Friday, April 5, 2013

Garden Tips

When I did a post on what I'm growing in my garden this year, Priyanka requested me to share some of my gardening experiences and tips. I should declare first thing that I am no expert and have only been gardening the past 4-5 years. There's a steep learning curve and the first couple of years go in knowing the Dos and Don'ts of it. Gardening is much like cooking - It requires paying attention to the technical details and a whole lot of TLC. If patience is a virtue, gardening will test your limits of it. But the joy of seeing a life grow in front of your eyes is extremely satisfying. And having very fresh, organically grown veggies and herbs in your plate is definitely priceless!

Before you being to plan your garden, ask yourself a few questions:
What kind of space do you have for gardening?
What is the average temperature in your area?
How much sunlight do you get during the day?

If you have a large garden, you can be more adventurous and try planting different plants. When working in a smaller area like a balcony or windowsills, you need to be more selective in what you can plant. Sunlight is very important for healthy growth of plants. For most parts of the world, it is not an issue during the summer, especially in outdoor gardens. If you plan on planting in the balcony/windows, south facing areas are ideal. If there's not enough sunlight, go for plants that thrive in partial light or shade. Maintaining controlled temperature and moisture environments is also important, especially in early spring when the weather changes frequently. Do your research based on these factors and then let the gardening begin.

Pick your plants: If you are a new gardener, pick plants that are easy to grow and yield produce soon after planting. Quick reward for your efforts is never bad, and it keeps you interested through the process. I find tomatoes very easy to grow. They are hardy, give lots of fruit, and get used in almost all cuisines. Some other plants I've had success with are zucchini, eggplants, greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and mustard greens, easy to grow herbs like basil, sage, thyme, chives, and oregano. All of these plants do well in containers, so you can start planting in small spaces as well. Chilies are among the plants that do not grow easily. So you may want to skip them until you learn the tricks of the trade. 

Know your plants: All the seed packets you get in the stores have detailed instructions on what each plant requires. Read them carefully and note them down somewhere so you don't forget. A great way to keep track of your plants is to make a chart with the date of planting and the temperature, sunlight and moisture requirements. This way, you can refer to the chart when in doubt. If I buy plants instead of seeds from nurseries, I ask one of the friendly helpers how best to take care of those plants. For everything else, there's internet!

Start seeds in seed starter: You can begin planting at the start of spring. To help germinate the seeds well, start them in seed-starters. I get wide trays of peat pellets from the Home Depot. The pellets multiply in size after soaking up water. Sow seeds 1/2-1/4 inch deep into the pellets and keep the pellets moist in a warm area, preferably in a south facing window. Cover the pellet tray with plastic wrap so it creates a controlled environment with the right moisture and temperature level. Let the plants grow in seed starters until they are a few inches tall before you transfer them to the ground/big containers. If you sow a lot of seeds in one pellet, thin out some of the plants keeping the healthiest. The best thing about these pellets is that, they can be transferred directly to your final potting area without disturbing the plant roots. 

Give them sunshine: Once the seeds germinate and grow into 2-3 inches plants, the leaves will start reaching out to the sun. Keep rotating the pellet trays so that your plants don't bend in one direction only and all the sides get equal sunlight. Don't rush to transfer the plants outside until the temperatures stabilize. If the day time temperatures are above 60 degrees, you can keep the plants outside during the day and bring them back at night if it's still too cold. It's safe to transfer the plants outside when the nighttime temperatures reach high 50's or above.

Plants like comfortable homes too: If you plan to keep your plants in pots, make sure the pots are big enough for the plants to thrive. Vegetables that have roots reaching deep in the soil should be planted in large pots with drain holes at the bottom. Herbs on the other hand do well in smaller pots that fit on windowsills as well. Make sure you use good quality potting soil which can be bought in any gardening store at a very decent price. Adding some perlite to the soil mix helps keep it aerated and avoid clumping/compacting. A layer of mulch is great in controlling weed. If planting in the ground, aerate the soil by tilling. The soil should be kept moist, but well drained. Over watering can rot the roots. Many of the potting soil brands have some fertilizers in them. But you can buy fruits & vegetable fertilizers for better growth. There are many organic brands available. Cow manure is great to mix in the soil.

Keep the bugs away: One of the biggest threats to your plants is bugs - pests & fungus. I have always had a hard time keeping my plants away from pests. They almost always show up and are quite persistent. You should always be watchful and tackle pests at the first sign of appearance. For some lazy bugs like aphids (that don't move around much), just a little forceful spray of water is effective in getting rid of them. You can try some home remedies like sprinkling soap water (hand soap diluted in lots of water), salt water, or red chili powder water over your plants. I've noticed that worms hate salt poured on them! Sometimes, you do have to use pesticides though. If you want to stay away from toxic pesticides, there are many organic, environmentally safe brands available these days. There are sprays or small pellets for bugs and slugs etc. One of the other very safe ways is to introduce good bugs to your garden. Husband let out a containerful of ladybugs in the garden recently so they would feast on pests. I have also learned that planting fragrant flowers and herbs, which attract the good bugs, next to your veggies also helps in pest control.

TLC: Last but not the least, plants need lots of love and care. Visit your plants at least once a day. Make sure they are in good condition and tend to their needs. Maybe a browning leaf needs to be trimmed or the soil in one of the pots has dried out. Your plants will thrive when you pay attention to them.

Hope this post helps those looking to plant something this year and encourages others to do so. There is a wealth of information available in gardening books/magazines or even online. Do take advantage of them. Happy gardening! 

1 comment:

Priyanka said...

This is perfect Snehal. Thanks for all the tips. We finally had last frost last week. Now I can i'll start planting! I've got tomato, cucumber and green beans seeds, some bulbs of orange lily and few pods of Indian basil seeds. I'd share my experience soon!


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