Thursday, May 28, 2020

Basic Getting Started Gardening 101 "Walker Style" - Lessons Learned

When I want to learn something, I go all in! I wanted to plant a garden this year, and when COVID-19 started me staying at home almost 100%, it was a perfect time to start a garden. I got on YouTube and started researching and looking at all the hundreds of opinions and

options to get started and steps to take, etc. After all my research, I narrowed it down to 5 areas or "pieces" of the puzzle for a successful garden:

1) Have good soil to grow in
2) Buy plants and planting them in your soil
3) Trellis plants once they start to grow
4) Watering, pruning and caring plants (bug control (organically), brown spots (blossom end rot), etc.)
5) Pick your vegetables

That's it! Of the GOBS of information out there, I narrowed it down to these 5 steps. 

1) Have good soil to grow in

I had no idea if my soil (in-ground) was good to grow in and I didn't want to send it off for testing, so the best option to get started was to do what's called a "raised-bed". That way, I could take just regular Home Depot potting soil (any brand) and plant in buckets, flower pots, anything I could find (including an old wheel-barrow). I bought the cheapest brand of potting soil they had called "Vigoro" because most people online said that brand didn't matter as long as it was labeled as "potting soil", but I did augment the soil using the directions with "Dr. Earth" organic tomato fertilizer because it seemed to be very popular online for people who aren't composting (another story). I will say that there are hundreds of opinions and different things people add to soil, from compost to eggshells, to epsom salt, all of which have value. But my soil is potting mix and Dr. Earth in buckets, flower pots, and even directly in the potting soil bag as you can see in the picture above (another YouTube trick for sprawling plants). NOTE: You will have to drill holes in the bottom of the buckets and all containers you plant in. You want the excess water to be able to drain. Again gardening 101!

2) Buy plants and planting them in your soil

For gardening 101, this one is easy. Buy plants that have already been grown to a 6-10 inch seedling. Planting your own seeds is like gardening 202 next level class, so go to your local garden center, home depot, etc and pick out the plants you want to grow. Tomatoes (5 varieties), cucumbers, squash and peppers were my plants of choice for this first garden. 

Then just stick them in your soil:

1) dig a hole 2) insert plant

NOTE: Several people recommended putting "mulch" around the plants, even in buckets, to keep direct sunlight from drying out the soil. I bought some really cheap mulch to do that as you can see in this photo. 

3) Trellis plants once they start to grow

Hey! Now I'm excited once I got to this stage, because I obviously am doing something right. Plants are starting to grow and produce fruit, so now it is time to come up with a trellis system. There are so many options for trellising, and the fact is that you can use old fencing or stuff you have around your house, but in my case I had wood scraps and string so I found this YouTuber that had made a home made trellis system using those exact materials, so I did that myself. I did order two things I needed to go with this system.

1) Metal garden stakes (garden stakes on Amazon) and 

2) Clips to attach plant to string (Clips on Amazon). These clips were very popular from a variety of YouTubers and are completely reusable to years to come. 

I built these very simple wood overhangs around my buckets by driving some wood stakes in the ground and then screwing in some other scraps into the stakes for about 7 feet of total height. I tied the string around the metal garden stakes and pushed the stake down into the soil being careful not the stab the plant, then ran the string up to the wood overhang pulling fairly tight and then tying a knot and cutting the string. Then as the plants grow, I use the clips to keep the plant attached to the string. By trellising the plant you keep airflow underneath and helps prevent disease which ultimately gives you more fruit. 

4) Watering, pruning and spraying plants for bugs (organically)

There are again hundreds of opinions and styles when it comes to now taking care of your growing plants, but I have boiled it down to three things I do regularly: 1) Water, Prune and spray. Watering is not an exact science. I stick my finger down into the soil and if it is moist, I don't water that day. If it is dry, I water. For pruning, watch this guy (Pruning Tomatoes). I watch a lot of his stuff! But basically, I keep the bottom stems cleared so no stems touch the soil and I prune all the "sucker" stems you'll see in the video which are stems that grow in the "arm pit" of the plants branches at a
weird angle. For bug control spraying, I chose to go 100% organic and not use pesticides or harmful chemicals because my grandson would be picking with me and if he (or I) just decided to eat right off the vine, then I wanted to be able to. So, we use 2 tablespoons of NEEM Oil and one teaspoon of dish washing soap per half-gallon of water in a sprayer and spray the plants (particularly the squash and cucumbers) to help control the bugs about once a week. For some reason, most bugs hate NEEM oil and the dish soap helps breakdown the oil in the water to coat the plants better. I encourage you to get on YouTube and research this, but this was a very common theme across many gardeners. Also, I had some squash and a couple tomatoes that had brown (rot looking) spots on the bases of the fruit, so this is a key sign of calcium deficiency. The trick there was to take one "TUMS" or antacid that had 750 milligrams of calcium per tablet and crush it and mix it with a half-gallon of water and spray the leaves of the plants. This will augment the calcium in the plants and keep future fruit from developing blossom end rot, but wont cure any fruit that already has it. 

5) Pick your vegetables

That's it! It is still fairly early in my first gardening season, and I literally just picked my first harvest yesterday and couldn't be more excited. Pick the tomatoes when they turn red, and squash and cucumbers when they seem big enough. If you pick one and it seems too hard or not ripe when you eat or cook them, then leave the next ones on a little longer before picking.

Please leave a comment below if you used this blog to help you get started. Here are a few more photos of the Walker garden. 

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