Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Food Grower TIPS

With the extreme interest in people starting food gardens, here are some tips for people just getting started. NOTE planning is very important!

1. Location- Ensure this location has at least 6 hours of good sunlight

2. Soil- It would be best to get a soil test done (you can do this through the local extension service). Next best is to test the pH of the soil (you can get a home test at the store) 6.5 is optimal for most plants. If all else fails, just all lots of organic materials such as manure, grass clippings (not fresh), old leaves, compost etc. This organic matter will help improve the texture of your soil and will pay you back ten fold.

3. Determine your garden objective- this year it may be to have a small successful garden that you enjoy to tend. Be realistic so at the end of the season you can feel proud. Note you may just want to teach your children, or eat fresh lettuce....

4. Determine what to plant - List out what you like to eat, and then determine what you can do in the space you have. One of the greatest mistakes of first time planters is to over plant, since seeds are so small and plants at first don't take alot of room it is easy to over do it. So be realistic. Look under FILES on the Loudoun Locavore site and there is a .pdf suggesting what you should buy from seed or as plants. Honestly if I was starting out, I would buy as much as I could in the plant form, and then next year take on the challenge of dealing with seeds and keeping them moist, and battling insects and birds.....

5. Plan out what will work best with your space- Kind of like a puzzle, take what you want to plant, and draw out what and where you will plant things. I think this is critical to being successful. So for example, you could plant sunflowers in the southern most facing area, then plant pole beans at the base (so they use the sunflowers as support). You could then plant some more cool shade plants (spinach) close to this, and then based on space, plant your other items. I really recommend VERTICAL gardening for small spaces. Basically you grow things UP instead of out. So things like tomatoes, pole beans, squash, watermelons, gourds, cantelopes etc. I will also be providing bamboo to make the supports. You can read up on this technique in the Square Food Garden literature

6. Plant your plants/seeds at the right time!!! Note you have cool weather and heat loving plants. This year I am starting with peas and spinach and lettuce NOW during the colder times, then I will pull these and plant my warm weather crops once frost danger has passed.

Phew--- so that may seem like alot, but if you plan properly -- then you can just let mother nature do the rest!