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Vegetable Garden Quick Tips- Growing Well Newsletter

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

It’s Mother’s Day week and weekend!!!

Time to celebrate Mothers of all kinds – 2 and 4-legged – check out our Facebook challenge...

There are ALL KINDS of gifts for moms of all kinds at the Good Earth, and we can help you create a custom “basket” to celebrate what your mother likes best about the farm and garden scene. We can even slide a gift certificate into the basket so that future needs are met as well.

Mother’s Day is also the unofficial start to the gardening season... The side yard and greenhouse are filling up with all kinds of plants for all kinds of gardens. We have some marvelous figs, well-grown lilies, patio boxes of mixed herbs – and all of the classic flowering and vegetable plants. There’s a wide range of edible fruits including lingonberries, cranberries, and honeyberries. There’s an extensive selection of native plants as well as classic perennials and shrubs.

The sun has been out consistently for at least a week. We’ll take it. I’m sure I say this every year at some point in April, “it’s time for the gloom of April showers to go away” but it seemed to last longer this year. The good news for all of us is that the gutters are finally up on the front roof at the store so none of us needs to fear a rainy day (there’s really nothing so unpleasant as a cold drop down the back of the neck!!). Sometimes it’s the small things that can make such a difference...

So...a warm weekend has everyone buying flowers and starter vegetables. Just a couple of vegetable garden quick tips.

1. We can still be cool at night (there’s a frost warning tonight as I write this – 5/9). Pansies are the only really safe annual to have in the ground for another couple of weeks. I know we’re running warmer than we have been, but the temp that matters most to plants is soil temp. 2. Speaking of soil temp...basil, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, all like soil temps of 65 degrees or higher. Cucumbers and beans would like at least 55 degrees...lettuces and cole crops thrive at 45 degrees... There are also lots of people planting lots of trees and shrubs and there’s confusion about how and when to add amendments so here is a planting mix for the top 3” of a planting hole to be used when planting trees and shrubs that you are caring for. This woody planting mix was developed to try and get ericaceous material (rhododendrons and azaleas) to settle in faster, but I found that it works really well for all woody material – especially bare-rooted trees... Prep the roots for planting. This means finding the flare and making sure that it is settled at the top of the soil. If unsure what this means -come in and ask for a picture!! It also means easing the root system open if the roots have started to circle. You may have to cut them... and – please don’t dig any deeper than the depth of the flare to the bottom of the roots. Trees get heavier as they age and can sink below grade pretty easily. Coat the top 1/3 of the root ball with the mix (work well with fingers or knife) and work more mix into the top 6” of the soil. There should be NO amendment BELOW the roots – the major feeding roots for all woody plants are in the top levels of the soil. The natural world works on a “top-down – trickle down” feeding pattern so extra support is used in the upper levels and can be limiting too far down.

Mix 50 lbs Alfalfa meal/cubes, 50 lbs Jersey Greensand, and 40 lbs Azomite

together on a tarp – store dry until needed and then use as needed to get the plants off to a good start.

Now on to the other major topic of conversation... We’ve had lots (and LOTS!!!) of questions about mixes for containers and raised beds. Below is a recipe for a whiskey barrel planting (or other large planter) and you can always ask questions when you visit. There’s even a book available at the store that covers a lot of the basics - Growing Up! Creating and Maintaining Raised Beds and Containers: A Practical Guide To Building and Maintaining Raised Beds

For this whiskey barrel recipe, you will need:

*1 whiskey barrel with holes drilled in the bottom and between the first and second bands at the bottom of the barrel. Barrels are designed to hold water and MUST have adequate drainage!!!

*1/3 volume tested loam – amend with calcium and other missing elements to a rough working range *1/3 volume commercial potting mix with either peat moss or coconut fiber. If you’re using your own compost, make sure that it is based largely on broken-down leaves otherwise it will be way too heavy for a container. It’s stunningly easy to compact a large container and lose the value of the container’s controlled growing environment and this is the most common mistake made.

*1/3 volume bark chip or decayed wood chip or other aerating material like biochar or grow stones ( Biochar and grow stones are permanent, decayed wood chips and bark chips are going to break down over time and lead to compaction if not replaced.

*organic fertilizer like NCO Pro-gro , (2) alfalfa meal/cubes (2), Azomite (1) or other paramagnetic rock and calcium (1/2) (usually a mix of calcite, dolomite, and gypsum) blended together and applied at a shovel full (8-10 cups) per barrel. () indicates proportions as cups or bags.

Mix all of the above together on a tarp for thorough integration and fill up the barrel. Water in lightly (don’t drown it!!) and let it sit for at least a couple of weeks to allow the microbes to wake up and calm down and then plant. If planting veggies then less is more. If planting flowers then more is more pleasing. Both will need the same level of care as the season progresses...

A note: for future years there is no need to empty the barrel. For the first two– three years you can apply a shovel full of the mineral mix to the top of the barrel and rototill it in as far as you can go. I use a Mantis tiller – an excellent tool for this purpose – can also use a shovel and potato hook. After the third year or so, you will have to add a mix of potting soil and aerating material (if wood chip) and work it through the barrel to the bottom – I usually empty half the barrel onto a tarp –add half the refurbishment mix, work it in and repeat. Once planted, the barrel will run along smoothly for about 6 weeks or so and then you’ll need to step in with additional support if you want the best the plants can produce (veggies or flowers). I usually start liquid fertilizer the 2nd week of July, again at the end of July, and ramp up to once a week by mid- August until the frost takes the plants. Use this schedule for any kind of annual plants – not for perennials!!

Use a combination of liquid fish, humates, yucca, molasses, kelp, and microbes – the really neat thing about this list of ingredients is that Neptune’s Harvest has come out with two great mixes where everything is one bottle. Check out HERE and HERE for more details. VERY handy!! As the season deepens and the plants may need more than the organics can provide, substitute a high Mg chemical fertilizer for the fish and leave the rest of the buffering agents in place. It’s possible to keep excellent production of fruits and flowers through about 30 degrees and sometimes a bit lower. Once the frosts have taken the plants, DON’T pull them out! Cut off the tops and let the roots rest in the barrel for the winter. This keeps your barrel’s microbes feeding quietly on the decaying roots and leaves your soil system ready to get started with your new plants in the spring! Neat huh?!?

That’s it for this week! There is SO much going on that there won’t be any specific programs until after the most intense part of the planting season is in the rear-view mirror. Looking forward to seeing you at The Good Earth soon!

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