Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gardening with Aggrand

I have received a few calls this week from people investigating Aggrand for use in their gardens. Many people believe gardening is a difficult/technical activity that requires hours of research before starting.

Gardening is not a difficult process. Yes, there is work, physical work, in putting a garden in especially the first time. But it doesn't have to be difficult. Do you know that you can grow your vegetables in containers?

Planning your garden

As you sit down to plan your garden, please consider adding a few extra plants and store or can a little of your bounty to be prepared for winter or anything else that could come along.

For the best success, a vegetable garden should be well planned out in advance. The site location is of the utmost importance. A spot near the house in full sunlight is the normally the most convenient spot, however, drainage, soil quality, and shade from buildings or trees may mean the garden must be located in an area farther from the house. A good vegetable garden must have at least six hours of full sun each day in order for your food crops to mature properly. No amount of fertilizer, water, or care can replace needed sunshine. The soil should be very fertile and well draining so that water never puddles after a rain storm. While good air movement around a garden is important, windy areas should be avoided because winds can dry out or break plants. Choose a spot close to a water supply for convenience, and to avoid having to use long lengths of hoses. Planting a vegetable garden where it can be visited frequently will allow you to monitor plant pests and the general health of the garden more easily.

Your choice of vegetables will be largely determined by the likes and dislikes of your family. Make sure you plan for nutritional value also. If you expect to consume large quantities of a type of vegetable, it is usually more cost effective to start your plants from seeds indoors. This year we started some directly in the garden, which is what we normally do, and we have also started two large flats of seeds. Some types of plants do not do well transplanting and must be planted directly into the garden where they are to be grown. There are some plants we will purchase at the local garden center to add some variety to the garden.

In planning your garden, consider what and how much you will plant. It is better to have a well maintained, small garden than a large one neglected and full of weeds. I used to freak out about weeds, but I have learned to live with the weeds that slip by. Usually, the garden should be surrounded by a high fence to keep out dogs, rabbits, and other animals. We only have a fence on one side of our garden, and let our cats get after the rabbits that want to attack our garden. A fence also can serve as a trellis for beans, peas, tomatoes, and other crops that need support. It is helpful to draw a diagram of your prospective garden, mapping out each row according to height, plant requirements and other criteria. The direction of the rows isn't necessarily critical, but often it is a good idea to have them running east-west, thereby allowing you to plant your tallest crops on the north end of the plot, and successively shorter crops in front. This prevents shading of the shorter plants. If you must plant your garden on a hill, cut your furrows on a contour with the land, so that the water won't run quickly down the hill, taking with it the valuable topsoil, and the nutrients needed for your plants.

If you are feeling especially industrious you should consider building raised beds. Raised beds give my garden definition. It gives areas that we all know that we can walk on and areas to keep out of. This is really important when you have kids and pets. I have trained dogs to stay out of the garden, and it is easier with raised beds.

Perennial vegetables such as rhubarb and asparagus should be planted off to the side where they won't interfere with future gardening activities. Early producing crops (radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, onions, etc.) should be grouped together with extra space for successive plantings. After they are finished for the season, this will allow you to easily rework the area for later season crops or to replant these in the fall as the weather begins to cool.

Rotate your vegetable locations from year to year. Consider planting a winter cover crop, such as winter rye or winter wheat. You will then turn them under in the spring before planting. The nutrients that will be given back to the soil.

Preparing the soil

Fertile, well drained soil is important but absolutely necessary for a successful garden. You just learn to deal with the soil God gives you. Over the last 10 years we have been building our clay soil quality with fall leaves, peat moss, and sand to make a better garden. We have added horse manure during the fall just to add more nutrients to the soil. We use the horse manure because that is what we have redily available to us. You can use whatever you have to add the nutrients. On the other hand, infertile soil that has good physical properties can be made productive by using organic matter, lime (only if needed), Aggrand fertilizer, and other soil improving materials. If the soil sticks together in a ball and does not readily crumble under slight pressure by the thumb and finger, it is too wet for plowing or working, because in this condition it will cake as it dries, making it unsuitable for young plants. This will improve with the addidtion of organic matter to the soil.

If your garden has already been cultivated and used in past years, there is little to do other than to plow in additional organic material, and fertilizers. The fertilizer may be in the form of composted manure or any good complete plant food distributed at a rate of 1 to 3 ounces for every hundred square feet of vegetable garden. Infertile soil will often benefit from even larger proportions of natural fertilization. If you use chemical fertilizer you must be careful not to add too much as chemical burn will take place, and nothing will grow. When manure is added to the soil, it must be composted prior to planting, because fresh, hot manure will also burn your plants. This is especially important if you are using chicken "poop".

If you intend to bring a previously unused patch of ground into cultivation, the work should commence the preceding fall, before the ground becomes saturated with water. An abundance or organic material should be plowed into the soil, and allowed to compost over the winter. If you have only recently decided to plant your survival garden, you can begin now. I have never been very good at planning next year's garden in the fall, and have always waited until spring to get started. It is easy to solarize you soil to kill the underlying grass/weeds with a layer of clear plastic over the garden.

Once your soil structure, fertility and pH have been established, the soil should be tilled one last time, and then raked smooth. Again, this isn't rocket science, do what will work for you.

Planting vegetables

Using your garden layout map which you created in the planning stages, use stakes to mark out where different rows will be planted. Build your trellises or set in stout stakes for climbing plants such as peas and beans. Create mounds on which you will put in the vining plants such as cucumbers, pumpkins and melons. Don't forget to establish your pathways early so that you won't be walking across areas which will be planted. You don't want to be compacting the soil which you have worked so hard to fluff up.

You are now ready to sow your seeds, and to put in your vegetable bedding plants. Planting depths and spacing are not critical, but don't crowd to many plants into the allotted space or you may end up with spindly plants and no food. Be sure to place a tag or marker on each row or area so that you will know what to expect will sprout there and when! Water your garden thoroughly the day before you intend to plant. You can read the Square Foot Garden by Mel Bartholmew for more information on plant spacing.

Sowing your seeds

Stretch a string between the two stakes you set to mark the row, or use a straight piece of lumber, and use it as a guide to open a 'V' shaped furrow with the corner of your garden hoe. Set the depth to the recommended requirements on the seed packet. Tear the corner of the seed package off and use your finger to tap the package lightly as you move down the row, carefully distributing the seeds evenly. Larger type seeds may be placed individually in the row. You will want to plant extra seeds in each row to allow for failed germination, and for thinning. Cover the seeds with fine soil (no clods or rocks). Firm the soil over the seeds to insure good moisture contact, and to help retain the moisture in the soil. Water and fertilize with Aggrand thoroughly using a gentle spray so that you don't disturb or uncover the seeds. Seeds need moisture to germinate, so it is important to keep the soil moist until the seedlings are up. When the seedlings have emerged and developed their second or third set of true leaves, thin them as needed so that you keep the strongest plants, leaving the remaining ones spaced as directed on the seed package. It is best to thin while the seedlings are still small, so that you aren't disturbing the roots of the plants which will remain.

Setting in vegetable starts

If you purchased bedding plants, or started your seeds indoors in pots dig a small hole which is slightly wider and deeper than the root ball of the new plant. Water the plant thoroughly prior to planting it out in the garden to lessen the shock of transplant. Gently tap the pot to loosen the roots and remove the new plant. If the root ball is tangled and compacted, use your finger tips to gently loosen the outer roots. Set the plant into the hole just a little deeper than it was growing in the pot, and firm the soil in around it, making certain that there is good soil/root contact. Water in well with Aggrand Natural Fertilizer and Bonemeal.

As your garden grows...

I will cover composting in a later post.

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