Garden “Resolutions” for 2020

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Now that we’ve entered the year of 2020, I wondered what types of resolutions are swirling around in the minds of gardeners as we hibernate this winter! Of course each year one develops a wish list for an idyllic garden but because of various obstacles, creating the “perfect garden” can be quite daunting! Obstacles such as limited financial resources, inadequate garden space, weeds out of control, too much water, not enough water, and too many pests can seem quite intimidating but, with proper energy and know-how these barriers can be overcome. The idea is not to give up. Celebrate your successes and tweak or change some of last year’s frustrations. It’s important to examine your failures and implement minor changes. The hope is that you will have a more satisfying gardening experience in 2020! The following resolutions are a synopsis from conversations with many gardeners in January and February over the last several years.

Resolution # 1 Healthy Soil – Our soils team with life such as worms, nematodes, insects, microbes and weeds along vital nutrients for proper plant growth. Think about adding compost, manure or fertilizer to enrich your soil. Soil test! It’s important to establish a baseline of the level of nutrients. Soil testing allows gardeners to receive scientific recommendations, based on the conditions in their yards, about lime and fertilizer application. Soil test boxes and instructions are available at our office. There is a $4.00 fee but will be free again from April 1st – the end of November.

Resolution # 2 Plan – Plan the layout of your garden. Don’t plant crops from the same plant family in the same spot two years in succession. Consider the path of the sun, so tall crops do not shade shorter ones. Space plants a healthy distance from each other so outer leaves on mature plants will just touch those of their neighbors. If space is an issue consider square foot gardening or hook-up or start a community garden in your local neighborhood.

Resolution # 3 – Go Organic! Let’s face it everyone would love to eat healthy chemical free produce. Take the plunge and transition this year. Use manure and plant varieties that are tolerant to Western North Carolina’s most common vegetable diseases. Consider farmscaping with wildflowers to keep the bad insect population to a minimum. Above all be patient and ask questions. It takes about 3 years to convert your conventional garden to a vibrant colorful organic garden.

Resolution # 4 – Four Season Harvest – Develop a plan to harvest vegetables all year long. Consider the timing of when to start an early spring garden with cool season vegetables, a second planting (May 15th) with warm season vegetables followed by a fall garden. Research and implement some season extension ideas such as low tunnels and cold frames.

Resolution # 5 – Reduced Pest Incidence – There exists multiple ways to reduce your weeds, insects and diseases. Pick one or more of the following and try it. If you like to weed then don’t change this practice but if you hate weeding like me, then try landscape cloth, mulch, newspaper, boxes, or straw. For insect control you might research the various “weeds” or wildflowers that attract beneficial insects that keep the bad guys at bay. For diseases consider varieties that are tolerant to the culprit bacteria, viruses or fungi you had in 2019. Finally, row covers and low and high tunnels are additional tools to think about in the war against pests.

Resolution # 6 Start a compost pile for your garden – Convert your yard clippings, leaves and fruit/vegetable waste into a wonderful soil amendment filled with beneficial microbes for your garden. Compost piles can be as simple as a 4ft by 4ft pile to as fancy as a 3 binned set-up made of pressure treated wood or concrete block. Composters can be built at home or found at your local garden centers.

Resolution# 7 Frost Protection – If you plant or sow early, consider row covers (expensive) or plastic milk jugs as an inexpensive and easy to use “hot caps” for your vegetable seedlings. Remove the bottom inch of a plastic jug so that the sides are straight. Then cut around the jug below the handle, leaving a half inch uncut piece under the handle as a hinge. Place the jug over a seedling, pushing it deep into the soil with the handle toward the prevailing wind. The jug serves as a “hot cap” to guard against frost and acts as a wind barrier. When all danger of frost is past, cut off the top at the hinge, leaving the bottom to provide a reservoir for watering.

Resolution # 8 Vegetable Selection – Select crop varieties with care. Look for vegetable varieties that do well in short seasons with cold, wet springs and extremes of temperature and moisture. Also, consider disease resistance, tolerance of adverse conditions, the variety’s growth habit and length of harvest season.

Resolution # 9 Irrigation – Water only when necessary, then water deeply and early in the day. Vegetables need about an inch of water a week (660-gallons/1000 sq. ft.). Conserve water by building soil organic matter and mulching crops to reduce soil moisture evaporation. When soil around plants is dry a couple of inches below the surface, soak the soil deeply, preferably with a drip or soaker hose. Water as early in the day as possible. Investigate the cost on upgrading your irrigation system.

Resolution # 10 Sanitation – Maintain good garden cleanliness. Remove diseased leaves, fruits and vines; and of course control your weGardeneds. Consider mulch!