Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What you need to grow a vegetable garden; part one

Growing vegetables is easy. I can't even tell you how many times I've read that, or that it only requires sun, soil, and water. Technically that may be correct but there's more to it than that, and sometimes it's a little frustrating to hear how easy it is all the time, while you feel like you are experiencing failures.

Here are some things that may make beginners feel better:

Patience. I still have work to do in this area. It can seem infuriatingly slow for tomatoes to go from seed to seedling, to flowering, to fruiting, and finally to eating your fruit. The process takes several months so don't get frustrated when your seedling doesn't have tomatoes ready to eat weeks after you plant it. It is not suppose to.

Tomatillo finally appeared.
This tomatillo reminded me today of patience because I was about to pull it out. I hadn't seen a single sign of fruit on it, and it's taking up a lot of room, so I thought of giving up on it.

Failure is inevitable. Once in awhile you're going to lose someone. I completely misjudged water for my beans upstairs and they died of thirst. I was convinced they were dying of disease. You're probably going to have more failures at first and as you move on, you'll become more skilled in recognizing the reasons for them, and have more and more successes. If you kill something, it will forgive you, and you have permission to redeem yourself and try, try again. 

Clearly they are under watered now, but several weeks ago, I thought they were suffering with fungal disease 
Water requirements vary dramatically. The amount of water that each plant needs varies, and how much they need during different seasons, also varies dramatically. This has been my year with under watering plants. Last year I was over watering them, and that is how we lost Arti Choke Montoya. Water requirements will vary depending on your soil condition, and of course your rainfall as well. It's trial and error. I figured out that I under watered the beans above, rather than they had a disease, because I decided to water the next batch I planted quite a bit more and viola! Beautiful.

Beans that are receiving enough water. 
Right now, I am watering most plants 2-3 times per week, and all plants at least once per week. In the winter months there are plants, such as the lemon rose geranium that I only water once every two weeks. I water slow and deep because shallow watering will create weak and shallow roots. Shallow roots make the plant less healthy and more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.

Soil is most important. Patience also comes into play here. If the first season of your garden is not as successful as you were hoping, it may be because you did not have enough organic and beneficial matter in your soil. While you are growing plants, the thing to really focus on is building up the soil. This can take time. Each season can be more successful than the last. I am not an expert here, I am still learning.

Compost is important. I buy the majority of my compost now, but I want to start working away from that, and more towards creating as much of my own as possible. We do have a passive composting system but it does not produce enough for our needs anymore. The beans pictured above are some of the plants that benefited from an application of our own compost.

Purchased compost, would rather make my more of my own - stay tuned
Adding specific nutrients may also come into play. This may seem like feeding the plant but in reality the plant is showing you the deficiencies in the soil. For example, we have a regional problem with poor calcium. Because of that, blossom end rot on tomatoes is common. Blossom end rot is a sign of calcium deficiency, so you should not take it as a personal attack on your skills as a gardener. If you see this on one of the first tomatoes, simply add some calcium. You may even add a little as prevention when you plant.

Blossom end rot on tomato
I added about 1/3 Cup of gypsum to try and prevent blossom rot on the rest of the fruit
I can always add more gypsum if I don't see this improving in a week or so. I also add organic granular fertilizer to the soil as needed, about every 4-6 weeks. I water lightly, add the nutrients, scratch them into the top inch or so of soil, and then water deeply. Peppers are another great plant for letting you know if your soil wants more calcium. Plants do vary in their nutrient requirements but feeding specific plants should be secondary to enriching your soil. 

The soil subject could fill a whole book and I'm sure it has, but I am not qualified yet to write one, so I am moving on.  

Time. If you want to start growing all of your own produce, enough to gift to your friends, and enough to sell at a small farmers market then you will need to have the time to keep up with everything. The time you should expect to have to dedicate is completely dependent on how much you have growing on. I would suggest to start small and move forward based on how much time you have to invest in your vegetable garden. 

Experts. It is very helpful to read what experts are writing about their vegetable gardens, and to have some people that you know are experts to ask questions and get advice from. I would suggest that you are selective when choosing the experts, or mentors that you turn to for advice. Some people have read a lot about gardening but have little, to no practical experience. They may not be the best people to look to for advice.

Keep a journal or record. I document my failures and successes in several ways. This blog serves as a sort of journal and I also try to update a written journal with days that I feed, problems that I'm having, and things I need to do or research. In addition to that, I take a lot of photos to document my successes and failures.   

My garden journal
It helps if the journal you choose to use was given to you by a dearest friend
Gidget supervises as I apply fertilizer to the banana tree
Tomorrow we'll talk more about sunshine and pests.


  1. Great advice for beginning gardeners, Crystal! You're such a great teacher!!

  2. I meant to comment on this one: Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo I do love you so! What great advice!!! I'm trying to be patient.. but you know I have a stick up my ..... :) <3