Have you ever wanted to start a garden but are not sure where to begin? Do you have a garden but the harvests haven’t been good or the produce has lacked flavor?
Well you’re not alone and there is a solution! I’m going to let you into a secret so you can have the best harvest EVER and I’m betting that there’s something on the list you can do right now to improve your garden to so you can reap the benefits when you’re harvesting.
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1. Build the soil
I know, I know I need to get off my soapbox about this one but I can’t stress the importance of having good soil and I’m not just talking about the fertility but the texture too.
A good soil retains moisture but isn’t sopping wet and pooling water when it rains. It contains lots of organic matter, holds carbon and it alive with microorganisms, earthworms and so much more.
So how do you build the soil?
There’s several ways you can build the soil but mulching is one of the easiest. You can mulch any time of the year to start incorporating organic matter into the soil. In late spring and early summer you can use cut grass which is fairly abundant at this time of year as mulch. In autumn you can use leaves to mulch your beds before winter.
But there’s Snow!
Don’t be totally put off from getting into the garden in winter! I have shoveled snow off the bed to be able to mulch and whilst that isn’t always practical, it is certainly an option in an urban setting. I’ve never done it but you could put mulch on top of the snow, if more snow comes it will certainly keep the mulch in place for you!
Mulch adds more organic matter to the soil as well as retaining water and reducing heat fluctuations in the soil. With large quantities of mulch, you can harvest hardy veggies well into winter in certain areas.
So far this season my family and I (it was a joint effort with the wheelbarrow and trugs) have covered the garden in last year’s leaf mold, the chicken coop bedding, leaves from the maple and silver birch trees and some compost.
Composting is another soil building technique which can be used to really boost your garden. Composting at home can use almost everything out of your kitchen, garden and more! Compost you have made at home can reduce your carbon footprint; add humus and nutrients to the soil.
Anything that was once alive can be composted. Bokashi composting can handle raw meat, fish, dairy and cooked food scraps from the kitchen, worm composting can handle fruit, veggie, some paper/cardboard waste and plant matter. Large traditional compost heaps can take care of large quantities of plant matter, cardboard, twigs, straw etc over a longer period of time. A typical garden’s traditional compost heap takes about 6 months of weekly additions of material. The process can be speeded up.
Find out more about making Gardeners Gold or take a look at these videos from YouTube for composting:
Geoff Lawton has a great piece on 18 day composting in a permaculture setting in this video:
If you already have a heap but it needs some help getting it back running take a look at this video:
Use soil amendment products which contain mychorrizal fungi like this one from Organic Plant Magic.
These types of fungi form relationships with plants and there can be many types of mychorrizal fungi working with one plant. The more of these fungi which are in the soil, the more organic matter is broken down and more nutrients are available to the plants.
I have seen some conflicting information about how vegetables prefer a soil with more bacteria whilst shrubs and trees prefer more fungi in the soil on the internet. I haven’t experimented too much with bacteria rich soil versus fungi rich soil in my own garden yet but I have definitely seen improvements with mychorrizal fungi. Take a look at Texas A&M University information about mychorrizal fungi garden benefits.
Find out more about Organic Plant Magic in my garden.
You can also use soil amendments which contain trace elements. These will improve the health and nutritional value of the produce you grow.
I was discussing with my Dad back in England about an article he had been reading how the nutritional value of food had been decreasing over time. The example he used was an apple in the 1940s contained more vitamins and minerals than an apple produced now. Something which made sense to me from a different angle; one of our hens (Mother Clucker) has started laying and although her eggs are small, two of these small eggs kept me and my husband feeling full until early afternoon. We felt so full from eggs from our hen’s scrambled for breakfast with a slice of toast, we even forgot lunch!
Our first ever egg!
Whether it is a placebo effect or whether the eggs really were more nutrient dense than the store-bought flat of eggs we had bought previously but we felt we had more energy.
Have you ever had local organic produce and cut out the mass produced food? Did you notice a difference in your well being?
But I digress, so what are trace elements? Trace elements are those minerals and elements which are needed by the body in small quantities to maintain certain functions needed for health. Iodine is an example for a trace element which was causing many health issues until iodized salt or fortifying foods with iodine.
Other trace elements include:
The soil is being depleted of these trace elements through various methods including rain and irrigation, the agrochemical industry according to some sources and not giving back to the land by using everything on the homestead.
You can add soil amendments which contain trace elements like rockdust and seaweed meal either directly on the bed then top with mulch or till in the added material. You can also add handfuls of rockdust and seaweed meal to the compost heap to improve the nutrient content for your plants.
2. Feed Throughout the Season
This might be simple advice but you gotta feed your plants for them to produce!
I make my own organic fertilizers by using Bokashi Tea from the Bokashi bin and by making natural liquid fertilizers with weeds, manure, seaweed and more. You can read the post for Mother Earth News right here.
Plants need feeding throughout the growing season and the frequency and quantity you need to feed depends on the plants you grow, climate and soil to name a couple of factors. I find that experimenting with the amount of fertilizer and the frequency is one of the fun things I can do in the garden.
You can sign up for our newsletter and get access to the Misfit Gardening Urban Homesteading Resource Library and find out what I put in my liquid fertilizer to get amazing results. Be warned, the ingredients might shock you! (Subscribers may log in to the Resource Library at any time to see what’s new).
I love using my homemade liquid fertilizer one day and seeing the growth over the next week in summer. My family and I love the surprise of heading out the gate to see a towering jungle of deliciousness waiting to be picked!
3. It’s in the Seeds
Growing the right plants for the right climate can help you get better harvests. If you are lucky enough to have a local nursery or garden center which carries local seeds or seeds best for the area where you live (like one of my local nurseries), these local seeds will help you get the best from your garden.
Seeds sourced locally have traits which have come from generations being gown in the local area; they are more likely to resist climate problems and local pests or diseases. They are more likely to adapt quicker than seeds bought which were raised in a different climate.
Try looking for a local seed swap event or get talking to local gardeners. Many gardeners save seed year after year and my local allotment in England used to sell surplus veggie starters or plug plants which had been grown too.
If you can’t find a local seeds try open pollinated heirloom varieties. These are historical or heritage varieties of plants which often have disease resistance, tolerance against heat or frost and pest resistance. There are many heirloom plants which have grown well where I live including Yellow Pear, Black Cherokee and Black Krim tomatoes, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Golden Wax beans and French Breakfast radishes.
Here are some heirloom seed suppliers which you can try:
4. Companion Planting
This is quite common in permaculture gardens with the planting guilds but can work in traditional gardens too.
Companion planting can work in a couple of ways by confusing pests, drawing in more beneficial insects to pollinate or prey on pests in the area, providing support or shading for another crop or be providing nutrients for other plants.
In my vegetable garden there are lots of mixed and companion plantings throughout the growing space.
Some common companion plantings include the 3 Sisters of corn, squash and beans where the beans fix nitrogen for the other plants; the corn is a support for the climbing beans and the squash suppressed weeds and retains water for the other plants by acting as a living ground cover.
Growing basil with tomatoes is said to deter pests and growing tomatoes with your kale, cabbage, cauliflower can deter the cabbage white butterfly from playing eggs on them. Growing onions with carrots are said to deter both carrot and onion fly.
Other plants which make suitable companions include the poached egg plant to attract bees and hoverflies, nasturtiums to attract caterpillars away from your veggies and marigolds to ward off pests.
Stay tuned to find out more tips and tricks I will be sharing over the upcoming weeks in my posts to help you have the best garden ever! If you have any tips to share with me or other readers please share them in the comments or at the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love to hear your ideas and tips.