Starting A Vegetable Garden
Growing your own food is an excellent way to save money and eat healthier. It’s also a great way to get your kids involved in the process and help them develop good eating habits.
The first step in starting a vegetable garden is selecting vegetables that grow well where you live. Next, choose the proper soil for each variety you plan to plant. Finally, choose a layout that maximizes your growing space and helps you enjoy the fruits of your labor!
“For every time there is a season – a time to plant, a time to reap” – these ancient words are as true as they were thousands of years ago.
As we stand with winter behind us, at the cusp of spring, it is clearly approaching the time to select plants from the Johnson County Master Gardener plant sale. There will be an on-line sale as well as a live plant sale this year.
The live plant sale will be April 8 at 815 Industrial Road in Cleburne. This is the Mann Ag Farm Store building, where Lonestar Ranch & Outdoors was located. The building is on 815 West Industrial Road, the road behind Home Depot that intersects Texas 171.
JCMG are also hosting an on-line plant sale. Specific plant order forms will be posted shortly. Pick up of plants ordered online will be April 7v.
Now that you know about buying your plants, you should consider the garden itself.
The first step to successful vegetable gardening is to have a plan. Know your soil; be aware of sun and shade areas; observe the physical layout of your garden, know which direction is north, south, east, and west; know which direction seems to produce strong winds.
You can learn your soil composition by having a soil test, which is available at a very reasonable price through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Soil Water and Forage Testing Laboratory. Bags for collecting soil samples and instructions can be obtained from Johnson County Extension Office, located at 109 W. Chambers St., Cleburne.
A soil sample will provide an analysis of soil pH, as well as information as to the soil content of essential nutrients such as salt, nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, sodium and sulfur, which are essential to plant growth.
A map of the plants you want in your garden is important. Plant vegetables your family likes to eat. Garden plants generally grow best when the soil is neither too base nor too acid, which is measured by the pH levels. Plants usually like a neutral pH soil, which would be an analysis of pH 7 or slightly below. Some exceptions do exist. For example, strawberries and blueberries do best in high acid soil. This is a partial list. You should know your crop’s nutritional requirements when you make your garden plan.
The soil test will provide valuable information, and recommendations as to what steps can be taken to amend the soil and provide the best growing environment for your garden.
If your planting area has been under cultivation, Texas A&M recommends the soil test should be repeated every three years for optimal soil health.
Some plants love the morning sun, some evening sun. Here in our area, the evening sun tends to be stronger than morning sun. If you are planting vegetables, planting guides are readily available through the Texas A&M gardening website which advise optimal times for planting, as well as average germination times. A map of the planting area is very useful.
Choose an area which is as flat as possible, as it is easier to water and work a flat area. Vegetables like sun and dislike wind. Therefore, the best placement would be a flat, sunny place, protected from the wind. Have your water source close to your garden. It is best to establish your garden near your home, so it is convenient to maintain.
Last year the city of Cleburne imposed watering restriction due the excessive drought conditions. Even though we do not have restrictions this year, there are watering principles which help conserve water and produce healthy crop yields.
A drip irrigation system is excellent in that water is placed right at the roots of the plants. Also, water does not dampen the plant leaves which helps avoid plant diseases. The drip system can be placed on a timer to regulate the time for watering.
Rainwater collection by way of a rain-barrel is a very useful tool for the garden. Attaching a hose to the rain-barrel allows for easy hand watering is a useful tool for spot watering, which does not burden the water system.
Mulch added to the soil reduces loss of water due to evaporation. It also discourages growth of weeds which use water which otherwise would be available to the garden plants. Mulch can be clear plastic, black plastic, paper or organic mulch. Clear plastic warms the soil and can be used early in the season when the soil is cool. However it needs to be removed when the seedlings have emerged. Black plastic is also good to use early in the season because it warms the soil. If a drip system is used the hose should be placed under the plastic. If an overhead water system is used, holes need to be made in the plastic so the water can seep into the soil. Paper is a good mulch to use, but it cools the soil, which might delay ripening of garden vegetables. It is good to wait until the soil is warm before applying layers of paper. Paper is also good, as water will seep through the paper causing it to deteriorate on its own, adding nutrients to the soil. Organic mulch may be used alone or over paper.
Decide whether you wish to buy seeds or plants from a commercial nursery. Excellent planting guides can be found on the internet, as well as garden centers which list ranges of dates for planting vegetables. The lists often provide information on seed germination and soil temperatures the plants require to produce.
An excellent place to buy your plants is at the Johnson County Master Gardener plant sale on April 8. On another note, Johnston County Master Gardeners look forward to our new Intern class which starts in March.
Roberta Frizell is a Johnson County Master Gardener.