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Successful Gardening | How to | Prepare Early | Drain poor soil | Condition Soil | Control Weeds |

Updated on August 29, 2012
Our Sustainable Garden at the Cottage Craft Works Homestead.
Our Sustainable Garden at the Cottage Craft Works Homestead.

You don’t need a green thumb to grow a lush sustainable garden, just better timing and earlier preparations with some good well drained soil.

As each New Year begins while most are just wading through countless seed and nursery catalogs dreaming of growing the lush plants and gardens that present so well in the pictures. The sustainable gardener already has their sleeves rolled up and are preparing for the spring planting.

Preparation and good planning is what really separates a mediocre garden to one that looks like it was grown by a master gardener. Soil conditioning, good drainage, weed control, and then maintaining water, pest, and plant diseases are areas most will rush and then be disappointed with a lackluster performing garden.

Growing in compost enriched soil takes time to build a sustainable garden base. Decayed vegetation mixed with composted animal manures and straw make some of the best garden material. Just don’t bring in fresh straw or hay that contains new weed seeds.

Drainage is a huge factor in growing a sustainable garden. Location in an area with the best soil and drainage are important factors. If your soil has very little percolation, meaning water drains down slow, such as clay, sand will need to be added.

If your garden spot is flat and holds water, and you can add drainage to a lower spot in the yard, consider using a roll of inexpensive plastic drain piping. It is cheap; it can be placed in a rather shallow trench around the perimeter of a garden and will typically pull water from 50’ on either side. It is a rather permanent fix to water logged garden spots. After it is in you won’t even know it is there. Just be sure to purchase the type with a fabric sock to prevent sediment from filling it in. This pipe can be purchased in 100’ rolls at a local home center. It is 4” in diameter and will need to be hand dug or rent a trencher to intall.

Timing is also critical and depending on which region you live timing can vary. If plants are planted too early in the spring they could be killed by a late frost. If some plants are set out too late they may not be able to mature with vegetables before the summer heat arrives. Cool weather plants such as lettuce, cabbage and greens can be started when light frost is still occurring. In our Texas costal region we can pretty well grow these through the fall and winter months up until sometimes April.

Starting plants from seeds early enough to mature before transplanting is an area where most will wait too long and try to rush plantings into the ground. In Texas we start are plants as early as the week between Christmas and New Years. The plants need to reach a healthy transplantable age and even then they need time to be brought in and out of the house or green house to become conditioned before planting. Transplanting tomatoes plantings have to be buried 1/2 to 2/3rds up the stem to allow them to develop a root structure sufficient enough to hold the heavy fruits they will bear at maturity.

Garden preparation is important, most will just allow the garden spot to grow up with the old vines and left over vegetables to lie on the garden until it’s time to plant in the spring. Spring garden preparation should start in the late fall by removing all the dead plantings and discarding any leftover vegetables that have dropped down.

Depending on if you use no till planting methods or till your garden, you want to prevent new weed development. Tilling frequently up until the time to plant will keep the weeds from taking hold, or mulching to choke out new week growth is the most effective way to nip the weed problem before they can begin.

Use fresh seeds or seeds that have been stored in moisture proof containers in a cool location. Trying to use last years or the year before left over seeds that have been in a humid hot shed is not worth the time and labor to only discover the disappointment when the seeds don’t produce.

Watch out for garden and home centers spring seed sales. They try and push last year’s seed packs out and will not be the fresh seeds you need. Unfortunately not all home and garden centers will have new seeds in stock in time to start plants from seeds. If you find this to be the case in your area, you may need to mail order or actually purchase seeds and hold them over in an environment that you control.

Trying to save seeds from your plants is a great sustainable savings idea, but they need to be heirloom type seeds. Generally seeds from a hybrid variety do not do well or will not produce for second plantings.

Purchasing a good book with pictures will help you identify pest and plant diseases before they can get out of hand. Most gardening books will provide you remedies to fix the problem and depending on the source of the book will provide organic chemical free methods or suggest the chemical and duration before safe harvest.

We do carry several books on sustainable and even organic gardening at or you can just as easily purchase them at a local book store. A good book with color pictures is far better than trying to use a computer. You can take the book out to the garden and place the picture right next to your plants to make a positive identification. There is a wealth of information also available on the Internet once you know what you are dealing with.

Rotate your garden crops as much as you can, cucumbers and squash are very suitable to soil based micro plant-parasitic nematodes and soil insects, which bore up inside the plant stem and destroy it before the human eye can catch what has occurred.

Your local county agriculture extension office and Master Gardener society can provide you a wealth of free information just for the asking. They will even test soil samples that you bring in for possible needed nutrients and coverage. They will also help you identify plant pest or diseases from bugs, leaves and stems taken to them to review. Not all bugs in a garden should be considered pest, there are many beneficial bugs that help in the plant production and to eliminate non beneficial pest.

Water is essential to a strong healthy garden. Water early in the morning to allow leaves to dry, by watering in the evening leaves remain wet and become more susceptible to mildew and leaf molds. Some maintain that watering should only be targeted below the leaves so that diseases aren’t splashed back up onto the plants. If you are in an area with limited water, drip irrigation may be a really good option for both. We still water with overhead sprinklers using well water and have not had issues.

Late winter and early spring are also the time to prune, spray and fertilize fruit trees before they start their growing season.

You don’t need to spend money on expensive fertilizer stakes. You can use the same method to fertilize new and existing trees by using a heavy pointed pry bar and punching down holes around every 6-8 ft around the drip line, and then filling them with fertilizer to the top of the hole.

We just use a basic cheap blend such as 12-12-12. This is best done just after a wet spell where the bar will punch down deep into the soil with very little effort. Wiggled the bar around a bit and pull it out. We use a plastic funnel designed to add bird feed to a bird feeder. It is equipped with a trap door to shut it off when you have reached the level you want. This prevents excess fertilizer from spilling out on top of the ground and leaving burnt spots. It also has a spout that makes a perfect handle to scoop the fertilizer up out of a 5 gal plastic bucket.

Well its time to get back out and start prepping more for our spring planting season.


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