The following is the outline of the Organic Vegetable Gardening 101 class I teach, mainly at The Natural Gardener. To find out when the next class will be, check out the Events Calendar of The Natural Gardener's website.
“Though an old man, I am yet a young gardener.” ~ Thomas Jefferson when he was 72 years old
“You’re not really learning a thing about gardening if you’re not killing a few plants.
But it’s okay, they’re not puppies.”
Most all the vegetables we grow today aren’t native to the area. They have evolved to grow in other climates with better soil. We can get close to replicating that, but it does take some effort.
Making a Bed:
1) Site it where it gets enough sun and where a water faucet is close.
a) Sun – Some vegetables can make do with six hours of sun, but most need eight to really do well. Plants need the sun to make food, and since vegetables are the Olympic athletes of the plant world, they need a LOT of food, therefore a lot of sun.
b) Water – Make sure it’s close to a dedicated water faucet, or run a hose that you leave there.
2) Drainage – make sure it’s not in a low spot where rain sits for long periods of time
3) Raised bed, wide row, or flat? Raised bed is definitely best.
a) Materials for sides – wood, metal, cinder blocks
4) Fill it from existing soil or buy soil
a) Soil – Contrary to popular belief, most soil isn’t “bad”. It’s just devoid of nutrients and organic matter. Even if it had something toxic in it or a disease organism, quite often it can be fixed. Rarely does soil need to be replaced – only when there are large amounts of something toxic in it.
5) COMPOST, COMPOST, COMPOST
6) Put a sittin’ spot out there and some Christmas lights to encourage you to be out there more enjoying it.
Amending the soil:
1) Soil is the digestive system of the plant
2) An analogy:
a) Compost is a veggie-filled salad with yogurt dressing with live and active cultures
b) Dry fertilizer is meat and potatoes
c) Liquid fertilizer is fish stew
d) Seaweed is a bourbon and water
e) Compost tea is a probiotic
f) Molasses is a probiotic booster
g) Mulch is a blanket that tucks everything in
3) Texas soils, generally speaking, don’t have enough organic matter or nitrogen – it gets baked out every summer and nitrogen gets used up and washed out by the flooding rains.
Planning the layout
1) TIMING!!! Pay attention to it. Use TAMU's Travis County Vegetable Planting Guide.
2) Square foot gardening
3) How much should you plant?
a) Don’t try to grow “X” number of plants per person.
b) Just grow a few of everything you like.
4) GROW WHAT YOU LIKE. DON’T grow it if you don’t like it.
5) Grow more expensive/nutritious things first.
6) Perennial herbs can be put outside the bed.
7) Use the Square Foot Garden Spacing Guide to determine how big some things are.
a) Green side up.
b) Don’t plant too deep
c) Water in with seaweed
d) Water extra the first couple weeks, then ease off.
a) Don’t plant too deep. Twice as deep as the seed is big.
b) Don’t let them dry out.
1) Watering – Roots need both air and water. Soggy, sopping wet = all water and no air. Dry as a popcorn fart = all air and no water.
a) Dig into the soil and feel it. Aim for keeping it as damp as a well-wrung-out sponge.
b) Soil moisture reservoir.
c) Long, slow, infrequent soaks are better than frequent light waterings.
e) Drip irrigation, soaker hoses, ollas.
2) Fertilizing –
b) Nitrogen – Phosphorous – Potassium
c) Green – roots, flowers, & fruit – overall health
3) Season extenders
a) Shade cloth
b) Row cover
1) Harvest early and often
2) When in doubt, just pick one and taste it
3) Wash and refrigerate, just like fresh produce from the market
4) If you don’t know how to cook something, try simply slicing and browning in butter with some salt
5) If you have too much of something, freeze it!
a) Make a cooked dish with it and freeze that
c) Can it or dry it (come to Canning & Preserving Class in fall)
The Natural Gardener's Vegetable, Flower & Herb Gardening Info Sheet.
More Info Sheets from The Natural Gardener.