Local Master Gardeners offer planting tips to get great start to gardens
Gardening season is just around the corner, and with that, Barry County Master Gardeners and local producers, who have often learned by trial and error themselves, are one of the county's best assets to help residents establish gardens that will reap a bountiful harvest.
Getting a garden off to a good start is dependent on several factors.
"It is based on soil temperature," said Liz Renkoski, master gardener. "The cold season crops can be planted now, such as cabbage, onions, peas, broccoli family, etc. Corn and bush beans can be planted in mid-April. March 1 is a good time [to start them]. Others need warmer soils.
To test soil, master gardeners recommend taking a sample to the local Barry County Extension office in Cassville.
"You can get information on how to take a soil sample at the extension office," Renkoski said. "She'll ask what crops you're going to plant, and they will tell you what nutrients those need. They give you pH and fertilizer recommendations.
"It's not too late to plant for summer," said Linda Stuart, master gardener. "You're not going to want to wait to plant your summer crops until May 1. "The warm season is based on soil temperature. It needs to be 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That's when you plant your tomatoes, peppers, beans, squashes, okra, etc."
As for worrying about weather shifts, Stuart said this part of the state usually doesn't have frosts after April 15.
"That doesn't mean we can't, but we have had a mild winter so far," she said. "All gardening is a gamble, but knowing more improves your chances of being successful."
When planting, most seeds should be planted four times the diameter of the seed, Stuart said. For instance, a one-quarter-inch seed would be planted one inch deep.
"You can plant in rows or in blocks; seed packets tell how far apart the rows should be, and how far apart to place the seeds," Stuart said. "Few vegetable plants benefit from shade."
In addition to planting a traditional garden, residents can also plant vegetables in raised beds, or large containers.
"You can garden anywhere," Renkoski said.
"[The same rules] would apply for container and raised bed planting," Stuart said. "Raised beds will warm up sooner. You still want to test your soil, and always want to add organic matter such as manures or compost. It's best to mix two-thirds of a good quality top soil with one-third organic matter."
Compost is simply decayed organic material that is use as a plant fertilizer.
Stuart said peat moss, a type of organic matter, is a good choice for compost, because it breaks down slowly.
According to Planet Natural, an online gardening resource, organic waste is the best raw material to make compost from, and is readily available as it can come from your kitchen, yard, or even your home. Organic matter includes carbon-rich materials, or browns, and nitrogen-rich materials, or greens. Among the "browns" include matter such as peat moss, leaves, wood, bark, pine needles, sawdust, straw, vegetable stalks, fruit waste or shredded newspaper. Among the "greens" include food waste, garden waste, manures, vegetable scraps, grass clippings, hay or coffee grounds.
Although different methods abound on preparing raised beds, Stuart recommends preparing ground for the roots, then using the same soil and compost mixture for a traditional garden.
"You need to break up the surface, so that the roots can get into it," she said. "You want to encourage the roots to go deep because they can get more water and nutrients and hold up better in the heat of summer."
If using a container, Stuart said larger is best.
"A 20-gallon barrel or recycled mineral tubs are ideal," she said.
As for borders, Stuart recommends not using treated lumber or railroad ties.
After the garden is established, it needs to be properly maintained to produce.
"Any vegetable plantings needs eight hours of sun," Stuart said.
On watering, the right balance is needed, as too much watering, not enough, or at the wrong times can result in crops not producing well, but watering in the morning, and deeply, is best. Some plants, like tomatoes, a favorite produce in gardens, do not like too much water.
"Tomatoes don't like wet feet," Renkoski said. "They need a garden spot with good drainage. Watering as needed in summer droughts is necessary, but the tomato [plant] doesn't like to sit in water."
When watering, it is important to focus on the roots.
"The point is to get the ground wet, not the foliage," Renkoski said. "The water just evaporates off the leaves, which doesn't help it."
"It is the leaves that you don't want wet for prolonged time as it may encourage fungus," Stuart said.
Renkoski and Stuart both agree that if in doubt about watering, or busy schedules get in the way, to remember that deep watering does more good than frequent watering.
As an exception, because raised beds tend to stay warmer, they may need watering more often.
After establishing a garden, and maintaining it by providing the right soil, compost materials, plenty of sunlight and water, the best part is watching it grow, enjoying the the harvest, and saving money on produce.
Barry County Master Gardeners agree that a little knowledge goes a long way, and invite residents to learn more about gardening.
"If you know some basics, it's pretty simple," Stuart said. "And that's what's great about the Master Gardener program, is you learn the basics about planting, and with like-minded people, and you also give back to the community."
The Barry County Extension office has a vegetable planting guide at muextenstion.missouri.edu, along with frequently asked questions about different vegetables and other gardening resources. They will also be hosting a training to become a Master Gardener on Thursday.
For more information on program details, soil testing, or gardening, people may call 417-847-3161.