies. Mushroom compost is also available for purchase by the truckload or bushel, depending on its use in the garden.
  • Happy Frog Soil Conditioner – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Where to get your materials and what to do

I brought in a compost mixture from our local Landscape supplier which consisted of good topsoil, mixed with plant matter, grasses, and small pieces of bark. I then added bags of worm castings, peat moss, and mushroom compost. The ratio is 2:1 of soil and whatever you amend it with or what I do is 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3 of what you use (1/3 Compost & top soil mix, 1/3 Worm Casting, 1/3 Mushroom Compost). This year I will be adding another mixture “Happy Frog”. It is a great soil amender. I use fine straw a fine sttr

Michele Wallace

Entrepreneur and author of A Plant-Based Revolution.com. Michele has also earned her Plant-Based Nutrition Certification from eCornell University. The book is an easy and complete guide for those wanting to get healthy and offers step-by-step instructions, including over 85 delicious and healthy recipes.
A Plant-Based Revolution is dedicated to whole food plant-based nutrition.

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