Make Your Own Home Garden


gardening_cBy now you've probably heard about the uptick in U.S. homeowners who are choosing to grow their own produce as a hedge against the recession. Their logic is simple: Why spend money on vegetables when you can grow your own for a fraction of the cost? If you find yourself thinking about joining the ranks of home gardeners, we have a few tips that will help get you started on the right track. All you need to do is follow these simple steps.

First, find a site for your garden. The sunniest place you have is best. A spot that gets at least eight hours of sun per day is good; 12 hours is ideal. Water must be available. Avoid planting near trees and shrubs; they will shade the site and compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients.

If you have used the proposed site for several years, avoid planting genetically related plants (tomatoes and peppers, for example) in the same place for more than three years in a row. If you're starting a new bed, keep track of what you plant so you can locate genetically related plants in a different place after three years.

Don't think your vegetable garden has to be hidden from view. It is very easy to plant a vegetable garden that not only produces great-tasting vegetables, but looks good as well. For ideas on how to create a productive, good-looking vegetable garden, visit the WSU Discovery Garden at 16602 Highway 536 in west Mount Vernon, next to the WSU Northwestern Washington Research & Extension Center. If you visit the garden on Tuesday mornings, it's likely you can discuss vegetable gardening with one of the master gardeners as they work to maintain the garden.

Next, decide what to plant. Start by making a list of the vegetables you and your family enjoy. Remember, homegrown vegetables will taste better than what you generally purchase at the supermarkets, because the time from harvest to cooking is so much shorter. As Skagitonians, we are lucky to have many farmers' markets, roadside produce stands, and even some daily deliveries to local markets. Still, there is nothing like growing your own.

In Western Washington, your best bet will be shorter-season vegetable varieties. Whether you're starting your veggies from seed or buying seedlings, find out what the "days to maturity" is for that plant. This will help to ensure the plant will deliver what it promises before the days get too cool in the fall.

Next, prepare the bed for planting. It is best to have deep, well-drained soil with compost or other natural amendments added to it. A rototiller works great, as does a garden fork.

If you till, don't overdo it; over a period of years, hardpan can develop beneath the tilled depth. If your soil is hard with clay, don't till; it might be wise to consider raised beds.

If formal sides for raised beds are too costly, just mound the bed to get a raised bed effect. Add fertilizer just before planting; composted manure, soluble fertilizers and compost all work well.

Sow your seeds according to label instructions, and/or plant your vegetable starts. Get the plant starts in the ground as soon as possible.

If you plant seeds, thin them as they mature to give the plants room to grow (very important with carrots, for example). Plant produce that grows on a trellis, such as beans, peas or cucumbers, on the north end of your beds so the trellis won't shade your shorter vegetables as it becomes covered with foliage.

Baby your beds. Don't let your vegetable garden dry out. On the other hand, you want good drainage so your plants don't stand in puddles of water.

The best and most efficient irrigation system is a trickle type. Soaker hoses work well and are relatively inexpensive. Drip systems put the water right at the roots and keep the tops of plants dry, decreasing the likelihood they will get diseased.

Overhead sprinkling is most inefficient, but it is also the least expensive and most commonly used. If you use this method, try to water your plants early in the day to keep evaporation at a minimum while allowing the foliage to dry before nightfall. If you grow tomatoes, though, do not use an overhead sprinkler; the vines must be kept as dry as possible to help avoid late-season blight.

Finally, keep your garden as free from weeds as you possibly can and enjoy your harvest.

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