1. Ignoring Soil Health: attempting to grow high quality plants from a low quality soil.
There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into your own home-grown, delicious, nutrient-rich food. That kind of food not only tastes amazing, it works wonders for your health. Where do plants get the nutrients necessary to create such flavorful and healthy food? The answer is: the nutrients in the soil.
You cannot expect to have amazing food without an amazing soil. Even if you get a pretty good harvest from a plot of ground that you never improve on, the quality of your produce will be less. It would be like eating three carrots to get the same amount of vitamin A you could get from just one carrot that came from a garden where the soil was well invested in.
The single best way to increase your soil’s health and nutrient holding capacity is to add tons of organic matter. Organic matter such as brown and green composts, brown and green manures, vermicomposts, peat moss, crop residues, composts from greenwastes, and others are all examples of different organic matter sources that will greatly enhance your soil’s condition. Adding large amounts of organic matter to a garden soil on a regular basis is one of the grand keys that opens the door to gardening success.
2. Poor Light Management: mislacing the garden plot on your property or misplacing plants within the garden plot itself or both.
Light is the energy source plants use to convert carbon dioxide from the air to make carbohydrates and protein, or in other words, it takes sunlight for plants to make food for you and me. If a plant is to be maximally productive it needs to receive the maximum amount of sunlight possible, at least six hours of direct sunlight a day, preferably more than eight. Of course, there are plants that actually prefer shade over direct sunlight but in general this is not true for food-producing plants. First-rate food production requires an abundance of sunlight.
That being said, it is critical to design your property such that the garden plot is placed where it will receive the greatest amount of direct sunlight during the growing season. Where possible, remove any obstacles that may shade the garden area. If your garden is in the shadow of your house or a big tree for the better part of the day, you cannot reasonably expect your plants to produce lots of quality food.
Additionally, make sure that plants don’t shade one another within the garden plot itself. Tall crops like corn, pole beans and peas, or fruit trees should all be towards the back of the garden, while shorter crops like carrots, beets, or radishes should be towards the front of the garden. The “front” or “back” of a garden are relative terms depending on where you live on the earth. If you live in the northern hemisphere, your “back” of the garden is the north side of the garden while your “front” of the garden is the south side of the garden; in the southern hemisphere it is the opposite. Arranging your garden to reduce shading and maximize light interception by your plants will greatly enhance your plants’ abilities to produce delicious food for you en masse.
3. Poor Timing: planting the wrong plants at the wrong times of the year.
Some of us love hot weather, others prefer it cool. And so it is with plants: some plants thrive in summer heat while others do best in the cool weather of spring or autumn. Making sure to plant the right plant at the right time of the year is critical to gardening success.
The plants that love the heat are called warm season crops. They perform very poorly in cool weather and are often injured, or sometimes killed, by cold temperatures even if the temperatures are still above freezing. They should be planted after the threat of frost is well past and when temperatures are nice and warm. Examples of crops in this category include tomatoes, okra, corn, beans, melons, cucumbers, and squashes. For a more thorough list of warm season crops click here.
The plants that love colder weather are called cool season crops. Hot weather decreases the quality of the food they produce while cold weather produces the reverse result. In fact, in some cases, a light frost actually improves crop flavor considerably without actually killing the plant. These crops should be grown during the spring and autumn when temperatures are cool and mild. Examples of crops in this category include peas, carrots, beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and lettuce. For a more thorough list of cool season crops click here.
Some crops are perennial such as asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, and cherries (the last four being, of course, trees). Unlike warm season or cool season crops, perennial crops live for several years (decades in some cases) before they need to be replaced. Even though they live throughout the year and experience both warm and cold there is still a right and a wrong time to plant them.
Avoid planting during hot summer months. Planting in autumn or spring is best. Or if you live in a region of the world where winters are very mild, you can even plant during the winter. But in all cases avoid summer planting if you can help it.
People perform their best when they are in an environment they love. Likewise, plants will also perform their best for you when you make sure to plant and grow the right crops at the right times of year.
The rule of thumb on watering is to water deeply but infrequently. Gardeners tend to be better at the first part of that recommendation but not the second part. It’s a good idea to fill the soil with water for your plants to drink, but after that you should not water again for two or more days (note the plural on days, by the way), and in some cases plants can go without watering for a week or more.
Yes that’s right, after a good solid watering some plants may not need to be watered again for a while. This refers to plants that are already established. For newly-transplanted plants or seedlings, they will, of course, need more attention and more frequent watering. Established plants have established their roots deep in the soil in every direction so they have a much greater reservoir to pull water and other resources from.
The reason for this is because the soil (at least good garden soil, with plenty of organic matter in it) acts very much like a reservoir in that it holds and stores water really well. The soil reservoir is much deeper than just a few inches below the soil surface. In fact, if you’ve watered deeply, your soil reservoir will likely be full of water for several feet below the soil surface. So just because the top few inches or soil are dry does not mean the bottom 10 feet of soil are dry too; and yes, there are crops whose roots can reach 10 feet underground, at least when they’re deeply watered.
Let your plants drain the soil reservoir before you fill it back up again. Plant roots need to breathe. Sometimes we forget that because roots are underground and we never see them, but it’s true, plants’ roots need air. There are plants that can live and actually do well in swamps where they’re always flooded with water, but 99% of garden fruits and vegetables do not fall into that category. Therefore, water deeply but infrequently. For a list of crop watering requirements click here.