Filed under: Growing Food, organic gardening | Tags: beans, Compost, food, growing food, Master Gardeners, plants, raised beds
Are you sick of my posts about gardening? If so, just hit delete today, because it’s really all that’s on my mind during these long days of spring. I’ve got lots more good topics for transitioning lined up for the near future, some I can barely wait to share with you, but today, it’s all about gardening.
Before we get started on this though, a little personal history and philosophy might be in order. I’m a Tennessee Master Gardener and the coordinator of my city’s largest (to date) and oldest community garden, but I’m hoping that (at least!) a dozen more communal gardens will be surpassing our size in the near future. I feel that growing food is a life skill like no other. Gardening can offer resilience in the face of adversity, whether that’s due to climate change, skyrocketing food prices, personal money hardships, or food sensitivities. It builds self-sufficiency, enhances my sense of empowerment, and oh yeah, provides me with great-tasting and healthy food. My garden offers me a respite from a life filled with the blur of technology, stress and diversions and actually serves as my personal sanctuary when I go to kneel at its’ weedy altar. Oh yeah, did I mention it provides me with great-tasting food?
This post is simply my way of sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years with other gardeners that might be struggling to get their own pots and plots in good shape right now. There are lots of good gardening advice online, so if I don’t cover your question in this short post, you can find the answer somewhere on the world-wide web or in a good gardening book at the library. Or post your questions in the comments section at the end, maybe I’ll have an answer.
Q: How far apart should I plant my (fill in the blank)?
A: If you have rich soil that has adequate amounts of a plant’s needed nutrients, count on them growing well. Read that as large. Space accordingly. A big ole’ heirloom tomato plant that’s growing in a well-maintained raised bed that’s filled with rich homemade compost and lots of organic matter can easily grow to 3′ wide and 6′ tall! If your soil isn’t so good, it won’t grow that large and you might get by with spacing them 18″ apart. I’ve seen gardeners that plant tomatoes and peppers 3-4″ apart! I apologize for the quality of this bad picture, but I want you to look closely at this: there are twelve, count them, TWELVE tomato plants in that little bitty bed!
The spacing in my cabbage patch shown below is good on the left side with four plants, but too close on the right, which has five plants and shows the fourth one almost lost! These were ‘early’ small cabbages. Had they been a later, heavier variety, I would’ve only planted one row of them down the middle.
Tomatoes and squash like a lot of air circulation, as that keeps many of the diseases that they’re susceptible to at bay. Try to visualize a full-grown August tomato plant when considering how far apart to set them out. However, if we’re talking about carrots, go with 1″ apart thinning to 2″ when they’re up and recognizable. Squash on the other hand need 2-3′ all around to produce well. These next two pics show how much room I give them. Both beds will be completely covered soon with the zucchini and yellow squash vines! You’ve got to visualize how big the mature plants will be!
Like carrots, green beans and peas are planted closely, about 2″ apart, again, depending on the variety you’re planting. Read the back of the seed package if all else fails. If your seeds are old, plant thicker than normal, and if they all come up, just thin to an appropriate distance apart. In the pic below, the beans were planted 2″ apart, but birds and rabbits have done a pretty good job of ‘thinning’ for me.
The sugar snap peas below were planted very closely around the edges of a square bed and as you can see are flowering well now. I set the tomato cage in the center for the peas to be supported by, knowing that by the time the tomato needs the space, the peas will be history. Once the tomato fills the cage and is growing well, I’ll plant basil around the edges where the peas were…these three are good companion plants because the tomatoes need a lot of nitrogen and the peas are ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants, which means they can literally pull it from the air and store it in the soil for use by the next crop. Basil and tomatoes are not only compatible when eaten together, the sharp smell of basil deters pests from the tomatoes when they’re grown together. How cool is THAT?
Q: Why are my young plants turning purple?
Did you plant the purple variety? Likely because your soil is low in phosphorus or because the soil temp is still too cool.
Q: Why are my plants turning yellow?
A: It’s usually caused by a nitrogen deficiency. Fish Emulsion is a good organic source of nitrogen. While young plants are growing feed every week, moving to every two weeks later in the season.
Q: Why do I have huge green plants but no broccoli heads?
A: Too much nitrogen is generally the cause of overgrowth with no fruit set.
Q: Nothing seems to be doing well this year
A: A simple test kit can go a long way towards helping you decide what your garden soil needs or doesn’t. Even though they’re inexpensive, share the cost with a friend or neighbor or two. You generally only need to test once or twice to determine your soil’s Ph and then again after making any needed adjustments, but the kits have enough solution to do it over and over. If your Ph isn’t in the correct range no matter how rich your soil is, the plant roots won’t be able to draw the nutrients from that soil to help them thrive.
As I’ve written all of this I realize that gardening is kind of like beekeeping… ask 10 people how to do something and you’ll get 10 different answers but maybe this will be of some help to you dear readers. I believe that growing and eating locally grown foods, in season, is the single best thing one can do to improve their health, their personal economy, and the environment. Plant something, ok?
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