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Celebrate National Agriculture Week


March 21-27 is National Agriculture Week, and in celebration of farmers, farmworkers, foresters, and other professionals, we want to share some tips to help readers grow a fruitful garden. Successful gardening tips include garden location, soil preparation, planting schedule, watering, and the best part—harvesting.

1.) Garden location. Homeowners with a backyard can opt to plant directly in the ground but raised beds and containers are also an option. If you sow directly in the earth, ensure you have high-quality, loamy soil with good drainage. More on soil quality soon. Another important consideration for a successful garden is sunlight and proximity to the house. Most vegetables thrive in full sun and need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. It’s important to note that flowering plants like tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers require more sunlight, so 8-10 hours is ideal.

2.) Soil Preparation. If you’ve never conducted a soil test, you can start by testing the quality of your soil. Your local department of agriculture will have sample boxes and instructions for collecting and sending in soil samples. Processing times will vary based on location, and soil results will reveal the next steps. The optimal soil pH for most vegetables is between 6.0-6.5, and you may need to add lime to combat acidity. If you use traditional rows, you can apply fertilizer with a broadcast spreader. You can sprinkle fertilizer and rake it in if you use a raised bed. Of course, you may opt for an organic garden and supplement your soil with composted materials like kitchen scraps, leaves, shredded newspapers, yard waste, etc. Use caution with some forms of compost and grass clippings, especially if they have been treated with herbicides. Now that your soil is ready, it’s time to plant!

3.) Planting time. Once you’ve decided on your garden’s location and prepared the soil, you’re ready to plant. It may seem obvious, but grow food you and your family enjoy eating! Some plants will need to be planted after the last frost, but check with your local extension to be sure. If you’re sowing transplants, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Choose plants that are medium-sized and free of diseases and insects. Check the weather forecast before transplanting your seedlings to determine which time of day would be best for planting; for instance, plant in the evening or on a cloudy day to avoid wilting. Avoid planting if severe weather is forecasted, as this can damage tender plants.

4.) Garden care and maintenance. Weeds compete for nutrients, so it’s important to mitigate their effects. If you’ve chosen traditional rows, you can use a hoe to remove weeds. However, weeds near the base of a plant should be removed by hand; don’t let your hard work go to waste by damaging the roots of a healthy plant while you try to combat weeds! You can also use mulches which retain soil moisture for the roots and reduce weeds. Water your plants based on the temperature, soil conditions, rainfall, etc. Water your plants in the morning or the evening so the foliage isn’t wet all day, thus increasing the chances of disease.

5.) Time to harvest. The best and most rewarding part has arrived: harvesting your vegetables. It depends on the vegetables you planted, so it’s best to consult guides from your local extension office to determine if your produce is ripe. Harvest when the leaves are dry to avoid spreading diseases, and only harvest what you need. Of course, it’s best to use your produce immediately, but if you can’t, try canning or freezing your leftovers. You will be able to enjoy the fruits of your hard labor throughout the year.