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Sunday, May 23, 2010

10 Easy Gardening Tips

Food Fight #16

If you've made a few of the changes in the previous articles, the food fight for better health should be getting easier. It becomes even easier when you incorporate homegrown food. This may sound like a lot of work but gardening is easier than you think. Try one or more of the following ideas and you'll quickly experience more enjoyment than effort.

1.Just Grow It. If you're really hesitant, just grow an herb in an indoor pot. Some stores sell them planted and ready just like a house plant. At nurseries and independent garden supply stores that sell plants, soil and pots, they'll do it for you. If you have a taste for a more hands-on approach, keep reading.

2.A Green Thumb. Another Dumb Myth. There are no anointed ones who are the aces of agriculture. Gardening has nothing to do with a mysterious set of procedures and skills where everything always succeeds and award-winning results are achieved by someone with “the knack.” Gardening is simply placing a seed or plant in soil and letting nature do what it does naturally. Without my interference, nature has taken flower seeds from all my flower beds and planted them all over the yard. They are thriving yet I did nothing. To show how easy it is, nature planted these new flowers in and among grass and dandelions and other plants. Plants are determined to survive. Given half a chance, they will.

Someone reminded me of an important truth. When you spit watermelon seeds in the yard, some of those seeds will grow. My advice to anyone unsure of growing something is to not try too hard to grow it and it'll likely grow.

3.Soil Yourself. If you want to save time and money year after year plus get better results, learn more about soil health. Read a little bit and make one of the changes you can easily make right now to improve the soil. You will end up doing less and less to the landscape, especially those things that are counterproductive like removing leaves and grass clippings and suffocating the soil with plastic. Caring for the soil makes it okay to always have a dirty mind.

4.Try Bigger, Think Basic. Don't limit yourself to a small garden or no garden at all just because you think it's too much work. Hire someone to turn your soil or install raised beds. Plant in pots. Use the containers house and garden plants come in. I've used the black trays to grow salad greens and spinach. Also, cut the tops off plastic gallon containers that milk, juice and detergent come in, poke holes in the bottom and use those outside. Most people also seem to have plastic butter containers available on a regular basis. Buy containers at the Dollar Store. Ask neighbors for stuff they throw away or have lying around. You can use anything that holds soil and can allow for drainage holes. You could plant in a shoe. I've also used small plastic trash cans and the plastic containers used now mostly to store things in basements.

5.Try a Different Design. Still fighting for space in a garden you already have? Consider this. Do not use the one planting row and one walking row design. Plant two rows side by side with no walking space in between. Make each row 12 inches wide. In one row plant flowers, herbs and other perennials, especially highly beneficial plants for gardens, usually native flowers. In the other row plant annual vegetables. Then have a walking row and then two more planting rows. From just one walking row you can reach four planting rows. This works well when planting near a fence or wall or other barrier you can't reach from both sides. Make all the outside rows, perennial rows. If your garden is small and you can reach it from all sides you don't even need rows. You only need a center spot to provide access to all of interior plants. There are plenty of design variations to try.

At a minimum, separate perennial edibles from those you have to replant each year so at least that portion will be almost completely self-sustaining.

Grow cool season veggies in the heat of summer. Don't not plant them because Spring is almost over. Plant them between rows of taller, bushier plants such as corn or tomatoes or plant in pots and move the pots to partial shade when the heat is on. Also consider planting them in an area that receives the shortest and/or weakest sun.

6.Pace yourself. If you'd love to grow a lot of veggies every year but doing it all within one or two weeks seems daunting, do a little bit at a time. Plant a few things over four weekends or try every day or so over a 30 day period at the beginning of the planting season. You will still have time for all of the plants to mature.

7.When To Water. Compare often heard rules and common practices to what nature does. Since God waters whenever, I pay little attention to the advice to only water in the morning. Yes, the heat of the sun does dry the leaves during the day. Depending on the day, foliage can dry in an hour or less even if it's 7 p.m.

Air movement can also help dry the leaves, even at night so as long as I don't place the plants too close to prevent air circulation, I'm not concerned. I've found that melons, squash and pumpkins seem most susceptible to disease when their leaves are often wet at night and there is no air circulation. Sometimes you will forget or not be available to water in the morning. Water when you can.

Most plants need to stay moisturized. They need water in their bodies at all times to stay alive, stay healthy and to grow leaves and fruit. Don't allow your plants to suffer from thirst, waiting for the next morning's watering, just because you're worried they might get a disease – especially when the heat and humidity of summer days and nights is intense.

8.Forget the weeding. There are no weeds in nature, none. Many plants can help and complement your garden plants and help the soil. Quit worrying about unwanted plants stealing the nutrients from flowers and vegetables. Nature grows on top of itself, thickly and densely, yet everything lives and flourishes. Just help the soil, naturally, the way nature does. Remember, new plants grow in our yards in and among the grass and other areas without any help from us. If there's only enough nutrition in the soil for the limited number of plants in your garden for one growing season, your soil is extremely deficient.

Remember, numerous plants grow in the smallest amount of soil found in cracks of driveways and sidewalks. These are places we never do anything to, to improve the soil. How much more should wanted and unwanted plants be able to thrive in soil we are helping become more fertile? The only real problem with unwanted plants in the garden might sometimes possibly be blocking sunlight or preventing air circulation. Prune them a little. Healthy soil can support many plants simultaneously.

I'm not sure how dandelions came to be so hated by us when it is so useful. Furthermore, a child who has not played with dandelions or caught one of their fairies on breezy days, misses a pure pleasure. What child would not want to catch a fairy, make a wish, ask them where their magical kingdom is, release them with a boost of breath and then watch their silent flight? In the country, we didn't do most of the things city dwellers and suburbanites do and yet we were not overrun with dandelions. It's as if nature insists on placing dandelions in our manicured settings because so many of it's creatures depend on them.

9.Learn Natural/Organic Solutions To Problems. Most are based on maintaining a more diverse environment. There are natural plants and methods to deter rabbits, squirrels, deer, etc.

Use organic material as mulch. This year I used the leaves I removed from the rain gutters. They were partially decomposed due to sitting there since Fall. After I unclogged each gutter, a lot of black water came out. Next year I intend to catch this nutrient-enhanced rain water and pour it around some plants.

Save those tree branches that fall during storms and use them to support garden plants. If you can, make a small brush pile for the birds. Birds close by means a lot of insects will die. Other wildlife might also be attracted to the brush pile if they are in your area such as opossums, raccoons, rabbits, snakes, hawks, foxes, etc. Use branches to make wood fires instead of using charcoal. Wood ash can then be used as fertilizer for certain plants as long as you use paper and twigs to start the fire and not lighter fluid.

Stop cultivating. Stop working yourself to death working the soil to loosen it to help plants. Although cultivating is good exercise, let worms, ants and other plants loosen and enrich the soil while you take a long walk. Their activity in your garden will aid root growth along with water and air penetration. Worms will come if you keep the soil covered and cool with organic mulch or living mulch. Let dandelions work the soil.

Plants will grow and produce without human cultivation. I suspect the reason some cultivate is to try to get the absolute most production out of every plant. For the average backyard gardener this is unnecessary and unwanted since most tend to give plenty of produce away because they have so much.

10.Experiment Unscientifically. Plant some plants and plant some seeds. Use plants and seeds of the same item to see how they grow. Plant something fun this year like pumpkins or gourds or anything new. Take several of the dried flower heads of perennial flowers you like and toss them in a spot where you want more to grow. Some usually will, especially if seedeaters don't find them.

Nature is the only master gardener. Everyone else is an apprentice. Let nature show you how and also do most of the work. Let nature keep insects in balance. Let nature provide the fertilizer. While nature is working, watering your plants, appreciate rainy days and the beneficial aspect of lightning to plants.

Compare all the benefits of gardening to the actual effort it requires from humans and it's obvious it doesn't get any easier. Enjoy the diversity of plants in your yard and the diversity of nature it attracts. Enjoy the freshest, most organic food possible, compliments of nature's loving labor. Nature doesn't even mind if you take all the credit.

See Also: Natural World Observations: Going Wild Like A Flower In Spring Breaking Free
Growing Food: Green Thumb Not Required But Three Things Are. Food Fight #51 – Another Grown-Folks Misconception

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