Friday, June 10, 2011

Turning a Black Thumb Green.....

I have black thumb disease. Granted it’s a fictional, self-diagnosed disease, but none the less it has resulted in numerous plants dying every year. My mom, in contrast has a green thumb. She is the one who can take those weeping, half-dead, pathetic looking plants from Walmart and magically bring them back to life. Why am I telling you this? Because whether you have a green thumb or a black thumb you can still have a wonderful garden that suites your wants and needs.
You don’t have to run out and buy every gardening book you see to become a great gardener. It’s quite overwhelming to dive straight into the never-ending world of gardening education when you’re first starting out. First, decide what you’re interested in and be honest with yourself about how much time you have to devote to your plants. Maybe just start with a container or two or a small plot of space in the front or backyard; four feet by four feet is a good size for a few veggie plants. Start small and build from there, you won’t regret it.
All plants need three things: light (some prefer more than others), water (again, some prefer more than others) and soil. I won’t make you dizzy explaining the various types of soil and amendments. I will tell you a quick, easy combination that seems to work: organic compost or garden soil and Amend. I choose organic because often things that shouldn’t be included in soil when growing food ironically still end up in the bag. Organic usually means you won’t find any strange chemicals or additives. The best kind of compost is actually the one you make yourself, but we’ll save that for another column.
Kellogg’s Amend is wonderful to use when you are planting in the ground. It’s a stinky (literally), natural soil conditioner that helps turn clay or sandy soil into a gardener’s dream. Work Amend into the soil or blend it with some garden soil in pots, either way it’s a nice recipe for soil success.
Let’s go back to light and water. Now if you live here in the Central Valley you know that it gets hot here. That might be a bit of an understatement. So when the tag on your new plant says full sun, just know that for many plants, they don’t mean our full sun. But fortunately many fruits and veggies (like citrus, melon, tomatoes, various squash, etc.) can handle the heat better people than most people can, myself included. Monitor your yard for where you get sun throughout the day. Place the sun loving plants where you get a lot of sun (probably the south side) and place the ones who can’t take the heat somewhere out of the sun during the late afternoon. Now for regular watering: deep watering is better than sprinkling, watering in the morning seems to work better in guarding against disease and helping plants take on the heat, plants in containers will need to be watered more often and water at the roots rather than the leaves. The garden tag should let you know how much water the plant will need, but the plant will also let you know. If it’s wilting that often means, “I need water!” Turning brown? Well, that’s either “I need water!”, “it’s too hot for me” or “your dog thinks I’m a fire hydrant!” Water as best as you can (not too much or too little) and take extra caution on hot days.
Now, what to grow?
I will ask you this if you’re looking at planting fruits, vegetables or herbs, what do you eat or use in the kitchen most? If you love tomatoes, plant tomatoes. If you buy lettuce every week at the grocery store, plant some lettuce. If you hate brussell sprouts, don’t plant them. They’re gross anyway. In warmer months try these: cucumbers, squash, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, corn and pole beans. In cooler months try: lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and kale. Start with one of two of those and go from there. I advise fellow black thumbs to start with plants rather than seeds when first starting off. This will eliminate weeks of waiting and thinning, etc. When fruit (trees/vines/bushes) are in stock, try a few of those as well, just make room for them to grow.
I won’t go into pest control or soil amendments this week. Just wanted to give you a basic overview.
Goodness. I know this is a lot to take in. Even I’m getting overwhelmed.
I do want to tell you this, “black thumb” disease isn’t something you should fret about. Even if all you do is kill more plants this summer, know that gardening is an unending process of trial and error. You can do everything right and one of your plants may do well; the other will die faster than a soap opera star during Sweeps week. Don’t take it personally. All you can do is provide the right conditions and let nature do the rest. That’s how you turn a black thumb green: practice, patience, persistence and maybe, a little more Amend.

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