The golden rule of gardening | Life

All major world religions have some version of the Golden Rule, which can be summarized as a guideline on how to live in harmony with others. One religion may call it the “law of reciprocity”, another may say “treat others as you want to be treated”, and another “do not hurt others in a way that you yourself would find hurtful”. The golden rule of gardening is: the better the condition of your soil, the better your garden will be. Or “Improve your soil in a way that won’t hurt your gardening efforts.”

How do you follow this rule? Every year, you can work several inches of organic matter into the soil to improve its balance, texture, and water-holding capacity. Use aged manure, rotting leaves, peat moss, compost (best) or any other type of organic material available, provided it is decomposed before adding. Crop rotation will also reduce your chances of developing diseases and insects in your soil and help replenish nutrition.

HOT OR COLD?

A key growing guide to remember is that some vegetables like cool weather and some like it hot. For example, Irish potatoes, collard greens, most lettuces, carrots, beets and other root crops like cooler soil and air temperatures. So they can be planted in early February or when the ground is passable for a harvest in early May. Follow these cultures with the heat-loving ones. If you have limited space, you can plant these heat lovers where you remove the root crops.

Heat-loving herbs such as all basil, oregano and thyme, and all the many fruiting summer vegetables such as green and dwarf beans, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, corn, melons, watermelons, peppers, pumpkins and tomatoes grow best with a minimum night air temperature of 50 degrees F. They really grow best when the soil temperature reaches around 55F or higher.

CULTIVATION METHODS

Plant your favorite vegetables in successive plantings, keeping in mind the early, main and late harvest periods. For example, green beans mature quickly in 55 to 70 days, depending on the variety. My favorite warm season vegetables are cucumbers, yellow and green squash, green beans, tomatoes and peppers. For green beans, plant a row in three successive sowings two weeks apart and you will have green beans until frost. Do the same with cucumbers, squash, and corn to stretch your crops and get fresh food.

From year to year, it’s best to rotate your crop varieties around your garden plot so that you don’t grow beans or vegetables in the same spot year after year. To better understand crop rotation, you need to understand a little about each crop, such as whether they have common diseases or how much nutrients they take up from the soil. For example, tomatoes and peppers often catch the same diseases, such as mosaic virus or fusarium fungus, so don’t grow them in successive seasons where they were planted before. Planting a vegetable that is not susceptible to fusarium or mosaic will give rest to your plot of soil. Make a chart for seasonal rotation and keep records. A good plan would not be to plant tomatoes in the same patch of ground space for at least two years, but to grow something like lettuce or a root crop instead.

Experienced gardeners know that the heaviest feeders in the vegetable family “…are the varieties that use the most soil resources throughout the growing season.” Tomatoes and corn are the best examples. Mix the peppers and eggplants into this group as well, then add the crucifers – cabbage, broccoli and all their cousins. Whenever you grow these crops in a given area, be sure to follow them with beans, peas, or cover crops next year to “rebuild” the soil. Then, if possible, grow a lighter feeder there, not going back to heavy feeders until the third year. I rotate where I plant my vegetables each year during the spring and fall growing seasons.

PLANT NUTRITION

Light feeders would be vegetables like roots, lettuce, cucumbers and squash. Beans and peas are legumes and can add nitrogen and other captured compounds to the soil to make it more fertile.

Even if you have good soil that is high in organic matter, remember that most plants need extra nutrition in the form of fertilizer for best growth and to produce the bountiful crops we love to brag about. Whatever product you choose to feed your plants, they must have a constant and adequate supply, especially in sandy soils. Plan to feed monthly at regular prescribed intervals throughout the growing season. This will produce bigger and better crops which you can then share with your neighbors and thus follow the golden rule of treating them with good food.

Gwyn Riddick is a certified planter from North Carolina and former owner of Riddick Greenhouses & Nursery. He is a Fellow of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NCSU). If you have any gardening questions, send them to Gwyn Riddick at The High Point Enterprise, 213 Woodbine St., High Point, NC 27260, or email [email protected]

Gwyn Riddick is a certified planter from North Carolina and former owner of Riddick Greenhouses & Nursery. He is a Fellow of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NCSU). If you have any gardening questions, send them to Gwyn Riddick at The High Point Enterprise, 213 Woodbine St., High Point, NC 27260, or email [email protected]

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