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OUTDOOR GARDENS

Having a garden outside is fun. A real garden is an extension of one's personality, and it is art. In addition to that, it is a lot of work. Anything that is worth having costs something. It either costs time, money, or energy. A garden costs a little money, lots of time, and lots of energy. The gardener has to be willing to do the necessary work at the time the garden needs it, rather than when "there isn't anything else to do."

The first step to take when you decide to make a garden, and you have permission, is to plan your garden. You need to decide what kinds of things you want to grow, and then find out if those things will grow in the area where you live, and if so, what time of year is best for planting, and if your garden spot has the correct amount of sunlight, type of soil, and can be protected from people or animals who would damage it.

Your garden should be in a place where there is sunlight all day, the ground is fairly level, has good drainage, and has sandy or loamy soil. If the soil is clayey, for example, you may as well forget having a garden. It also needs to have a water faucet close by so you can water regularly. It would not be fun to carry water in a bucket to water your garden!

Most people, when planning their first garden, do not realize how much space different plants take. Many vegetables, for instance, can be planted in rows, just an inch or so apart. Even closer, for carrots, radishes, and lettuce. Then there are vegetables that require a circle of four feet of space for just one plant (rhubarb, squash, cucumber, and more). Likewise, some flowers can be planted close together (forget-me-nots, violets, nasturtiums), while others need to be 6 inches apart (zinnias, black-eyed-susans, and more), or 3 feet apart (columbines and canterbury bells). In other words, the kinds of plants you want are partly decided by the amount of space you have.

Some plants, called "annuals," have to be re-planted each year, or re-seed themselves. Others, called "perennials," will either be pruned at the end of each year and stay dormant during winter, or they drop all their foliage above the ground in late fall, then start growing from their live root-stock in the spring. Most vegetables have to be replanted each year, as do many flowers. Some plants grow from seeds; some have to be started with root-stock, and some grow from bulbs or rhizomes. Whether to start with seeds, bulbs, root-stock, or rhizome is a serious financial consideration. Seeds are usually much less expensive. Most plants that grow from bulbs and rhizomes need to be dug up and separated every two or three years. It is possible that your neighbors would be willing to give you some of their bulblets or sections of rhizomes.

Good grief! By the time you make all these plans and decisions, you could be old and gray!

Once you decide what kinds of plants you want and whether to start with seeds or not, you need to decide where to plant which things. This could be done on graph paper. Draw out the size and shape of your garden, make a list of the different plants you want, and beside each plant name, list the amount of space it takes and how tall it will get.

Generally, the taller plants should be at the back of the garden, so that they do not shade the lower plants and prevent them from getting the sunshine they need. If the corn shades the radishes, you won't have radishes.

You need to be able to get to each plant, or area of plants, to pull weeds and cultivate the soil. It may seem wasteful to have bare earth between the plants, but they need good air circulation, and room to spread their branches.

Your placement plans need to please you. Plant the things you like the most where they are easiest to see and enjoy, as long as they don't interfere with the growth of your next-favorites.

The next step is to prepare the soil. It is wasteful to try to work soil after a hard rain, or during winter. The best time of year to start a garden is in early spring, when the ground has begun to warm up, and when the soil is dry enough to crumble easily. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty! You need to have a shovel, a hoe, a heavy rake, and a large plastic bag. Dig the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. Pick up a shovel-full, turn it over onto the ground, and hack at it with your shovel. If there are large lumps, hit it with the hoe a few times, and rake it smooth. Put rocks into a pile in a corner of your garden, and put debris from dead plants, and any trash you find, into the plastic bag for disposal.

Sometimes soil needs fertilizer or conditioners. It would be a good idea to take a sample of it to your local garden store (a large store, where they have different garden-related services) to be analyzed. The people there can tell you whether or not you need to put something into the soil before planting. For example, if many leaves have decayed in the soil, it may be quite acidic, and would need to be balanced by an alkaline substance such as lime; or, conversely, it may be too alkaline, and need some acid such as aluminum sulfate. The garden store people can advise you. If it needs something added to it, you put it on the surface of the soil (the amount being determined by the square footage of your garden), and mix it well, using your shovel. Then, rake the soil again so the large lumps are gone, and the bed is smooth.

Seeds are usually planted in prepared soil, after the heavy spring rains, and before the summer heat begins. You need to read the directions on the packages in order to know what time of year is best for planting, and any special instructions, such as depth to plant, and distance apart.

Once you get things planted, you need to attend to the maintenance of your garden, and that includes watering. When you plant your seeds into moist soil, you can wait a couple days (depending on your weather, of course) and water your garden with a sprinkler. Water gently, as a heavy watering will wash away your seeds, and may drown them. At the very first, you should water until the soil is wet about three inches below the surface. (You can dig in an unplanted spot with a small hand-shovel to see how far down the water has soaked.) Later, as the garden grows, you need to water more deeply, so that the roots get a good soaking. If you don't water deeply enough, the roots will grow toward the surface of the soil. Roots seek water. We learned that in another of our projects.

You must not water too often or too long each time. That wastes water, and is not good for your plants. The roots need to have air as well as water, so a little drying has to occur between each watering.

Some blooming flowers suffer by having water sprayed on them, so after your garden is blooming, it would be best to soak, rather than sprinkle. There are canvas soaker hoses that you lay around through the garden and just leave them in place. There are also hose-ends you can attach and place in your garden each time you water. If you just put a running hose down onto the soil, the water will dig a hole. You don't want that.

It is best not to water during the heat of the day, as some of the water evaporates. Further, in very hot climates, leaves that are watered will get burned from the sun, so it
is best to water in the evenings, after the sun has set.

Another part of garden maintenance is weeding. Every plant seems to have a weed that looks almost like it, that grows nearby. I don't know why that is, and I don't know anybody
who does know why that is. The main difference between weeds and plants we like are that weeds often have very insignificant flowers, do not bear fruit (or veggies), and take up a lot of space. They use nutrients and moisture from the soil that our plants need, and they don't give in return as our plants do. Too many of them make our gardens look trashy. The best thing to do about weeds is to pull them the minute you see them. Another annoyance in a garden is unwanted grass. That absolutely must be pulled the minute it springs up or it will take over your garden and you'll never get rid of it.

Then there are bugs -- oops! we're supposed to call them "insects." Well, in a garden where most of them are not wanted, I guess we can call them anything we want. There are also other creatures which, along with bugs, eat or ruin our plants. Just as there are weeds to go with each plant, there are bugs or other creatures to destroy each plant. It is best if we don't have to use chemical insecticides, because they can be harmful to the environment. If you have snails or slugs, you could put a little dish of beer (if you get permission) in the garden. Those creatures will go to the beer, and drown in it. If you have aphids, you need to get some ladybugs. Ladybugs will eat aphids and some other tiny insects, and they will not harm your gardens. You can also plant mint in the area where you have aphids. They do not like mint, and will go elsewhere. I once rubbed mint leaves over some rose blooms
and the aphids fell off right away. If you plant some marigolds around your garden, some insects will stay away forever, because they don't like the smell of marigolds. Mantids are also good for your garden. They eat all sorts of insects, and never harm the plants. If you have earwigs, put wet newspaper on the ground nearby, at night, and then in the morning, go to the garden (be sure to wear shoes) and stomp on the papers! That is the mechanical way to destroy earwigs. In my opinion, the most horrible garden destroyer is the tomato worm. I don't know how they find tomato plants, but they do. These worms are big, fat, ugly green things with horns, and they will eat all the leaves off a tomato plant in a very short time. There are only two ways I know to get rid of them: (1) Wearing rubber gloves, pick them off the plants and feed them to the chickens, ducks, and/or geese; (2) pick them off the plants and cut them in half with scissors. Yuck!

Once your garden is up, take a good look at it, and decide if it pleases you. There might be something that would be more pleasing in a different place. If so, you can transplant. There is a "Transplanting" project that tells you exactly how to do it.

 
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