Turn Your Blues to Greens with Gardening
If some of you are like me, there has been a time during the COVID-19 pandemic when you came down with the “blues.” Growing plants is one way to ease these blues. According to a fact sheet from Rutgers Cooperative Extension, gardening was first reported by be used as a therapeutic method to treat individuals in the 1100’s in Clairvaux, France. In 1812, Dr. Benjamin Rush, University of Pennsylvania professor of Medicine and Clinical Practice, found that patients that worked in gardens had recovered faster than those that did not have a gardening experience. Today, several hospitals, senior centers, schools, recovery and rehabilitation centers, and correctional facilities recognize the therapeutic benefits of gardening activities. Whether you have a container garden or have a large garden plot, just the simple act of working in soil and caring for plants has been shown to have been shown to have these same benefits.
Here are a couple items to keep in mind when starting a garden:
- Have appropriate spacing for plants in the garden and containers
Spacing is important not only to allow your plants to maximize growth and production, but also to prevent diseases by allowing airflow between plants. There are a couple methods to use when planting gardens in the ground, raised beds, and containers.
When planting a garden, follow the information located on the back of most seed packets or listed on the tag of seedling plant for spacing between plants and rows. For example, carrots usually need to be thinned to two to three inches between plants and in rows of at least one foot apart.
Another method to use is called wide row gardening. For this method prepare the garden as usual, however instead of planting a single row of plants, seeds are planted in a block of several rows. Use the information on spacing between plants when using this method. Vegetables that are able to grow quickly and form a canopy to outcompete weeds are best suited while planting in wide rows. This type of vegetables include lettuce, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard.
Square foot gardening is usually used in raised bed gardens but can be used when planting in the ground. For this method seeds are planted in one foot or larger squares using the spacing guidance located on the seed packet or tag of the seedling. For example, if the radish seed packet says that seeds need to be planted three inches apart, then sixteen plants can be planted in one foot square (four plants by four plants). Four inches apart would be nine plants and six inches would be four plants per one foot square. Large plants such as tomatoes may need three to four square feet.
For those without space for a large garden or raised bed, vegetables can be grown in containers. There are several items that can be used as a container garden. Examples include homemade boxes, terra cotta pots, plastic buckets, wooden barrels, bushel baskets, and even trash containers. It is important for the container to be large enough for root growth as well as being able to support the plant. For example, peas can be grown something as small as a six inch pot where tomatoes need a larger container such as a five gallon bucket.
- Adequate sun light for the plants you are growing
Most vegetables require at least six hours of sunlight. If the only space for the garden is in partial shade or less than six hours, vegetables such as radish, lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach will work well in those areas.
- Provide good soil mix for your garden beds and containers
Vegetables grow best in well-drained soil. In poorly drained soils, such as clay, water replaces air that may prevent roots from developing or root rots. Adding compost or other organic materials, such as manure, can improve the drainage of these types of soils.
Purchased soil mixes fall into two basic types. Soilless mixes are composed of equal parts of peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. These mixes are lighter making them ideal for container gardens or areas where there may be weight restrictions such as a balcony.
Soil containing mixes are heavier because they contain soil with the peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. These mixes contain two parts soil along with one part peat moss and one part vermiculite or perlite. Manure, compost, or rotted wood chips may be used instead of the peat moss in these types of mixes. These mixes may introduced weeds, insects, and diseases to the garden. To prevent the introduction of these pests always use a pasteurized soil source.
- Water to plants throughout growing season
Adequate watering is necessary for a successful garden. Garden vegetables require at least one inch of rain per week. If your garden is in ground or in a raised bed, there are a variety of water meters you can purchase to monitor the amount of water being put on the garden. For container gardens, apply enough water until it starts coming out of the bottom of the container.
The different soil mixes determine how often you need to water. Soilless mixes require more water due to its inability to hold large amount of moisture. These types of potting mixes require about twice as much water than the mixes that contain soil. The type and size of container also affects the amount of water required to grow plants. Terra cotta pots dry out quickly as do small pots. Containers that contain at least two gallons of soil and are made of plastic, glazed clay pots, or wood tend to hold water better. It is always best
- Fertilizing your garden
There is no general recommendation on fertilizing gardens. For gardens that contain soil, it is always best to do a soil test. You can pick up soil bags and forms at the Extension office. As of now the UW Soil Laboratory in Marshfield is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will reopen as restrictions ease up. A soil test will provide information on the amount of lime and fertilizer needed to successfully grow your garden plants.
Since soilless mix may not contain nutrients to support the plants, there are a couple products you can apply to soilless mixes. The first is to use slow release fertilizers to the potting mix. These fertilizers will slowly release the nutrients to the plant as it comes in contact with water. Another method is to use liquid or water soluble fertilizer that can be mixed with water and applied during watering. These products should be applied while the soil is moist to avoid potentially burning the plant. Typically these fertilizers are reapplied every two weeks to provide enough nutrients to the plants. At times you can use these products at half rate every time you water. Always read and follow the directions for each of these fertilizers before using them to prevent damaging the plant.
If you have any further questions on gardening or have other questions related to horticulture or agriculture please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 608 265-2502.
Other resources to assist you through the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at:
Extension Lincoln County Being Calm and Prepared for COVID-19 website: https://lincoln.extension.wisc.edu/public-health-emergencies/
Extension Langlade County, Health and Well-being website: https://langlade.extension.wisc.edu/covid-19-health-and-well-being/
UW-Madison, Division of Extension Farm Management Program, Managing a farm during COVID-19 website: https://farms.extension.wisc.edu/coronavirus/