Advice for Gardening Newbies Washington DC

One of the positive effects of the energy crisis is a flood of newcomers to gardening. Local greenhouse operators in Washington say many folks are turning to gardening to lower their food costs. Others are increasing the size of their beds.

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Advice for Gardening Newbies

To all of you newcomers, welcome.

One of the positive effects of the energy crisis is a flood of newcomers to gardening. Local greenhouse operators say many folks are turning to gardening to lower their food costs. Others are increasing the size of their beds.

It’s pretty compelling. A $1 tomato transplant can produce $15 in fruit.

This is not an unusual trend. Garden centers see it with every economic downturn. It helps to get folks hooked on the hobby and they often progress from vegetables to perennials and landscape improvements.

Watch for weeds

Gardening newbies must be aware of some pitfalls. Plants are growing well this season, but that means weeds are enjoying it too. It’s easy to ignore summer weeds until it’s too late and they own the farm.

I’ve been out there every day with my sharpened hoe chopping and killing the bad guys. In this weather, it takes about a day for them to return.

Ten minutes a day is what they need. Weed that way, in sections, and the job isn’t so tough.

You do need to do it. It’s a mandatory gardening chore. Weeds are in direct competition with our beneficial plants for soil nutrients and water. They’ve already won part of the battle -- weeds grow faster.

If you let the weeds take over, that they will do. They’ll crowd out the good guys and the remaining ones will be stunted and worthless.

It’s critical to stop the weeds before they go to seed. If they do, you’ll have even more next season.

My other new-gardener advice is to keep picking vegetables. Do not “store” them on the vine. When they’re ready, pick them, whether you need them or not.

Picking encourages the plant to do more. Once the fruit is ripe, the plant gets lazy and figures its job is done. Harvest that stuff and the plant will wake up and produce more for you.

Letting vegetables rot on the vine, a terrible waste, encourages plant diseases and insects.

When to pick

I get a lot of e-mails on when to pick. The best time is early in the morning. Vegetables will be at their sweetest. The sugars decline during the heat of the day.

It’s never a good idea to pick right after a rain. Most veggies are 80 percent water. A rainfall maximizes this, resulting in less flavor and perhaps a watery, mushy texture. Always wait at least 24 hours after a rain, then harvest. Your crops then will be at top quality.

Newcomers often believe that when the growing season stops, the hobby stops. Actually, gardening then enters one of its most important phases – soil enrichment.

Lucky for us, we will have the best soil enricher falling all around us. Leaves are excellent sources of carbon and nitrogen. Digging them into a garden rots them, creating that great, black stuff called humus. This attracts the earthworms and soon we have soil energized for a strong growing season next summer.

Fall is the time to start this. Over winter, the soil will digest the leaves. You probably won’t see them by spring.

You can speed the process by shredding the leaves with your mower or leaf machine. In these days of high gas prices, I’d avoid that. Simple raking works fine. It probably takes longer for the rotting to begin, but then you haven’t paid anything for it.

Likewise, compost heaps are best started as the leaves fall. The Internet has many designs for heaps at www.backyardgardener.com/compost/

Send gardening questions to jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com