There are many aspects to maintaining your garden. Here are some important ones:
- Weed control
- Sharpening tools
- Cover Crops
- Pest and Disease Control
Which parts of garden maintenance have you been good at keeping up with, and which do you wish you were better at?
Weed control is easier and less labor intensive when you keep up with it. When the weeds are tiny and you can barely see them, you can quickly cover a lot of ground with an ergonomic weeding tool like the scuffle or stirrup hoe. If you wait until they’re bigger, it will take much more time and effort. Hold the tool with both thumbs pointing up, keep the blade flat against the ground and just slice the weeds off where they’re attached to their roots. You are not trying to move the dirt, and shallower is better, you don’t want to bring up new weed seeds to the surface. Make sure you keep those tool sharp! (Sharpening Your Garden Hoes) If you are trying to cover an entire garden in one go, you might keep your sharpening stone in your pocket and check the blade’s sharpness after every row. And please, never leave your tools outside when you’re not using them! Always put them away to keep them out of the rain and sun. They will last much longer.
Watering is best done thoroughly, with time between waterings for the soil to dry again. This allows the roots to grow deeper. If you water shallowly every day, the roots will stay near the surface where the water is, and if you never let it dry out, there may not be enough air in the soil for them. Aim for at least 1 inch of water per week, check your rain gauge to see how much it has rained in the past week. If it is very hot and dry, you may need to water more than once a week.
Trellising is beneficial for some crops such as tomatoes and pole beans. It helps to keep the plants out of the paths so you can walk among them to harvest. It helps to provide air flow to the plants. It helps to keep the leaves farther away from the soil so that it will not splash onto them when it rains. Some diseases can be transmitted by soil getting on the leaves. See page 32 in the Technical Gardening Manual for instructions to trellis tomatoes using the Florida Weave method.
Mulch can help prevent weeds, preserve moisture, and add organic matter. It also helps to protect the foliage from soil-borne disease. Silage plastic and old rotten hay are two popular mulches that are often able to be found for free.
Cover Crops — Look for a six week long open space in your garden. Buckwheat is good for summer. You can plant a fall cover crop in August to give it time to mature before winter. Cover crops provide organic matter.
Pest Control — The first step in controlling pests is doing everything you can to grow healthy plants that are pest resistant. This means providing appropriate amounts of water, air (pruning, weeding, thinning), and nutrients (healthy soil). Crop rotation helps because different pests like different crops, so by rotating your crops you avoid letting their populations continue to grow through multiple seasons. The next step is Scouting. Walk through your garden and look for pests. Learn which pests typically damage which crops. Do you see cabbage worms, potato bugs, squash bugs, or flea beetles? Pesticides should always be a last resort. Be sure that any product you use is OMRI listed for safety. You should see OMRI clearly printed on the label. Some organic pesticides include copper for light blight on tomatoes, spinosad for potato beetles, and bt for cabbage worms. Follow the directions carefully. Some of these products can harm beneficial insects, which you want in your garden.
Which of these garden maintenance strategies would you like to learn more about?