Happy plants need sunlight, oxygen, water, good soil, and room to grow.
Now that you have planted your garden you wait for the seeds to germinate. Radish, cabbage, and turnips germinate quickly. Carrots, parsley, and spinach take up to two weeks to germinate. For all, you must keep the surface soil moist until germination occurs. By this time, you should have transplanted your tomatoes, squash, and annual flower seedlings too.
While there is no such thing as a perfect garden, you can maximize yield and beauty by weeding, providing enough water, and mulching. Weather, rain or lack of, temperature, wind, and cloud, all affect the growth of your plants. Be prepared. Have a supply of rain water. Shade your tender plants in hot weather; cover them if it becomes too cold.
Walk around your garden every day to identify pests before they do much damage. Follow my instructions in the article on garden pests.
Remove weeds continually, especially before they flower and produce seeds for the next cycle. The best time to weed is just after a rain – if you have raised beds. They pull our easily, root and all.
To achieve an optimum growth, you must thin. All suggested spacing is approximate. Suggested spacing: beets 4 inches, carrots 3 inches, cabbage 16-18 inches, turnips 10 inches, lettuce 4 inches, onions 8 inches, parsnips 4 inches, and mounds of squash and pumpkin at least four feet.
Plants need water. For larger plants such as cabbage, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini, insert watering tin cans by each plant. Each tin should have three holes in the bottom with the top at the surface of the soil. The water goes into the ground and does not evaporate from the surface. Check your plants every hot day; if the leaves start to wilt, provide more water. You should have at least two rain barrels plus a few smaller containers. Remember to place a long stick in each uncovered rain barrel to prevent squirrels or birds from drowning. Water at night to reduce evaporation on hot days. Consider drip hoses; they deliver water slowly and allow it to slowly seep into the soil.
Mulch to reduce surface evaporation.
Onions are shallow rooted, so keep the soil moist. Carrots, parsnips, and beets are deep rooted and do not need to be watered as often. The experts say that your garden needs an inch of water a week.
Tomatoes need uniform watering. Alternate wet and dry soil conditions often cause blossom rot.
To have fresh, succulent produce over a longer period of time, plant short rows of each about two weeks apart.
Every gardener should have a compost bin. Compost is like coffee: satisfaction is having a cup of coffee; security is having your own cup. With all the chemicals in the ground, you never know how safe store bought or municipal compost is. And, every scrap of vegetation in your bin reduces the amount placed in the landfill.
My method of composting starts with two large composting bins, approximately eight feet by three feet by three feet high. Starting in year one, I fill the first one from August to the next July, occasionally adding some soil. I put that compost on my beds in September. Most plant material has decomposed for over a year and, while having some larger pieces, is incorporated into the top six inches of the beds. The second bin starts to be filled in August and is emptied the next fall. This process takes little time and provides great compost.
In the fall, I gather leaves from neighbours. They are added to my compost, placed into the walkways between my raised beds, and used for winter protection. And some are shredded by my lawn mower and saved for next year’s summer mulching.
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Charles Schroder gardens in the Edmonton region.