The Garden Patch: Let’s grow

The Garden Patch: Let’s grow! Optimize space, choose proven varieties, provide nutrients

April 11, 2014   Steve Haller

Well, we know what we want to plant, but where are we gonna put all this stuff? We need to move to a farm – or – optimize our garden space. The latter sounds the most cost effective and the least work – let’s try it!

We’ll optimize garden space! Watch your planting times – that has a big effect on what to plant where and when! But let’s start with spinach, lettuce, radishes, peas and green onions. These can all be harvested early in the season. Then we can use that same space for the later-season crops like beans, eggplant, tomatoes or potatoes. Plant your lettuce, radishes or spinach between potatoes, cabbage or other cole crops. Before the potatoes or cole crops get very large, the other vegetables will have been harvested.

Select a place along one side of the garden for crops such as rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries or bush fruits. These perennials will continue to grow next year without replanting. If you plant them in the regular garden, they will be in the way during tilling operations.

Art class anyone? This is easy! Draw a scale model of your garden space and plan the garden using the above information. Allow everyone involved to participate by suggesting their favorite vegetable (they’ve probably already done that). Be sure and make notes to use as references at planting time. It is also helpful to have notes when purchasing seeds and plants!

Choosing seed stock

Speaking of seeds and plants, when choosing varieties for the home garden, consider such factors as disease resistance, yield, maturity date, size, color and flavor. Seed companies and state agricultural research stations are constantly developing and testing improved vegetable varieties and procedures. The following sources of information are useful when choosing varieties:

  • Ask your local Extension agent or K-State Research and Extension for the publication Recommended Varieties for Kansas.
  • Use varieties that have performed well in past years for you or for other gardeners you know.
  • If you plan a special use for a particular vegetable such a freezing, exhibiting or canning, check with your local Extension agent or study your seed catalog for recommendations.
  • Check with your local seed store or garden center for advice on what to plant.

If you do not have a hotbed or cold frame, you may want to buy vegetable transplants for crops that require transplanting to the garden. These can be obtained from local greenhouses or seed and garden centers. Again, make sure the varieties you select are the ones you want to produce. PLAN, then purchase the seeds and plants you want so that you will have them when you need them for the garden.

Improve your soil

Let’s talk about SOIL IMPROVEMENT … all garden plants depend on the soil for nutrition. Soil condition and fertility are primary considerations in achieving a successful home garden.

Adding organic matter is an effective way of improving all kinds of soil. As you probably already know, adding organic matter to the planned garden area is recommended. It is also beneficial to continue to add organic matter every few years.

Organic matter serves the following purposes:

  • It loosens tight clay soils.
  • It increases water-holding capacity of sandy soils.
  • It makes soil easier to till.
  • It provides nutrients.

One way of adding organic matter is to seed a cover crop in the fall and turn it under in the spring. This should be done only if you have equipment such as a heavy garden tiller or plow to turn the cover crop under in the spring. Some recommended cover crops include annual ryegrass (¼ to 1/5 pounds per 100 square feet) or rye ½ to ¾ pounds per 100 square feet seeded in mid-September. This cover protects the garden from erosion during the winter. It adds organic matter when the grass is 6 to 8 inches tall and is turned under in the spring. However, most home gardeners prefer to add organic matter by using one of the following materials:

  • Stable manure. Use 50 to 100 pounds per 100 square feet. You may want to add ¼ to ½ pound of super phosphate as well.
  • Poultry and sheep manure. Use 10 to 20 pounds per 100 square feet. Again, adding the same amount (as above) of the super phosphate may be beneficial.
  • Rotted sawdust. Use sawdust in your compost pile, then apply it to your garden.
  • Use 3 to 4 bushels per 100 square feet.
  • Compost. Compost is decayed plant material. Apply 50 to 100 pounds per 100 square feet of garden space.
  • Feedlot manure. Us 10 to 20 pounds per 100 square feet. Adding ¼ to ½ pound of super phosphate may be beneficial.

Get a soil test! The winter before you begin to garden you will want to get a sample of your garden soil tested to determine the pH and nutrient content. The soil test provides a starting place for a soil improvement program. Unless you know the deficiencies in your garden soil, you are only guessing when to apply fertilizer. The soil test will tell you how much fertilizer you must initially add to your garden. It is then much easier (and less expensive) to maintain a high level of fertility as you garden year after year.

Is this a cure-all? Nope. Fertilizing is an important practice, but not a cure-all. Fertilization cannot compensate for:

  • Poor soil structure which does not allow for adequate drainage or aeration.
  • Undesirable soil pH or salt content of the soil.
  • Poor seeds, diseased or unhealthy plants.
  • Shade trees or tree roots in or around the garden area.

The addition of organic matter will ensure that some fertilizer nutrients are in the soil. You may need to add commercial fertilizer as well. Most chemical fertilizers are simply rock or mineral materials rich in nutrient elements.

OK! Class dismissed! Didn’t mean to bore you with details, but there is always SOMETHING to be learned from information like this! Hope you enjoyed learning as much as I did from this information! Till next week!

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at, or leave questions or comments below.

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