Steps To A Prosperous Garden
For the past several years, Tocci’s garden has been growing. We began the garden again at the beginning of April. In order to get the garden ready, a week or two before planting the first seeds, we turned over all the soil in each of the beds and added compost and manure. Turning the soil over helps to deter the weeds that have started to grow. The compost and manure not only added essential nutrients to the soil, but also keeps the soil from getting too compacted; roots need space to get through the soil and actually need some oxygen as well. The better the soil, the better the harvest. In our experience, the garden produce that are most sensitive to soil quality are peppers and carrots; they will end up having a bitter taste if the soil isn’t good enough.
This year, we planned our garden with the idea that everything can go into a well-rounded salad for the whole office to enjoy. We will have lettuce, spinach, and kale as our salad base, and many other vegetables for the toppings. We want all our produce to be able to be enjoyed straight out of the garden without cooking it, the only exception being rhubarb, because it comes back every year.
Here are some pointers we kept in mind while planning the layout of the garden:
- Sunlight: Most of your typical garden plants like full sun, but being pretty far north in the hemisphere, the spring and fall sun in particular crosses the sky slightly south of vertical. To make sure all the plants get the proper sunlight, be sure to plant the shorter plants on the south side of the garden and the taller plants on the north side to prevent the taller ones from casting a shadow on the shorter ones.
- Pollination: Generally, if your plants are not being properly pollinated, you won’t get a good harvest out of them.
- Keep pollination in mind for what to keep together and what to plant away from each other. Keep like plants together to increase pollination.
- Most garden plants are pollinated by insects, so if you don’t have enough pollinators around, plant some flowers in the area to attract them. Some plants are pollinated by the wind though, such as corn. This can make it difficult to grow in small quantities, and they are better suited for larger plots to ensure enough pollen gets into the air to pollinate them all.
- We have experienced hot and sweet peppers cross-pollinating, which has resulted in sweet bell peppers with a slight spiciness to them. For this reason, we try to plant the hot and sweet peppers on opposite sides of the garden.
To keep the garden growing, here are some maintenance tips:
- Keep the weeds under control. They compete for nutrients and root space, and if they get too big, can cast a shadow on your plants. Pull the bigger weeds and to keep new ones from taking hold in your garden, use a small hand rake/cultivator to till up the earth between your plants every so often. This has the added benefit of not letting the top layer of soil get compacted, helping water soak into the soil and air to get to the roots.
- Beware of frost. Early in the season, frost can be a threat to your garden. There are a few plants that are cold hardy and can be planted earlier, such as peas, kale, and spinach, but the rest of them should be planted after the threat of frost. The Farmer’s Almanac is a great resource for planting dates in your area, as well as other gardening tips. Once the plants are in the garden, keep watching the weather. If there is a possibility of frost overnight, cover the plants with buckets or sheets/blankets, which will protect from a light frost. Just be sure to take the coverings off in the morning so they can get light and don’t overheat in the sun.
- Keep your plants well watered. Don’t let more than the top inch of soil dry out. If the skins on your tomatoes start splitting, they are still good to eat (soon), it’s just a sign of too much variation in water amounts from dry conditions to wet, keep the watering more consistent.
- Fertilizing your garden is good, but don’t over fertilize. Too much fertilizer can burn the roots and is bad for the local water supply. If you want to find out exactly what nutrients your soil needs and to check if there are heavy metals present, UMass Amherst has a soil testing laboratory. Mail them a small sample of your soil and for a small fee, they will send you a complete analysis and recommendation for your specific soil. Find more information here.
- Keep an eye out for wildlife, pests, and diseases. A small fence can keep out the rabbits, but if deer are in the area, larger fences are needed. Check your plants periodically for insects that are detrimental to the plants, but keep in mind some types of insects are critical to pollination and others eat the bad bugs. Look them up before you take actions against them. Diseases are not uncommon in gardens, but are usually easily prevented or even treated if discovered early enough. Tomatoes plants are susceptible to some funguses, but an easy preventative measure is to trim the lowest branches so they don’t touch the soil, where most funguses come from. Watering low to the ground will also prevent the soil from splashing up on the leaves. A dusty mildew on squash or cucumber leaves can be combatted with an anti-fungal copper spray.
We expect to harvest mid-summer through early fall. The leafy greens and peas will be ready first. It is also possible replant the leafy greens in the late summer to get another early fall harvest. Gardening is a great way to relieve stress. Current research suggests it is bad for your health to sit all day and that people need to move around more. This is a great way to get away from the desk for a little bit, while also providing the office with a healthy snack. It encourages a healthy lifestyle by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, increasing exercise, and reduces our carbon footprint by sourcing produce locally. Teaching people how to garden at work also generates interest for them to try it out at home.