Friday, June 21, 2013

What Is Your Garden Doing?

People tend to underestimate the health benefits of starting a vegetable garden.  Not only does gardening provide healthy food  to add to the diet, but it also provides moderate exercise and mindful relaxation when done right.  Only a few pots or just a small planter's box can make a difference.
Mid June is a bit late for planting a garden I will admit, however preparing a plot for next season is ideally done in the summer months.  First, finding a location suitable for plants is a must.  I used to plant tomatoes, peppers, and other type plants on my apartment patio.  Good soil, good indirect sunlight, and lots of water made my planter garden successful.  When I moved into a house, I decided to move away from pots and plant directly into the soil. 
My first actual garden was erected in a weird location which out of the way from the main yard, however it posed real problems for watering, sunlight, weeds, and soil quality.  I lost everything I planted by July.  The following year, I ended up moving my garden to accommodate the basic needs of vegetable plants.  Originally, I added soil and fertilizer to the clay and planted some strawberries, snap peas, onions, cucumbers, radishes, a grape vine, asparagus, and tomatoes.  Even though my intentions were good, by mid-summer the garden was a dry, crumbled, weedy mess.  The following year, I dug out holes and added good soil first.  I replaced the asparagus with corn and forgot about the radishes.  Still, the garden was not what I had hoped it would be; the cucumbers tasted funny and the strawberries were smaller than blueberries.
By the fourth spring, I decided to build raised boxes.  What a success!  I omitted corn and snap peas and decided to plant potatoes. My tomatoes produced hundreds of red fruit which went beautifully into salsa, the onions grew wild next to the strawberry patch, and the potatoes were amazing.  At the end of the summer, I decided to start composting.  Everything compostable from my kitchen went into a bowl and at the end of the day, the scraps would find their way into a huge pile of organic material turning into black gunk.  Plants love composted black gunk mixed with mulch.  I get my mulch free from the city's tree recycling program.  Doing it this way eliminates the need to buy soil from the store.  Another secret I have learned is that plants love fish water.  Instead of dumping the fish tank water down the drain, I empty the water into buckets and dump that onto my flowers and fruits/vegetables.  The nitrates from the water feed the plants so they produce more flowers and fruits/vegetables.
This year, I got the hang of things.  I added rich compost to all of the beds and planted lemon cucumbers, lemon balm, chilies, peppers, and tomatoes.  I rotated the crops so not to fatigue the soil.  The strawberries and onion went wild.  I purposefully let the dandelions grow in the strawberry patch to attract bees and so that I can make dandelion tea. I use a light , diluted spray of Sol-U-Mel to ward off insects naturally while fertilizing the soil as it biodegrades. For weeds, I use a mixture of apple cider vinegar, dissolved salt, and biodegradable dish soap (I use Lemon Brite but any non-phosphate, non-toxic, biodegradable dish soap will do). 
For next year, I plan on adding another raised bed (it is the simplest way to garden) and emptying the compost pile into the raised beds when I turn the soil in October instead of waiting for the spring.  I also plan on adding a fish pond so that I can rotate the nitrate-rich water onto the garden beds. I also want to try planting marigolds and other such plants to ward off pests naturally.  Eventually, I will have a large green house; but for now, a simple garden will do.