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DON'T BE AFRAID OF THAT FIRST GARDEN
Let me walk you through the basics
by
Anna May Kinney



Sorry to say, but the knowledge of how to grow vegetables and flowers is not something we are born with. When we refer to a person as having a green thumb, it does not mean that they instinctively know how to grow everything they touch, but it implies that this person has a love of plants, that inspires him/her to research out the information they need, and gives them the incentive to remember to follow the instructions.
   

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 currant methods.
   

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 setting outside.
   

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:
Why should you even consider starting your own plants?
1. Plants can be further along by planting time.
2. You can give more individual attention to special   varieties
3. You have control over the variety you want to grow
4. It is a lot more economical to grow than buy
5. Greenhouse plants often arrive infested with pests
   

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.
Having two parents means that the seed from this plant could take after either of the parents or both of them, chances are good you would not be able to grow the same plant you enjoyed from saved seeds of this plant. Meaning you are always at the mercy of seed companies, and have to face the cost of new seeds every year.
   

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.