Fall is a great time to be in the know when it comes to starting your cool season vegetable garden. It is also a good time to plant many flowering annuals. This is especially true in dryer regions of the island like Kona, Kohala, Waimea and Ka‘u. High food costs are everyone’s headache these days. As a result, yards and lanais are prime opportunity to help cut food costs. You can do it by planting vegetables and flowers. If you’re going to a have a topnotch garden, it’s time to plan the planting layout.
By designing a combination, you can have an attractive spot that will produce cut flowers as well as fresh vegetables. Both require regular fertilization and controlling insects and diseases pests, so they are a natural together.
In selecting the plot, remember that most annuals and vegetables must have a full six to eight hours of sun per day.
Next come the vexing problems of what to plant and where. Choosing plants by heights is one problem-solving approach. Some taller growing annuals for the back areas of the garden are cleome and sunflower. Some taller vegetables to try are Hawaiian super sweet corn, trellis UH tomatoes and Manoa wonder beans.
In the center rows and toward the front, consider the medium height plants. Tuberose, blue salvia, tall ageratum, giant dahlias, red salvia, and gypsophila are examples. Vegetables include peppers, squash and Waimanalo long eggplant. For low edging, you might use allysum, petunias, verbena, dwarf phlox or some of the dwarf nasturtiums. Waianae strain kai choi, won bok, Manoa lettuce and parsley are good varieties of vegetables.
With up to 100 annuals and vegetables to choose from, it shouldn’t be a problem to fill the garden with many kinds of colorful and useful plants.
You can try your hand at success by using the organic approach or the conventional approach or a combination of the two methods.
Organic gardening differs from “conventional” gardening mainly in the areas of fertilization and pest control. The organic gardener uses natural and organic materials and methods, whereas the conventional gardener will utilize a combination of all materials and methods shown to be safe, effective and non-detrimental to himself or his environment.
Here are some steps to aid you in supplying your vegetable needs:
Select a plot of good, well-drained soil near a water supply. It should be close to the home for convenience but should not be shaded by tall buildings or trees. Enclosing the garden spot with a fence is usually profitable, especially if you have feral chickens, pheasants, pigs or turkeys that are sometimes abundant on our rural island.
Many gardeners find it helpful to draw out on paper the location of each row and the crop or succession of crops to be planted.
The Master Gardener Hotline is great for information on vegetables suited to Hawaiian gardens, leading varieties, seed or plants needed, planting distances and depths, and best time for planting. Call the UH College of Tropical Agriculture Extension offices in Kona, Hilo or Waimea for details.
Since organic fertilizer and soil conditioning materials are slow working in general, they should be mixed into the soil at least three weeks ahead of planting and the soil thoroughly prepared for the seed or transplants. Clumps of inadequately decomposed organic materials not only interfere with the seeding operation, but may result in nutrient deficiency and possible soil-borne disease problems such as “damping-off” of young seedlings.
Natural and organic materials that yield plant nutrients upon decomposition are often available for purchase either separately or in combination. These materials may be applied to the garden separately or combined, used in the compost pile, or mixed with manure.
Rock phosphates are natural deposits of phosphate in combination with calcium. Raw materials dug from the earth are very hard and yield phosphorus very slowly. When finely ground and with impurities removed, the powdery material is only slightly soluble in water, but may be beneficial to plants in subsequent seasons following application. The reaction of phosphate rock with acids from decaying organic matter tends to make the phosphorus slowly available to garden plants. A more readily available form of phosphorus is treble super phosphate.
Broadcast the material over the soil surface and work into the topsoil at least three weeks before planting. Manure or other organic fertilizer should be added at this time. Since the materials are slowly decomposed, side dressings are seldom beneficial.
Potassium is widely distributed in nature. Materials like wood ashes, banana peels, seaweed, potash salts, and ground rock potash are used alone, or combination with other materials. Since the potash bearing materials vary so much in composition and rate of decomposition, specific application rates must be determined for each material and its combination.
An advantage for using organic materials as fertilizers is that they contain many of the secondary or micro nutrients also needed by the plants in addition to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Besides the general amounts of secondary or micro-nutrients found in most organic materials, certain ones are concentrated into such naturally occurring materials as gypsum (calcium and sulfur) and dolomite (calcium and magnesium).
Reducing the acidity of the soil is the primary purpose for using lime in the garden. However, liming materials also provide nutrients for plant use.
Calcium and magnesium are the two elements most commonly provided by lime. Lime to sweeten the soil should be applied only when the needs have been established by a reliable soil test. Apply lime well in advance of the planting date, preferably 2 to 3 months before the garden is planted. Mix well with the soil and keep moist for best reaction.
In irrigating the garden, it is advisable to thoroughly wet the soil once a week unless sufficient rain falls. Thus, the soil will be moistened throughout the root zone. Light sprinklings tend to wet the surface and encourage shallow root growth.
Use of organic materials as soil conditioners and fertilizers tends to improve the ability of the soil to retain moisture. Also, a good garden mulch will conserve soil moisture. Among the benefits of mulch are that it conserves soil moisture, conserves nutrients, reduces soil erosion, reduces weed growth and provides a barrier between fruit and soil. It also moderates the soil temperature.
During periods when infestations of various garden pests are high, control by natural means becomes very difficult. However, the following practices will help to reduce losses. Plant pest resistant varieties. Select pest-free transplants. Keep out weeds that harbor insects and diseases. Water in the morning so plants are not wet at night. Dispose of severely diseased plants before they contaminate others.
Many organic gardeners approve of and use sprays and other preparations containing naturally occurring materials such as neem. Pyrethrin, rotenone and nicotine are examples of natural poisons from plant parts. These give some control to some insects under certain conditions. Natural predators should be encouraged wherever possible. Some great books on vegetable gardening are available at local garden shops and nurseries.