In our last two installments we planned our garden and then planted our seedlings and sowed our seeds. In this, “The Witches Garden: Part Three” we will be discussing how to maintain your newly planted garden.
Our first step in maintaining our garden is to thin our newly sown seeds. If you’ve planted nursery plants, you’ll be able to skip this step.
As your seedlings emerge, use the information on your seed packet to thin them out. The cilantro plants shown here need to be thinned to 6 to 8 inches apart. Thin your plants when the second set of leaves have appeared. Thinning your seedlings, gives them the space the require to grow to maturity without being crowded.
If you placed a mesh screen over the tops of your seedlings, remove it once the new plants are pushing up against it. Otherwise, your plants will bend sideways and their growth may be stunted.
Protecting Your Witches Garden
Maintaining your garden includes protecting your plants and seedlings from the attack of predatory insects. Snails, slugs, earwigs, aphids and mites love to munch on young plants, often with devastating results. There are several organic methods that can deter or eliminate these predators.
- Diatomaceous Earth – This powdery substance can be used to both deter and desiccate slugs, snails, earwigs and other insects. Sprinkle it around your new plants to act as a barrier. Note: Be sure to get “food grade” product for best results.
- Organic pest control products – There are several pellet pest control products to save your plants from the onslaught of insects. I recommend Sluggo or Sluggo Plus (registered trademarks by Monterey) for snails, slugs and earwigs. Both products contain Iron Phosphate and the plus adds in Spinosad. While the labels say it is safe around pets and wildlife if you have animals that may ingest the pellets, I would suggest placing them under pots and out of reach. Iron poisoning can occur if large amounts are ingested.
- Organic Soap Insecticide Sprays – For aphids, mites and other flying insects that may insist on eating your plants, an organic insecticidal soap spray is best. There are many on the market – just be sure that the label reads “OMRI-listed and USDA-approved for organic gardening”. Soap sprays kill on contact, they do not penetrate the plant membranes. These sprays are very effective in eradicating pests, but they can also kill beneficial insects as well so be mindful.
- Homemade Soap Sprays – For the ultimate in DIY pest control you can create your own soap spray. There are many recipes out there for these sprays, but I personally like to use a combination of Castile Soap, cayenne pepper and water.
Weeds – Your Gardening Nemesis
Weeds are the bane of most gardeners existence. These persistent plants seem to pop up exactly where we don’t want them. Unfortunately, if you wish to keep your garden as organic as possible the best method to rid yourself of weeds is to pull them.
Note: Let your seedlings grow a bit before weeding. If you are unfamiliar with how your new plants look you may inadvertently pull them instead of your weeds. When in doubt, do a quick internet search. Information and images of your plants in all stages is readily available to you.
Pulling your weeds doesn’t have to be a chore if you do it a little every day. Weeding is actually a wonderful way to enjoy the sun, play in the dirt and listen to the earth around you. The act of pulling weeds can even be meditative as long as your entire focus is on the repetition of pulling out the weeds.
The most effective way of ridding your garden of pesky weeds it to be certain to pull the entire root of the weed. Merely yanking the tops of the weeds does nothing because the roots will continue to shoot up new plants. Loosen the soil gently around the weed and then pull the plant close to the root ball or tendrils. Weeds such as clovers may have an intensive root system so they may require a bit more work to eradicate. Be patient!
Keeping Your Plants Growing Strong
Spring is finally here and in the California Central valley it is planting time. Part Two of our “The Witches Garden” series will discuss some of the ins and outs of planting our garden. From soil and amendments, to placing our seeds and tender plants into their pots and plots, let’s get our witches garden planted!
In Part One we decided what type of plants we wished to add to our gardens. We discussed the pros and cons of seeds versus purchased plants. Today I will walk you through both planting seeds and transplanting nursery seedlings. Let us begin by making sure we have the optimal bed for our new plants by looking at soil and fertilizers.
Soil for The Witches Garden
If you are going to be planting in raised beds or pots you will need to purchase a good quality, organic soil. Prices and quality vary greatly from area to area but I would suggest you purchase a soil that includes a combination of the following ingredients:
- Worm castings
- Sphagnum Peat Moss
I love using “Happy Hippie Mix”. It is contains all of the above ingredients along with a few more. While not technically organic, it is pretty darn close. It does not contain any added fertilizers so I am able to add in the organic types that work best for me. As always, when in doubt as to the correct soil, check with your local garden center professional.
When planting in-ground, preparing your plot is key. I could spend an entire book going over how to dig and prepare your beds for planting. However, there are three key areas I’d like to mention:
- Digging your rows: Make certain that when digging your rows that they are deep enough for the type of plant you will add. Root vegetables need deep, loose soil in their beds – around 12 inches. Most herbs and leafy greens only require about 6 inches of depth to grow strong and healthy.
- Soil conditions: Check the labels on your plants for the preferred soil conditions. Do they like the soil moist or dry? Do they require a special PH to grow properly? Do they prefer sandy, loamy or dense soil?
- Amendments: Depending on your soil conditions you may need to add amendments such as peat moss, vermiculite, or even a bag or two of potting mix, to get your soil soft and ready to plant.
Adding Fertilizer for a Successful Start
After testing the PH levels (kits are available at garden centers) and checking what the optimal soil conditions for your plants are, you will need to “feed” your soil by adding some fertilizer. To begin, I would suggest an all-purpose organic fertilizer be added to your raised beds and plots.
Sprinkle your fertilizer into your pots, raised beds and garden plots according to the directions. Till it in thoroughly and then give it a good watering. If possible, let it sit overnight so the fertilizer has a good chance to begin its work on the soil.
Some plants such as blueberries, grapes and specialty flowers will require individual fertilizers to optimize their health. I have special food/fertilizer for my camellias, fruit trees, blueberries and orchids. When in doubt what type to use on your plants check the internet. Google has a wealth of information on gardening to help you out.
Getting Your Hands Dirty – Planting
Now comes the fun part – getting our hands dirty and planting. Before you begin you will need to gather a few supplies and tools:
- Pots and/or containers: Choose a pot or container that will give your plants room to grow. It should be of sufficient depth for the plants root system, should drain well (you may have to drill some additional holes in the bottom) and be easily moved.
- A small hand trowel or shovel for transplanting into raised beds or rows.
- Planter row markers for plots, containers and beds.
- Permanent marker (to write on your row markers).
Once you have gathered your supplies, head for the beds to start planting. To demonstrate each step, I have planted Calendula seeds in my raised planter.
To begin, I read the directions on the package to determine how deep my seeds need to be planted and then how far apart they need to be for optimal growth. Using my pinky finger, I poked holes into the soil, pushing to just below my first knuckle – about 1/2 inch deep – and made each one about 3 inches apart. I dropped two seeds into each hole. This is because not all seeds may germinate properly so adding in two gives me the best chance of success. I can always thin them out at a later time if necessary.
After I placed the seeds into each depression, I covered them lightly with soil and gave them a good watering. When completed, I marked the bed with a row marker noting the name of the plant. Here, I am using craft sticks as they are inexpensive. I have also opted to cover my seed beds with a mesh material because my yard is a bird haven and they like to eat my seeds. The screen allows the light and water to come through but keeps their little beaks out.
Transplanting Your Nursery Plants
Transplanting is a bit simpler. Again, read the nursery label for instructions as to depth and spacing of your plants. If adding them into containers, try not to overcrowd them. While it can be fun to mix and match varieties into a pretty pot, just give each individual plant some room to grow.
Using your trowel, prepare the bed, row, or pot by digging a hole deep and wide enough to fit the root ball of the plant. Carefully remove your plant from its container by turning it upside down, while holding the plant gently, yet securely, at its base. Tap on the bottom of the pot (and maybe the sides) to release it. Place your plant into the prepared hole. You may need to adjust the depth by removing or adding soil to the bottom until the plant is in the correct position. Fill around the root ball with soil, covering it completely. Your plant should sit securely, the soil no higher than its first set of leaves. Give it a good drink, place a marker and you are done!
Enjoy Your Witches Garden
Your planting is done and you can sit back and watch your garden grow. But your work doesn’t stop here. In our next installment we will talk about maintaining your Witches Garden – keeping it growing strong, healthy and beautiful. So go on. Go get your hands dirty and plant away.