Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What you need to grow a vegetable garden, part two

Yesterday, I started telling you about some of the very basics of vegetable gardening, and I am going to continue that discussion today.

We briefly went over patience, water, soil, time, experts, and keeping a record. I could have expanded more on all of those topics but then again, what applies in my garden, in my part of the country, may not apply completely to yours.

I do feel it is important to mention container gardening is a little different than growing in raised beds, and that is different than growing in the ground. Your soil and water requirements will vary slightly in each scenario, which is why it helps for beginners to find a good expert to help answer your specific questions. Here in San Diego, Bill Tall, and all the folks at City Farmers Nursery, are a great resource for helping beginners get started.

Bill Tall, City Farmers, my Dad away from Dad
Here are some of the other things you will need to consider for your vegetable garden:

You need full sun. Vegetables generally require between 8 and 12 hours of sunlight each day to be their best and most productive. The more sun, the better, especially for warm season crops like tomatoes or corn. The overnight temperatures are also important when growing warm season crops. Here in San Diego we rarely experience freezing, if ever, so it is a bit easier to plan your garden. If you have an area with full sun, then you should be able to grow all kinds of things in January that other gardeners across the country only dream about picking from the garden in winter.

We only get a little more than 9 hours of daylight total in January so you really do need a full sun location if you want to experiment with warm season crops in winter.

Sunflowers require full sun, this is a Russion Mammoth
If you don't have an area that gets full sun, you can still have a vegetable garden. There are many vegetables that will grow in partial sun. While tomatoes, peppers, or zucchini may not be successful in your less than full sun area, you can have a lot of other foods like Swiss chard, various lettuces and greens, cabbage, and even peas.

Coppenhagen Market Cabbage grown in partial shade last winter
Containers can be a great option for people who struggle with sun shifting, which it does throughout the year, because containers can be moved around. People with a large property do not have to be as creative as I have to be with chasing the sunniest spots. In an urban setting it can become a challenge when the sun starts shifting.

Gidget threatening to run away. She thought her garden would include real food; like chickens and rabbits. 
Pest Control.  The first thing to know about pests is that some of the things you may consider pests are actually very beneficial for a garden.

A bee pollinating the lemon rose geranium.
Bees are the most important species in your garden.  You would not have a garden without them.  They are responsible for pollinating the majority of the plants in your garden. Whether you are fond of them or not, it does not matter. If you want a successful garden then you will have to live with them. Please do not directly spray them with anything - ever.

Spider web draping the lemon rose geranium
I am not the biggest fan of spiders, I don't want them in my house, and I am aware of them when I am working in the garden, because I don't want to get bitten by one, but they are very beneficial for your garden. Spiders trap and eat many of the pests that cause damage to your plants. Many of my perennial plants have spider webs draped on them, which can look a little unsightly to the untrained eye but experienced gardeners generally welcome spiders, webs and all, in their garden. 

A perennial plant is one that stays year after year, such as Aloe vera, whereas an annual is a plant that you put in seasonally, and will die off after producing its fruit. For lower maintenance gardens, perennials would be a great option. Some examples would include fruit trees, strawberries, asparagus, artichokes, and Rhubarb.

Frijole says; "Oh! my gosh! You should have given me the garden, I don't complain nearly as much as Gidget.
Ladybugs are generally loved by everyone but many people would not recognize a ladybug larvae when they see one, and may inadvertently try to kill off the babies because they don't know any better. I know the first time I saw a ladybug baby, my instinct was to kill it. My instinct while gardening is usually spot on, after all, almost all of us come from farmers if we go back in our history far enough.  However, it's a good idea to double check when in doubt.  Below is a series of photos chronicling the life cycle of ladybugs.

Most people would never guess this is a baby ladybug - or ladybug larvae. 
Here's a ladybug that has almost completed its transformation
Ladybugs are love making fools and you should rejoice when you see this in your garden
Ladybugs will help you control aphids, (you can see some above the the ladybugs) , which are a common garden pest in this area, so not only are they beautiful and fun, but they are beneficial for your pest control program.

Sierra feels like a red headed stepchild; we never even considered giving her the garden. 
Aphids and ants on sunflower
This picture was taken this afternoon. So far, we are not seeing a lot of ladybugs in our garden to help control the aphids, so I am going to pull out the insecticidal soap this evening and blast them. I do not choose to spray on a weekly basis regardless, like some people do. I wait until I see a problem like this and address it but there is sense is spraying on a set schedule as a preventative. It is a personal choice. The main thing to keep in mind is that you never want to spray in the direct sun, or directly on our most important garden helpers, like bees.  I am assuming you are already dedicated to intervening only with organic choices, but even organic choices can have a negative effect when used improperly.

Caterpillar damage on young tomato
Caterpillars may be the worst of the garden pests in San Diego, and they should be dealt with accordingly, but you want to consider the other life in the area, before deciding how to deal with them. I like the method of hand picking and squishing them best but that takes time, and it is most effective at night, so if your garden is in the front yard, on a busy street like mine, people will look at you funny as they walk by and see you with your headlamp on, searching the undersides of all your leaves for the pesky things. At some point, and with certain caterpillars, like the dreaded tomato hornworm, then in the interest of saving your food, you should consider spraying a product like BT, which is completely organic.

Tomato hornworm - photo credit: University of Minnesota 
Never spray in direct sun, or when you see beneficial insects present. Also, if you avoid spraying the young blossoms, before they fruit, you will reduce the chances of injuring someone else, like our precious bees.

Earwig in strawberry
Last year we had a horrible problem with earwigs. They were abundant due to the wet spring we experienced and I was finding them everywhere. It is really no fun to find one inside of a strawberry you were hoping to snack on. This year has not been as big of an issue but if you have a problem with them in your garden, simply laying out shallow dishes of cheap vegetable oil at night will attract, and trap them for easy disposal in the morning.

Fig Beetle
Fig beetles are common in this area and beautiful.  They won't do much harm to your plants but if they lay their eggs in your soil, it could be problematic.

Fig beetle larvae are a tasty treat for chickens
Try to discourage them from landing in and hanging out in your soil. They got into my raised bed in the back garden last year and were so active I had a difficult time getting seedlings to establish themselves. 

When it comes to pests, the best plan is to keep your plants as healthy as possible which comes from having fabulous soil, and also from having diversity in your garden. Healthy plants are less susceptible to attack from insects.  If all you plant are red cherry tomatoes, you are more likely to attract pests than if you put in a diversified mix of tomatoes, and hopefully other plants as well.

Sugar baby watermelon is one of the smallest watermelon species but still take a lot of space
The last thing I would suggest you keep in mind is spacing for the various plants you plan on growing. Some plants can be positioned a little closer than suggested on seed packets but vining plants, and tomatoes are examples that require all of the space they say they do to be most successful.

Happy planting and I look forward to hearing about what is growing on in your own garden.

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