Article and photos by Joe Montoya (CS2T intern 2016/2017 seasons)
It’s the middle of the season now and harvesting will be starting soon if it hasn’t already! Earlier this year we had a class on how to get started with your Utah garden, from planning to planting, and I hope that that has helped you in your gardens. The middle of the season is a really great time to recap: to look at the things that are working and to decide how you want to change your garden next year. Also, it’s not too late to get started if you haven’t! Most plants should be started indoors and seedlings should be given lots of extra water so their roots will take, but many crops are wonderful to harvest in late fall. Whether you’re assessing how your garden is going, planning on planting in the next month or two, or musing about your garden next year, here is a recap of our class. Hope you like the refresher!
It all starts with what you want.
This is the fun part! Let your imagination run wild, make a freelist of all of the things you can see yourself harvesting from your garden. Although you need to pan for Utah’s climate, it’s amazing how many things will grow in a Utah summer. One of my favorite things to do when I am planning my garden is to crack open a seed catalogue and just circle the things I’d like to grow in the coming season. Many seed catalogues have a section for fall harvest crops, so it’s really not too late to look and see what you’d like to squeeze in this season.
Make a plan.
This is where you decide how many of each plant you will plant. A more seasoned gardener might be able to think roughly about how how much one plant will produce and decide from there how much they’d like. Others use plant yield amount spreadsheets provided by their local extension agent. If you are a beginning gardener, don’t be overwhelmed! Sometimes just going with your gut is the best way to get started! You can pick how many plants sounds good to you and assess how it works for you as the season goes. If you plant 3 tomatoes and it’s way to many, or not nearly enough, make a note of that and next year, adjust. Every gardener has to learn about their plants as they go.
Different gardens have different needs, and you may find yourself looking at your garden and making mental note of what you want where. But many people find it useful to put together a simple map of your space and what you want where.
Preparing your piece of earth.
A common misconception amongst new farmers is that before you plant you have to till your field. This is simply not true. Some plants like freshly tilled soils, like kale and broccoli, but many others prefer a more gently treated space to stretch out their roots. This is because each and every plant has it’s own preference for it’s microbiology needs in the soil. Just like different bacteria and fungi make sourdough bread different than cracked wheat, your soil has an immense amount of activity occurring that leads to healthy plant growth. Tilling your soil resets any microbiology growth that has happened. This is nice for you because it can mean no tilling! There are many ways to prepare your soil, including sheet mulching or even simple clearing.
Seeds or starts?
As I said before, many plants starting in midsummer will want to be started indoors with a good amount of shade during the hottest part of the day. This is because many seeds will not germinate if the soil temperature is too warm. That being said, many plants, like carrots, don’t do well if transplanted, so they should be strategically planned in a cooler area of your yard where you can give them lots of water, especially if we have more 100 degree days! For those plants you started earlier in the season, now is a great time to see how well they did and what worked best for you. If you direct seeded some things and didn’t get a lot of germination, you still might be able to fill the gaps with a plant started indoors and moved outside in mid August. And you never know, it may be a great way to extend your harvest this season.
Harvest, cleaning, storage, and preparation.
Now is the ideal time to talk about this because some of you are right in the middle of it! Every plant is different and should be harvested at different times. The best way to know when to harvest it to refer to your seed packets or catalogue information. They will tell you when you should harvest based on foliage size, the color of the fruit, or the physical attributes of your plant. If you don’t know if it’s ready, try it! I love picking a carrot or two throughout the summer to see how big they are getting and what the flavor is like. Soon, some of you will be busy picking, cleaning, and canning your produce. As you do, be sure to reflect on your farm plan and make notes of changes for next year.
In my opinion, working in the garden is one of the simple joys of life. It’s a good things weeds like to spring up every few days because it is one of natures ways of calling you back to continue to work the earth. Be sure to drink lots of water and take breaks in a shady spot on hot days, and to enjoy the work you are doing. Gardening is a labor of love, and the literal fruits of your labors will come throughout the season and should be enjoyed to the fullest extent possible. Every time you grow something and eat it, you strengthen your bond with the earth. It is a very special connection. We are fed by the earth, by the plants that we cultivate, and both the earth and all of us are beneficiaries. Happy gardening!
BIO: Joe Montoya is a sustainable agriculture education student at USU hoping to share his love of gardening with the world.