Mar 25, 2010

Growing Vegetables in Utah Valley... Lessons from our failures

Continuing in the tradition of distracting myself from what I can't control...

Skywalker and I are big on the idea of a garden and always have been. Not only did the prophet say we're supposed to grow one, but we're a pretty vegetable-heavy family. We eat Lots of veggies. And so a garden could save a great deal of money for us.

The first year we grew a garden, it was in a little wooden-enclosed plot on a lawn. Not much sun, not many nutrients in the soil, plus they did a weed killer and fertilizer on the lawn every year and I think that took care of our garden. We planted lots of things but the only ones that grew were a few stunted squash and a few tiny tomatoes and LOTS of onions. Apparently Onions can hazard pretty much any garden climate. Lesson learned: location and soil conditions are very important.

The second year, we tried to make a raised garden bed in our back yard and did some more on the other side of our driveway. Again, we planted lots of stuff. What we got was squash (again, but more this time) Onions (again), Leeks, and some stunted beets.

Lesson learned: You must water. Consistent water is a MUST... thus we decided the next year...

We put the garden in our front garden plot. We planted a few things, clearing out the weeds that have choked it enough to give us room for our tomato plants. I watered it carefully in the morning and in the heat of the day. I read somewhere that if you deep-water once a week, the plants grow better, so I tried not to water every day. We planted on the side of the road again, too. This year we got a great lettuce and spinach crop, which quickly went to seed. We had a few stunted tomatoes, (but still, that's better than before) a couple stunted peppers, a few squash.

I realized then that we needed a real overhaul on our techniques. What was the problem? Too much watering? I didn't think so...circumstances... our ground got BAKED in the summertime. It was basically dust most of the time, even though it was pretty rich soil. And knowing the physiology of plant roots, I figured it was a LACK of water and the ground's being unable to keep water IN it that we were dealing with.

The next year we went all-out. Cleared out that entire front garden plot so that there were no leftover weeds. No laziness about it. Planted in rows, got soaker hoses and snaked them along the rows, and then *brilliant stroke* mulched around every single plant and all over the ground where plants weren't planted. We put the mulch OVER the soaker hose so that it wouldn't bake and dry in the sun.

That was last year. We planted our lettuce and spinach earlier, along with some other greens, and actually were able to eat them for several weeks before they went to seed. We got a really great yeild on Broccoli, especially. We got some good peppers. We got BOATLOADS of carrots. Our tomatoes were iffy... it's because we didn't stake them well enough and they were too crowded. So the answer is: a soaker hose situation where you can turn it on for an hour in the morning and an hour at the hottest time of day, but not waste water, because it's *slowly* letting water out, plus mulch to keep the ground moist.

This year we're expanding our gardening. We're using a 50X30 foot square in the backyard as well as our front yard plot. Last year our problem was space... we'll see what happens with our tomatoes and peppers, especially, this year when we spread them out a bit. We're doing the soaker-hose mulch routine again (which will mean we're buying a few more soaker hoses, and buying a pickup load of mulch from the city dump. It's cheap... 15 dollars for a pickup-load). This year, our goal is to be able to eat entirely from our garden, veggies-wise, all summer. And that we'll be able to store veggies (We got our dehydrator!!) and eat quite a few over the winter as well.

So wish us luck!

So to recap. Lessons learned:

1) Location. You need a good southern exposure if you want lots of vegetables.
2) do not plant where the soil is not favorable to veggies. You need topsoil, and you need compost or fertilizer specific to veggies. Our soil is alkaline, so acidic-type fertilizing is best. That means green waste if you're composting.
3) Water. Soooo important! It needs to be a little at a time, over a sustained amount of time, to keep our scorching, drying weather from baking out the ground and paralyzing the plant roots. A soaker hose works... a drip system would also work. Or you could go outside every half-hour between the hours of 10 and 4 pm and give the plants a watering... but that's not very practical.
4) Mulch. Keeps the ground moist. Keeps the weeds down. Fertilizes the plants and gives them an extra boost. You can use lawn clippings, dead leaves from the piles you've raked up, or you can buy a commercial mulch or go with the processed green waste that your city collects.
5) Space. Tomatoes really do need about 3-4 feet between them. Stake the veggies well. And strategize your garden so that sun-loving veggies like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are in the sunniest parts and shade-lovers like lettuces, broccolis, peas etc get some shade part of the day. Plant veggies so that they don't interrupt each others' sun... taller veggies further north, the shorter ones further south so that all get sun exposure.

And that's all folks! Hopefully our next post will be about something else... I'm not going to say what because I don't want to jinx myself.


Heather said...

We use black plastic over a drip system to water our tomatoes (or soaker hoses). They love the black plastic and it works as a mulch too. I water really deep - like turn it on for 4-5 hours. But that way I only have to water every 2 weeks. It works soooo great! The large time span between waterings actually induces the plants to fruit so you are supposed to get a better yield. Anyway, it's especially nice to not have to worry about watering every day! I took a garden class about gardening in our area and they taught me a lot about ph and fertilizers and stuff. I'd love to share what I learned. Maybe I'll get time to post about it on my blog sometime soon...

NoSurfGirl said...

that makes a lot of sense! I figured the not watering every day thing had more to it. I'd LOVE a more in-depth post to refer to in future gardening posts, and for my own gardening this year. You guys always have so many beautiful vegetables.