Flowers, Vegetables and More - A Gardening Guide
Gardening is an activity with many benefits. It is a great way of enjoying the fresh air and ensures a good amount of physical exercise. It is an eco-friendly and healthy way of growing one’s own fruits, vegetables, and flowers. For many, it is therapeutic, rejuvenating, and a lesson in patience. The right technique and appropriate selection of plants suited to the soil in the area can go a long way in ensuring the success of a home garden. The extent of area available for setting up a garden, the type of gardening possible, and the kinds of produce required must be decided upon before embarking on any gardening project.
Essential Gardening Tools
A wide range of gardening tools is available in the market and purchases will have to be made depending upon the kind of cultivation one wants to do. A garden fork is very helpful in digging planting holes, and can also be used to mix the soil before planting. A set of hand pruners which open and close easily are required to cut off dead growth. A set which fits comfortably in the hand, preferably with curved blades, will be sufficient. A hose with a good spraying attachment is needed to efficiently water the plants in a garden. A garden cart, a circle hoe to rake out weeds, and a pair of loppers will help in keeping the garden neat and trimmed.
What to Plant
Beans, peas, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, herbs, lettuce, spinach, onions, zucchini, gourds, melons, and potatoes are some of the popular vegetables found in home gardens. They are particularly good choices for beginners due to the low maintenance required. Both perennial and annual flowers can be planted in a home garden. Daylilies, daisies, poinsettias, lilacs, balloon flowers, sunflowers, geraniums, roses, chrysanthemums, and irises are popular flowers that can add color and variety to any garden. Amongst fruits, apples, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, pears, peaches, nectarines, and plums are excellent choices for a home garden.
Adopting special planting techniques such as wide-row planting, square-foot gardening, and raised beds can help maximize the use of available space and increase yield, especially in urban settings. Setting up a compost pile made of leaves, dead plants, and other such waste from the garden can help minimize the need for fertilizers and boost microbial activity in the soil. This will help keep insects at bay naturally without the need for any pesticides. Those who do not have space for a proper garden can use containers for the purpose and keep them on window sills, patios, or balconies. The containers may be made of plastic, clay, wood, or even metal as long as they are big enough to support fully-grown plants and have adequate provisions for drainage.
In outdoor gardening, seeds are sown when the soil is moist and warm. In indoor gardens, these factors can be controlled and manipulated thus making sowing possible all year round. Before sowing, the soil has to be dug well and be fine in texture without any lumps or hard portions left. The soil should not be too wet or too dry. Seed packets will also have directions on how deep they must be sown and what the spacing should be. Some vegetables may have to be first sown indoors during winter and then planted outside once summer is about to set in. This is to keep them from being destroyed by the frost. In indoor gardening, the seeds are sown in trays of seed compost and after germination occurs they are transferred onto seed trays or individual pots.
Until the plants bear fruit, they have to be cared for and kept free of pests as well as weeds. These weeds should not be allowed to survive beyond the seedling stage because they take up all the nutrients in the soil leaving nothing for the garden plants to thrive on. Regular weeding will slow down their growth in the long term. Hoeing and hand weeding should be enough to keep a small garden weed-free and chemicals are best avoided. Mulching is one way of keeping weeds at bay besides locking in the moisture and minimizing water evaporation. Organic mulches such as leaves, bark, and wood improve the quality of the soil. Inorganic mulches such as rocks, gravel, marble, and brick chips can be used but they do nothing for the soil quality.
Harvest and Storage
Knowing when to harvest the crop is crucial to ensure quality, flavor, and nutrition. If vegetables and fruits are picked too early they may be very tender and lack the required flavor. If picked too late, they might have turned tough and tasteless. The season, climate during the growing period, and the variety of fruit or vegetable will determine when it is ready to be picked. Beans may need anywhere between 50 to 65 days before they are ready.
Carrots can take about 75 days while cucumbers are ready for harvest anywhere between 55 to 62 days. Potatoes take the longest time at 120 days while squash is harvested based on size and color. It is best to use harvested vegetables and fruits as soon as possible. If storage is necessary, keep them in a cool, shady place or refrigerate them. Onions and potatoes need to be stored in a dry place while leafy vegetables will need high humidity storage. When harvesting, care must be taken to ensure that the plants are not damaged in any way. Early morning and night time are ideal for harvests.
Harvesting flowers is a delicate process and has to be done carefully. Long-stemmed flowers look more attractive, but leaving more stem on the plant will help flowers grow faster. Dull blades must be avoided as they can damage the plant. The cut flowers must be immediately placed in a container and away from heat. Water and floral preservatives can help keep the cut flowers fresh for some time.
Different kinds of berries can be harvested every few days depending upon the color and texture they display. Plump and juicy berries are best used within three to five days though they can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks. Ripeness of apples is primarily gauged by color and the extent of firmness. Some varieties begin to fall off the tree as they ripen and should be picked without delay. Apricots, cherries, and peaches are considered ready when they begin to soften.
Off Season Care
Once the harvest is done, a cover crop can be planted in the vegetable garden till the next sowing season approaches. Cover crops are those which are not intended for harvest and are planted to keep the topsoil from being washed away or blown away. They also add nutrients to the soil by decaying and composting. Rye, soybeans, buckwheat, and cow peas are some examples of cover crops. Fruit trees must not be pruned in the off season as this will stunt their growth. They must be watched for any signs of infestation and if any are seen, they must be controlled immediately. At the end of the flowering season, shrubs should be carefully pruned. If the region is prone to snow, then care should be taken when salting near the garden or when using chemicals to melt the ice as these can cause damage.
When working in the garden, appropriate clothing and equipment must be worn. Safety goggles and hardy footwear must be worn especially when using lawn mowers and other gardening machinery. Gloves can protect the hands from cuts and bruises as well as any reactions from working in the dirt. Applying some insect repellant can safeguard from bites and insect-borne diseases. Sunscreens are a must when working in the summer to help protect from sunburn. Gardening equipment must be handled carefully and only by those who know how to do so.