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Coach Mom Newsletter - Apr 2012

Make Your Own Garden

A little more than a year ago I got intentional about my family eating healthy and gave them a 40-day “clean” diet challenge. That experience led us to totally revamp our eating habits. In my research I have learned more and more that America has allowed companies to sell cheap, chemically-laden food in the name of profit, at the expense of our health.

One step away from unhealthy foods and toward more local, unprocessed foods is to feed your family from your own garden. No, I’m not suggesting you drop all grocery visits and raise everything at home. But could you make a small start at growing some of the foods your family enjoys?

To gather information on this I went to my favorite source (and favorite person in general), my husband Chris. Chris created successful vegetable gardens in five homes that we have lived in over the past 20 years, so he has learned a bit about what works. In the following paragraphs I will share some of Chris’ wisdom on the subject:

When creating a garden, planning is key. The three most important factors are healthy soil, adequate sunlight, and consistent watering.

Healthy Soil

Healthy soil takes a little more time and effort to cultivate in some states than in others. Farming states like Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska have nutrient-rich soil. But other states have ground that makes it hard for roots to grow.

In Arizona, Chris was always battling caliche, a sedimentary rock that cements together other materials like gravel and clay and usually is found on or near the surface of the ground. Using planks of wood, Chris built raised gardens and filled them with potting soil, compost and mulch in order to get the most (or anything, for that matter!) out of his gardens.

Rototilling the soil is also important to a garden’s success if it is not a raised garden. Tilling adds air to the soil and mixes the mulch and compost so that it retains more water. Tillers can usually be rented by the hour from a home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot, or most local small equipment rental companies. (Tilling is not the fun part, but work on the front side yields great rewards on the back!)

Adequate Sunlight

Most plants need as much indirect sunlight as possible, but not so much direct that will burn up the fruit in the heat of the summer. Shade structures can be built to protect plants from too much sun. Trimming back trees can also allow more sun into the garden. Another option that gives you control of sun exposure is pot planting. It allows you to move the plants as needed, depending on sun and outside temperatures.

Consistent watering

Consistent watering of the soil, avoiding water on the plants themselves, is key in maximizing fruit bearing. With consistent watering, roots grow, fruit sets, and ripens. Chris came up with a creative idea last year when we grew tired of watering the garden in the heat of the summer. He constructed a homemade irrigation system made of PVC pipe that connected to the hose. When we turned the water on at the spigot just outside our back door, water flowed out of little holes to each plant in our garden. It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done a lot easier than hand watering.

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A Harvest of Garden Tips

  • When creating your first garden, start small to make sure you can control it. You will need time to water, tend the plants and fruit, and weed (yes, plants grow fast in nutrient-dense soils, and so do weeds!)

  • Define the garden with a boundary such as stone or treated railroad ties. This keeps weeds and grass from growing in on the sides and allows you to raise it a bit. Draw a plan for where plants will be planted before starting.

  • Choose plants that do well in your climate. Talk to professionals at gardening centers to find out the recommended varieties of tomatoes, for example.

  • Choose plants that grow well together (see blog on “companion planting”). We have always had success planting peppers and onions near our tomatoes and they have done great. Last year my dad planted cilantro by his tomatoes. His tomatoes, which had a history of thriving, looked pitiful. The professional at the gardening center informed him that cilantro planted close to a tomato plant tends to choke the life out of it.

  • Decide if you would like to stake plants such as green beans, tomatoes and peppers. Growing them vertically saves garden space and keeps the fruit off the ground (a little harder for bugs to reach)

  • Put “bumper” stakes in each corner of the garden to use as a hose guide when hand watering. This protects plants from being pulled over by the hose.

  • Check in the Farmer’s Almanac or with a local nursery to find out your zone’s  last typical freeze, then get your plants in the ground shortly after that date. If overnight temperatures get close to freezing after plants are in the ground, you may need to cover plants with a sheet or another lightweight material.

  • Tomato tips: Flick yellow blooms with your finger to maximize pollination and fruit setting. When fruit just begins to turn colors, pick and let it ripen indoors. My theology has always been that the birds have nothing better to do than to watch for the tomatoes to ripen. At the first moment of readiness, they will go for them. So bring them in early, and the flavor will be delicious once they reach their red color. Smaller varieties such as Celebrity and yellow pear have served us well through the years and turn out a lot more than the larger varieties such as Better Boy.

  • If you are unable at this point to plant a full garden, you might consider planting in some pots.

Happy gardening!

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Growing Up Boys while Growing
a Garden 

Flashback from the Stull’s Family Scrapbook 2003: the kids showing the fruits of our labor. Was the tractor used at our house? It might make for a good story, but that photo was actually taken on a tractor at the park.

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Good Bugs In. Bad Bugs Out.

Praying mantis egg cases can be purchased from companies such as ARBICO.  Within weeks hundreds of mantis prey upon the gardener’s insect enemies. They then lay their own egg cases, so the mantis population on the property is ongoing.

Ladybugs are our friends, but they are ferocious to all of the insects that we hate. They are known to be the toughest defense against insects, but don’t count on them hanging around after they devour everything. They will be on to another buggy area to feed. Ladybugs can also be purchased from ARBICO or similar companies.

Don't miss the GOOD BUG GIVEAWAY this month! See the side bar for details.
Thank you,
ARBICO, for the donation!

Don’t throw out your leftover brewed coffee. You may think it tastes bad when you try to microwave it in the afternoon, but to the slugs and snails it’s killer!  If they are in the soil when it is poured on, they will die. Good results have also been found with spraying the leftover coffee directly on the plants. Then, even if your slug problem seems like it’s behind you, keep it up. If slugs begin to approach caffeinated soil, they will immediately turn back.

Source: Marion Owen, Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul. http://www.plantea.com/slug-baits-coffee.htm

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