Archive: April 2015
This time of year is exciting for all of us who enjoy gardening. And hopefully you’ve read our last post focused on simple tips to get ready to plant your vegetable garden. Now we’re ready to take you beyond the planning stage, with suggestions from Avant Gardening and Landscaping’s staff on which plants to buy and grow together, why a compost pile is important, and how to make garden maintenance easy, and fun.
Avant Owner and President Liza Lightfoot suggests planting as many perennials as possible, like asparagus, chives, thyme, and strawberries. Liza says, “I love to plant berries and currants to make jams, jellies, and wonderful fruit sauces for ice cream and desserts. Raspberries and grapes tend to attract Japanese beetles so keep them in a separate area. Flowers for cutting are also fun when planted intermittently through the garden. Zinnias are my favorite, and Larkspurs are really snazzy, and many sunflower varieties add drama. To add interest, I like to pick veggies with special foliage color and texture like artichokes, Rouge D’Hiver Romaine Lettuce, Ruby Perfection Red Cabbage, Redbor or Toscano Kale to name just a few.”
We also think this is the perfect time to start a compost pile near your garden, along with amassing the tools you will need– a garden fork, spade, diamond hoe, and rake can be purchased second hand, at a local hardware store, or online. Depending on the size of your garden, a small rototiller can be invaluable, and why not consider sharing the cost of the purchase between friends or neighbors, or rent one from your local hardware store.
One thing we’ve learned in our many years of gardening, is how to feed a family! Pick a spot about 40’ x 30’ (but if it sounds like too much work, start with a smaller plot). A few raised beds might be all you need for a couple or a single person household. Cover the area with black plastic or rubber roofing to kill off the weeds and old grass. This can take about a month or more, so very early spring or even the prior fall may be best. You could also use a sod cutter or a sharp flat shovel to remove the grass if you missed the window for smothering it. Once the weeds and grass are gone, add a 3” layer of well rotted compost to your beds before tilling. You can till once the soil has warmed and is workable, usually late April in the Madison area. Also, if you really want to take your garden to the next level, after tilling, take three soil samples to your local County Extension office for analysis. Follow their recommendations for soil amendments, and try to use organic soil amendments when possible.
Start planting your garden following the directions on the plant label or seed packets. Save yourself lots of trouble later by mulching between the rows. I like to use strips of recycled rubber roofing material for the paths. I can move it around the garden easily, and it kills off vigorous weeds without using herbicide. Clean straw also works well and can be tilled into the soil to add organic matter at the end of the season. Do not use hay, as you will bring in a plethora of weed seeds. Old leaves can be great as well, provided you do not use oak or black walnut.
Maintaining your garden is important, especially if you start with a lot of weed seeds. Weeds can greatly diminish productivity, but you do not have to be obsessive about it. As long as you can get rid of the worst (Quack Grass and Canada Thistle) prior to planting, the rest should diminish over the years with regular cultivating or hoeing. The main goal is to prevent the weeds from flowering and producing seeds. If you plant densely enough, the weeds will have a hard time germinating. After the initial tilling, try to till no deeper than 3 inches each subsequent year, so as not to disturb dormant weed seeds in deeper soil. Airborne seeds will become your biggest battle down the road. Seeding cover crops in open beds and between rows is another way to control weeds. Cover crops also add humus and are an excellent way to build soil health!
Beyond some weeding, summer maintenance in the vegetable garden is minimal. Don’t forget to stake your tomatoes early, well before the plants need it. Remove spent plants, such as radishes, and spinach that has bolted. Also, if you have an outbreak of Japanese beetles, an organic treatment option we suggest is spraying Neem Oil on the plants. You can also use beneficial nematode to eradicate Japanese beetles in the larval stage, earlier in the season.
But after all this work— you’ll really enjoy the fruits of your labor. Harvest regularly, water, and eat!
It seems to be taking awhile for spring to (really!) stick around, but once it does, it will be time to plant your vegetable garden. We love vegetables at Avant Gardening and Landscaping! And though growing your own food may mean more work– especially during mosquito season– it can also save you money, increase your physical activity, and give you more control over the food you are growing.
Avant’s Owner and President Liza Lightfoot says gardening has cut her costs considerably. “Over the past several years I have been able to save about 40% of my annual grocery budget by growing my own vegetables, compared to the years when I did not grow my own food,” Lightfoot says.
Gardening also adds to your exercise routine. A day in the garden can burn a lot of calories, and spring can require more of your time, especially if you ran out days for any fall bed preparations. Fortunately, extra work outside often corresponds with the time of year when we all need a boost to get us out of our winter slump!
Growing your own food will give you more control over how it is grown, and what you are eating– so you can choose to only plant what you really love! And with a little careful planning, you can even provide enough vegetables for your family to enjoy throughout the next winter.
Ideally, you should plan your garden in the fall or winter, prior to planting in spring. But if you are just getting your plans in order, we suggest listing every vegetable you like to eat, then divide what you’ve written down, into plant families. You will need a good reference book or you can go online to find the information. Our team likes Eliot Coleman’s book The New Organic Grower. You can read and learn about crop rotation, cultural needs of specific plants, green manures, and so much more. Coleman also offers great tips and guidelines, including this great idea: lay out your garden beds on paper, create at least 8 plots so you can rotate your vegetables yearly, and by plant family. Easy and smart.
We recommend choosing a wide variety of veggies planted in smaller 30” by 10’ plots. Some staples like onions, carrots, and potatoes should be grown in plots of about 10’ x 15’ and planted in rows for easier maintenance. Keep a few plots open to plant greens, radishes, peas, and beans in two week successions. Again, you will have enough food to enjoy throughout the season, and well into the next winter.
We’ll take you beyond the planning stage in our next post, with suggestions on which plants to buy and grow together, why a compost pile is important, and how to make garden maintenance easy, and fun.
Of course, you can always join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, and get a wonderful box of seasonal organically grown veggies delivered each week! You’ll find more information on it, here.