Add lots of organic material to your garden soil. In Metro Detroit it’s not uncommon to have 3 to 15% organic material in our soils, but vegetables, and other garden plants like to have up to 50% organic material in the soil. Sometimes you have a long way to go, so keep adding that soil conditioner to clay soils, or sphagnum peat to sandy soils. It never hurts to add some English Gardens Compost Planting Mix or compost to your good garden soil to help enrich it.
Most vegetable plants prefer an evenly moist, well-drained soil. Improve your soil’s water retention by adding organic materials to the soil. During the warmer months, supplemental watering may be needed. Water when the soil is dry to the touch about 1 ½ inches or knuckle deep. Check regularly and only water when necessary.
Weather conditions affect your watering schedule. More frequent watering is necessary during long periods of hot or dry weather. It is best to water before noon during warm weather.
Watering must be deep to encourage a deep root system. Avoid using sprinklers to water your vegetable garden. Remember that most plants do not like to have water on their leaves. This is especially true of ‘leaf crop’ vegetables like lettuce, cabbage and collards.
The best way to water your vegetable garden is by using soaker hoses. Weave the hoses through the garden, and leave them in place throughout the season. Attach your garden hose to the soaker hose, and let it run for 30-45 minutes. Check to make sure the soil is wet at least a foot down. Deep and thorough waterings will improve your plants root development, and overall growth.
Watering by hand is also a good way to water. Allow water to puddle and collect beneath each plant before moving on to the next one. You may need to repeat this process twice more depending on how dry the soil is.
If you cannot water frequently, try planting with Soil Moist (a gel-crystal that absorbs water, and stores it like a battery, releasing it as the soil dries) for good water retention.
Some vegetable plants are native to arid, dry climates, and do not need as much water as other crops. Peppers and onions are examples of these types of plants. Too much water can rot the root systems. Just because these plants require less water does not mean that they need no water. Monitor these plants as suggested above, but allow the soil to dry out 4-6” deep between waterings.
Using fertilizer in your garden will help increase the yield of your vegetable plants, and keep them healthy. Fertilizers contain three macro-nutrients, represented by three numbers on the product label. The first number is always nitrogen. Nitrogen is important for quick growth, and leaf production. Nitrogen is good for lettuce and cabbage and other ‘leaf crops’. Keep the nitrogen low for tomatoes and other ‘fruit’ producing plants. Phosphorus is the second number, and is important for root development, as well as flower, fruit and vegetable production. The third number, potassium, is important for the plant’s overall health and vigor.
Most garden fertilizers should be rich in the last two elements. All fertilizers whether chemical or organic in origin contain these three nutrients, in that specific order. If you would like to use fewer chemicals, use cow, sheep or poultry manure, and Espoma and “Tone” products, like gardentone. Whatever you use be sure to read the label, and follow the directions as indicated. If you have questions, ask English Gardens staff for “Good Advice to Grow On”.
Extending Your Season
Usually, in Michigan the gardening season begins about May 15, and ends about October 15. Not even half a year! However, there are ways to extend your gardening season, here are a few suggestions:
- Start vegetable seeds indoors, especially vegetables that take several months to produce ripe ‘fruit’, like tomatoes. Starting seeds up to two months before the last frost usually can give you a considerable head start.
- Don’t plant peppers too early, however. Cold soil temperatures delay the plant’s development. Use wall-o-water or cold frames to protect newly transplanted seedlings.
- Plant cool season crops early, before May 15. Early cabbage, peas, radishes, broccoli and some lettuce seed can be sown up to a month before the last frost outdoors. Very often seedlings can be planted several weeks before the last frost.
- Plant seedlings a couple weeks early. A floating row cover may help protects plants from frost damage, and help maintain a warmer air temperature beneath it. Sunlight can penetrate the cover to allow for growth, and it does not have to be removed during the day. It also allows air-circulation, and water to penetrate it too. Use it again in the fall to extend the end of the season a couple more weeks.
- Plant another batch of cool season vegetable seeds 8-10 weeks before the first fall frost, and harvest those vegetables in early fall. Many cool crops plants like broccoli, cabbage and brussell sprouts actually taste better after a frost. Mark your rows of carrots and turnips and you can dig them even in the snow.