Anyone else planting a garden this year? The last few years, I’ve been assigning the garden to different children. I was telling my mother this evening that while I saw a lot of character growing, we didn’t get much plant growth. This year, I will be using other sources for character growth and take the garden back into my hands.
I do love to garden.
The beautiful weather here in Kansas has brought out the desire of planting a garden in many of us. Emails and private messages have already started coming in. I always have so much fun getting to know new gardeners and hearing their excitement; it’s contagious. We all have the same question, just asked in different ways, How do I plant and grow a garden successfully? I decided I would take some time to answer that question in a blog post with my 7 essential steps to grow a garden successfully.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional horticulturist by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t even call myself a gardener. “Cultivator” would describe me best. I enjoy playing in the dirt and pulling up weeds. I thrive on the challenges nature presents, humbled by rewards hard work produces, and motivated to learn more all the time. In this blog post, I am sharing resources that have been a genuine help to me. I will also share how I used them or what I learned most from them. The books listed in this blog post are link to my Amazon affiliate program- only click through if you’d like to support the blog. All other links listed in this blog post are not connected to any affiliate program. Well, now that I have that out of the way, let’s get started talking about the 7 essential steps to grow a garden successfully.
7 essential steps to grow a garden successfully
Step 1 Plan My Garden
Spring days are spent planting all the dreams I’ve ambitiously planned throughout the Winter. For my plants to thrive, I must provide them with optimal growing conditions. I’ve learned that plants are as unique as people. While they may be able to survive in less than optimal conditions, they won’t thrive unless I carefully plan my garden.
Space requirements-Think with the future in mind! When I am planning my garden, I have to consider the space requirements for the plants I want to grow at maturity, not just their current size. You can find plant sizes listed on most nursery tags or by looking the plant up in a reference book such as Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. The Arbor Foundation also lists a handy Tree Guide that is helpful. My father is excellent at this task of planning. He even designs the garden on paper with the size of the plant sketched out for us so we have a visual of what the garden will look like in 5 years from now, not just this spring.
Sun/shade requirements- A plant will not thrive if it has too much or too little sun/shade. I would suggest you don’t do like I’ve done in the past and ignore the recommendations listed in the gardening reference book or plant tags. I have been able to keep a plant alive, maybe even had a bit of a success, but it was an upstream swim the entire time. I’ve learned no matter how badly I may want a plant in a certain area of the yard; it’s best to place the plant it where it want’s to grow!
Soil needs- It’s critical for me to not only know what my plants need in the soil but what my soil needs as well. If I am attentive to both needs, the plants and soil will compliment each other beautifully sharing essential elements with one another.I enjoy using raised beds so I can adjust the soil for each raised bed and the plants that call this place home.
Planting Zone- Know your planting zone. Simply enter your zip code into the USDA planting zone map to find out the planting zone for your area. So what is a “Planting zone”? Well, to answer that question in the simplest of forms, a planting zone tells you what plants will thrive best in those geographic weather conditions.
Step 2 Feed the Soil We talked about planning your garden by knowing the unique soil needs of your plants. To do this, we have first to start with understanding our soil. I like to use soil testing kits to get a good idea of what my soil needs might be. I’ve found that using the county extension for a soil test is always the best for detailed information. Clean air and water will provide my plants with the oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. I also need to consider my soil’s need for macro and micronutrients. Micronutrients are just as important as the macronutrients it’s just that they are needed in smaller quantities.
Macronutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur.
Micronutrients: Iron, Chlorine, Zinc, Molybdenum, Boron, Manganese, Copper, Sodium, Cobalt.
There are books full of information that shares the importance of the nutrients, how to cultivate them into the soil, and the tell-tell signs our plants will display if they are deficient in a particular nutrient.
Another resource that has been helpful to cultivate healthy garden beds is Lasagne Gardening This book helped me think of gardening in a different way. I had always dug up the ground, but my Joe would “double dig” the plot I was planting. Not only was it hard, back-breaking work, but it was also disrupting all the life within the soil. Since 2004, I have been using the principals I’ve learned from this book. My back and Joe’s back has thanked me a million times. In 2014, we did an experiment here on the farm. We planted the same crop in two different plots with two different methods, the traditional way of tilling the ground and lasagne gardening method. The lasagne garden won hands down! It wasn’t’ even close. The area that used the layering method had far fewer weeds, larger plants, and more produce.
Step 3 Plant quality plants and plant next to their companions!
We will be planting our favorite plant starts from Sarah Starts through Azure Standard. We’ve used Sarah’s Starts ever since we moved to Kansas; I’ve never been disappointed. I use to start my plants from seeds. However, life has been busy enough that having quality plants from Sarah Starts has been a great blessing to the success of our garden. I first started germinating our garden seeds as a family back in 1998. However, for the time being, I had to set aside this late winter/ early spring tradition of starting my plants from seeds. Once life slows down, I just might get back to this activity.
I have some dear friends who offer quality seeds through their family business, Seeds for Generations. I just took a moment to visit their site. In a recent visit to their site, I was delighted to see that they have some excellent tools available that I could share with you. I encourage you to head over there and get to know them more. I am confident you’ll be blessed. In fact, if you sign up for their mailing list they will give you their Garden Planning Calculator. There’s also a training video available called, Garden Planning to Grow More Food. Both of these look like great resources. Thank you to the Matyas family!
Once I have good quality seeds and plants growing I start plotting out what plants I will put together and which plants I will make sure to keep apart. The children can tell you stories of the year all of our cantaloupes tasted like cucumbers because they thought they had a “better” idea. I’ve studied this concept through the years. It’s more than just keeping certain plants away from each other for fear of them tasting like the other. It’s about plants putting certain nutrients into the ground and pulling other nutrients out. It’s about one plant repelling the pests that would want to invade a neighboring plant. I also use this concept to help extend my growing season with cooler crops by placing plants in the shade of a larger plant. I’ve found I can get a good return on the harvest using this fundamental principal when planting.
One reference book, on the topic of companion gardening that I have especially appreciated, is Carrots love Tomatoes. Companion gardening is something I learned to do many years ago with the help of my mother in law. I continue to encourage others to learn about companion planting as well. This simple technique has provided tremendous benefits for my garden each year.
Step 4 Cultivate
A garden is not a project for me to start and not finish; not unless I want rows of rubbish! My garden is a place to visit on a daily basis. For me, a garden is meant to be a place where I spend time observing, mulching, watering, observing, tilling the ground, thinning the plants, planting new plants, observing, removing pests, looking for worms, feeding my soil, getting my hands dirty, and did I mention, observing? Having a successful garden depends on a harmonious relationship between the cultivator, plant, and soil. Just like all relationships.. they take time and steady work.
Step 5 Practice Patience
I cringe when I remember my first year to plant a garden. It was Spring of 1992. I was a young mother with two little ones. My Joe had been listening to my ideas about a beautiful garden surrounded by a white picket fence for quite some time. I sat for hours in our local library looking at gardening books in-between the picture books with the children. I selectively picked the seeds for each row of the garden that Joe carefully plowed for me. The picket fence and gate were picture perfect. Now I had to wait. I watered the ground every day. By day two I was already growing anxious. Day seven and I was beside myself. I couldn’t wait any longer. I decided I would carefully dig up each seed and just check on it. What a mess I was! I remember the excitement when I uncovered the seeds and saw new life and growth. I would carefully pat the dirt back down on each seed I had uncovered. I remember sharing with my mother in law in the evening on one of our weekend phone calls. I can still her sweet voice of encouragement reminding me to be patient, not to grow weary and then her reminder she often gave me over the years saying,
“Jeanette, take the time to lean on your hoe.”
Lord knows that’s a hard task for someone, like me, who has trouble slowing down. It’s a conscience decision I must make and one I have never regretted. I have learned much in life, not just in gardening, but by taking the time to lean on my hoe.
I don’t remember growing much in the garden that year, but I still benefit today from all that grew inside of me. Nature continues to present many lessons in life’s classroom when I take the time to lean on my hoe.
This year, Danny Boy will join me in the garden. He will learn to cultivate the soil, feed the plants, water, and even kill the bugs (This should be interesting. Danny Boy finds the good in every living thing and argues when I suggest we kill any insects or rodents).
Step 6 Encourage beneficial bugs.
The idea that there are beneficial bugs was new to me many years ago. Today, I am carefully managing the garden pests with the help of beneficial bugs and organic practices. This means that I have much more time invested in the garden. We have successfully used our homemade recipe to kill wasps. I’ve learned that garden pests tell a story. Once I research the problem I discover that my soil is needing different nutrients. I’ve had great success with applying raw milk to the garden and pastures. It’s something we do on a large scale when we have our milk cow. This year will be our first Kansas garden year without the dairy cow providing this treasure for our garden so I’m not sure what we’ll be doing in that area. In the past, the children would mix old milk to a ratio of 1 part milk to 5 parts water. They would apply this mixture to the pasture, gardens, and yard with a sprayer. The results are visible right away (within a few days). Foliage will be a vibrant green, and you’ll notice the bad bugs will have moved out to find other poor soil and struggling plants to feed on. We’ve also added, Diatomaceous Earth and Kelp to the garden beds as needed. Spending time in the garden with a watchful eye is critical. It’s vital to be proactive when it comes to encouraging beneficial bugs and creating a habitat where they will thrive, and the garden pests will leave. If you’d like to read more I would suggest getting the book; Good Bug Bad Bug Is an accessible resource guide to helping identify helpful and non-helpful bugs in the garden. Great visuals with color photographs are included with descriptions of both pests and beneficial bugs. This reference book is used every year in my home. The children like to take it out and identify bugs from the garden as well.
Step 7 Harvest
If you plant in cycles, you can harvest in cycles. It’s helpful not to have the entire garden needing to be collected, prepared and stored all at the same time. If the first cycle of planting had some poor weather or growing conditions, I would have the ability to get a harvest with the second planting. I can do this in a variety of ways. I can double space the area between plants so that I can plant another plant in between two- three weeks after the first planting. I have also planted one raised bed at the beginning of the season and another garden bed two weeks later.
Another way I extend my harvest is by taking clippings instead of harvesting the entire plant. I will keep an eye on the weather in this regards. If it’s heating up and I’m clipping from a cold weather plant, I will harvest the plant instead of just take clippings. However, if I believe I still have plenty of cool days left to get another harvest, I’ll take cuttings as needed and wait to collect the plant next time.
Until our next chat,
Mrs. Joseph Wood