DON'T BE AFRAID OF THAT FIRST GARDEN
You don't need a green thumb to become a good gardener, but the
qualities of having a green thumb will quickly begin to show up as you learn and follow
the directions of those who have come before you. In other words, it takes a little
knowledge and some simple logic to become a good gardener, you learn which formula works
with what kind of plants and you follow it.
It is a rewarding feeling when people tell you that they are
going to make their first garden, over the last couple of years, I have had many of these
satisfying moments. For the next couple of weeks I will write a few of the basics for
those who have never had a garden before and those who would like to reexamine their
Anyone who is familiar with my column knows that organic
gardening means learning to use nature to control its self and the elimination of all
chemical garden products, this is best achieved when your garden soil is healthy. So when
you begin to prepare your new garden spot, start by working in lots of healthy compost,
leaf matter, and well-aged manure.
Greenthumbers realize that the earth is a living organism that
needs constant feeding in order for it to continue to produce healthy vegetables and
flowers. The time put into building up your soil, is repaid by the time you save not
having to fight insects, fungus and other diseases.
We northern gardeners, facing an extremely short growing season,
have learned how imperative it can be to start certain plants inside six to ten weeks
before our last frost. When your last frost is in late May or June, sowing directly
outside is not an option, except for varieties with extremely short growing times, like
peas, beans and squash.
To extend their growing time and provide a larger harvest, even
some squash and pole bean varieties are best started in peat pots four weeks before
Crops like peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, melons and other heat
loving vegetables and flowers must have this kind of head start in order to produce enough
and early enough to make the trouble worth while.
Buying or starting your own plants:
Starting your plants 6 to 10 weeks before the danger of frost is
gone, and repotting them as they grow, may seem like a time consuming chore, but each time
a plant is moved into a larger pot, it's root system has a chance to grow to match the
above ground growth, making a healthier, stronger plant.
Most greenhouse grown plants, remain in the same pot from
germination until they are sold. Often winding up with shallow roots that are weak and
intertwined with other plants in the same flat.
Giving individual attention to your plants may mean starting one
variety of tomato plant, in a six-inch flowerpot in the windowsill and three weeks later
taking them out and placing them into their first individual pots.
Tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to transplant; you can
take a stick, or even a pencil, loosen the soil around each plant and gently pull out like
a blade of grass. Every time a tomato is transplanted you bury a bit of its stalk, this
will force it to create a thicker root system. Most of my tomatoes are transplanted three
times before their final transplanting into the garden, by then they have thick stalks and
a well-formed root ball.
For what six tomato plants cost, you can buy a package of seeds,
if the leftovers are kept dry and cool they will keep for two or three years. Buying a
couple different varieties of seeds is a great way to learn what you like and don't like,
and by having more than one type you are protected from total crop failure if one variety
contacts a disease and is wiped out.
If you are growing your own food, you don't want to make to
large an investment, you will be also investing time in planting, caring for and
harvesting your crop, and hopefully time in storing your harvest. To make it a worthwhile
venture you want to cut out all the extras not needed and cut corners on the ones you do
need whenever possible.
Most home gardener need only a dozen or two tomato plants, this
low number of one type of plant is not prone to insect infestations like places where
hundreds or thousands of the same type of plant are grown. Besides if you want to be
organic, do you really want to start off with plants that could have had any number of
chemicals sprayed on them?
Now that you have decided to give starting your own plants a
try, you need to know what kind of seeds you want.
Do you want a variety that is open pollinated or hybrid, the
difference is simple, yet complicated in some ways. Hybrid plants take some of their
qualities from one parent (such as disease resistance) and it is placed together with
genes for another variety (the other parent plant) that possesses other desirable
qualities, such an enhanced flavor or texture.
The open pollinated varieties have one parent, which may also have been bred for years to enhance some of its special qualities, but the seeds can be saved and used and you will have the same type of plant with the same qualities of its parent.