May 2014
Homeplace & Community

Make that Garden Grow

  Emma Howle is keeping the middles of the rows and areas between the plants weed free by hoeing. Weeds rob your plants of essential water and nutrients.

The Co-op is the one-stop shop for your gardening needs.

Now is the time to get started on your summer garden. By the end of this month, the kids will be out of school and ready to help with the hoeing, weeding and care of the vegetables to help offset your grocery bill. Your local Quality Co-op is your one-stop shop for all your gardening needs.

Unless all your crops are legumes such as beans and peas, you will need nitrogen. Plants like corn use large amounts of nitrogen for growing and fruit bearing. The only way to determine how much fertilizer or lime you need is through a soil test. Simply take a few collections of soil from different areas of the garden and send the soil to a university such as Auburn for analysis.

You will also be asked what crops you will be growing, and this allows the lab technicians to give you the exact amounts of lime and fertilizer you need for the garden. Remember, it take a few weeks for lime to neutralize the acid in the soil, so this should be the first soil addition. Don’t worry about applying too much lime. The problem comes in when there is too little, which leaves the soil too acidic.

The garden plot should be plowed to a depth of four to six inches. Four inches is the average depth at which the roots of vegetables obtain their nutrients. The garden should be plowed to the point where all clods are dissolved and the soil has a moist tilth to it.

Be sure to leave plenty of room between rows. Once the plants such as corn and okra are mature, wider rows makes access between the rows much easier. If you are planting green beans that are runners, there are many methods. Some folks will stick cane poles in the ground leaning up against a wire in an A-frame fashion. I usually mount a 16-foot section of bull wire against three metal fence posts with wire. This gives plenty of avenues for the vines to run.

What’s in the Bag?

When it’s time to pick out your fertilizer from the Co-op, you will see three hyphenated numbers on the bag. The three numbers correspond in order to nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. For instance, a bag of 13-13-13 means there is 13 pounds of nitrogen per 100 pounds of fertilizer, 13 of phosphorous and 13 of potassium. Most bags come in a 50-pound size. This means when you buy a 50 pound bag of 10-10-10, there will be five pounds of N, five of P and 5 of K. Fifteen pounds in that bag is actually fertilizer and the remaining weight is inert ingredients which help disperse the fertilizer.

Select and Sow Your Seeds

Your Co-op can provide you with the highest-quality seeds for your garden. Check with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System website for the ideal planting dates and depths for each seed and the plants that will grow best in your area. Go to, and search the publications for gardening planting guides. An informative publication is "Planting Guide for Home Gardening in Alabama."

Water Early

When you are setting out plants such as peppers and tomatoes, water them as soon as you get them in the ground, and water them each day for at least a week. This will help the plant develop early root systems in the soil and better enables the roots to draw their own water when they begin to mature.

Weed Often

This is my least favorite part. It’s fun to plant the garden, pick the garden and eat the harvest, but, if you let weeds get a toe hold in your garden, all your hard work is wasted. While the plants are young, keep the middles plowed, and use a hoe to clean out around the plants. Another option is to mulch heavily around the plants with pine straw or bark to eliminate weed competition. The Amish have weed free gardens, and the few families that let me take a peek at their vegetables used newspapers spread out flat to eliminate weed growth. They would wet the papers so they would seal to the ground.

Harvest Time

Harvest is when your work pays off. Most harvesting can be staggered across a few days, but if your corn is coming in all at one time, you may need help. When my children were younger and more gullible, I told them we were gonna have a corn party. I ran an extension cord under a shade tree and plugged in an electric fan and had music playing through a radio. After two hours of shucking corn, my daughter Emma said, "This is the worst party I’ve ever been to in my life." Nonetheless, we got the harvest put up and enjoyed corn all winter.

Prevent Predators

Anything you can hang in the garden that flaps in the wind, jingles or makes movement helps deter animals and crows. If deer are a constant problem, you may have to invest in a fence around the garden. It may not be politically correct these days, but a dead crow suspended for others to see definitely deters other crows from entering the garden. Of course, we always try to find a crow that died of natural causes to hang up in the garden.

This May, get a head start on your gardening so you will offset your grocery bill over the winter. Plant your warm-season garden now, and when the last corn has been picked, plant peas in the middles of the rows to be harvested late summer/early fall. Finally, plant your greens in early autumn for winter food.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.