Water is a California gardener’s biggest headache. Since most of the state has dry summers, growing summer fruits and vegetables means a constant effort to ensure they are getting sufficient water. And given the variations in soils from one region to another, drainage can become a problem as well.
As if that isn’t enough to concern you, keep in mind that it’s not just a matter of how much water you give your plants, but at what time of day and by what method. Water at the wrong time and you’ll lose a good deal of the moisture to evaporation. Water in the wrong way and you could contribute to the spread of fungal diseases.
Recent droughts have made Californians very water-conscious, and some have started to use various conservation methods. That can be a big benefit to your garden, but any water you use on edible plants must be free of chemicals. That means exercising some additional care with the water you save and recycle.
Whether you have an elaborate, timer-enforced irrigation system or water your entire garden by hand, the goal is the same to get the proper amount of water to the plants’ roots without wasting any and without spreading disease. And there are really only a few guidelines you need to keep in mind to accomplish that.
Perhaps you live in an area with dark, nutrient-rich loam. When you squeeze a handful of soil, it forms a clod that then crumbles in your hand. When you breathe it in, it doesn’t smell like salt or chemicals; it smells fresh, moist, and alive. Lucky you! From a gardener’s perspective, sitting on good soil is like sitting on a pile of gold. Odds are, however, that your soil is less than perfect.
You may have sandy soil that has the benefit of good drainage but is deficient in nutrients. Or you may have clay soil that turns to hard rock in the summer and waterlogged muck in the rainy season. Maybe your soil is highly acidic or highly alkaline. Whatever your soil conditions, there are simple ways to improve them. It may take some time and diligence to work your way toward having that lovely loam in which most fruits and vegetables thrive, but it can be done.
Given the choice between buying seedlings in six-packs or 4-inch pots or starting the plants myself from seed, I’ll almost always choose the latter. There are a lot of advantages to growing from seed, but the most obvious one is cost. Seeds are by far the most inexpensive way to grow.
In addition, with seeds you’ll have a much wider range of plant varieties from which to choose, including interesting heirloom varieties that you will never find in the stores. And I’ve often found that plants I’ve grown from seed in my garden become better established than transplanted seedlings from the nursery.
But the truth is I just love planting seeds and watching them grow. It is fascinating to watch the seedlings emerge, then unfold their true leaves and reach for the light. Many people seem to think that growing plants from seed is complicated, but for most vegetables and herbs, it is really quite simple. It’s just a matter of creating the right environment for the seedlings to start their lives.
Is gardening simple? Yes. And no. It’s simple enough that children can do it. And it’s complicated enough that once you start, you will never stop learning how to do it better. And although an understanding of the science of plants helps, this isn’t, as they say, rocket science.
In a recent survey, the Garden Writers Association reported that 43% of households in the United States were adding vegetable gardens. Growing edibles is definitely in vogue, but surely there are better reasons to do this than “everybody’s doing it.” I’ll give you nine of them:
1. You’ll redefine what “fresh” means:
Some edibles lose a lot of their nutrients and much of their flavor by the time you purchase them at the supermarket, store them in your refrigerator, and then cook and eat them. In most cases, consuming vegetables as soon as possible after harvest means that you get their peak nutritional value with more flavor than you’d have thought possible.
2. You’ll try something different:
There are varieties of fruits and vegetables available to home gardeners that you will never see on supermarket shelves. Many heirloom varieties can’t be commercially grown because they just don’t ship or store well. But with a few packets of seeds, you’ll be able to explore a whole world of edibles in colors and flavors you never knew existed.
3. You’ll know what you’re eating:
Some store-bought produce has enough contaminants on them to give you nightmares (or worse). When you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you know exactly what’s gone into growing them. You can grow them completely organically or at least with a bare minimum of inorganic materials.
4. You’ll save some money:
Seeds, water, maybe some soil amendments. That doesn’t add up to much. Garden writer Rosalind Creasy recently grew $750 worth of organic produce in a 100-square-foot garden at a cost of just $65. Granted, she’s more experienced at this than most of us, but even a novice gardener can save a lot of money.
5. You’ll be able to avoid the next food scare:
E. coli in spinach and sprouts. Salmonella in tomatoes and cilantro. Listeria in cantaloupes. These are some of the recent food safety issues that have affected fresh commercially grown produce. And you can bet there will be more to come. Your garden-grown fruits and vegetables are much less prone to these problems with healthy gardening practices. (And remember, you should cover fruits and veggies in the fridge.)
6. You’ll get a healthy workout:
While you’re out in the sunshine gardening, your body will be soaking up much-needed vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and general well-being. You’ll also be giving your muscles a workout and burning calories at an average rate of 272 per hour.
7. You’ll feel better with dirt under your fingernails:
There’s a bacterium in dirt called Mycobacterium vaccae that has been found to increase the production of serotonin and stimulate the immune systems of mice. Scientists are now studying how this bacterium, which is already used as a vaccine for tuberculosis and a treatment for cancer patients and asthma sufferers, may be used to treat mood disorders.
The theory is that the bacterium prompts the body’s immune cells to release cytokines, which activate sensory nerves stimulating the brain. The brain responds by activating serotonin neurons, which, again, lift the mood. Scientists further hypothesize that prolonged exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae could benefit us by maintaining healthier immune systems.
8. You’ll teach your children:
School gardens have demonstrated that kids learn broad lessons from gardening lessons about science and nature, about home economics and self-sufficiency, about nutrition and healthy living. Bringing those lessons home in their own gardens will only make them more real and more valuable. They'll thank you later.
9. You’ll be able to share:
If your gardening efforts are rewarded with a bumper crop, you don’t have to worry about how you’ll possibly be able to get it all preserved. You can simply pass it on. Thanks to the recent recession, food banks across the country need to feed more people than ever. AmpleHarvest.org will point you toward a food bank near you that will happily take some of that zucchini off your hands.
Yes, this is a herb and that is because of the greens it grows from planting its cloves. This awesome seasoning/spice is part of the Allium family as are onions and shallots. It’s recommended, though will take longer, for the freshest garlic greens to use fresh garlic cloves.
To get these cloves you can buy garlic bulbs and plant them according to instructions then harvest at the right time. If you are successful then you’ll have fresh cloves to break apart gently, plant, and get greens. You can also get new bulbs, from Elephant Garlic at least, by growing it until it blooms its flower or flowers. You let it stay in the ground, caring for it until the flower dies and dries out.
Once the flower has dried out then you harvest it and you’ll have a new bulb for planting for more garlic for later planting. But this may not work if the bulb you started with was treated in a way to prevent this method and will just need to buy new bulbs later when you want more garlic and garlic greens. But we’re here to focus on the greens so let’s get into it!
Labels: Growing Herbs