Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Starting a Garden

I got a question/comment the other day on one of my older blog entries:
I am just thinking about starting a garden- mainly for herbs maybe some veggies if I get daring. How much sun do these gardens really need? IT does get pretty hot around here, won't there be some baking of the plant? My neighbor has a garden in her front yard- unfortunately a real eye sore. Can you give me any advice? I thought I would keep a bit of a journal on the sunlight for a couple of days? Thanks for any advice- Jody

1. Congratulations on starting a garden (or at least thinking about it). Herbs are a great way to start--they're not quite as finicky as vegetables, and you usually can get SOMETHING to grow. Plus, they tend to do well even if you forget about them. I would guess that oregano, basil and parsley are some of the better ones to start out with down here. Rosemary as well if you have a full sun location that doesn't get watered too frequently. Basil will let you know when it needs water--It will look all sorts of wilty but then perks right back up after watering. The parsley, basil, and oregano I planted down here were planted in a mostly shade location and all three survived (the two rosemary plants, however, did not). The basil and parsley both reseed pretty freely so if you don't want extra plants, make sure you cut off all flower heads.

2. Gardens need at least 6 hours of sunlight. 8 if you can swing it. Some things will do okay in less (like lettuces--but only in the winter). I think all of the spring/summer veggies are going to need lots of sun, whereas the winter veggies will do better with less.

3. There is some baking of the plants, but none of the veggie plants do spectacular in the middle of summer (Okra might be an exception--but I dont' know, I've never grown it). Most of the gardeners I know will start their spring gardens in early-mid March and use varieties that have short maturation times so there's a harvest before the summer temps are in full swing. Then they take a short break during the hottest part of the year in which the goal isn't for anything to necessarily look good, but just to stay alive and then start up again in late August/early September for a second summer harvest. Some of my coworkers let everything go that isn't actively producing in June/July, and then replant in September. If you really wanted to, you could get shade covers for the garden which would protect from the afternoon sun, though that may be a lesson in futility. Also. WATER THE PLANTS. In March I maybe have to water once a week. By June it's usually 2 times a week and by August it's every day, maybe every other day. Thus the brilliance of the coworkers that just let everything go in July--if the plant makes it through the summer, GREAT, if it doesn't, Meh, planting time is just around the corner. Plus that way you're not spending tons of money on water.

4. Knowing where the sun is at what times in your yard is an AWESOME tool and I highly recommend doing it. If you have the time, you could chart where the sun is once an hour for and entire day. I don't know how much charting for a couple of days would be of any help unless it was like you did the morning hours one day and the afternoon hours the next or something along those lines. I would suggest (especially if you're going to do a winter garden) charting the sun a couple times during the year so you know how the amount of sun changes based on the time of year. If you're going to do this chart now, be mindful of trees that haven't fully leafed out yet.

5. Other random recommendations I have are: a) Do raised beds if you're going to go with something permanent. However, if you don't really know where the sun is in your yard, I'd start with a couple of large flower pots--that way you can move them around if the plants look too crispy or too leggy. b) find out the seasons for all the veggie plants you want to do--carrots and lettuce don't go well in the summer, but tomatoes and eggplants rarely make it through the winter. c) Get a rain barrel. If you live in the City of Austin, there's usually a couple of subsidized rain barrel sales once or twice a year. d) a good place to start is with the Master Gardener Garden Guide for Austin and Vicinity, the MGs, any of the MG seminars, and local blogs--I've got a list on the right and all of them are great people and are very willing to help with ideas and they're a fountain of knowledge.

Anyone else have any advice?


Ross said...

If you're wanting to do a shadow study, you can model your place and trees in Google Earth. I did it and it confirmed my suspicions about the sunniest spots in the yard.

mkircus said...

One of the plants you can grow in part shade is Swiss chard. Two falls ago, I planted some little plants. It grew all winter in full sun in a raised bed and then I dug it up and moved it to where it would get only about 5 hours of morning sun. It grew all summer. I just pick leaves off of it or cut it back so the little heart is still there and it grows back.

Also you might like to look at growing vegetables mixed in with flowers. I love doing square foot gardening and leaving some of the squares for flowers. Cucumbers and melons can be vines on a trellis or fence. I think they look beautiful along with pole beans.

Another option is to grow a few vegetables in earth boxes - google them to find their web page - and move them to sunny places as the sun changes.

Paul said...

Cucurbits seem to handle the worst of summer heat when tomato pollen is too sticky to move and everthing else wilts. Heirloom melons in particular are great...pumpkins and squash can be too much for a beginner.