Weekly Express-News Article
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS
Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Saturday, September 6, 2008
The increase in food costs and high gasoline prices have encouraged
some families to consider growing some of their own vegetables.
Gardening is an activity that can be done at home, is good
exercise, is fun and can be productive.
Fall is my favorite vegetable growing time.
It is pleasant to be outside and there are great vegetables
to grow including broccoli, cabbage, carrots, spinach, lettuce, turnips,
rutabagas, radishes, cauliflower, chard and mustard.
Tomatoes, beans and peppers should be in the garden right now.
They produce until cold weather arrives.
The best way to grow vegetables in the San
Antonio area is in a raised bed.
Select an area in full sun and border the garden with used
railroad ties, treated wood, rock, plastic timbers, cedar lumber,
concrete blocks or anything else that will contain at least eight
inches of soil.
I like use railroad ties the best, because they are heavy enough
to stay put without fastening or staking.
Local research has determined that they are safe to use to
border the garden and they are readily available in eight foot lengths
at a reasonable price.
The site should be relatively level, but does not need to be
fanatically so. Use your shovel to remove humps or fill dips
that prevent the timbers from sitting firmly on the ground. I like a garden that is eight feet wide, because
you can reach in from both sides to the middle without having to stomp
through the garden.
One railroad tie deep is suitable if you have some native soil.
If your garden is placed on rock or it could be built taller.
Wheelchair gardeners also benefit by taller raised bed gardens.
Build the garden tall enough that the gardener can reach in
from the side while sitting in a wheelchair.
In the case of a wheelchair garden, the width can be reduced
to four feet to facilitate working the garden from the side.
There is considerable information on handicapped gardening
on the internet, just Google the topic to find specific garden plans
for various limitations.
Purchase raised bed garden mixes from one of several horticultural
suppliers in the area. The list includes Keller Material, Fertile
Garden Supply and Garden
Ville. The garden mix usually
is made of one-third compost, one-third soil and one-third sand.
Avoid mixes that are obviously dominated by sawdust.
The material causes a nitrogen deficit and is not useful in
Even the best soil mix is low on nitrogen so add one cup per
50 square feet of slow release lawn fertilizer as a pre-planting preparation.
Vegetables are not xeriscape plants; they produce a good crop
only if they receive plenty of water. Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to
provide water. Newly planted
vegetables need water everyday and vegetables with fruit, greens or
roots require water at least twice per week if you are going to harvest
a large crop of tender, well formed vegetables.
Mulching with oak leaves or other materials also helps.
Irrigation contractors can put your drip system in for you
or you can do it yourself with kits or supplies from nurseries and
home improvement stores. For an inexpensive short term drip system, leaky
hoses can be strung out in the garden.
After sun, soil and water, successful home vegetable gardening
does require some attention to timing, pest control, fertilization,
thinning and harvesting. Grow cool weather plants in the fall and winter
and hot weather plants in the spring and fall.
Each vegetable has one or more recommended planting time to
take advantage of the weather it needs.
is also important for disease and insect control.
Some pests are only prevalent in the spring and some are more
likely at other times. In addition, there are a wide range of organic
and manufactured pesticides to utilize.
Some vegetables do very well without much attention to pests
and others require considerable attention.
maximum production vegetables need generous supplies of nutrients.
Tomatoes and greens are especially dependent on fertilization. They are fertilized at planting and then every
three weeks along the row. Slow
release lawn fertilizer seems to be the best choice for vegetables
in the garden.
is sometimes hard to do, but vegetables need to be thinned.
The plants need to have space to grow to produce to their full
potential. The space requirements range from two or three
inches for radishes, six inches for bulb onions, 2.5 feet for tomatoes
to eight feet for vine crops.
For more information on the cultural practices to grow good
vegetables follow columns like this one, the gardening shows on radio
and internet sites like plantanswers.com. Local gardening media outlets usually alert
gardeners to current problems and solutions in addition to general
information on planting and care.