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Home and Garden

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Karen Owoc  
10 Expert Gardening Tips for Beginners
Guestpert: Karen Owoc B.S., CEP
Category: Home and Garden

Speaking Point: I grew up in a ‘green’ household before it was fashionable to be green. Fresh homegrown vegetables were staples in our home and venturing out of the city to pick fruits in the country was considered a fun family thing to do. In our culture, giving respect to the forest, to the ocean and to nature is the way of life. We ate and cooked whole food bringing vegetables straight from the garden to the table.

I used to eat cherry tomatoes by the handfuls because ours were so deliciously sweet. To this day, my test for freshness is how much a cherry tomato ‘pops’ in my mouth. There’s a really good feeling that accompanies tending to your own garden and growing your own food. If you’re a beginner, here are some tips to make you a proud gardener and avoid some common errors.

Speaking Point: DEMO: I would bring a “model-size” raised planting bed (built to scale for TV purposes) and demonstrate and talk about how to grow a garden and incorporate all my tips. The table would include a colorful display of fresh produce and some essential garden tools.

Speaking Point: 1. Start small: A garden that’s too big to start with can be frustrating when you’re new at this. Growing up, my dad produced a high yield garden in our tiny suburban backyard. Even an 8’x10’ garden is manageable for a beginner. Also, don’t plant too much and way more than you (and your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers) can or want to eat. Zucchini, for example, has a way of multiplying exponentially to the point where you can’t give them away anymore. I made the same mistake with pumpkins because I thought our kids would be thrilled by having their own pumpkin patch, but the pumpkins literally took over our entire plot of garden space plus more!

Speaking Point: 2. Plant in a raised planter (a.k.a. raised planting bed): Raised planters provide an enclosed customized space and more controlled environment for your garden. They also raise your garden off the ground, i.e., fewer snails, slugs and other pests, and benefit the senior gardener who may have difficulty stooping over and bending down to seed, weed and harvest. If the planter is slightly below waist level, you can sit on the edge without having to bend over although a higher bed would require more soil. You can also line a raised planter with hardware cloth or chicken wire to discourage visits from burrowing animals like gophers. Making your own garden bed makes a great DIY project, but hardware stores also sell a wide variety of different types/heights of raised planters.

Speaking Point: 3. Plant in good soil: By planting in a raised planter, you can control and customize the soil mixture which is good for both growth and drainage. You don’t want to just dump in dirt from your yard. Plants need soft soil in order for the roots to penetrate. Enrich your raised planter with a nutritious batch of compost.

Speaking Point: 4. Provide adequate drainage. When you plant your vegetables in a raised planter, you can create a well-draining soil mixture with good aeration and oxygen for proper root development. Proper drainage is the key to growing healthy and vigorous plants. If your raised planter cannot drain properly, you’ll end up with a garden that dries out or gets waterlogged. Too much water can drown the root system (known as “wet feet” or the “bathtub effect”) in which the roots aren’t able to deliver water through to the plant. The leaves wilt, yellow and die and can develop fungal diseases, such as root rot. A standard planter height of 11 or 12 inches allows water to escape down through the depth of the planter’s soil before ending up on the ground which prevents waterlogging.

Speaking Point: 5. Buy high-quality seeds: If your seeds don’t germinate, you’ll have spent a lot of time, money and energy with no reward at harvest time. You can grow almost any vegetable in a raised planter. The only exceptions are corn and potatoes. Corn grows high, so harvesting in a raised bed could be a challenge. Potatoes need lots of room for its roots to grow. Some veggies yield more than one crop per season, such as beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips. After planting your precious seeds or seedlings, you can place a seed guard made out of wire mesh/hardware cloth over the raised beds (an easy DIY project). The screens protect the young seeds from unwanted visitors like birds and squirrels during this part of the growing cycle.

Speaking Point: 6. Plant in a sunny spot: Check out the sun exposure throughout the day before you decide on where to plant your garden. You’ll need at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. More sun translates to a bigger harvest and tastier vegetables.

Speaking Point: 7. Space out your crops properly: Pay close attention to the directions on seed packets as to how far away to plant each seed. If you’re a novice gardener, you may think a tiny little seed couldn’t possibly produce enough vegetables, but you’ll be surprised and sorry in the end if you crowd your crops. Plants will flourish when they don’t have to compete for sunlight, water and nutrition.

8. Know when to plant what: For best results, refer to a planting calendar specific to your region, so you’ll know the best time to seed, plant and harvest based on local frost dates.

9. Make friends with the outdoor garden experts at your neighborhood nursery: Get to know the local experts. They could help you determine which vegetables would grow best in your area.

Speaking Point: 10. Adapt to the experience. In an age where instant gratification, restlessness and the inability to wait are the norm, gardening is a great way to develop the capacity to accept and tolerate delay, learn restraint, and overcome unexpected problems. Plants need nurturing and can’t be rushed. They grow at their own speed and no amount of coaxing will make them produce vegetables by the next day. These living things have an amazing ability to revitalize even if near-dead. When you grow a garden, you learn to calmly accept things as they are, and there’s something very peaceful about that approach.

Visit these sites to find even more interesting material related to this topic.

Related Media: Sunset Magazine garden planting calendar

Related Media: National Gardening Association planting calendar by zipcode

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