By Karen Eaton, Conservation Garden Park
Whether you choose to plant seeds or transplants in your garden, proper watering is essential. Planting from seed is economical, but plants that require a longer season than we have in northern Utah should be planted from transplants (like tomatoes, peppers and some melons). Transplanting allows them to reach full maturity for harvest.
When starting from seed, keep the top layer of soil moist until the roots are well established. Sometimes this requires a light watering in the morning and in the afternoon, especially if it is hot or windy. Transplants also need extra care with watering while they are becoming established. Check them daily for soil moisture and continue doing so until they do not appear stressed. Once the roots seem adapted and large enough to take up water that is deeper, you can water less often, but deeper. Most vegetables and fruits need 1-1.5 inches of water per week during the growing season.
Good watering means keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Get a handful of soil from about four inches deep and squeeze it. If water comes out, it is too moist and needs to dry a bit. If it is crumbly and does not hold together, it is too dry and needs to be watered. If it holds together after you squeeze it but then breaks apart when dropped, it is just right. As you become more observant, you will know when the moisture level is just right.
Mulching reduces weed growth by restricting the amount of light that reaches weed seeds. Other benefits include: increased soil moisture retention, nutrients supplied to the soil as it decomposes and aesthetic appeal. You can use organic materials such as wood chips, straw, grass clippings, newspaper or compost. These will retain moisture and decompose, which improves the health of your soil.
Preventive measures are your best friend when it comes to weeds in the vegetable garden. Using a drip system to water will keep the soil surface dry and prevent weed seeds from sprouting so much. Hoeing or hand-pulling weeds is very effective and environmentally sound. If it is done on a regular basis and before the weed goes to seed, it is super effective. You can use some herbicides in or around the garden, but make sure that you read the label to determine if they are safe for edible crops. As previously mentioned, mulching is also great for minimizing weeds.
These three things will promote healthy vegetables and help you get a bumper crop. For more information, visit us at Conservation Garden Park or online at conservationgardenpark.org