In the Garden: Growing Great Vegetables

Garden season is in full swing on the Key Peninsula, so it is also the season of figuring out how to get plants growing and keeping pests away. Whether you’re growing artichokes or apples or anything in between, remember that everything starts with the soil.

Healthy soil makes a healthy plant and a healthy plant makes a healthy you. Good soil is the best investment you can make. It will produce a plant chockfull of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants—and free of insects, diseases and viruses.

Here on the KP we are blessed in most areas with very good, fertile soil, but even good soil can’t last forever if you are doing nothing to keep it fertile. Lucky for the average gardener, keeping great soil and building great soil can be a simple task done with homemade materials and things you are currently throwing away.

Right now your trash bags may be filling with used coffee grounds, banana peels and uneaten food, but those things belong in your garden. Those banana peels will give your soil potassium; those coffee grounds will give it organic matter; that uneaten food will provide nitrogen and phosphorus. Instead of throwing your food away, throw it into a backyard pile and turn it, and you’ve got compost. Not only will you receive free garden soil but you’ll also cut down on your garbage bill.

Along with the right nutrients, you also need the right amount of sand, silt and clay for your plants to be happy. If you have a clear bottle, a tablespoon of soap and two hands, you can find this ratio. This is also a great experiment to do with children. Put one cup of soil and one tablespoon of soap into a clear jar, then fill up the jar with water and shake for two minutes. After 24 hours, the soil will have separated into easy-to-read layers and you’ll see if you need to spread some sand, clay or silt around from the garden center.

If you are unlucky enough to have pests in your garden, remember that the best defense is preventative measures. Have good soil so your plants can fight off the things that attack them or at least can recover quickly. Put out dishes of beer to catch and remove slugs and snails. Spray soapy water on aphids to get rid of them naturally. And to keep deer out of your garden, just repeat to yourself, “8-foot fence, 8-foot fence, 8-foot fence.”

Colin Evoy works at Camp Seymour as an AmeriCorps Agricultural Coordinator.