Paula's Vegetable & Herb Gardening Basics


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General Gardening Basics for Starting a Vegetable and Herb Garden in Alameda County, California. Topics include soil, water, selecting vegetables, container gardening, fertilizers and more.

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  • I love the taste of fresh produce from the Garden. You can’t buy this kind of flavor in the grocery stores. The nutrition in fresh from the garden food is higher than store bought as the transportation and storage from the farm to the store reduces the nutrition in the food. There’s something very therapeutic about digging in the soil and seeing the fruits of your labor from what you are growing. It’s also very peaceful to be outdoors and here the song birds singing, the bees buzzing, and nature at it’s finest right in your own yard. When you garden, you can’t help but get exposed to Sunshine. It’s always good to use sunscreen when you garden. But with the Sunshine comes natural Vitamin D. Give yourself 15 minutes in the Sunshine on your face or forearms without sunscreen and you’ve got your daily does of Vitamin D. It’s one of the best ways to get Vitamin D in your body, which if combined with Calcium helps keep your bones strong. You can get Calcium in your dark leafy green vegetables like Spinach, Turnip Greens, Collard Greens, etc. When I garden, I compost my kitchen scraps and plants at the end of the season. I also have a worm bin which in turn does the same thing as compost, but I get worm castings instead. Both of the end materials compost and worm castings, are great for your garden soil. Natural Organic Matter. Which helps you to keep your garden soil healthy and reduces the amount of store bought amendments needed for your garden. If, I’m using food from my garden, then I’m also helping to reduce the amount of energy used for transporting food to the local grocery store. This saves on energy consumption. I choose to garden Organically. Because I choose not to use synthetic or man made fertilizers, I know that I’m putting back into the soil a better, more sustainable option for keeping my garden soil healthy. By growing my own food, I know what I’m using to help grow this food and I can be assured that I’m eating food that is pesticide free. I can also be assured that I’m helping to keep the rest of nature, such as bees, butterflies, birds, and other insects, animals and our water supply safe from the harmful affects of pesticides as well.
  • Garden shade is important to consider. Crop and herb plants generally perform and yield best with at least 6 hours of full sun per day or in most cases 8 would be better. Plan for changes in shade patterns within the garden as the sun angle changes through the seasons. You can find simple Sun calculators at most garden stores to help you determine how much Sun your location gets. Take into account any large trees located near your planting area. The roots could affect your plant growth. Make sure those trees provide you with a clear southern exposure. It’s a good bet that your trees roots will be out close the outskirts of the trees canopy.
  • It’s important to make sure you have a source of water for your garden site. If you have sprinklers, will they provide the right amount of water needed? If you plan to use a Garden Hose do you have a hose bib close by? Will you be able to water every day easily? If you want to use drip irrigation, do you have a Hose bib close by to tap into? Make this as simple as possible and it can save you time in working with your garden.
  • Other factors to consider when selecting your site are making sure it’s located close to your house. You will need to go out into your garden daily. The more convenient the location, the easier it will be to maintain. You will need to check on your garden to make sure it’s getting enough water, there are no pests invading your garden or diseases and you can harvest as the garden produces for you. Your ability for site selection could be hampered by your existing free space. You may need to do container gardening if you only have hardscape or a deck to work with. You may need to choose raised beds if you have issues with certain pests such as gophers and moles or physical limitations. You may be limited by the ground space you have available to use or it could be small spaces in between your current landscape.
  • The purpose of a garden plan is to make your work less and your returns more. A garden plan and a couple of supporting lists can guide you through each growing season and help you with the seasons that follow. It will give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t, to make next year and the years after easier and more successful. It’s best to start small and work your way up to increasing your garden space. Use the planning tools how you wish and you will have better insight and knowledge for your future garden.
  • A Garden Planting Plan is a map of your garden space. It can be the entire garden space or your specific planting areas. Design it, keeping in mind the types of things you and your family like to eat, the season you will be planting and what is appropriate for planting at that time, how much space you have available and how many hours of sunlight that area gets (Full Sun or Partial Shade). Lay it out on paper first. You can use Graph Tracing paper with Grids. Four squares to the inch are easiest for laying out a garden to scale. Or you can use an online program. Whichever you prefer. If you use the Tracing paper you can reuse that to plan for your crop successions and rotations. Make sure your garden is only as big as what you will eat and store. Too much garden will lead to wasted food, makes it harder to manage and it never feels good to have good food go to waste. Visualize what you will be eating during the season and how much it will take to help you determine how much to plant and when. If you are unsure of the amount you will need there are resources online or in books to tell you how much to plant for your family. After your first few years of experience, you will have a better idea of your exact needs. To start planning your garden, you can use pictures of the foods and place them on your graph paper or sticky notes. Make sure you label the pictures/sticky notes so you know what you are planting. Set out rows or blocks of what you want to plant on your plan. It’s much easier to move these pictures/sticky notes or blocks around vs. the plants. As you plan your garden make sure you keep crops that remain several years in the garden, such as Artichokes, Asparagus or Rhubarb at one end. Place crops that will remain the whole season such as onions, carrots, parsnips and the like, next. Finally, plan the placement of crops that will be planted in succession, crops that are only there for part of the season, like peas, lettuce or spinach. Good seed packets will tell you when these crops will be harvested, which gives you the details on which category they fall into. Keep in mind you need to make sure you have tall growing crops like pole beans, tomatoes or corn to the north of lower crops. Make sure you give space to each crop as to what they require and how much you plan to plant. This can be used whether you are planting vegetables, herbs or a flower garden.
  • Most vegetables are classified as cool season or warm season crops. Cool season vegetables grow best and produce the best when average temperatures are 55  to 75 o F. They will usually tolerate slight frost when mature. Examples of cool season crops – beets, carrots, radish, parsnip, turnip, asparagus, potato, cabbage, celery, lettuce, onion, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, etc. Cool season vegetables typically have shorter root systems than warm season vegetables. Warm season vegetables require long, hot days and warm soil to mature. They grow best and produce the best crops when average temperatures are 65  to 95 o F. They are intolerant of prolonged freezing temperatures. Example of warm season crops – cantaloupe, winter squash, tomato, watermelon, sweet corn, snap and lima beans, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers. When selecting your crops make sure to take into account the time it takes for your crops to grow and mature. In this area we have at least 3 growing seasons. You can plant a cool season crop, followed by a warm season crop, followed by another cool season crop. That will give you 3 crops from the same space. It requires close rotation of your crops with careful attention to days of maturity for each crop you grow. This will help you with your ideal rotation schedule for your space. Succession sowing is sowing seed of a given crop at 1 to 2 week intervals to produce a continuous supply of vegetables. It’s convenient for things such as carrots, lettuces, greens, radishes, green onions, leeks, and more. Take into account the required spacing for your crops. There are improved varieties for space conscious gardeners. You can find bush varieties for many things such as cucumbers, eggplant, beans, zucchini, peas, herbs and more. Several seed lines carry specific container vegetables and herbs.
  • Your Garden Planting Table should be a simple columned chart that gives you the details of your crops at a glance. It tells the treatment that each vegetable requires: when to sow, how deep, how far apart in rows or blocks, how long until germination and harvest. Any additional details that might be pertinent to your specific crops can also be added. You can take this planting table with you into the garden at planting time. This will save you time from looking up these details in your garden books or seed catalogs. In some instances most of this information will be on the seed packets themselves, but if you started these plants indoors, then you will need those details on your planting table at planting time. Make sure you update your planting table based on the experiences you are having. I like to note what seed company I used, when I started it from seed - indoors our outdoors, what variety it was, what amendments I used at planting, how they performed, when my first harvest was and when my last harvest was. I also update that information when I amend or fertilize the crops during the growing season and specify what I used. This would also be a good place to put notes on companion planting if you choose to do that and the success or failure you might have.
  • A Garden Check List will help you by putting your Garden Planting Table Notes into chronological order. Which crops are sowed first, which crop is next, when are seedlings transplanted out. On your check list put down things you need to do every month or week and cross them off as you attend to them. Use your checklist throughout the season and update it with notes for your next year. It will help you to make sure you don’t miss important tasks and nothing is overlooked.
  • Your Garden Record will help you keep a record of your results. What happened in the garden that year? Keep it simple. Which crop did you grow, which varieties, when did you sow or transplant it, date harvested, and any other notes that are important for you. I like to add how much I harvested and any details about the variety that we enjoyed or didn’t enjoy. Such as tomatoes for slicing, sweetness, acidity. Did I get a lot from the plant or a little. Should I grow two of a specific variety the next year? Did I have problems with any diseases in a specific variety? Your Garden Record will help you plan your garden for the next year. Start your Garden Record at the beginning of your season. Keep a record day to day so you don’t loose the details. This will become your blueprint for next years Garden.
  • Garden soil is made up of clay, sand and silt. Gardens grow best when your soil has the right balance of these materials. It’s worth checking to see what kind of soil you have before planting. Some garden centers will tell you what your soil type is if you bring a cup full of soil into their garden centers. If you’re growing a garden in a large area of your yard, it’s worth getting a soil test to see if your soil is lacking nutrients, what the PH is and more. This will give you a baseline to work with. Remove any large rocks or debris. Turn over your garden soil at least 12” to 2’ if possible. You can use a roto-tiller, a broad fork, shovel or a digging fork. Make sure the soil isn’t wet when you do this. You only need to do this initially. Amend your soil with good finished compost, worm castings or other organic matter. A good finished compost will be teaming with beneficial microbes. It’s best to use 3-5” of compost on top of your garden soil or 30% by volume of your garden soil. Work that into the top 6” – 2’ of your garden soil, depending on the expected depth of your root zone. The depth of your root zone will be determined by what you are planning to plant there.
  • Containers in some cases can be much easier to deal with when gardening as you have a lot more control over the soil you are using and the location for best Sunlight exposure. They key to good container gardens is the soil. Your plants have to depend on what’s in the pot for their necessary moisture and nutrients. The correct soil will depend on the type of plant, the climate and the sun exposure of the site. It’s good to choose a packaged mix from your garden center or if you really trust it, you can use your own compost. You can also make your own by using 1/3 each of loam, peat moss or compost and perlite.
  • You can grow many vegetables from seed or you can buy them from your local nursery. Nursery plants are grown from seed and are started earlier than you could safely plant the seed outdoors. The one advantage of seeds is you can typically get varieties that you cannot find in the nursery or the grocery stores, you can get multiple varieties in seed packets these days vs. a six pack of the same cucumber, pepper or melon plants. If you direct seed the vegetables you must wait for the ground to warm up enough for it to germinate the seed. Vegetables grown from young plants are usually ready to harvest earlier than those grown directly in the ground from seed. You can also start your plants from seed indoors, in a green house or in a cold frame. Some vegetables must be directly sown and cannot be started in advance. Those are usually your root vegetables such as carrots, radish, turnips, parsnips, etc. It’s best to consult the seed packet for these specific directions.
  • Drip irrigation can be put on a timer so there is less time necessary to manage this. It can also assist in getting water just to the locations that you need it, which helps to conserve water and not feed the weeds. It’s easy to control the amount of water that your plant requires so you don’t over water or under water. Hand watering is time consuming and it’s a guess as to how much water your plant is getting. It’s a good idea to test, when hand watering to make sure you are getting the soil wet at least 6” to 1 foot for leafy vegetables, and 1 – 2 feet for tomatoes Corn, large shrubs and trees 1.5 to 5 feet below the surface of the soil. It largely depends on how deep the roots will go. A sprinkler can take less time than hand watering, but requires more time than a drip system. It’s also very difficult to precisely target the plants themselves. In some cases, it could create issues for plants that are susceptible to certain diseases if they are overhead watered and their leaves get wet during the process. It’s important to apply water uniformly. Evenly applied water wastes less water and improves plant health. Mulches are materials put on top of the soil around your plants, trees and shrubs to reduce water evaporation, prevent weed problems and buffer soil temperatures. Types of mulch: compost, yard clippings, straw, wood chips and others. Apply 2 – 6 inches on the top surface of the soil.
  • Weeds negatively affect crop growth by competing for nutrients, water and sunlight. It’s best to prevent weeds from getting established. Cultivation, mulching and hand weeding are the best methods. Thinning your overcrowded plants or seed starts is essential. Your plants won’t reach full size or grow properly if they are too close. Check the seed packets for the required spacing on your plants. Make sure you don’t pull the seedlings out if they are next to another. You can disrupt the roots on the other seedling and cause it harm. It’s best to use a pair of sharp scissors and snip the top growth off of the seedlings. Make sure you thin your plants before they get too big. Some seed packets will tell you when to thin your seedlings. If you don’t find those details, it’s best when they are 2-3” in height. To get the most out of your garden, harvest your vegetables when they are best for eating or store them under conditions that will keep them as close as possible to garden fresh. Vegetables will be crisper and cooler if harvested in the early morning. With few exceptions, when storing fresh vegetables, they keep best in the refrigerator at a temperature of about 40 o to 45 o F in the main storage space and slightly cooler in the crisper.
  • Fertilize once you’ve planted your plants. It’s a good idea to water and provide a little fertilizer to help them get started. I like to use liquid fish and kelp. It’s usually applied like a foliar spray. You can get it from your local garden store or online. You’ll also need a good sprayer with a fine tip nozzle. You can also add fertilizer at the time of planting right into the soil where you plan to plant your crop. I would suggest a 2 – 2 – 2 fertilizer so you don’t over do it. Some plants require a regular dose of fertilizer to continue their growth and production. Typically, you will find that your warm season crops will require the heaviest feeding of fertilizers. It’s best to consult the seed packet directions or look at your vegetable garden books to determine if fertilizer will be required. This should be a part of your garden planting guide. Adding fertilizer when it’s not needed can cause an upset in the balance of your soil and could do damage to your plants. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to use Organic or Chemical fertilizers. There’s reasons for both. Nitrogen assists with green plant growth, Phosphorus assists with root formation and seed or flower formation and Potassium assists with increase in size of vegetables and increases disease resistance. Most of our California soils have enough Potassium that you don’t need to add it to our soils.
  • Chemical Fertilizers provide precise nutrient amounts quickly and simple at a low cost. They are made from non-renewable fossil fuels, that may not promote good soil health, and it’s easy to over fertilize. Organic Fertilizers are renewable and biodegradable. They should improve soil structure and provide a slow release of nutrients so it’s not easy to over fertilize. It can be made from waste products. Nutrient content is often lower so they’re bulkier. Correcting the deficiencies may be slow. The nutrient content of manures and compost is often unknown and they can be more expensive. The goal should be to improve soil nutrition with products that are natural, renewable and not to distant at the lowest cost and effort.
  • Lots of options for organic fertilizers. Animal based fertilizers can either come from animals that have been killed or by products from animals such as manures. (Cow, Chicken, Bat, Seabird, manures) Plant based offers you lots of choices which some will be high in Nitrogen and others will have high Phosphorus levels. Check the labels for what you need for your specific crops. Compost and Vermiculture are two that you can do yourself or you can purchase it from your local garden store, nursery or even specialists. Although compost is considered an amendment, you can find composts that include worm castings, blood meal, bone meal and other fertilizers worked into the prepackaged bags. Check the ingredients of the compost before you purchase it. Worm casting have shown some fertilizer affects. Mined fertilizers are typically high in Phosphorus or Potassium.
  • Alameda County Master Gardeners offer a wealth of resources. You can visit us in many of the Farmers Markets, the Alameda County Fair and special events around Alameda County in our Plant Doctor Booths. You can ask any questions and get gardening assistance from master gardeners on subjects such as pest management, plant disease issues, pruning and fertilization care and any number of questions regarding your garden needs. You can even bring in your pests or samples of plant disease and we an help diagnose the issue and make recommendations. We have several trial gardens located around the County, that provide classes and opportunities to learn more from the Master Gardeners. We offer a Fall seminar that is packed with presentations and workshops for further education. We provide speakers for events to talk about different subject areas regarding gardening. You can make your request through our local office. We provide private consults on gardening issues or advice that you might need. You can make those requests through our local office. We have a hotline you can call into to get assistance on issues with pests or diseases you might be experiencing in your garden. Our website provides you with all kinds of information and links to other sites that can provide you with additional useful information.
  • There are so many books available in book stores or online. These are 3 that I have used on a regular basis for tips and information. With the internet, you can find most any information online that you are looking for. These online resources have a lot of information that can be useful, some in video format and some workshops available right here in the bay area. Your local nursery will have classes as well. If you plan to start from Seed, Renee’s Garden Seeds is a great resource for helping you start your plants from seed as well as planting guides. The UC Davis ANR Catalog provides a lot of information for free that you can order or download, but it also includes a lot of great books that you can order.
  • Any Questions?
  • Paula's Vegetable & Herb Gardening Basics

    1. 1. Vegetable & HerbGardening BasicsPaula GlogovacAlameda County Master Gardener
    2. 2. 5 Reasons Why I Garden Fresh Therapeutic Vitamin D Reduces Waste Organic
    3. 3. Step 1 - Picking Your Garden Site
    4. 4. Sun and Shade MattersAffects performance and yield of food crops Need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, prefer 8Plan for seasonal variation in shade and sun angle
    5. 5. Water Source Close By Sprinklers Garden Hose Drip Irrigation
    6. 6. Other Factors Close to home Raised Beds, Containers or In Ground
    7. 7. Step 2 – Planning
    8. 8. Planning Tools Planting Plan Planting Table Check List – for planting and growing Garden Record
    9. 9. Garden Planting Plan Map/Draw it Out or Use Sticky Notes Plan for Crop Successions and Rotations Just Enough Space
    10. 10. Selecting Vegetable Plants Cool Season Warm Season Efficient Use of Space
    11. 11. Garden Planting Table Simple Chart Details at a Glance Take Notes Update Based on Your Experiences
    12. 12. Garden Check List A Way to Remember What You Need to do When Use Your Planting Table as a Guide Use Your Previous Years Garden Record By Month or By Week
    13. 13. Garden Record Record of Results Keep it Simple Blueprint for Next Year
    14. 14. Step 3 – Planting and Maintenance
    15. 15. Preparing Garden Soil Healthy Rich Soil Soil Preparation Amend
    16. 16. Container Soil PreparationPre-Packaged SoilMake Your Own
    17. 17. Planting Time Seeds Plants
    18. 18. WateringDrip irrigation – Conserves waterHand Water – Takes more timeSprinkler – Not as preciseUse soil amendments and mulches to help with soilwater retention
    19. 19. General Maintenance Weeds Thinning Harvest Storing
    20. 20. Fertilizing the Garden Initially at planting time Only if required More is not better Organic vs. Chemical
    21. 21.  Chemical fertilizers: Precise, quick and low cost Non-renewable fossil fuels Organic fertilizers: Renewable and Biodegradable Nutrient content is often lower Improve soil nutritionFertilizers
    22. 22. Organic Fertilizer Categories Animal-based Animal killed (blood, bone, & feather meals and fish products) Animals not killed (bat guano, manures) Plant-based Alfalfa, cottonseed, and soybean meals, kelp/seaweed Compost & Vermiculture Usually considered a soil amendment, not fertilizer Worm castings do have some fertilizer affects Mined organic fertilizers Phosphorus: Soft rock phosphate Potassium: Muriate of potash, sulfate of potash, greensand
    23. 23. Gardening Resources
    24. 24. Resources Alameda County Master Gardeners Plant Doctor Booths Trial Gardens Fall Seminar Speaking Engagements Private Consults Hotline Website -
    25. 25. Other ResourcesBooks Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles Sunset Western Garden Book The Garden Primer – By Barbara DamroschOnline Peaceful Valley Farms - Pollinate Farm & Garden - Renee’s Garden Seeds - UC Davis ANR Catalog -
    26. 26. The Glory of gardening: hands in thedirt, head in the sun, heart with nature.To nurture a garden is to feed not justthe body, but the soul.Alfred Austin