Thursday, April 30, 2009

Flavorful Landscapes -- A Growing Trend

(ARA) - Nothing beats the flavor of a fresh-from-the-garden tomato; warmed by the sun, plucked right from the plant and eaten in the garden.

More than 43 percent of U.S. households plan to experience this and the other benefits of homegrown fruits, vegetables and herbs this summer, according to a recent survey by the National Gardening Association.

Space Limited? Get Creative
The good news is you don’t need much space to have an edible garden. Many gardeners grow food in containers or mixed in with their flowers, shrubs and other ornamental plantings.

Look for creative ways to include vegetables in your landscape. “I like to mix them with flowers in my container gardeners” says Melinda Myers, horticulturist and author. “One of my favorite combinations is ornamental corn, eggplant, tri-color sage, purple ruffle basil and trailing verbena. For a quick burst of spring beauty and produce I use Swiss chard as a vertical accent, add a few pansies -- they are edible -- colorful leaf lettuce or ornamental mustard and a trailing ivy or two for aesthetics, not eating.”

Limited sunlight? No worries
Full sun will give you the best results, but you can still grow edibles where sunshine is limited. Save the sunniest spot for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and other vegetables where you eat the flowers or fruit. They produce their best and have fewest disease problems when grown in eight to 12 hours of sunlight. Root crops such as beets, radishes and carrots can get by with about a half a day of direct sun and leafy crops like lettuce and spinach can still produce in a shady location with only four hours of sunlight.

Get Your Garden Off to a Good Start
Use a quality potting mix when growing in containers. It should have good drainage and retain moisture. In the garden, it’s important to properly prepare the soil before planting. Add several inches of compost, peat moss or other organic matter to the top 6- to 12-inches of soil. This improves drainage in heavy soils and increases water holding capacity for sandy or rocky soils.

Add a slow release fertilizer like Milorganite to the soil. This goof-proof organic source of nitrogen meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s Exceptional Quality standards and will help encourage growth without interfering with flowering and fruiting.

Time it Right
Let the weather be your planting guide. Cool season crops like lettuce, peas and broccoli can tolerate chilly air and soil. Wait for the danger of frost to pass and soil to warm before planting tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons. Myers suggests anxious gardeners can, “Jump start the season with the help of floating row covers. These polypropylene fabrics let air, light and water through while trapping the heat near the plants. The best part, you won’t need a hammer, nail or other tools. Simply lay the fabric over your planting leaving enough slack for the plants to grow and anchor the edges to the ground with stones, boards or other items.”

Maximize Your Efforts
Check the seed packets and plant tags for details on when and how to plant each herb and vegetable seed or transplant. Increase productivity with succession plantings. Simply start with lettuce, radishes or another cool weather plant. Once harvested, replant the area with onions or beans. After these are done you can replant the area once again with a fall crop of lettuce, spinach or radishes.

Double your harvest with interplanting. Plant quick-to-mature crops like radishes and lettuce in between longer maturing plantings of cabbage, tomatoes or eggplant. The short season vegetables will be ready to harvest just about the time the bigger plants are crowding them out.

Consider planting vegetables closer together in wider rows. You’ll waste less space for pathways putting more room in plantings. Make sure each plant has enough space to grow and that you can reach all planted areas to weed and harvest.

Just a Bit More Care Needed
Water new plantings thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil moist but not too wet. Add a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic material to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and moderate soil temperatures. Midsummer, give your plants a boost with a slow release organic nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite. And don’t worry if the weather turns hot and dry, Milorganite won’t burn. It will remain in the soil until the plants are ready to use it.

Pull weeds as they appear, watch for bugs and wait for the produce to come pouring in. You may find this is a great family activity that gets even the most reluctant vegetable eaters munching on a few fresh carrots and maybe even broccoli.

Courtesy of ARAcontent


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