(May 2005) 

GARDENING

This is one of my favorite topics. so much information, so little room... I will try to just touch on afew aspects.

President Ezra Taft Benson "There are blessings in being close to the soil, in raising your own food even if it is only a garden in your yard and a fruit tree or two. Those families will be fortunate who, in the last days, have an adequate supply of food because of their foresight and ability to produce their own." Counsel, by President Kimball repeated emphasis to grow our own gardens.“We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own Property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees—plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard.” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 124). Many of you have listened and done as President Kimball counseled, and you have been blessed for it. Others have rationalized that they had no time or Space. May I suggest you do what others have done. Get together with others and seek permission to use a vacant lot for a garden, or rent a plot of ground and grow your gardens. Many families have dug up lawn space for gardens. (this is taken from Ezra Taft Benson, “Prepare for the Days of Tribulation,” Ensign,Nov.1980,32)

You can grow almost anywhere. If you do not have a yard, you can grow in containers, people have made garden boxes on roof tops, garage roofs,(be sure yours can support the weight) patios, decks, driveways, even on balconies. There is also Community Gardens, and you can always ask a friend who has a farm if you can have or rent space to garden. I found one Community Garden club in Minot. by now they are probably already full, you can check, but best to plan for next yr, call early to reserve a spot. They are 30x50ft $25. plus a refundable $20. deposit. It is called the Rainbow Garden Club, located north of Edgewood Vista, on 16th Ave se. call Don Gust at 701-839-6989.

Once you know where to garden, you decide what to grow  Since our growing season is short, many things like tomatoes, and melons have to be started indoors and transplanted outside after the danger of frost has passed, which is typically after the first of June. I usually wait until the 2nd week of June, some things I plant earlier, but have plastic on hand to cover the plants when there is still frost. Things that are planted directly outside like Potatoes and onions can be planted as soon as the ground has thawed. now is a good time.

When planting directly outside keep in mind the temperature of the soil.  many seeds will not sprout until the ground has warmed up. There are some varieties that state they are cold tolerant and will sprout at cooler temperatures (like some corn). If you plant seeds too soon and the ground is too cold, and there is rain, the seeds can mold and rot and not sprout at all. Some seeds wont sprout if the soil is too warm. Spinach takes about 3 wks to germinate at 40* and 1 wk at 60*. Peppers wont germinate at all below 65* and Lettuce (which loves cooler temps) wont germinate at all above 75*. So keep in mind temperatures and what your growing. Peas, lettuce, spinach, are best planted early spring, they wont do well and even die when the summer heat arrives, (there are ways to 'shade' them and extend their growing season). There are also ways to warm the soil.

If you have kept seeds from a previous year, keep in mind most have to be frozen or kept at a cooler temp for a specific time before they will germinate.  Many seeds if from Hybrids either will not sprout or will grow but not produce the same vegetable as the parent plant. Many people collect and trade Heirloom seeds, which are the "old Fashioned" varieties, and you can keep the seeds, but remember that these do not have the "altered" ability to fight off disease, and are more fragile. they also don't always look "perfect" But most people who grow these proclaim the taste can't be beat. Be sure when deciding on a variety of vegetable to grow, you check the growing time, some are faster at producing, which is better in our shorter growing season. It is also important to know what you will do with your harvest ahead of time because some varieties will store longer, and some are better for cannning than others, ect.

Next is Soil. Knowing what kind of soil you have makes a big difference on how your plants will grow. Make sure it is not too rocky, or too heavy with clay. Too sandy is also not good. adding compost (organic material like grass clippings and leaves) can help loosen soil and give nutrients. Be sure your clippings don't have weed seeds. or you will have a big weeding problem later. You can buy small test kits that you can test samples of your soil to see how acid or alkaline it is, different plants like different soils. If your soil is too acidic, you can sweeten it with lime. (that's limestone,  not the citrus) or wood ash. Which is best to do in the spring. If the soil is too alkaline you can add peat moss, pine needles, leaf mold, or aged sawdust. It is best to do this in the fall.  If you dig a small hole aprox 12" (the size of a mixing bowl) fill with water, if the water seeps out very quick, it is too loose, or sandy, if the water takes more than about 3 -5 min to drain, it is too heavy, or clay. either way you need to add organic material like compost, peat moss, vermiculite, and others depending on the soil type. If you can dig a hole and find earth worms, your soil is healthy. (worms are a GOOD thing!) They eat organic wastes and their manure is very good, plus their digging creates wormholes which loosens soil and give plant roots an easier time in spreading out.

Fertilizers are varied, this is also an area where you need to know what your soil is and needs. The best fertilizer is sheep manure, or cow manure, even rabbit, horse, and Bats. (bats are so great! eat the pesky mosquitoes AND fertilize, so build those bat houses for your yard!) But be sure manure isn't fresh. Fresh manure will burn your plants. Many stores will sell bags of manure that is mixed with compost. I have found these to be just a waste of money.(unless you want compost to help loosen your soil). the amount of actual manure is very little. You are best off buying liquid fertilizer. Be sure to check how much fertilizer your plant requires, Tomatoes for example if given too much fertilizer can become big beautiful bushes and produce little or no fruit because of too much nitrogen. (Nitrogen promotes GREEN growth. not fruiting)

Planting, If using a garden space, you can maximize your growing area by putting all vining plants like cucumbers and mellons on trellises. Raised bed gardening is a great way to cut down on your watering, weeding, and you can plant even more in the same space. I personally have grown 20 stalks of corn in one "4X4" box. each stalk produced 2-3 ears. Corn does best when it is close together for pollination. It also helps support the stalks in wind. I also have grown 20 Tomato plants in the same area. You can easily grow 3 times more in the same amount of space. and it is easier to maintain. (and even alot less work once you get it established, A wonderful book is "Square foot gardening") You can also find alot of information online on what each plant needs.

When you are ready to transplant plants outside, remember you cant just stick them outside and in the dirt and expect them to grow. they need to be "hardened off" this means setting the pots outside in a spot that doesn't get alot of direct sun at first, otherwise the plants can burn and die. then after acouple days, move to another spot that gets more sun but still not full, and so on until the plants are used to it. some people use some kinds of shading like using sheets or cloths staked around that can be lifted for a short time and then replaced. also remember little plants cant withstand much wind, so sheltering them alittle also helps them grow stronger, as long as it is alittle at a time and not full.

When plants are planted be sure to soak them with water, right away. and often while they are setting their root systems. now is the time to get stakes, cages and anything else up before the plant jumps ahead of you, also keeping ahead of weeds helps keep them under control. once weeds start to take over, you may find it too hard to fight especially when the temperatures get hot, and you get busy with summer activities. Mulching is one way that really helps keep the weeds down, and also can help keep the soil from drying out too fast when the sun is out. this saves on water and helps the plant to keep moist. be sure it doesn't get too moist or you may end up with other problems like fungus, and even slugs. I like to use grass clippings (without seeds). Mulch also helps keep the soil from splashing onto the plants when watered or when it rains, which can help prevent soil born diseases.

I prefer to buy plants from local nurseries, they know what is ment for our growing time and 'zone' If you purchase from a seed catalog you may get a plant that can not handle our climate and does not survive. I personally have had the best luck with Gurneys and Johnny's seeds. Gurneys doesn't hesitate to send you a replacement if what you order shows up dead. or a tree or shrub that doesn't survive the growing season/ winter as long as it is for our zone. Johnny's has wonderful garden tools and information.www.gurneys.com or call for a free catalog 513-354-1492   Johnny's is www.johnnyseeds.com 1-800-879-2258

"Zone" means what will grow in our climate. garden vegetables don't really matter, as long as they list what their growing time is and you make sure there is enough time for the plant to grow and produce. when you need to be concerned with zones is when you are planting things like trees, shrubs, flowers, things you want to come back again next year without replanting. (except of course annuals) We are zone 3 and 4 depending on your exact area. Minot in the valley is more of a 4 because of more protection from winter winds, where as out on the plains is more zone 3. You can grow some things that are 4s with some extra protection. Like hybrid roses, I plant mine alittle deeper, and cover with straw and dirt to help insulate, I am sure you have seen the styrofoam white cones in peoples yards, (these are one form of winter protection) I don't like to use them because when we get the warm spell in Jan, it gets too warm in them and the plant can get a fungus, or other problems and many times die. But using Straw and other organic materials, (even burlap sacks) around tree trunks and such can help protect them from our winters. (this is helpful with grape vines also)

You should also know about rotation. You can not grow the same thing in the same place year after year. Many pests winter in the soil as eggs or larvae, depending on the food that was grown there the previous year. Soil born diseases can also go dormant for the winter. If the plant they were surviving on is no longer grown there, they can die off. Some guidelines are to not plant plants from the same family (tomatoes and potatoes are the same group, along with  tomatoes and peppers. Cabbage, broccoli  and cauliflower are the same family.) In the same spot as the year before. You should also grow deep rooted plants where shallow rooted plants were the year before and visa versa.

Well, good luck! There is tons of information everywhere on gardening. Next month I will talk about safe organic pest control, which will also include using other insects.