HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?
American Survival Guide|March 2021
'SAGE' ADVICE FOR STARTING OR IMPROVING YOUR VEGGIE PLOT
JIM JEFFRIES
Home gardening was crucial to Aunt Marjorie's survival for much of her life and was ingrained in her soul over her 90 years on this Earth. I was more than fortunate to be able to absorb a small fraction of what she knew, and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for imparting a bit of her wisdom to me for the last decade or so of her life. I hope to pass on some of that wisdom in this article.

Producing your own food provides nutrition security in several ways:

• It prevents starvation.

• It reduces or eliminates dependency on outside sources.

• It avoids toxic chemicals applied to commercial food.

• It ends contamination in processing or preservation.

Produce grown in far-off places, especially those outside the United States, might have been raised using unsafe methods—possibly with hazardous fertilizers such as human waste. Every year, there are outbreaks of food-borne illnesses due to Escherichia coli (E. coli) contamination on leafy greens and other food items originating from sources both foreign and domestic. Chemicals applied to the crops in the form of pesticides can cause a vast array of diseases, including cancer and birth defects. Cross-contamination during handling and processing can cause life-threatening reactions in people with food allergies.

By growing your own food, you know exactly what’s in—and on—it.

At first look, growing plants to produce food seems simple; and, in fact it is, but there’s a lot that goes into a successful garden:

• Selection and preparation of the ground

• The timing of starting seeds and putting plants in the soil

• Nurturing tender, young plants

• Keeping weeds and pests at bay

• Harvesting the crops

• Preserving and/or storing the produce

From the first step, there are many wrong turns that can be made, and there’s often frustration and disappointment along the way. Unfortunately, many people, particularly first-time gardeners, give up before the first pepper is picked.

LOCATION

Where you situate your garden is very important. Most plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight to grow well, but even shady areas can be productive for some plants. Even so, plants tolerant of shade might do well for a while, but tree roots could draw moisture away.

If you have space in your backyard or an adjacent plot of land, the typical surface-level garden could suit your needs well. But, in some situations, a raised bed might produce better results. And, many urban gardeners use large buckets or containers and grow remarkable amounts of varied crops right on their patio.

SOIL

Soil conditions have a direct bearing on how well your plants will grow and produce. Soil that compacts easily, such as the red clay soil in my region, makes it difficult for plants to sink their roots into the ground, so rainwater is more apt to run off than soak in.

Corn seems to do quite well in these heavy soils, and the solid support keeps the stalk sturdy and upright in strong winds. Sandy soil doesn’t provide much of an anchor for top-heavy plants and lacks moisture retention. However, vining plants such as melons and squash don’t require much support and are happy to sprawl across the ground, sinking their roots deep to get to the moisture and nutrients to produce large, sweet fruit.

Regardless of what type of soil you have, there are ways to modify or amend it. By mixing a naturally fluffy material such as peat moss into the top several inches of dirt, you can loosen a hard clay or improve the moisture-holding characteristics of sand. However, depending on how much you need to add, peat purchased from garden centers can be expensive. In fact, collected grass clippings and leaf litter can be just as effective. Just try to minimize the weed content if you use these.

Besides physical condition, chemical makeup is also important. Soil pH can greatly affect your plants’ health. If you’re just establishing a garden, it’s a good idea to test the soil prior to planting.

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