Getting ready to grow
We are coming into the growing season. Yeah, I know, it won’t be for another month or two months, but now is the time to make sure that you have all your garden supplies, plan your vegetable and flower gardens, and get your tools in good shape.
If you grow your own plants from seed, you might want to make sure that you have potting soil, growing trays, lights and most of all, seeds. Both Jamestown Hardware and The Secret Garden have potting soil and seed trays. The hardware store has lights and fluorescent tubes. You can also get potting soil, grow bags and other supplies at GrowRI behind 4th Street Diner across the bridge. The local stores do not have their seeds in yet and you’ll probably have to get them by mail order.
If you are not familiar with them, grow-bags are black plastic bags that are made to hold from one to five gallons of dirt – you can grow your vegetables all summer long in the larger grow-bags. I quite like them and have grown potatoes (they are, in fact, growing in the greenhouse right now), tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in them. I know of other people who have used them to grow a far larger variety of vegetables and flowers.
Another new grow-bag style product I saw at the New England Grows show in Boston last week is the Smart Pot (SmartPot.com). These pots are made of a felt-like material and come in seven-, 10-, 15- and 20-gallon sizes. The idea is that you can grow all manner of plants in the pots no matter if you have a tiny backyard or just a patio. Because the pot is made of whatever it is made of, water drains right through it, plus the pots stays damp so that your plants stay watered longer.
Planning your garden
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to look at your vegetable garden and decide where you are going to grow things. When planning, remember that fast growing crops such as lettuce and spinach can be inter-planted with crops that take longer to grow such as carrots or Brussels sprouts. The idea is that you can use the space occupied by the longer growing plants while those plants are still small. But don’t try to plant basil or peppers next to tomatoes. The tomatoes will grow huge and smother your other plants.
Next try to plant companion plants that help each other grow: basil and tomatoes, cabbage and mint (the mint keeps whiteflies off the cabbage), and pyrethrum and sage also help to keep insects away from tender plants. Corn grows well when inter-planted with beans or peas because corn is a heavy feeder and legumes make nitrogen. It is said that growing cucumbers amongst your corn will help prevent raids by raccoons, which do not like cucumbers. Growing sunfl owers in between rows of corn is said to reduce the incidence of corn borers. Grow parsley and carrots together so that the parsley masks the smell of the carrots and keeps carrot flies away. Leeks grown next to carrots also repel carrot flies. Plant horseradish next to potatoes and celery next to beans – for some reason they like each other.
Try not to plant onions next to cabbage – neither seems to do well. Nor should you plant tomatoes anywhere that you have grown other members of the same family: potatoes, peppers and eggplants. If that cuts down on your options, grow your tomatoes in bags or containers for a couple of years to let any disease in your soil die off.
If you get a lot of squash beetles, grow nasturtiums alongside the squash plants, or plant cucumbers and long white icicle radishes with your squash. They are supposed to keep the beetles away.
Of course, when planning your garden you should rotate crops. Crop rotation helps to keep disease and bugs away, but some people say that it takes 20 years or more for some diseases to die off in the soil.
We’ll get into more detail about tools in my next column, but for now, make sure that your hand tools have been cleaned, their handles oiled with boiled linseed oil, and that all of your hand tools have been repaired or replaced as needed. Nothing is more annoying than to have a favorite tool break during the season when you either have to do without or replace it quickly.