A minute to learn,
A lifetime to master!
(High Desert Plains of Colorado)
Gardening is a bit like the board game Othello, A minute to learn, a lifetime to master. Anyone can dig the dirt and plant the seeds. but if you don't know about the requirements of the plants you are trying to grow. the chances of success are smaller. Therefore, the most important aspect of home gardening is knowledge.
Before you have plants, you must have good soil. It should be rich, dark, and full of humas, with a moderate portion of sand particles to help with drainage. Soil that is lacking can be built up with the addition of compost and/or peat moss. Dig or till until the soil is loose at least 8" to 10" deep. Once the garden is tilled, avoid walking on it, and only in the same small places. Where you walk will be compacted, which defeats the digging. Raised beds are good in this aspect, as they are never walked on, and need very little effort to keep the soil loose.
If you want to grow cool weather vegetables, it can be a good idea to prepare the soil in the fall so it will be ready to plant in the spring, well before you could actually till. Pansies (Pansies and violas are edible flowers), some broccoli, peas, radishes, most lettuce and greens, etc... can be planted as soon as you can get them in, well before last frost. These vegetables grow best in the cool of spring and fall. In the heat of summer, they will bolt and go to seed, no matter how much you water them. Most vegetables, however, will succumb to a frost and need to be planted after the last frost date. Seeds need to be gently watered, and often, to encourage germination. Once plants are growing, less water is needed, although you never
want to let your garden form a dry crust. Try for an even moisture level several inches down.
A good way to avoid a crust on the soil surface and keep the moisture in, is with mulch. Mulch can be anything that is non-toxic, thick enough to keep light from the soil, and will let water through. A good mulch can be had free of charge from the grass clippings from your lawn. Just catch them when you mow, and pile it around the plants, taking care to keep it from touching the stems. This is an on-going process, and may take some time to do the whole garden. Last years leaves, chopped up hay or straw, and newspaper (black ink only) are all good substitutes. All but newspaper can be tilled into the soil after the growing season, where it will work to enrich the soil all winter. The best mulch is processed compost, which will gradualy blend with and enrich the soil as you water. ALL vegetables and flowers can benefit from mulching, although picky flowers like different kinds. You will benefit from having less weeding to worry about!
Herbs are a little different in their requirements than the normal garden vegetable. As a general rule, they like it hotter and drier, and can take more abuse. Plants like Tarragon, Thyme, Dill and Sage thrive in the heat of summer, and can go for days without water. They don't need good soil, as long as it isn't mainly clay. One big exception is mint! Mint likes to have moist roots and shaded soil and is a good herb for the north or east side of your house. While it may survive the conditions most herbs like, it won't thrive without a good amount of water.Thirsty? Check out more delicious and healthy smoothie recipes!