As in the years past, my family is trying a hand at gardening this year again. In this post, I am going to outline what we have done in the past, what worked and what didn't, before moving on to this year's experiment. All of this information is for Baltimore City, MD, zones 7-7A. My house is located in the highest point in the city, about 490 feet above sea level.
I find gardening an interesting hobby and it is useful for the kids as well. Additionally, being that we plant vegetables and fruit, we are hoping to eventually save some money on what we grow.
So far we have not broken even financially, primarily because the cost of transplants is high, and we buy new soil every year as well.
WHERE TO PLANT: LAND / SOIL / GROUND
In my back yard there is a section of ground right next to the neighbor's fence, already surrounded with concrete and even has a small groove for water. That small strip is about 5" wide and 45" long, for a total of about 225 square feet. This is where we usually plant our garden. The problem is that the soil is extremely heavy clay, so heavy in fact that I can probably make pottery from it! I have looked into various possible solutions ranging from clay conditioners and just plain compost, but there is nothing that does not take a few years.
What we have done in the past, is weed whack the entire row, and than make burrows for the plants we are planting. We would then supplement those areas with freshly bought garden soil and hope for the best. The problem is that weeds tend to continue sprouting like crazy and a lot of work goes towards weeding. Another problem is that a lot of grass tends to grow in that area which makes things harder to plant. And to make things even crazier, there is a whole colony of kudzu in the end of the strip which spreads like wild fire. Because almost everything we plant is edible vegetables and fruits, I am afraid to use any sort of chemicals to kill the weeds.
Last year we have tried a new thing by using newspapers to block out the weeds and planting in soil on top of that. While that worked relatively well, the corn we planted did not make it in the end. There was a lot of work involved in stapling the newspapers to the ground, putting new soil on top, etc.
Earlier this year, we tried something new - putting out black plastic garbage bags to cover the ground and kills the weeds underneath. This worked somewhat well, but the weeds starting coming back after we took the cover off. The biggest problem however started once I begun preparing the ground - it is just way to hard to plow. Our neighbor spends several days with a pick ax doing just said, but don't have that luxury. I did end up trying an electric cultivator but it did not work as well as I thought.
HOW TO PLANT: SEEDS / TRANSPLANTS / FERTILIZER
What we have done in the past is buy seeds from reputable companies like Burpee and Ferry Morse Co (Amazon actually sells a lot of Ferry Morse seeds). While we haven't specifically focused on buying non-hybrids, starting this year we may begin to because non-hybrid plants produce seed that can be used year after year, forgoing the yearly purchase of seeds.
For certain types of plants like tomatoes and peppers, we buy transplants from Bonnie Plants, usually in Home Depot. We have never tried growing transplants in doors yet, but may try in the future.
I haven't not used any sort of fertilizer in the past because we eat what the plants product. This may explain why some of our plants did not make it. Instead, we usually buy soil with fertilizer already in it and supplement our existing soil in the burrows where planting is done. It does not look like this is really working.
WHAT TO PLANT: Vegetables and Fruits
Majority of what we have planted over the years have been sweet bell peppers. One year there were only banana peppers left and we tried those, but they were not quite as good as the regular sweet peppers. The sweet peppers we used were various Bonnie hybrids. We have had great success with peas and green beans, in particular, Wando peas and Blue Lake green beans.
Cantaloupe, cucumbers, corn and watermelon were tried but all either got some infection or did not produce good fruit. We also tried sun flowers but couldn't figure out how to dry the seeds properly.