Home Gardening Questions for Beginners

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Home Gardening Questions for Beginners

Here are some home gardening questions for beginners.  Starting a garden is simple and can be a little or lots of work depending on your desire.

How do I choose a garden site with the most available sun? As a County Agent I was called out to a location where the gardener was having a problem with her tomatoes not producing fruit. When talking to her on the phone she told me the tomato plants were in full sun. When I arrive at the location, to my surprise the tomato plants were surrounded by tall trees. The scrawny tomato plants were in full sun, but unfortunately only for about 15 minutes a day. When vegetable seed packets indicate likes full sun (tomatoes, peppers, peas, beets, cucumbers, and pumpkins) it means the sun hits the plants for at least 6 hours each day. I would recommend at least 8 hours to be producing the most vegetables. Morning sun is the best time because it dries the plants off earlier in the day to help prevent disease problems. If you do not have full sun make sure you choose vegetables that do not require full sun (broccoli, lettuce, spinach, or Swiss chard).

What size should my garden be? My second year garden was not as successful as my first and that is because the garden got too large. You will be more successful if you start out with a smaller size, I recommend 4 by 4 feet. Yes — 4 by 4 feet. When a small garden is properly managed you can produce more food than if you tackle a large garden and here is why. You can get more production out of a small garden by intercropping which is planning vegetables that mature early in with later maturing vegetables. An example would be radishes planted between the tomatoes plants. The radishes are finished before the tomatoes grow together. No rows also will help cut down on wasted space. The old method of planting in rows allows a place for weeds to grow. My second garden was 100 x 100 feet and by the end of the growing season it served as a hide-and-go-seek spot as a result of the 5 foot tall pig weeds that had over taken my garden. By planting vegetables close together to crowd out weeds you can produce plenty of wholesome vegetables for your family in a small space.

How do I choose the best garden soil? The biggest reason for my success as a beginning gardener was soil! The former chicken yard that I started with was full of well decomposed chicken manure. The soil had the perfect balance of soil pH (soil acidity), the nutrients N, P, and K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), micro nutriments, and organic matter. If you do not have access to an old chicken yard, go to your local garden store and purchase bags of soil. You might not want to spend the money on bags of dirt! But believe me this is the best insurance policy you have to being successful as a beginning gardener. I have taken college classes on soils and there is more that goes into the bag than dirt. The properly prepared bagged soil will be tested with less weed seeds to contend with later in the growing season. Don’t be cheat yourself; buy the bagged soil. For additional home Gardening questions for beginners check out The Home and Garden Information Center.

How do I choose the best garden location? My first garden was in the back yard where I played every day. The site or location was critical for the success of my first garden. Make certain the garden is close to a door that you use a lot. I moved to a new house and consistently lost the plants in the front pots due to lack of water. After several years of failure I moved the pots to the end of the garage where I would walk by every day. Moving the pots 25 feet made the care for the plant successful. Some of you may be involved with community gardens. This takes extra effort to go to another location to care for your garden. It works well when you set a regularly scheduled time on the calendar so the weeds do not get ahead of the vegetables if you can’t garden outside your door.

Home Gardening Questions for Beginners

If you want to get started with a successful garden this year you will need to find a location with at least 6 hours of sun to give you the opportunity to raise sun loving vegetables. Remember to start with a small garden. A 4 by 4 foot gardens can provide lots of vegetables for the family if you use intercropping and no row planting methods. For the beginners, it is my recommendation that you purchase bagged soil at your garden center. The soil is well balanced, with the correct nutrients and adequate organic matter plus the weed problem will be decreased. Having your garden in a location that you will walk by on a regular basis will result in greater gardening success. If you would like to get started gardening but do not know where to begin make sure you check out this website dedicated to http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/.

Richard Godke is a lifelong gardener since age 8. He studied agriculture and taught high school horticulture. He spent almost 20 years working as a County Extension Agent in three states where he educated farmers, home owners, and youth in the areas of production agriculture and home horticulture. Godke has trained adult Master Gardeners and school-age 4-H members in every aspect of gardening, as well as establishing community gardens. He has introduced two daylily varieties with the American Hermerocallis Society and has served as a national certified national daylily exhibition judge. Godke has started http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/ dedicated to answering questions and assisting people in starting home gardens.

By Richard Godke

Bucket Garden Idea

Bucket Garden Ideas

 

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Bucket Garden Ideas

By Richard Godke

Bucket garden ideas is the answer for you if you have a small space, little time, and a limited budget.  This is an ideal solution for people that are away from home for days at a time.  The bucket garden idea video includes easy instructions on how to build and maintain and expandable self watering system.

Starting Seeds for Dummies – Beginners

By:  Richard Godke

Starting seeds for dummies can be easy, cost-effective, and fun for the whole family. As a gardener you are no longer held hostage by the plant suppliers. Starting seeds at home allows you to choose the vegetables and varieties you prefer, including heirloom and non-genetically modified organisms (GMO) varieties. By starting plants indoors you can get production up to a month earlier than planting seeds directly in the garden. Planting indoors also gives the seedlings protection against the cold, lack of moisture, and pests. My past failures with starting seeds at home have led to a surefire system that allows the beginner to be successful. My starting seeds for dummies system will cover what and when to plant, proper temperatures, correct lighting, choosing the soil and container, fertilizer, watering, and hardening off the plants. Remember, always read and follow the package information. I have also included a list of materials needed, and a step-by-step procedure to help you get started.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: What and When to Plant

If you’re just learning how to start plants indoors I recommend the following cool season vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. They need to be started about seven weeks before the final frost free date in your area.  My recommendations for warm season vegetables include: tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. This group needs to be started about six weeks before the last frost free date in your area. Here is a great website that will help you decide when to plant different crops in your area: http://allthingsplants.com/apps/calendar/.

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Figure 2. Starting seeds for dummies suggests only use a seedling heat mat only during germination. Photo from http://tscpl.org/home/growing-plants-under-artificial-lights.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Required Environmental Temperatures

Every plant has a preferred germination and growing temperature. For more details on individual vegetables check out http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/vegetable/temperature.html. The serious gardener uses a seedling heat mat that will keep the seeds a constant temperature (see figure 2). The heat mat along with a cover to hold in moisture will result in quicker and more uniform germination with less chance of diseases.  If one does not want to spend the money, find the warmest spot you have in the house. The top of the refrigerator is sometimes a good spot. Here are some general germinating temperatures I use. Tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants sprout best at temperatures between 80 to 85°F (27 to 29°C). Broccoli, cabbage, collards kale, cauliflower and kohlrabi are best germinated between 75 to 80°F (24 to 27°C). After germination, quickly move the seeds to a brightly lit area that is 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C). Make sure to remove the plastic cover as soon as the plants start to germinate. This allows the plants get plenty of air movement in keeps the surface dry.

 

Figure 3. Lighting system at the proper height above seedlings. Photo by http://www.whatscookingwithruthie.com/2012/04/30/how-our-garden-grows-week-2/

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Critical Lighting Requirements

Light is the most critical factor that affects starting seedlings indoors.  A south facing window with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight will provide the minimum amount of light needed. I recommend an additional 12 to 16 hours of artificial fluorescent light. An outlet timer will help you manage the on and off cycle of the artificial light. It is critical to keep the lights 1 to 2 inches above the plants. A simple fluorescent shop light (4-footers with two 40-watt bulbs) works great (see figure 3). Light-emitting diode ( LED) lighting is another option for plants that cost about 50% more for the purchase and costs about 60% less to operate.  The big advantage of the LED light units is that with the proper controller you can adjust the color range that the specific plants best preform in. Be aware that the lights will cause the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to dry out quickly. A lack of light results in a tall skinny plant that is very susceptible to dampening off disease.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Soil Media and Containers

My starting seeds for dummies system uses Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets instead of soil.  This compressed sphagnum peat moss held together in a find net bag help prevent soil disease problems. When water is applied to these pellets they swell to little bundles that the roots love to grow in. Watch how they expand when exposed to warm water http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UNNR_gcKzo&feature=youtu.be  . The seedlings can be planted directly into the garden, and the seedlings take off quickly because the roots are not disturbed. Make sure you start the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets in a container big enough to allow them to expand. The containers should also allow for easy watering from the bottom. If you choose to reuse containers, rinse items in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and ten parts water. Let them dry before filling with soil.

My second choice for soil and containers are complete commercial growing kits. These kits include: properly mixed and sterilized soil, plastic growing cells, clear dome cover, and instructions. Some even include the seeds. These kits are more expensive, but the consistent results are worth the money.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Required Fertilization

The Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets contain very small amounts of fertilizer. I recommend using a complete water-soluble fertilizer like (J. R. Petters inc. All Purpose 20-20-20 Water Soluble Fertilizer, or Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food 18-18-21). After the first true leaves appear on the seedlings, apply the first dose of fertilizer solution. Use only one-half the recommended label rate for the first application. The fertilizer solution should be applied until the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets will not absorb any more solution. Too much fertilizer will cause the plant to be tall, spindly and susceptible to dampening off disease. Use the fertilizer manufacturers’ label recommended rate; usually 1 tablespoon per gallon. Water with fertilizer every two weeks until the plants are set outdoors.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Important Watering Suggestions

Only water the soil from the bottom of the growing media. Watering from the top encourages the dreaded dampening off disease. The environmental conditions in your home will determine how much and how often you will need to water your seedlings. Try to let the plants get as dry as possible without letting the plants wilt. Add a small amount of water in the base of the container until the media no longer absorbs water. You will soon be able to determine how often and how much your seedlings need to be watered. It is better to keep them to dry, than to keep them to wet.  For more information about raising plants without soil, check out: Easy Hydroponics for Beginners.

Hardening off plants is the process of acclimating your seedlings to the harsh outdoor environment. This process should be started two weeks before planting outdoors. When the temperature is about 45°F or 7°C., the plants should be set outside in a protected area for two hours each day. Gradually increase the length of time the plants are exposed to the outdoor elements of direct sun, cool temperatures, and drying winds. This is a very important step that will prevent the plants from going into shock when they’re transplanted.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Materials

Waterproof container that can be watered from the bottom, with plastic cover to hold in humidity.

12 compressed Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets

1 South facing window with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight and/or 1 fluorescent shop light

1 outlet timer

1 thermometer

1 4 cup measuring cup

12 labels

1 marking pen

1 packet of seeds

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Planting the Seeds

Figure 4. Starting seeds for dummies with health tomato seedling.
  1. Select a waterproof container large enough to hold Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets when they have fully swollen. The container needs to be small enough so the fully expanded pellets do not tip over when moved.
  2. Select and make labels for the seeds that you will be planting.
  3. Place Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets with the open side up. The container must allow the pellets to be watered from the bottom.
  4. One hour before planting, wet the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to a point where they will not absorb any more water.
  5. With a pencil make three or four holes in the top of each Jiffy-7 plant starter pellet that is about 2 to 3 times the size of the seed.
  6. Put 3 or 4 seeds in each pellet.
  7. Cover the seeds by pushing down the top of the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets.
  8. Put your plastic dome over the tray holding the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to keep them from drying out.
  9. Place the trays in a warm spot in the house or a seedling mat. Do not place covered containers in direct sunlight.
  10. Remove the plastic dome when the seeds start to sprout.
  11. Move seedling trays to a South facing window that gets 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight or move under a fluorescent lights for16 to 20 hours a day.  Light should be placed 2 to 4 inches above the plants. Maintain night temperatures of 60-65°F (15-18°C); Daytime temperatures should be about 10°F higher.
  12. A fan blowing over the seedlings will help them adjust to the outdoors. Harden off the plants
  13. Thin to one plant per Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets by snipping the extra sprouts off with a pair of scissors. Do not pull them out by the roots.
  14. If the plants get too large. they can be moved into larger individual pots.
  15. . Water from the bottom as needed. Allow drying periods between each watering.
  16. Fertilize seedlings every two weeks as recommended above.
  17. Begin to harden off seedlings two weeks before moving the plants outdoors.

You can now easily start seeds at home with my starting seeds for dummies system. You are in control of the varieties and planting times. Here is a very good video from the National Gardening Association that gives you additional ideas for starting seeds at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FGH3MBZ21M&feature=youtu.be. By using the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets you have a reliable, low cost growing media. The seedlings can be planted directly in the garden without disturbing the soil ball. Light is the most important factor in starting seeds at home. Allow direct light for 16 hours per day with the lights being 2 to 4 inches above the plants. Biweekly fertilization will result in stocky, dark green plants that are disease resistant. Two weeks before transplanting outside you will need to harden off your plants. Slowly introduce your tender seedlings to the harsh outdoor environment over that two-week period. This will prevent plant shock that slows the plant’s growth. My starting seeds for dummies system will allow you to reliably produce healthy vigorous plants for your garden at a reasonable cost.

Resource List

“Starting Seeds Indoors”, Publication HO-14-W, Reviewed 4/2001, Michael N. Dana and B. Rosie Lerner Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

“Starting Plants Indoors From Seeds”, Publication G6570, Revised 6/2010, David H. Trinklein, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri Extension.

“Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors” Fact sheet FS787, Published 3/1995, Peter J. Nitzsche, Morris County Agricultural Agent & Stephen Reiners, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Vegetable Crops, Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension

Indoor Gardening Tips for Raising Herbs

By Richard Godke

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Photo by: Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Extension

Make your home more beautiful, meals more flavorful and improve your home environment by raising your own herbs with these indoor gardening tips. Raising your own herbs is easy, fun and can yield tasty rewards. Picking fresh herbs in your kitchen for cooking can lead to a sense of accomplishment. Use the winter months as a great time to experiment with raising herbs.  I will share some simple tips to help make your indoor herb garden a big success.  The most important topics include: selecting herbs, soil, planting containers and controlling the light, water, and, environment.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Selecting Herb Plants

The beginner’s list of herbs that grow well indoors includes: chives, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, and tarragon.  Avoid sun loving herbs such as: basil, coriander (cilantro), dill, lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme.  Here is a great website that will give you some ideas and help you get started http://www.gardenista.com/posts/urban-gardening-diy-shade-tolerant-windowsill-herbs-to-grow-in-your-apartment. Purchase the herb plants from a local garden store or nursery. Experienced gardeners may want to consider starting your herbs from seeds.  It takes more time and your success rate will not be as high as purchasing established plants. As winter approaches, transplant the herbs into individual pots. Move these plants to a partially shaded location outside for several weeks.  This will adjust the plants to the decreased amount of sunlight that they will encounter inside for the winter. Then you can move the herbs growing inside your house during winter to your outside garden in the spring.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing the Soil for Herbs

Beginners should always start with commercially prepared potting soil.  These soils have all the correct nutrients, organic matter, and adjustments for the proper pH.  In most cases potting soil will have a higher concentration of organic matter which causes it to be a lighter soil with less chance of compaction.  The downside to this porous potting soil is it tends to dry out more quickly.  Soils with a high amount of organic matter provide an ideal environment for microorganism activity. This activity provides a slow usable release rate of required plant nutrition.  This great indoor gardening tip came from a greenhouse operator — these light potting soil mixes should always be pressed firmly into the containers.  Pressing the mix tightly will aid in water retention and stimulate root growth.  I recommend using a layer of fabric (old t-shirt or towel) in the bottom of the planting container.  This holds in the soil and allows water to wick up into the pot from the bottom.  I like this method better than using stones in the bottom of the pot. If you choose to make your own potting soil, use sterilized materials, and at least one-third of the mix should be organic matter (peat moss or compost).  Herbs grow relatively slowly indoors during the winter. Fertilizer should be used sparingly.  If your herbs do not have a deep green appearance apply a liquid fertilizer using 50% the recommended rate on the label.  If the plant then shows a deeper green color, continue the applications at the half rate.  It is always better to under fertilize plants that are being grown indoors.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing Herb Growing Containers

Containers for growing herbs can be as simple as a cut down two-liter bottle, an exquisite handcrafted art pottery, or a commercial plastic pot.  University research has shown that plants benefit from being re-potted. Begin with a smaller pot working up to larger pots as the plant roots grown to fill the container.  I experimented by planting seeds in a very large pot.  Then I planted seeds in a small pot and the plants were transplanted into a series of larger pots.  The results showed that re-potted plants grew faster and more vigorously than the seeds that were planted in a large pot and not transplanted.  So to increase the production of your indoor herb garden plants increase the pot size as the plant roots circle around the edge the pot. Containers with more soil have a larger margin of error when it comes to watering.  Most containers will function as long as they’re clean and have drainage hole(s) in the bottom.  I’ve not found a lot of functional differences between plastic, terra-cotta, wood, metal, or fiberglass containers. In most cases your choice of container will depend on your individual preferences.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing Light Sources for Herbs

Light is the herb’s best friend! Most herbs love lots of high quality direct sunlight.  A minimum of 5 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily should be the goal to raise herbs indoors.  Less light may keep the plants alive but the plants will not thrive.  A south facing window will provide the best light with west and or east being your next best choices.  My indoor gardening tips include: maximizing production by grow growing herbs in a south window with the addition of artificial light.  Two practical choices of grow lights are fluorescent or high-intensity discharge (HID).  The light can be a fluorescent shop light that is positioned within an inch or two of the growing plants for up to 16 hours a day.  I have experimented with artificial lights at different distances from the plants.  My results show that the lights that are 2 inches away from the plants will quadruple the growth, compared to lights that are 2 feet away from the plants.  Fluorescent lights or specific grow lights are highly recommended over incandescent light bulbs.  Old style light bulbs are not as efficient and will produce more heat, which tends to dry out the soil quickly.  If your plant has long spaces between leaf nodes and is tall and lanky, your plant is not getting enough light.  Tall is not always better.  Learn how to build a low-cost, simple to make, artificial lighting system for your indoor herb garden at this website http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy5fzPlsXK0.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Proper Watering of Herbs

Over watering is the biggest mistake made by beginning indoor herb gardeners.  Place your herbs in a location that you will visit on a regular basis (example kitchen window). If you see the herbs many times a day, you can keep a close watch on the soil’s moisture level.  The best way to determine the moisture level of the soil is to stick your finger into the pot about half an inch.  If you can feel the moisture the plant can go another day without being watered.  After repeated daily moisture samplings you will be able to estimate how often the plant needs to be watered.  In most cases a heavy watering once a week will provide enough moisture for your plant.  My indoor gardening tips include: checking the soil’s moisture level often and watering your plants from the bottom.  To water from the bottom, put the pot on a saucer or water reservoir tray designed specifically for potted plants.  Adding water to the saucer or tray allows the plant to wick up the water into the soil.  Remember, most herbs prefer to be on the dry side rather than the wet side.  If your plant turns yellow, you are watering your plant too much.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Proper Environmental Conditions for Herbs

When raising herbs indoors it is important to consider temperature, air movement, pests, and humidity.  Most herb plants prefer a temperature in the 70°- 80° F. range.  A quick temperature change may be detrimental to the plant when moving it in or out of the home.  If the plant is outdoors and the temperatures have cooled off, moving the plant back into a warm interior temperature may cause the plant to go into shock.  I have seen the leaves completely fall off of plants after being moved into a warm home.  It is important not to have your plants sitting near air ducts or doors.  The direct contact with extreme temperature and moisture changes may kill the plants.  My indoor gardening tips include: examining your plants on a weekly basis for pests.  If possible remove bugs by hand or use an insecticidal soapy spray at the first sign of any insect problems.  Most heated winter homes have a very low humidity level.  Having potted plants in this environment will help add moisture to the air.  Be aware when the artificial heat is on in your home, it will be using up moisture that is stored in your plant’s soil.  So additional water will be needed by your plants during these periods.

 

I hope my herb indoor gardening tips have helped you discover how simple and easy can be to grow herbs.  With a small amount of time and money you will have quick access to herbs that will add some new flavors to your cooking.  The beautiful green plants growing in your home helps to bring nature indoors.  This touch of nature also helps increase the amount of humidity in your home’s dry winter air. Plants help clean the air, and the photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide into oxygen. You can be successful growing herbs by remembering these herb indoor gardening tips: select the correct herbs to plant, purchase high-quality potting soil, and select a container that can be well drained.  Light is important and you must provide a minimum of 5 to 8 hours of direct sunlight or substitute with 16 hours of fluorescent light daily.  Indoor herb gardeners must be aware of the plant’s total environment including: temperature, drafts and air movement, pests, and indoor humidity.  You can easily enjoy growing herbs indoors and add flavor to your cooking by growing flavorful herbs in your own home.

You can learn more about gardening at:General Web Directory

Fall Garden Soil Preparation Tips

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Fall Garden Soil Prep Tips

By Richard Godke

Fall is the best time to prepare your garden soil for next spring.  Soil is the most important factor in raising a successful garden.  There are five basic fall soil preparation components that you will need to explore to maximize soil fertility.  These components are: soil pH; soil structure; and the levels of  phosphorus and potassium, secondary and micro nutrients, and nitrogen.  New gardeners will not want to mess with soil preparation.  Purchasing bagged garden soil is simple and easy.  The bagged soil has been tested, nutrients added, and is properly mixed to give you what you need to get started.  I would recommend checking out http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/featured/bag-gardening-for-home-vegetables/ which explains a great way to easily grow vegetables right in the soil bags.

Fall Vegetable Garden Soil Test

Fall is the best time to annually test your soil so you can adjust the pH, phosphorus, and potassium.  Check with your County Extension Office http://npic.orst.edu/pest/countyext.htm for places to have your soil tested.  Many Extension Office test soil samples for pH levels for free.  Most offices can send samples to their affiliated university for pH, phosphorus, potassium and other tests for a fee.  This office recommends soil additives and application rates to correct any problems specific to your soil samples and soil in your area.   To take a soil sample get an equal slice of soil at least 8” deep for every 100 square feet.  Keep surface debris out of the sample.  Place the samples in a bucket with up to five other spade slices., mix all samples together well, and take about two cups out for each sample.  Record on the sample label your name, date and sample number.  Make a diagram map that shows where the sample came from.  Let the samples air dry to prevent soil fertility changes.  You can purchase a home test kit and meters that you can test for pH, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).  I have not had very consistent results from these home tests.

Fall Garden Tips for pH

The pH is the most important single soil component.  pH is the scale is from 1 to 14 that measures the levels of acid or alkaline in the soil.  Most garden plants prefer the pH between 5.5 and 6.5.  Lime is used to raise the pH and sulfur is commonly used to lower the pH.  If the pH is too high or low it can tie up many needed plant nutrients.  It is important to make the recommended additions in the fall before deep tilling.  The soil pH is not mobile in the soil.  For example, if limestone is applied to the surface without tilling, pH will be very alkaline on the surface and very acid deep in the soil.  It takes time for the additives to change the pH of the soil so it is ideal to apply lime or sulfur in the fall.  The smaller the lime is ground up the quicker it will change the pH.  Soil pH is the most important component when preparing you fall garden and will correct most deficiencies of micronutrients.

Phosphorus and Potassium Suggestions for Fall Garden

Phosphorus and potassium are two macro-nutrients that are needed by plants in relatively large quantities.  A fall soil test is the best way to determine the level of these two elements.  These elements are not very mobile in the soil like the pH additives.  They need to be tilled into the soil at a depth of 8”.  Your Extension office can recommend the amounts of phosphorus P?O? and potassium K?O for you soil types.  Phosphorus deficiency results in slow growth and older leaves turn purple.  Potassium deficiency results in slow growth and leaf edges turn light green to yellow.  Fertilizer labels have 3 numbers, the N-P-K formula, for example: 10-5-15. These numbers represent 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 15% potassium per bag. The remaining 70% consists of fillers.

Fall Garden Soil Structure Information

Soil structure refers mainly to the size of soil particles.  Soil has three size categories: clay –small, silt-medium, and sand-large.  Which is best?  Each size has advantages and disadvantages.    Clay for example will hold nutrients and moisture but it is so dense the plant has a hard time sending roots through the tight mass.  Sand has plenty of air pockets for the plant roots but does not hold nutrients, and the soil dries out quickly putting plants at a disadvantage when it is dry.  A combination of different sizes is the best.  Adding organic material to any of these soils is what I recommend.  Compost, coconut coir, large animal well-rotted manures and peat moss will provide needed plant nutrients, hold water and allow good air movement in the soil.  I had a garden with some of the best soil in the world that was 6 feet of top soil and I still had a big increase in yields as a result of adding compost.  Adding organic materials to your fall garden will help correct any problems you soil structure might be causing.

Fall Garden Plan for Secondary and Micro Nutrients

Secondary nutrients include: calcium, magnesium, sodium, and sulfur.  They are required in small quantities but are still essential for good plant growth.  Plant micronutrients are elements needed in even small amounts than the secondary groups for the plant to thrive.  They include manganese, boron, copper, iron, chlorine, molybdenum, and zinc.  Soils with high amounts of organic material and have a soil pH between 6 and 7 tend to have adequate amounts of these elements.  In most cases testing for micronutrients is not needed unless the plants are not productive.  To insure you have enough organic material spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or partially decomposed manure per 100 square feet.

Nitrogen Advice for Fall Garden

Testing for nitrogen is not recommended.  Nitrogen is very mobile in the soil.  Excessive snow melt, rain and irrigation can move the available forms of nitrogen below the root zone.  For the most eco-friendly application of nitrogen, fertilize in small amounts and increase amounts when the plant is rapidly growing.  For example a corn plant uses the largest percent of total nitrogen between being knee high and tasseling.  Here is a good video on “Planting a Vegetable Garden for Spring” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNOe0UogfY0&feature=youtu.be.  My rule of thumb is to fertilize with nitrogen when the plant loses its deep green color and the growth slows.  Too much nitrogen will cause green plant growth and suppress fruit formation.  Adding too much fertilizer is a problem many beginning gardeners make

Fall is an excellent time to prepare your garden for next spring.  Soil preparation requires soil testing and an adjustment period for the soil.  If pH additives and additional phosphorus and potassium are needed it all must be incorporated 8” deep to maximize the results.  Tilled in compost or animal manure in the fall helps build beneficial soil organisms (bacteria, fungi, and worms) during the winter months.  Here is some excellent information on “Fertilizing the Organic Garden” http://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000489_Rep511.pdf.  By understanding and preparing the soil you will maximize the production of your spring garden.  Many gardeners wait until a later convenient time and that results in this gardening task not getting done.  Start your spring garden with the proper fall garden soil preparation.

 

How to Compost Fall Leaves?

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How to Compost Leaves

By Richard Godke

“What do I do with all those leaves?”  Look at the beautiful fall leaves that pile up as future plant food.  People have been asking how to compost fall leaves.  Composting is a great way for beginner home gardeners to prepare for next year’s garden, save money, and help the environment.  Garden soil is the most important factor in the success of a garden.  Compost loosens the soil, provides slow release of nutrients, aids in soil drainage and aeration, and allows great water retention – saving on the water that you use.  Composting fall leaves is easy if you understand the science behind the process.  Rather than sending your leaves to the landfill consider composting them using these easy steps.
The composting process takes organic materials (previously alive things) and breaks them down into basic nutrient components that are easily absorbed by plants.  How to Compost Autumn Leaves is a great video to help you understand the basis.  Composting requires needs these components in the correct proportions to quickly complete the process: moisture, heat, composting organisms, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.  Nature does it all the time without the help of humans.  Proper management of the compost can greatly speed the process. You can produce leaf compost more quickly by looking for these four basic indicators in your compost pile: 1. temperature, 2. moisture, 3. odor, and 4. fluffiness (available air pockets).  Take the temperature with a thermometer.  Within days of building your compost pile the temp should rise until it reaches between 104-150°F (40-65°C).  Measure the moisture level, by squeezing a handful of compost, if water drips out it is too wet.  Too much water takes up the space needed by oxygen that feeds the aerobic bacteria.  A highly efficient compost pile should first smell like the materials the being composted – grass, leaves, or straw for example.  Later in the composting process it will smell like garden dirt or a fresh rain.  If the compost pile smells sour or rotten the materials are too wet or lacking more carbon-based material.  Knowing how to Compost fall leaves can quickly turn litter into black gold or compost.  Here are my 6 ways for a speedy leaf composting adventure.

How to compost using full sun

The quicker the sun heats up the compost pile the quicker the bacteria start growing and begin the composting process.  Autumn can have very cold temperatures.  Additional heat from the sun can jumpstart the process in the fall.  Once the bacteria begin growing, it will generate its own needed temperature.  A warm compost pile can be covered with snow and still produce plumes of steam.  Giving your compost pile a warm start can continue the process throughout the winter.  Knowing how to compost involves getting the temperature up to start the process.

How to compost using a mower and grinder

Flat leaves fall to the ground and stack up in layers cutting needed air pockets for the bacteria.  Mow over the leaves, rake, and then pile.  Or you can use a grass catcher bag on your mower and then pile.  The addition of the grass clippings in the mix will speed up the composting process.  Grass clipping have higher nitrogen content than leaves only.  The pulverized leaves should be dumped in layers onto the compost pile.  You can also use a machine made to grind up leaves and twigs.  Another way to chop up leaves is to place the leaves in a garbage can and plunge a string trimmer down into the can.  When using power tools always read and follow the safety instructions.  Breaking leaves down into smaller pieces will help stop leaf packing and speed up the composting process.  Leaf crushing may not be practical if you have lots of leaves.  Knowing how to compost involves air pockets in the pile.

How to compost using an additional nitrogen source

Nitrogen is needed to feed the aerobic bacteria that break down the leaves.  Low cost organic nitrogen sources include: fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and cattle, horse, poultry, and rabbit manures.  Avoid – meats, dairy products, fats, oils and cat and dog manures.  A non-organic nitrogen source could be commercial 10-10-10 fertilizer.  Most leaf compost piles will benefit from about ½ cup (118.29 Milliliters) per 1 ft. deep X 4 ft. X 4 ft. or (0.30480 M X 1.2192 M X 1.2192 M).  Adding extra nitrogen will greatly increase the decomposition rate of your leaves.  Any extra nutrients added will be available to your garden when the compost is applied.  Additional nitrogen sources will give your leaf compost a jump on the winter temperatures.  Knowing how to compost involves using the correct nitrogen ratio.

How to compost using layers of different materials?

Leaves tend to compact easily when they get wet.  It is important to layer the leaves with dampened garden soil, and a nitrogen source.  Do not use soil that has recently been treated with weed killer.  It could slow the compost process and kill the garden plants.  Damp soil has the useful bacteria that are needed to begin the composting process.  You can purchase commercial compost starter.  I have found that garden soil works just as well.  It is easier to first apply the dry soil, nitrogen source, and then dampen with a garden hose.  The ideal moisture content for compost is 40-60%.  In comparison, freshly mown grass has about 50% moisture. When compost is squeezed it should stick together.  It must be dry enough that a squeeze does not produce a drop of liquid.  Spraying the water on each layer will work the soil, bacteria, and nitrogen source down into the pile, speeding the process.

How to compost using the flat top method

A mound of dried leaves can seal the top of the compost pile causing the water to run off like shingles on a roof.  Some compost piles then stay completely dry in the middle.  The mound of leaves on the top caused the rain to run off.  When building a leaf compost pile it is important to make the top flat or slightly concave (dipped).  This causes the water to run into the middle of the pile carrying the soil, bacteria, and nitrogen down through the pile.  This will encourage an explosion of bacteria growth.  Knowing how to compost fall leaves involves getting moisture to the center of the pile.

How to compost by introducing oxygen

Hard and shiny leaves tend to easily compress together.  It is vital to turn the compost pile to introduce oxygen to the bacteria.  Several days after building a leaf compost pile the temperature increases.  The temp will then slowly decrease.  When the temperature significantly drops it is time to turn the pile.  Simply move the pile from one spot to another to introduce new air pockets.  This will also mix up the elements so each piece comes in contact with the moisture, bacteria and nitrogen.  Turning the compost pile is kind of like kneading bread dough.  It causes the pile temperature to increase again.  Repeat these turning process until the materials are broken down and the temp does not increase.  At this stage, the shape of the original material is not recognizable.  A great way to speed the process is to use a rotating compost barrel that allows you to easily turn the compost, usually several times a week.  It is surprising how much the additional aeration will speed the process.

Your fallen leaves can be made into a valuable environmentally friendly garden accelerator.  If you want a successful garden it starts with organically rich soil.  The best way to get high quality, low cost, and environmentally friendly soil additive is to compost your own leaves.  By following my 6 steps To Speedy Leaf Composting you can possibly produce a batch of completed fall leaf compost in three months.  How to compost and why are covered on a great web page Composting at Home Introduction to Composting.  If the compost is not properly managed it could take from 6 to 12 months.  To maximize the composting process it is important to understand the 4 basic compost pile signals: 1. temperature, 2. moisture, 3. odor, and 4. fluffiness (available air pockets).  By understanding the composting process and how the elements work together your process time will greatly be reduced.  As you manage your compost pile I encourage you to experiment with different combinations of: moisture, heat, organisms, carbon based organic material, nitrogen and oxygen.  Composting is another way beginner gardeners can enjoy the beautiful leaves in the fall..

Growing the Tallest Corn Plant

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Tallest Corn Plant

By Richard Godke

I am a Midwest boy that was trained by some of the leading corn professors in the world. After building a 20 foot tower with a grow light inside an upside down garbage can in my back yard with; full sun, 5 feet topsoil, and the best corn fertilizer program available. My corn plant reached 17.5 feet. I asked my professor why after following all of the best management practices, why did the corn plant not break the world record which was 21.5 feet then.it not grow higher? His answer surprisingly was day length. When summer starts, June 21 the days get shorter and this tells most corn plants that it is time to prepare to tassel. It may take different number of days to tassel depending on the corn variety. My stock started tasseling in mid July.stopping its upward growth. That year I moved away from my tower, excellent soil and a full sun yard so I have never tried again.
Key to growing the tallest corn plant is a shade program that does not let the corn plant know the days are getting shorter starting June 21. It is easier to set a system that limits light rather than trying to substitute artificial light. My garbage can with a 100 watt grow light had little effect on the day length effect, according to the expert. So build a tower that you can keep 100 % of light out, and can open it up every day so the plant thing the days are getting longer the plant will never try to set a tassel so it will keep growing upward. This takes a lot of planning and limiting the day length at the beginning of the growth.