The 7 habits of successful gardeners
Gardening for the first time? You can't go wrong with these time-tested techniques.
We love attaching a number to advice, a number smaller than the one I regard as most realistic: The 23,462 Things It's Important to Remember Before Getting Out of Bed.
So be warned: I haven't really honed it down to only seven; these are just the first seven essentials that came to mind when I decided to do this. And not in order, either.
1. Make compost
Short version: Mother Nature never throws anything away.
Longer version: Composting is the rare silk purse from a sow's ear, something for nothing, win-win. You start out with kitchen, yard and garden debris and wind up with two benefits: a great soil amendment and many green points for avoiding the landfill.
It's easy to fall into thinking that compost's last name is bin, and that careful layering and turning are part of the deal. But piling shredded leaves in a corner counts, too. So does "trench composting," handy for those with little garden space, and so does bringing your kitchen scraps to a place that will compost them if you can't – try the nearest community garden. I have a friend in Manhattan, for instance, who brings her coffee grounds, orange peels and such to the Lower East Side Ecology Center at Union Square Greenmarket.
2. Use compost
Spread compost around plants to ward off disease; put a bit in your potting mix to add slow-release micronutrients; top-dress beds with it to improve soil structure no matter what kind of soil you have; or use it to help restore life to soil that's exhausted from years of chemical abuse. Sprinkle it on the lawn spring and fall to encourage the shallow grass roots. It's almost impossible to use too much.
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3. Plant crops in wide beds
Crops are anything planted for harvesting: vegetables, cutting flowers or shrubs on hold to be transplanted. Keeping these grouped as tightly as possible in beds that are not trod upon cuts down on weeding, conserves water, allows the compost to be concentrated where it will do the most good and improves soil structure year upon year as the layers of organic matter pile up. These beds are frequently raised or at least corralled neatly by boards or — I saw it once and am still impressed all these years later — by long slabs of granite. Aesthetics aside, the primary virtue of this tidiness is easier path maintenance. From the soil and plant point of view, it's the special treatment that matters.
Mulch clothes the soil in a protective barrier that moderates temperature, conserves water, helps keep soil-borne diseases from splashing up and helps keep soil itself from splashing up — on your lettuce, for instance. Almost any organic mulch that will rot down into the soil is preferable to landscape fabric with some kind of icing, but choosing the right mulch for each job is worth the extra effort.
- MSN Lifestyle: The top 12 foods to eat organic
Straw is inexpensive, but it's untidy compared to wood chips and it breaks down a lot faster. That makes straw suitable for the vegetable patch, while the chips are better for under shrubs. The specialized mulches for warming soil and/or reflecting just the right light upon your vegetables are seldom biodegradable. My experiments with them are ongoing, so all I can say at this point is: Remember that they work only when light falls on them; the more your garden resembles a jungle — no names, please — the less effective they will be.
5. Feed the soil, not the plants
Short version: Junk food, including organic junk food, has plenty of calories and may include added vitamins. But it's not great long-term nourishment, for many reasons we've learned and others we can so far only observe. Our bodies know the difference between eating a carrot and taking a capsule of vitamin A. Same deal with the soil.
Longer version: Plant health depends on healthy roots; healthy roots depend on healthy soil for air, water and nutrients delivered in forms plants can use. Soil rich in organic matter — compost — is generally rich in nutrients and in the teeming life (fungi, bacteria, worms, etc.) that makes those nutrients available to the plants.
Ornamental plants in good soil seldom need added fertilizer, and crop plants that do need extra food need less of it when it's released slowly by friendly soil from things such as rock powders, kelp and green manures. For an example of how this works with nitrogen, one of the most important nutrients, here's a Rodale Institute research report.
6. Share something
If you have a garden, you're rich.
Got seeds? The Seed Savers Exchange isn't just about vegetables; there's an affiliated flower and herb exchange, too. Got flowers? Hospitals won't take them anymore (allergies), but group homes, soup kitchens and — why not? — your neighborhood hardware store might be delighted with a bit of brightening up. Got produce? There's a national umbrella campaign for vegetable gardeners who want to plant a row for the hungry, and many food banks, farmers' markets and community gardens have set up organized donations. But there's no law that says you can't just give your extra beans to anyone who genuinely wants them. Hunger isn't always physical.
The garden itself is worth sharing too. Garden tours are popular fundraisers so, if you're up for the attendant stress, it's likely there's a cause that's looking for locations. In my experience with these things, there's always a lot more preparation than I've allowed for – but also a lot more given back in new friends, new ideas and gazillions of pats.
7. Be there
Whether Lao-Tse actually said it or not, it's true: The best fertilizer is the shadow of the gardener.
Another 2 important habits (regarding the 1st photo with a lady planting flowers)
1. Do not wear your party cloth when gardening.
2. Do not kneel down. It hurts your knees.
I have been growing tomatoes in pots on a deck for years. Although I have a garden, it is small and I always want lots and lots of tomatoes. It works very well with just a little care. The best tomatoes to try are determinate varieties as they will not grow too tall. They will produce most of their crop within a short time period but living in Miami you should be able to stagger the planting time to have them ripen at different times. Make sure your pot is big enough and heavy enough so that the plants won't topple over. Pots also tend to dry out and some might need watering twice daily. I use a mat of water retaining fabric in the bottom of the pot and moisture retaining potting soil. You also will need a trellis or something to tie the plants to so that when the tomatoes start coming the plant won't break.