Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gardening 101

There’s a Garden in My Shoe!

You don’t need a backyard to have a garden. Most containers that hold soil will work. You can grow tomatoes in a wooden crate, or beans in a basket. Have you ever thought about growing radishes in one of your dad’s old boots? Be creative. Look around your house for containers that are interesting and unusual. Don’t forget to ask your parents if you can use the container you find.

The size container you use will vary, depending on the type and number of plants you want. You will need about twelve inches of soil for deep-rooted plants like tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. Ten inches of soil is good for beans and cucumbers. Beets, onions and lettuce need only six to seven inches of soil for maximum growth.

Preparing Your Container

Your container will need to be given a good bath to keep your plants healthy. This would
be good time to ask your parents for some help. Putting a tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of warm soapy water will clean your containers. Be very careful. Bleach can ruin your clothes and it is very dangerous if it gets in your eyes or mouth. After you and your parents have cleaned the container, you will need to add drainage holes. Drainage holes let water drain out, preventing the roots of your plants from rotting. Most flower pots you buy, in a store, already have drainage holes.

If you are using a “homemade” container, you will need to use a plastic liner. Liners keep containers from being ruined. You can use anything from plastic trash bags to margarine bowls. The liner will need to cover the entire inside of your container. Poke holes in the liner at your drainage holes.

Next, you need to fill the bottom of your container with a few extra items. This will help the water drain away from the roots of your plants. You can use plain, old gravel, but why not bring in some other recycling ideas? You can use bottle caps, foam packing peanuts or what about slightly crushed soda cans? Cover the bottom two inches of your container, being careful not to block your drainage holes.

Filling Your Container

Your soil needs to be free of germs and weeds; hold moisture and nutrients, drain well and be lightweight. You can buy “synthetic soils” anywhere gardening supplies are sold. These are soils that are made primarily with peat moss, which encourages plant roots to stretch and
grow. Some soils are specially designed for containers and have a slow-release fertilizer and a wetting agent in them. A slow-release fertilizer feeds a plant over a period of time, and a wetting
agent helps hold water in the soil. Soil from your yard is not ideal for container gardening. It tends to be heavy which will prevent your plant’s roots from growing strong.

Fill your container with soil, leaving about two inches at the top. If you are using terra-cotta pots, you will want to soak them in water before putting in your soil. Terra-cotta absorbs water. Soaking them will prevent them from taking water away from your newly planted vegetables.

Cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and onions are easy to grow and do well in containers. Pole beans and cucumbers also do very well in containers, but they need some kind of trellis for their vines to grow on. You can find dwarf types of most vegetables, making it even easier to grow a container garden.

Planting Seeds in Your Containers

If you choose to plant from seeds, you will need to plant more seeds than needed in
each container. Seldom do all the seeds grow. Once seeds have sprouted and their leaves are touching other plants, you can thin them out by moving some of the plants to another
container. Be gentle while moving these tender young plants. You don’t want to damage them.
The seed packet will give you information on when to expect your plants to sprout or "germinate.”

You can also purchase “nursery grown transplants.” These are plants a nursery has
planted from seed. When the plants are about six inches tall, the nurseries put them out for you
to buy. Once home, remove them from their plastic container and “transplant” them into your
container. Transplanting means, you dig a hole in your soil and place the plant from the nursery
into that hole. Make sure you pat the soil firmly around the plant and water immediately. It’s best to transplant in the evening or on a cloudy day, that way the sun won’t strain the newly moved plant. Moving the plants to bigger containers allow the roots to grow larger, which means more vegetables for you and your family.

Caring for Your Container Garden

Watering and fertilizing is very important to your plants. If your soil has none of the “extras” that we talked about earlier, then you can add them when you water. You can purchase a liquid fertilizer and follow the directions on mixing it with water. Avoid getting the leaves “foliage” wet. Use the fertilizer mixture each day, and use plain water once weekly. This is called “leaching.” It helps remove unused fertilizer to prevent build-ups in the soil, which can harm the plants. Use the liquid fertilizer only after the plants have germinated.

Natural sunlight is the best lighting for your plants. If you can, set your plants in front of a window that gets direct sunlight. Rotate your containers every couple of days, to provide even sunlight to all sides of your plants.

If you don’t have a window available, you can use artificial lighting. Ventilation is an important factor with this lighting. Your garden center should be able to recommend the right
artificial lighting for your specific needs.

Container gardening can be fun and easy as long as you follow the basic rules. So remember, the next time your mom wants to throw out your old shoes, stop her, clean them up,
fill them with soil and plant your garden.

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