Garden hacks for growing edibles

By Lynette Walther | May 26, 2020
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Water by hand as necessary, preferably early in the day to avoid wet foliage overnight which can lead to disease.

Without a doubt, these few weeks of late spring contain some of the busiest days our gardens see all year. Cleaning up the debris that winter left behind, scouring the beds for signs of emergent weeds to pounce upon before they take firm control and getting new plants set out, seeds started and planted are consuming our lengthening days from sunrise to set.

What a joy it is to be out in the garden, working with the soil and witnessing life return. It almost makes us forget the strife and worry, the vast changes and challenges we all are experiencing. Almost, but we enjoy it while we can and make the most of it.

Our ranks as gardeners are swelling every day as new waves of folks are searching out information on starting a vegetable garden, growing more of the food they and their families consume. While the American Horticultural Society encourages supporting local garden centers, there are lots of ways to start a garden without buying special materials.

Here are some of AHS favorite sustainable gardening hacks using readily available items:

Seed Starting

• Save citrus rinds and eggshells. Thoroughly cleaned of citrus pulp and egg whites, nature’s cups make great tiny pots.

• Use cardboard egg cartons, toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls as mini vessels. If the plants’ roots are growing through or out of the cardboard at the time of transplant, just put the whole thing in the ground. If not, soak the cardboard to remove it before transplanting the plant.

• Small plastic containers such as K-cups or yogurt cups can also be given a second life as seed starting vehicles, but when transferring seedlings to your garden bed, be sure to remove them from the cups.

• Newspaper and junk mail can also be crafted into little pots.

Garden Bed Construction

• For traditional gardens, create a nutrient-rich base layer by collecting yard waste like grass clippings and raked leaves. Scout for bags of leaves left out by the curb.

• For a planter or container with a large hole at the bottom, cover the hole with a coffee filter and elevate it about 1/2” off the ground with a small piece of wood. This will allow drainage while keeping soil intact and preventing staining of hardscapes.

• For raised bed garden or portable garden boxes, try wine crates, old wooden soda crates, plastic bulb crates lined with cardboard, or other topless wooden crates. Just make sure they have proper drainage.

• Saplings can substitute for fence posts or can be used to create three-legged teepees to support climbing beans or cucumbers.

Soil Enhancement

• Determine what nutrients your soil needs via a soil test. Test kits are often available through your county extension office, but you can perform a simple pH test with vinegar and baking soda.

• If you don’t compost at home, applying certain kitchen scraps directly to your soil will help boost nutrients. Eggshells contain calcium; coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen; and banana peels provide potassium.

Garden Watering

• Water plants evenly (e.g., from a watering can instead of a cup). Create a DIY watering can by making small holes in the top of a juice, milk, or detergent jug.

• If unable to water regularly, create a slow release watering system from wine bottles and insert them upside down in damp soil.

• After cooking eggs or vegetables, don’t pour the water down the drain. Some nutrients from these cooked foods will leech into the water and can be used to feed plants.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the GardenComm Gold Medal for writing, and is a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

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