Looking to grow your own food? Here are some helpful tips for fall vegetable gardens – St. Augustine Record


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By Lynette L. WaltherTime to get those fall gardens up and running, because growing your own food is not only economical, but empowering as well, especially if you are starting from seeds. But in order to be successful there are a few points that can make that happen. Begin with the soilNo matter what you plant or where you plant it, your garden is only going to be as good as the soil in which it is grown. Don’t waste money on seeds or seedling plants without enriching your garden soil before planting. According to the Home Garden Seed Association, good garden soil is crumbly and full of organic matter. Your soil is home to many organisms, including helpful bacteria, fungi and a variety of insects. Good soil holds moisture, yet drains well. Adding compost is the best thing you can do for your soil and garden. Homemade compost is your most economical option, but you can purchase good compost. Go for a 3-inch layer of compost over the entire garden plot which will be worked into existing soil there.  Apple pie, anyone?: Fresh apples are a sure sign of fall, and can conjure up a flood of memoriesHarvesting vegetables: Perennial fruits and vegetables: Garden crops for the long haulIf you are a first-time gardener, go smallIt can be difficult for you to judge just how much of your time is needed to successfully tend a garden. Creating a huge garden if you don’t have the time necessary to tend can result in a weedy mess that cannot be controlled. A smaller plot, say 4 by 8 feet, will give you a good taste of what it takes to plant and maintain a garden and still provide a variety of crops like beans, lettuce, spinach, kale, peppers and herbs for example.Decide which sort of garden you preferRaised bed gardens are popular, but remember that for centuries farmers and gardeners grew crops successfully (and many continue to) right in the ground. Raised beds are good if the area where you plan to garden has drainage issues or if you are gardening over hard surfaces. But raised beds can be difficult to manage moisture content and in some cases can heat up excessively, literally cooking the roots of plants within them. They are also expensive to construct and fill with a good growing medium. And while they usually start out with few weed-control issues, eventually they are all bound to be home to many unwanted weeds. A well-maintained in-ground garden bed with mulched paths can be every bit as neat and attractive as a series of raised beds.Choose large containers Your little seedlings make look lost in a 5-gallon pot, but once they mature they will more than fill the space. The larger the container, the less likely that it will dry out if you skip a day of watering. Not only that, the larger amount of soil will help to provide an environment for the plants’ roots and provide plenty of nutrients over the growing season. There is a wide variety of container vegetables developed specifically for container growing from which to choose. As with in-ground growing, container growing requires a good growing medium, but don’t fill containers with your garden soil. It is simply too dense. Instead choose a good potting soil which will enable good drainage for plants.Starting from seedsStarting seeds is easy and best done in flats with seed-starting mix or for larger seeds like those of beans or sunflowers for example — in cell packs. Once seedlings in flats have developed their first set of true leaves, the seedlings can be carefully separated and potted into small pots or cell packs where their roots can develop. Once they are around 3 to 6 inches tall they can be placed into the ground — following plant spacing suggestions on seed packets — or in containers to grow and produce. The exception to this procedure are the root vegetables which need to be direct-seeded into the ground or in containers. Again, follow seed-spacing suggestions on seed packages, thinning out if necessary once seeds sprout. Mulch and add nutrients as neededMulch performs a number of beneficial purposes in any garden. It holds in and regulates moisture levels in the soil, moderates soil temperatures and helps to prevent weeds. Eventually all organic mulches like shredded leaves, pine needles, shredded wood mulches and the like will break down to further enrich soils. Adding organic nutrient supplements such as fish emulsion or kelp concentrate, will help young vegetables to grow and develop when applied regularly, every three to four weeks. This is especially important with fall crops such as brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc.).Diversify, diversify, diversifyAnd diversification is especially important in your vegetable garden. Flowers belong there as well for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they attract pollinators, and they also bring in predator insects that will help keep pests such as cabbage worms and aphids in check. Diversity is healthy. Some easy-from-seed flower choices include poppies, sweet peas and nasturtiums — all of which love cool weather growing.  Growing your own food is an empowering experience, but only if you are successful. Follow these time-tested tips to help ensure that your initial food-growing experience will lead to a lifetime of home-grown meals and enjoyment. Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award and she is the author of “Florida Gardening on the Go.” She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are on the banks of the St. Johns River.
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