Monday, March 24, 2014

The Keys to Easy Gardening

I meet people all the time who tell me they can't grow anything. Give them a plant and they will kill it in weeks. That may be true for houseplants, but it doesn't have to be true for outdoor gardening! 

Fruits and vegetables have been growing for thousands of years without human intervention. If you think about it logically, they should be able to grow in your backyard without lots of human intervention too! However, your backyard probably doesn't have the same microclimate the plant had thousands of years ago before people discovered it. So, to get the plant to grow without a lot of help from you, you need to mimic the same microclimate of its natural state. 

To do that, you need three things:
  • Sun
  • Water
  • Soil
Let's take them one at a time.

Sun is required to grow anything (including you - think vitamin D)! Find a spot in your yard that gets enough sun for the type of plant you want to grow. This varies by plant. You do have some wiggle room here. If you live in a very hot area like me, you can offer the plant a bit more shade than you would be able to if you live by the Canadian border. Tomatoes and green beans are two examples. Do you have a lot of trees in your yard? Many varieties of berry bushes grow naturally at the edge of a forest. You can plant blueberries, blackberries and others in front of the trees and have success. Make sure the berries get at least 6 hours of sun. Many herbs do very well in partial shade as well.

Watering young plants is critical. When they are older, less is needed. If mother nature doesn't provide any water to your backyard, you are going to have to help. But it doesn't have to be a chore you hate, nor one you need to do often. If you mix some polymer water retention crystals into the soil, you will need to water much less! Do you have a sprinkler system? Set it and forget it! If for some reason you can't seem to remember to water your garden, set an appointment reminder in your email program or add a note to your wall calendar to water once or twice a week.

In my opinion, soil is the number one reason a garden fails. The soil you place the plant in will make or break your garden. It is the most important of the three I have mentioned. You can't have healthy plants without good garden soil! A healthy plant is better able to fight off attacks from bad bugs that want to eat it! Good garden soil will also help to repel bag bugs. It does this by creating a hostile environment for them to overwinter. Good soil has lots of microorganisms and bacteria that help plants grow and help kill bad bugs!

So, how do you get good soil? Well, you can buy bags of some of the ingredients at the home improvement store. But it isn't necessary. The best way to get good garden soil is to use what you already have and make it for FREE! I am talking about composting. If done correctly, composting isn't smelly nor does it require a lot of effort. In fact, once you set up your compost pile, you don't need to give it any additional effort if you don't want to! I am sure all of you have read that you need to turn the compost pile on a regular basis. That is just not true! I rarely turn my compost piles. The pile will rot on its own without turning it. (It does take longer, but so what?)

Composting is easy and free. Use what you have and don't worry about what you don't have. If you have trees, you have the makings of compost. Leaves are usually the number one ingredient. They don't have to be from just deciduous trees either! (Deciduous trees are ones that drop their leaves each fall.) My evergreen Leyland Cypress trees drop lots of leaves that go into my compost pile. So does my Magnolia tree. If you have chickens or bunnies, (or know of other people who have chickens or bunnies as pets), you have an great addition to your compost pile as you clean up after them. Poo from vegetarian animals are a great addition to a compost pile. Do you have a coffee shop near your house? The next time you go there, ask them for their discarded coffee grounds. That is an excellent addition to your compost pile! Do you purchase fruits and vegetables? The discards from cooking fruit and vegetables is another excellent addition to the compost pile. I peeled some carrots for Molly's dinner the other day and placed the discards in my compost pile.

In fact, many of the items you routinely place in your garbage could find a home in the compost pile. Newspapers, all yard waste such as grass clipping and plant prunings, unused cat litter, egg shells, dryer lint, discarded leather products (cut out any metal pieces), peanut hulls, and cardboard boxes (you should cut them up first). Use what you have!!

Setting up a compost pile doesn't have to be difficult either. However, if you live in a neighborhood, they may be banned. Check before you build one. If they are not allowed, you can still have a compost pile, but it will have to be enclosed. Here is a picture of one of my enclosed compost bins. 

Otherwise, pick a dry, shady spot and start adding stuff in a pile. If you would like it to look neat, you can string up chicken wire, cinder blocks or wooden pallets. But really, they aren't necessary. When you fill up your pile, leave it to rot and start another one! Turning the pile will help it rot faster but can be hard to do (more so if it is a big pile). Leaving it to rot on its own is easier but may take a year or two to completely finish. (That is what I do most of the time.)

Here are some websites that give more information on making a compost pile:
Composting at Home
What can I put in my compost pile?
Composting 101

Having a garden doesn't need to be a second job! You can grow some of your own food with just a minimum amount of effort!

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