The gardening alphabet
What's better on a hot summer day than a homegrown salad?
That cool, refreshing salad can start with just a quick trip to the garden. But that garden won't appear by magic. You need to get started now if you want lettuce before Labor Day! And there's no better time than now to start working for the perfect summer garden.
There are several factors that make up a good garden, so try this mnemonic to remember the basic steps: the word "GARDEN" – each letter stands for a different step.
G is for "Ground." For new gardens, choose an area with six to eight hours of direct sunlight. Make sure it's near the hose or sprinkler for easy watering, yet has good drainage – most plants can't stand soggy roots. And keep the garden away from trees and shrubs so your plants don't have to compete for resources or get over-powered by shade. Prepare the ground by tilling and having a soil test done. You can purchase the items to do a soil test at most lawn and garden centers.
A is for "Arrange." Arrange the layout of your garden before you plant. John Deere recommends planting in rows that run north to south, with taller plants in the north end, so that all plants get maximum sunlight.
R is for "Research." Learn what grows well in your area from your neighbors or local nursery. Avoids those plans that require only certain types of soil. Find out the frost-free date, and determine a planting and fertilizing schedule. Some "cold-blooded" veggies, like lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and spinach, survive better in the cool spring when soil temperatures are below 65 degrees F. If you want to be safe, plant everything once temperatures pass 65 degrees F. Peas and onions like moderate temperatures around 75 degrees F. Radishes, beans, tomatoes and peppers do well in the 80 degrees F to 85 degrees F range. And corn, cucumbers, melons and squash like the hot weather: 85 degrees F to 95 degrees F. Make sure late vegetables are planted before fall's first-freeze date.
D is for "Dig." Create holes four times the seed's diameter, so bigger seeds are planted a little deeper. Use a rake handle to make a trench for small seeds and the corner of a hoe blade to make a ditch for larger seeds. Cover the seeds, and firm the soil before you water. Using the flat blade of a hoe, tap down the earth to help the seeds make contact with the soil; this prevents your seeds from washing away in heavy rains.
E is for "Encourage." Water and keep weed-free – vegetables need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water a week. To fight weeds, use sheets of newspaper or plastic to cover the soil. Anchor the sheets with rocks or bricks, and then cut "Xs" in the sheets to create openings for transplants. Or try covering your garden with a thick layer of dried grass clippings from your lawn. A few weeds will still sprout, but they'll be thin and weak and very easy to pull.
N is for "Nurture." Monitor growth and enjoy the veggies of your labor.
So kick back, cool your heels, and enjoy your crisp summer salad right from your own backyard – all thanks to a little early planning and following these simple steps.