Welcome back to part 2 of "So You Want to Grow Your Own Food"! Last week we learned all about location, light, and soil. This week we are focusing on water, fertilization, and seedling success.
Like us, plants need water in order to survive. Some fruits/vegetables will need more water then others so read seed package descriptions carefully. You also want to make sure you are watering your plants consistently, not too much and not too little. Give them a good regular soaking, up to 6-8 inches deep so the roots get what they need. Do not let the soil dry out completely, but do not over water either as this can encourage mold and mildew. The crowns/leaves of plants to not need to be watered, they only need to be warmed by the suns rays! So when watering ensure you are watering the base of the plant and soaking the roots. To water from the top down is a waste! On the note of water waste consider installing a rain barrel (we will have a green tip on how to do this later this month) or simply collecting rain water in buckets.
last week your soil should be loaded with well rotted manure or compost to feed the plant on a daily basis and promote healthy bacteria growth. But the plants will still need regular applications of an organic fertilizer approximately every 2 weeks. Ensure that the fertilizer you use is organic, it is silly to buy organic seeds, build your raised beds with untreated timbre, fill your soil with organic compost...only to dump chemical fertilizer all over the place! Fish fertilizer is a good option, as is seaweed based liquid fertilizers. Some plants, like tomatoes, have very specific needs. If in doubt ask at your local nursery and they will help you choose the right fertilizer for the right plants.
To grow from seed or not? Personally I do a mixture of booth. There are simply some plants that are harder to grow from seed then others. Many people enjoy starting their tomato seedlings inside early, in order to get a head start while there is still frost on the ground. While this is a brilliant idea in theory you also have to keep in mind that seedlings will need to be "hardened off" in order to avoid them going to shock. A pampered indoor tomato plant cannot simply be plunked outside and expected to survive on its own! For this reason I prefer to buy my tomato seedlings already established and growing heartily from a local organic farmer. That way all the hard work is already done for me, I know they are organic, and I can just plant them and give them some love, water and sunlight! Pretty much everything else I grow from seed, including: carrots, lettuce, radish, herbs, beans and more!
I plant most of my seeds directly outdoors, once all threat of frost has passed and the soil has had a chance to warm up. Based on where I live this is usually after the Easter long weekend, but will vary from region to region. When I do start seedlings indoors I grow them in peat pots (can be found at your local garden supply store) underneath my stove light where it is nice and warm. Once they are 3-4 inches high and their stalks look nice and strong I gently cut off the bottom of the peat pot and plant the whole thing right into my garden. The walls of the peat pot will breakdown and the roots can grow out of the bottom hole you just created!
That about covers the basics of all you need to know to start growing your own food! Are you excited to get dirt under your fingernails? I know I am! Stay tuned for regular postings on all things related to organic food production and have fun!!!