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I love the renewed interest in home vegetable growing and home orchards. I'm just sad that it's because of the economy rather than the self-sufficiency of years ago. Back during World Wars I and II, they were valled "victory gardens." Maybe today we can call them "financial victory gardens."
But, please be careful. One can needlessly spend too much money building a vegetable garden, only to wind up with maybe five tomatoes on three different transplants. On average, that would be $10 a pound, when you factor in soil, fertilizer, mulch, the transplant and maybe tilling and supplements.
I also love that more and more people are going organic this year. What most people don't realize, however, is that the simplest way to "go organic" is just having the most organic matter in their soil. The biggest gardening mistake most people make is with the soil. But I can help you avoid that mistake, and make it worth your while, too. Just by following some basic rules about building organic soil, you'll have truly taken the proper first steps in "going organic."
January is historically the best time to build beds for vegetable gardens. While it's still too early to plant anything outside, building beds gives you something to do if you're chomping at the bit to get busy. Build your beds by mid-February, and let them rest a few weeks before planting season begins later in the month. Letting the soil "mellow" will prevent transplant shock for many new plants — whether you're going with seeds or transplants.
Besides guaranteeing organic growing conditions, here are my top four reasons to have your own vegetable or herb garden.
All successful gardening starts with good soil. And since we don't have naturally good soil in Houston, we have to manufacture it. Building the right beds with the right material means you'll be actually starting on an "organic" foot.
The best vegetable beds — organic or not — start with 75 percent rose soil and 25 percent compost. Others may have different ratios they swear by, but it's usually three parts rose soil to one part compost. Some will do four parts rose soil to one part compost. Others have been known to do two parts rose soil to one part compost.
Twenty years ago, most people had to make their own garden mix/rose soil, but today we are blessed with two companies that make the best rose soils and have darn good composts, too. Living Earth Technology started the rose soil craze some 15 years ago. Nature's Way Resources has perfected it. They both have bulk locations around Houston, and they both sell their products by the bag, too. Other soil and compost names to look for at garden centers include Austin-based Lady Bug Natural and Soil Menders, based in the Panhandle.
You can make your own rose soil if you want. And and you can make your own compost over time, too. Rose soil is simply equal thirds of loam/soil, sand, and humus/compost. So if you have your own compost pile, mix 1/3 compost, 1/3 loam/soil (which is dirt-cheap - pun intended), and 1/3 sand, and that's a great starting point.
In any case, NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER plant a vegetable bed in POTTING SOIL!!! Even if you're planting vegetables or herbs in containers, don't use POTTING SOIL!!!
Building beds isn't that complicated. Just make 'em at least 10-12 inches deep in soil/compost mix. Lock that soil in with landscape timbers, cinder blocks, random pieces of lumber, landscape stone, moss rock, etc. The key is to give the veggies a chance to develop a root system at least 10 inches deep. The deeper the root system, the bigger and stronger the plant will be on top. You may be asking, "Randy, can I just build a bed on top of a plot of grass?" Yes, you can! However, I would lay about 10-12 layers of newspaper on top of the grass before adding the soil and compost mix. This helps keep the grass from coming back to life. Even if you have an area of just plain dirt you may consider putting down the newspaper as a weed block. And yes, container gardening also has to start with good soil and compost, and it still has to be at least 10 inches deep.
When it comes to feeding the garden organically, there are many schools of thought. I always go for the simplest method. By the way, feeding vegetables a "synthetic" fertilizer does not offend me. If you have to be manic-organic about it, fine. Stick to 100 percent organic products. However, the neat thing about organic fertilizers is that they don't have to be applied as often as synthetic ones.
There are about for or five good organic fertilizers. Any granular one that has fairly balanced numbers is always good for me. I like the lower-numbered ones for vegetable gardens so there's never a chance of a burn or overly rapid growth. I've seen incredible results with Arbor Gate's brand, and Medina's granular is good. NRG is good. Micro Life is good. But nitrogen numbers of 8 and above I leave for the lawn.
By the way, if you like foliar feeding the veggie garden, nothing beats Medina Hasta Gro liquid. Just remember that while all true-organic proponents and experts and godfathers in the field of organics agree that Medina Hasta Gro is great, it is not 100 percent organic. Still, it's the only 1-2-1 mostly organic foliar feed out there and with the balance I truly desire.
You may have questions about "going organic" with pest and disease control, but in this week's issue I wanted to focus on soils. The healthier and more enriched the soil is with organic matter, the easier it is to handle insect or disease problems. We'll get more into those subjects in future email tips. And remember, you can call the radio show any weekend to ask your question.
Randy Lemmon's GardenLine is heard 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, exclusively on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
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