Family Gardens

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
August 2, 2002

During the planning of a new flower and/or vegetable garden, the family should to be realistic about the time and cost for preparation, planting, maintenance, harvesting, and removal of residue. The suggested size for a family flower and/or vegetable garden is 100 to 400 square feet. It can be increased or decreased later, as needed.

The first and most useful hand tool should be a garden fork for digging, tilling, or cultivating. For larger areas up to 1,000 square feet, a mini-tiller may be useful.

The trend for the family garden area is narrow enough to reach to the center from each side. Gardens with long rows are for commercial producers.

Crops planted in raised beds are expected to yield more than those in ground-level plots. Raised beds may be made by cutting grass low, covering the area with several sheets of wet-white old newspaper or cardboard, and topping it off with 6 to 12 inches of fertile topsoil or bed-mix. If you build a frame, it will retain the original size and shape. If you do not frame you garden, the topsoil must be re-graded each season. If you neglect the garden, the raised bed may become a berm in the landscape.

The smallest gardens can be planted in containers. If properly managed, the plants should be the most productive.

Families have a preference for flowers and vegetables, but should be sure to plant the adapted varieties.

Plants can be set in a checkerboard pattern, instead of close in a row with a wide space between rows. You should consider the spread of the root system and the size of the mature plants. Last fall, I set my cabbage plants nine inches apart and broccoli six inches apart. After they became about half mature, the soil was shaded, which discouraged weeds. The plants grew together, and the heads were of average size. This fall, I may set them the same distance apart 12 and 9 inches, respectively.

Tomatoes

If tomato plants are transplanted to larger containers several times for a week or two, they should grow more roots. If two tomato plants are set in the same hole or trench, they should mature and develop fruit earlier than they would individually.

The plants should be set in a deep hole or in a trench (3 to 6 inches deep), with only the top cluster of leaves showing. That will force them to grow more roots along the stem and become a stronger plant.

Apply deep mulch around the tomato plants in a one or two foot radius. This is the season to apply starter water-soluble fertilizer with calcium to prevent blossom-end rot as the fruit matures.

Composting

The dog days of summer may be returning. If you have a shady area, its a good time to build a compost structure. It should contain one cubic yard or more to develop heat and speed decomposition. Or grass clippings, leaves, kitchen vegetable scraps, and other yard residue can be piled to decompose. Leaves will decompose faster if they are shredded with a lawn mower or shredder machine. Compost has fertility value determined by the organic materials that were put in it. Some leaves may be better than cow manure. Lawn-grass clippings have mineral elements based on the fertility of the soil and stage of the grass when mowed.

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.