Revised 1/00 -- Author Reviewed 1/00
Extension Horticultural Specialist
Department of Horticultural Science
College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
North Carolina State University
Placed on the Web in June 1996 by the Center for Integrated Pest Management
Gardening means different things to different people. Thousands view gardening as a hobby, a relaxing escape from the pressures of an urban environment. For these people, the food produced may be almost secondary. Growing fresh vegetables, herbs, or fruits provides a great sense of joy and accomplishment. A vegetable garden can also reduce the family's food budget, and it can be a source of hard-to-find vegetables such as kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, horseradish, salsify, and pak choi. One of the main reasons that people garden is that vegetables from the supermarket cannot compare in taste, quality, or freshness with vegetables grown in the home garden.
The vegetable garden has traditionally been located in an area separate from other parts of the landscape because it was considered unsightly. With proper planning, however, the garden can be both functional and attractive. Landscape designers today often incorporate the home landscape and ornamental plants such as flowering annuals into the vegetable garden. This gardening philosophy, coupled with our favorable climate, can offer gardening opportunities nearly all year long.
If you are a beginning gardener with an average-sized family, you will not need a lot of space for a vegetable garden. An area 25 feet square should be adequate. Be careful not to start with too large a space; it is easy to "bite of more than you can chew."
Regardless of size, there are five factors to consider in selection a garden site. The first is sunlight. All vegetables need some sunlight. The garden should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Eight to 10 hours each day is ideal. Vegetables should therefore be planted away from the shade of buildings, trees, and shrubs. Some leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, spinach, and lettuce tolerate shadier conditions than other vegetables, but if your garden does not receive at least 6 hours of sunlight daily, you will not be successful growing vegetables.
The second consideration is nearness to the house. The closer the vegetable garden and the easier it is to reach, the more you will probably use it. You will be likely to harvest vegetables at their peaks and thus take maximum advantages of garden freshness. It is also more likely that you will keep up with jobs such as weeding, watering, insect and disease control, and succession planting if the garden is close by.
The third consideration is soil. You do not need to have the ideal type of soil to grow a good garden. If possible the soil should be fertile and easy to till, with just the right texture -- a loose, well-drained loam. Avoid any soil that remains soggy after a rain. Heavy clay and sandy soils can be improved by adding organic matter. Of course, gardening will be easier if you start with a naturally rich soil.
The fourth consideration is water. Including rain and irrigation, the garden needs at least 1 inch of water per week. Therefore, it is essential to locate the garden near a spigot or some other water source.
The fifth consideration is good air drainage. Avoid locating the garden in a lowspot such as the base of a hill or the foot of a slope bordered by a solid fence. These areas are slow to warm in the spring, and frost forms more readily in them because cold air cannot drain away. Vegetable gardens located on high ground are more likely to escape light freezes, permitting an earlier start in the spring and a longer harvest in the fall.
The first step in planning your garden is selecting the vegetables you want to grow. With a few exceptions, you can plant what you like. Only a few vegetables may be unsuitable because of space limitations, improper climate, or unusually poor growing conditions.
The second step is to draw a diagram of the garden site. The diagram should show the kind of vegetables to be planted, the distance between rows, and the time of planting. Including dates will help you remember tasks that might otherwise be put off until too late.
The 25-by-42-foot garden shown in figure 1 should produce most of the vegetables needed for canning, freezing, and fresh use by two people for one year. Most of the rows in the plan are occupied by two crops in succession during the growing season. Because sweet corn requires a large amount of space, the overall yield form the garden would be higher if lima or snap beans were planted in place of corn. A garden of this size will require about 1/2 hour of work a day to obtain maximum production.
25' * 42' = 1,050 square feet with 3.0 feet between rows
Many tools are available to help you grow a vegetable garden. They range in quality from discount store lines to high-priced luxury models. Tools somewhere between these two extremes are suitable for most gardeners. The tools considered essential for maintaining a small or moderate-sized garden are a spade or four-pronged digging fork, trowel, rake, hoe, measuring stick, string, stakes, and irrigation equipment. To this basic list you may wish to add a wheel cultivator, small sprayer, and wheelbarrow. With these tools at hand you can readily handle most garden tasks.
In purchasing tools consider the size of the garden, the job to be done, and the amount of money you wish to spend. In the long run, it pays to purchase tools of good quality, as they will give better service and stay sharp longer. If properly cared for, they can last a lifetime.
Spade -- Select one of these:
Rake -- Select one of these:
Hoe -- These come in all shapes, sizes, and models. The hoe is used for preparing the seedbed, and for cultivating the soil to mix in fertilizer and control weeds.
Long-Handled Cultivator -- Breaks up large clods and refines
Hand Seeder -- Can take some of the backache out of planting. Some can open the furrow, drop the seed, and cover the seed in one operation. The majority of hand seeders are adapted to a wide variety of seed sizes. Tiller -- Makes soil preparation easy for serious gardeners who will use it enough to make the purchase worthwhile. Three types are available; all of them driven by gasoline or electric motors. On the most common and least expensive type the tines are mounted in front. A second type has the tines mounted in the rear. Although more expensive, the rear-tine type is easier to operate. Many tillers with rear-mounted tines have a reverse gear that makes it possible to work in cramped areas. A third type is the center-mounted or mid-tine tiller, which combines the advantages of the other two types.
A good loamy soil that is fertile, deep, easily crumbled, well drained, and high in organic matter is needed to grow quality vegetables. If properly prepared, however, soils containing light sand or heavy clay can be used.
The fastest way to make a heavy clay or light sandy soil more loamy is by adding organic matter. You can incorporate a 2- to 3- inch layer of well-rotted leaves, compost, old horse manure, and peat moss in the spring before preparing the soil and again in the fall after harvest. Green manure crops such as annual rye, rye grass, and wheat can be planted on the garden site in the fall and plowed under in the spring when growth is about knee-high. Seeding rates per thousand square feet for annual rye are 1 to 2 pounds; for rye and wheat, 3 to 4 pounds. For best results these crops should be seeded between September 15 and October 20 in the Raleigh area. Most cover crops should be allowed to grow about knee-high before they are tilled under the soil in the spring.
Take a soil sample every three or four years to find out the pH (acidity) of your soil. On a scale from 1 to 4, a pH of 7.0 is neutral. Any value below 7.0 is acid, and any value above that level is alkaline. The ideal pH values for most vegetables are 6.0 to 6.5 -- slightly acid. For information on taking and submitting a soil sample, see Extension publication AG-372, Careful Soil Sampling.
The soil test report will tell you how much lime and fertilizer your garden soil will need per thousand square feet of growing area. When lime is needed, try to apply it several months before planting. Fall applications of lime have a better chance of correcting soil acidity problems before spring planting.
Fertilizer should generally be applied before or at planting time. The fertilizer can be broadcast or applied in the row. You may want to use a combination of these methods during fertilization. Fertilizer is broadcast by spreading it over the top of the soil with a cyclone or drop fertilizer spreader in and east-west and north-south movement. Till the fertilizer into the soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Generally one-half to two-thirds of the recommended fertilizer is broadcast over the entire garden . The remaining fertilizer is applied in furrows 3 inches to the sides of the row and sightly below the level of the seed (figure 2). This method is know as banding. A complete fertilizer with a formulation such as 8-8-8 ( 8 parts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) or 10-10-10 may be applied at the rate of 20 to 30 pounds per thousand square feet when soil test recommendations are not readily available.
To keep garden vegetables growing rapidly and continuously, extra fertilizer should be applied to the soil in the form of a sidedressing. Sidedressing materials can be applied on both sides of the vegetable row about 4 to 6 inches from the plants (Figure 3). Only one of the following materials should be applied per hundred feet of row:
Individual plants or hills can be sidedressed with 1 level tablespoon of
ammonium nitrate per plant. For plants that are widely spaced (such as cucumbers
or cantaloupe), the sidedressing fertilizer can be placed in bands 6 inches from
the plant's base. Vegetable plants should be sidedressed about midway through
their manturity cycle except when grown on sandy soils and during periods of
excessive rainfall. These conditions require more frequent sidedressing
applications. Also, crops such as tomatoes, eggplant, and okra require two or
three sidedressings per season because of their long growth cycles.
Some recommended times for side-dressing vegetables are as follows:
Most plants do better in spring and summer gardens if they are started indoors rather than being planted directly into the garden soil. Seedlings started in containers indoors can be transplanted to the garden when the weather is warm enough and danger of frost is past. See Table 2 for recommended planting dates.
You may start your own transplants in containers early in the season or you may prefer to buy them from a greenhouse or garden center at transplanting time. If you choose to grow your own, you will need to provide suitable containers, a sterilized growing medium, adequate light, fertilizer, moisture, and proper day and night temperatures. Table 1 shows the temperature and growing times for 15 common garden vegetables.
*Select the lower temperatue on cloudy days.
The growing medium used to grow vegetable transplants should be sterilized to prevent seedlings from being killed by the fungi that cause damping-off disease. A good growing mix can be prepared by using one part loamy garden soil, one part shredded peat moss, and one part sand. Sterilize this soil-peat-sand mixture by baking it in an oven for about 1 hour at 210o F.
Other types of growing media can be bought at local garden centers or from seed and garden supply catalogs. The most widely available seed-starting medium is vermiculite, and it is relatively inexpensive. Seedlings cannot be grown in vermiculite for long, however, because it contains no nutrients. Seedlings must be given a water-soluble fertilizer regularly or transplanted to sterile soil when the second pair of true leaves form. Vermiculite is sterile when puchased.
Many types of containers used should be clean, sturdy, and fit into the space availiable for growing plants in the home. Wooden flats and plastic trays are good for starting a large number of seedlings in a limited work area. They take less space than individual pots. Other popular containers are pots made of compressed peat, disks of pressed peat that well to potlike cylinders when soaked in water, and peat cubes. Some of the simplest containers can be found right in the kitchen. Aluminum foil frozen-food trays are among the best. After cleanin the trays, poke drainage holes in the bottom with a knife. Cottage cheese dishes, bottom halves of milk cartons, ice cream cartons, egg cartons, and paper cups are other handy starting containers. Remember, all must have drainage holes to allow the excess water to run off.
Once the seeds have germinated, they must receive enough sunlight to ensure that they do not become weak and spindly. Place them on a sun porch or in a window with a southern exposure if possible. If bright sunlight is not available, the seedlings can be grown under fluorscent lights. A fixtrue containing two 40-watt cool white flourescent tubes placed 3 to 4 inches apart is sufficient. Place the seedlings about 6 to 8 inches from the tubes, and leave the light on for 14 to 16 hours each day. Be sure to raise the lights to prevent leaf burn as the plants grow. The growing area must be warm. the temperature should be between 60o and 70o F at night and from 70o to 75o F during the day.
The trays of pots should be checked daily to make sure that the soil is moist. Check where water is needed by touching the soil to see if it is damp. Do not overwater.
Vegetable seedlings can be fertilized with a water-soluble house plant fertilizer with a formulation such as 20-20-20. If seedlings begin to look yellow and thin, it indicates that a dose of fertilizer is needed. Fertilize the seedlings for the first time a few days after they have emerged, applying the fertilizer at one-half the manufacturer's recommended strength. Later applications should be full strength. Depending on the fertilizer used, about 1 to 2 teaspoons per gallon of water applied once each two weeks should be adequate. If the seedlings are growing too fast and becoming too large, growth can be slowed by watering less often.
The plants should be "hardened off" before setting them into the garden. This process toughens the plant's tissues so that they can withstand the outdoor environment. It is usually done over a two-week period by setting the plants outside during the day and bringing them in at night. Be careful not to let them get caught in a frost.
If you decide to buy vegetable transplants, remember that the best choices are not necessarily the largest and tallest ones available. Tomato plants that have already started to flower are not the best choice because flowering places the plant under stress. Good quality transplants should be stocky with a healthy appearance, be of medium size, have a good green color, be free from insects and diseases, and have good roots.
Before transferring plants to the garden, make sure that the soil has been properly tilled, limed, and fertilized, as described in previous sections. To prevent wilting, try to transplant on a cloudy day or in early evening when the plants will suffer less water loss than on a hot, sunny day. An hour or two before transplanting, thoroughly water the soil in which the plants are growing. Bare-rooted plants should be allowed to soak in water for 1 to 2 hours to replenish water loss before planting. Handle the plants carefully to avoid disturbing the roots and bruising the stem.
For container-grown plants, use a trowel to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the containter. Peat and other fiber pots can be set directly into the the planting hole; they will disintegrate when they are in contact with the ground. For most types of vegetables, plant the transplant in the container (Figure 4). Tomato plants are an exception; they will develop roots all along the stems and can be planted deep enough to leave only two or three sets of leaves exposed.
Applying a starter fertilizer solution at planting time is recommended to help the plants overcome transplanting shock and to ensure proper fertility during the initial growth period. A starter solution is a water-soluble fertilizer high in phosphorus content, with a formulation such as 10-52-17. (The second number represents the proportion of phosphorus.) Mix the fertilizer with water at the rate of 2 tablespoons per gallon. As you set the plant in the soil, pour 1 cup of the solution around the roots, then finish filling the hole with soil.
A starter solution can also be made by mixing 3 to 4 level tablespoons of a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 in a gallon of water. Commercially prepared starter solutions are preferable to home mixes because they have a higher proportion of phoshpates to promote better root growth.
Be sure to protect young transplants against heat, cold, and damaging winds during the first 2 to 4 days after transplanting. When unfavorable conditions threaten, place boxes, baskets, plastic milk jugs, or flower pots over the transplants (Figure 5). Do not leave the protectors over the plants longer than necessary, however. If it gets warm during the day, remove the protectors to provide proper ventilation for the plants. A shingle stuck in the ground at a slant on the south side of a plant can serve as a sunshade.
Old seeds bought at bargain prices may turn out to be more trouble than they are worth. In most cases, only about half will germinate and emerge through soil. The seedlings produced will often be weak and grow very slowly. Make sure the seeds you purchased were produced for the current gardening year. The seed packet is stamped with a statement that indicates the year for which they were packed.
Bulk vegetable seed sold by the ounce or pound in garden centers and farm feed stores is shipped to the store in a container or bag with a date and germination rate label attached. Look for this information before making a purchase. Seeds with higher germination rates should be your first choice. See Table 2 for information on estimating your seed requirements.
The garden soil should contain enough moisture at seeding to initiate germination. If it does not, water the soil thoroughly (4 to 6 inches deep) and allow it to dry enough to be workable before seeding. If you prefer, water can be applied directly to the open furrow before depositing the seeds in the soil. Be sure to apply enough water in the seed furrow to moistem the soil 3 to 4 inches deep. Once the soil in the bottom of the furrow is properly moistened, plant the seeds and cover firmly with dry soil.
In the spring when the soil is cooler, poor germination is likely to occur if the vegetable seeds are planted too deep. As a general rule, plant the seeds no deeper than three to four times their greatest diameter.
Be alert to the problem of soil crusting, the formation of a hard, crusty layer at the soil surface. This crust can prevent seedlings from emerging if it occurs shortly after seeding. Soil crusting normally occurs after a heavy rain or the use of an overhead sprinkler. The problem can be alleviated in several ways: (1) by incorporating 2 to 4 inches or organic matter (such as compost or decayed leaves) into the soil before planting; (2) by covering seeds with organic matter (compost, old sawdust, or peat moss) rather than soil; and (3) by not using an overhead sprinkler for watering (and hope that a heavy rain will not occur before the seedlings have emerged).
Mark straight rows to make cultivation, spraying, and harvesting easy. To mark a straight row, drive two stakes into the ground at either end of the garden and draw a string taut between them. Shallow furrows suitable for fine seeds can be made by drawing a hoe handle along the string (Figure 6).
For deeper furrows, use a corner of the hoe blade. Early in the spring, sow the seeds shallowly so plants will come up quickly. Later in the summer, sow the seed deeper to ensure a good moisture supply (Figure 7).
Small seeds are difficult to distribute thinly and evenly (Figure 8). They are easier to space if thoroughly mixed with dry sand or dry pulverized soil before planting. When planting vegetables with small seeds, such as lettuce and carrots, sprinkle some radish seeds in the row. The radishes come up quickly and mark the row. They make more room for the remaining vegetables when pulled.
1Dates shown are for the upper coastal plain and lower piedmont.
In western NC delay planting 10 to 20 days in spring and plant 10 to 20 days
earlier in fall. In eastern NC plant 7 to 14 days earlier in spring and 7 to 14
days later in fall.
Seeds that are large enough to handle can be planted by hilling or row planting (drilling). Hilling is placing several seeds in one spot at definite intervals. Squash, pumpkins, and melons are often planted this way. Once the seeds germinate, the hills are thinned, leaving one or two plants per hill, depending on the vegetable (Figure 9A). Drilling is placing seeds more or less evenly down the row (Figure 9B). Beans and peas are planted this way. After germination, extral plants are removed to give the desired spacing.
In hilling, always plant more seeds than the desired number of plants. In drilling, plant the seeds closer than the final spacing. If your seeds are one or more years old, plant them thicker than you would fresh seeds. Planting extra seeds allows for poor germination and loss of seedlings to disease and insects.
Once you place the seeds, cover them with soil. Firm the soil (but do not pack it) around the seeds with the flat blade of the hoe, the wheel of a garden plow, or with your foot. Be careful not to plant seeds too deep. Seeds that are covered with too much soil may never come up.
Wide rows are formed by broadcasting the vegetable seeds in a band 10 to 30
inches wide rather than in a single row. The resulting spacing between plants is
much closer (Figure 9C). Wide-row gardening offers two advantages:
Crops such as radishes, carrots, beets, onions, leaf lettuce, peas, and beans are best suited to planting in wide rows. Other vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, seet corn, and melons should be planted in single rows.
Thinning vegetable seedlings is one of the most disheartening jobs you will have to perform. Howerver, thinning provides a better environment for the remaining seedlings by giving the the proper space for good growth and developement. Some of the reasons for thinning are:
Start thinning when the plants have one or two pairs of true leaves. Normally, the plants will be about 3 inches tall. The ideal time for thinning is when the soil is damp and soft but not excessively wet. If the soil has become dry, water the site for an hour or more before you start thinning. Evening is a good time to thin because the remaining plants have the cool, dark night to recover from any disturbance. Crops that have been sown thickly should be thinned so that there is enough room to put a finger between the plants. Practically every vegetable that is directly seeded will benefit from thinning. However, thinning is a must for leaf lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, spinach, and turnips.
Growing a productive fall vegetable garden takes thoughtful planning and good cultural practices. Uses the following guidelines to help ensure a bountiful harvest of fall vegetables.
August is the main planting time for fall gardens. Vegetables that have a 60- to 80-day maturity cycle should be planted around August 1. Seeding of shorter-season vegetables, such as turnips and leafy greens, can be delayed until Spetember 1. Keep in mind that the planting dates can be as much as 10 to 20 days earlier in western North Carolina and 7 to 14 days later in the east. Note: Tomatoes and peppers must be planted by mid-July for fall production. The dates given are for the lower piedmont and the upper costal plain (Raleigh Area). Be sure to adjust the planting dates for your specific location.
Before preparing the soil for a fall garden, you must decide what to do with the remains of the spring garden. In most cases, the decision is not difficult because the cool-season crops have already matured and the warm-season vegetables are beginning to look ragged. About the only spring crops worth leaving are tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra; everything else should be destroyed.
The soil should be tilled to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. A good seedbed is necessary to get good stands in the fall. Lumpy soils with unrotted organic matter cause the soil to dry faster, resulting in poor stands. The soil should be tilled far enough ahead of planting (10 to 14 days) to allow crop residue to decompose. If needed, additional organic matter (leavers or compost) may be incorporated into the soil before fertilizing and planting.
Vegetables that may be grown in the fall garden are snap beans, beets, brocoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, collards, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, turnips, squash, and southern peas.
Seeds should be planted deeper in the fall when the moisture level is lower in the soil. In many cases, the planting depth may be 1 1/2 to 2 times as deep for spring planting of the same crop.
Direct seeding (planting seeds rather than using transplants for crops like broccoli and collards) is often used in the fall. However, the success of this planting method depends on having enough moisture available to keep the young seedlings actively growing after germination. If you do not have an irrigation source availiable, you would be wise to buy vegetable transplants from a local garden center.
The methods for thinning plants and protecting them from sun in the fall gardens are the same as described in previous sections on spring gardens.
It is not uncommon for insects and diseases to get their share of the fall garden. Most problems with insects and diseases result from a buildup in their population from spring and summer. There is hope of keeping these pests at tolerable levels, however, if a few strategies are followed. First, review pertinant literature on insects and diseases from the local Extension Service office so you can determine when a problem is severe enough to warrant treatment . Second, strive to deep fall vegetables healthy and actively growing; healthy plants are less susceptible to insects and diseases. Third, check the plants frequently for insect and disease damage. When sufficient damage is detected, use an approved pesticide.
Be sure the garden receives 1 inch or more of water each week. Failure to provide adequate moistrue stresses the plants and reduces yields. It is drought, not heat, that damages vegetables. Organic mulches (Straw, leaves, or compost) will help to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. See the following section on watering for more information.
Fall vegetables need extra nitrogen just as do spring crops. Most crops will benefit from an application of nitrogen about midway through the maturity cycle. See the earlier section on soils and fertilization.
All vegetable gardens need at least 1 inch of water each week. Determine when to water by examining the soil rather than the plants. Gardens with sandy soil must be watered more frequently than those with a high percentage of clay. Generally, if the soil is dry when scratched to a depth of 1 to 2 inches, watering is necessary. On the other hand, if adequate moisture is available, the next watering can be scheduled for at least two days later.
Avoid watering the soil often for short periods of time. Shallow waterings promote the development of roots in the top 1 to 2 inches of soil rather than at a greater depth. This limited root development does not pose any real threat to plant growth early in the season because adequate moisture is generally available and needs for water are low. As the weather gets hotter and moisture is farther away from the soil surface, however, you will be forced to water the garden at frequent intervals (every two to three days) just to keep the plants from wilting. At this stage in the plants' life visible evidence indicates that they are suffering from a lack of water.
If you use a protable lawn sprinkler, be sure to keep the application rate low enough that water does no run off the soil. Water applied too fast will not soak into the soil. Always make sure that the vegetable plants do not interfere with the application pattern. Often this requires mounting the sprinkler on a small platform above the plants.
A garden takes about 75 gallons of water per 100 square feet (taking evaporating losses into account). When watering, wet the soil to a depth of 6 inches. After some experience you will learn how long it takes for water the reach that depth. One way to check is tho dig into the soil with a long trowel or shovel to see how far the water has penetrated into the root zone. Another way is to measure how long it takes to apply 1 inch of water by placing small, straight-sided containers in a grid pattern over the area being watered. Check the containers every 30 minutes until they contain 1 inch of water. As a general guide, the average house spigot must be left running approxmately 1 1/2 to 2 hours to apply 1 inch of water to 1,000 square feet.
A variety of drip and trickle irrigation systems are available through garden centers and mail-order catalogs. A soaker hose is the least expensive and easiest to use. These systems operate at low pressure and deliver small amounts of water to the soil very slowly. A problem that sometimes occurs is clogging of the small holes in the lines if the water comes from a spring. Do some comparison shopping before purchasing a drip system.
Gardens infested with weeds produce fewer vegetables because the weeds compete for the available soil nutrients, water, air, and sunlight. Weeds also provide a home for insects and diseases.
A steel hoe is one of the most effectivie weapons in fighting the war against weeds. When used properly, it is rather accurate, very selective, always effective, and inexpensive. You may even find hand hoeing enjoyable work. You will not be able to control all weeds with the hoe alone however. Weeds at the base of the plant must be pulled by hand. Do not allow weeds to become well established before they are removed because pulling large weeds can damage the root systems of vegetable plants. You can decrease the amount of hoeing you must do by using mulches and herbicides in your weed control program. Mulches help to retain soil moisture and reduce weed growth. They fall into two categories -- organic types that decompose naturally in the soil, and inorganic types that do not decompose and therefore must be removed after serving their pupose.
Organic mulches are by far the most common. Typical examples are bark chips, compost, ground corncobs, chopped cornstalks, grass clippings, leaves, manure, newspapers, peanut shells, peat moss, pine needles, sawdust, straw, and wood shavings. Organic mmulches are most useful in conserving soil moisture and reducing the soil temperature by 8o to 10o F during the summer. For this reason, they should not be used too early in the spring. If mulches are applied to cold garden soils, the soils will warm up more slowly and plant maturity will be delayed. On the other hand, organic mulches can reduce soil crusting. After the soil warms in spring, an organic mulch may be applied to a depth of 2 to 4 inches around well established plants. Be sure that there is adequate moisture in the soil before applying the mulch. Mulches such as sawdust, wood shavings, and corncobs can use up some of the soil nitrogen as they decompose. To compensate, you should add 1 to 2 cups of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer to each bushel of sawdust, wood shavings, or corncobs before applying them over the soil.
Inorganic mulches such as plastic (clear or black) are easier to use if applied before planting. Soil moisture should be high before these filmlike materials are placed over the soil. The strips of plastic are applied by placing them over the prefertilized row to be planted, then burying the edges to prevent the wind from blowing them away. Short slits are then made in the material with a pocket knife for depositing seeds or planting transplants.
Using clear plastic results in a soil temperature increase of 8 o to 10 oF. The soil warms faster with clear plastic than with any other type of mulch. Because clear plastic does not exclude light, germination of weed as well as crop seeds is stimulated. The plastic must be removed as soon as the seedlings emerge through the soil.
Black plastic results in a soil temperature increase of 5 o to 6 oF early in the growing season and reduces the weed population. This material is highly recommended for crops that produce fruit on the ground, such as melons, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes.
The choice of an organic or inorganic mulch depends on the season and what purpose the mulch serves. Organic mulches are best if the goal is to conserve moisture and reduce soil temperatures during the summer. They can also help to reduce soil crusting. The greatest value of inorgainc mulches is their ability to increase soil termperature very early in the growing season when the soil is cool.
Herbicides are the other weed control aid you can employ. No single herbicide will control weeds in all vegetable crops. Alsp, it is difficult to apply relatively small amounts of herbicides evenly on the garden surface. Miscalculation or miscalibration of the application equipment can cause some areas of the garden to be treated with too much or too little of the herbicide, which can lead to growth problems for some vegetables.
Dacthal (DCPA) and Treflan (trifulralin) are the two herbicides labled for use with the broadest range of vegetables in the home garden. Dacthal may be puchased as a granular and wettable powder. It is generally applied to the soil surface after planting. Treflan may be puchased in granular and liquid forms. Unlike Dacthal, Treflan must be applied to the soil surface and then incorporated into the top 1 to 2 inches of soil by raking or rototilling. Although herbicides are available, the best weed control mehod for most home gardens is probably a steel hoe used in conjuction with a mulch.
For information on pest identification and control, consult your county Extension Service agent and the booklets listed at the end of this publication.
The nutritional content, freshness, and flavor that vegetables possess depend
on the stage of maturity and the time of day at which they are harvested.
Overmature vegetables will be stringy and coarse. When possible, harvest
vegetables during the cool part of the morning and process them as soon as
possible. If for some reason processing must be delayed, cool the vegetables in
ice water or crushed ice and store them in the refrigerator to preserve flavor
and quality. Here are some brief guidelines for harvesting vegetable crops:
Composting is a way of recycling organic waste materials that you would ordinarily discard. When these materials are placed into a compost pile with soil, water, and certain other materials, they decay into a rich humus that you can use as mulch or work into garden or potting soil to improve it's structure.
The organic materials most often composted are leaves, grass clippings, straw, weeds (before they have gone to seed), and plant parts from vegetable and flower gardens. Avoid using diseased materials or plants that have been treated with weed killers. Do no include meat scraps and bones because they attract rodents and dogs. Avoid pine straw because it decays slowly.
The texture of organic material affects its rate of decay. Smaller particles decompose faster than larger ones. When possible, put the material through a shredder or run over it with a lawn mower before putting it onto the compost pile.
It is usually best to locate the compost pile in the backyard where it can be screened from view. Most gardeners prefer to make compost in a bin constructed of fence wire, treated wood, or concrete. If you use the bin method, make the structure large enough to provide for two bins so that the compost can be turned from one bin into the other periodically. Each bin should be 3 to 5 feet wide, 4 to 6 feet high, and any convenient length. One side of each bin should be removable for convenience in building up the compost material and in removing it. Rectangular bins are usually easier to use.
Start the compost pile by putting a 6- to 8-inch layer of organic material (leaves, straw, or grass clippings) at the bottom of the pile. Sprinkle the layer with water and add a layer of soil about 1 inch thick. Next spread 1 cup of 8-8-8 fertilizer and 1 cup of ground limestone for each 10 square feet of surface area. One or 2 inches of horse manure can be used in place of commercial fertilizer. The fertilizer or manure provides nutrients for the microorganisms that help decompose the organic materials. Repeat the process of adding 6 to 8 inches of organic matter, water, fertilizer, and ground limestone as many times as needed to use up the available compost materials.
Since moisture hastens decomposition, make a saucer-shaped depression in the top of the pile to catch rainwater. Also, wet the pile thoroughly during dry weather. The material will decompose faster and the mixture will be better if the compost is shoveled form one pile to another about every two months.
The finished compost should be ready in less than four to six months, depending on how well the microbial activity is sustained through proper nutrition, aeration, and moisture. When ready for use, the compost will be a dark brown color and friable; that is, it will crumble readily when turned over.
It sometimes helps to understand what has gone wrong with a particular crop
so you can avoid making the same mistake again next year. Here are some commom
garden problems and recommendations for preventing them:
WHEN USING PESTICIDES, ALWAYS FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS. The label explains how
to use a pesticide properly and safely. Use any pesticide only on those crops
listed on the label. Use the recommended rate and apply the pesticide at the
time and in the manner stated on the label.
Obey all precautions listed on the lable for using a pesticide safely; for example:
"Keep out of reach of children"
If You need more information on pesticides, contact these sources:
Emergency Medical Advice:
Carolinas Poison Control Center
Contact you county Cooperative Extension Center.
Pesticide Education Programs:
Pesticide Education Specialist
Harzardous Waste Disposal, Food and Drug Protection Division
The following North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service can be obtained from your county Extension Center by writing to Communication Services, Campus Box 7603, NCSU, Raleigh, NC 27695-7603. Single copies are free except as noted. Make checks payable to: N.C. State University.
Quick Reference Home Vegetable Gardening Guide, AG-12, 4p. (Planting
guide with list of suggested varieties, updated annually).
Recommendations for the use of chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact an agent of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in your county.
Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.