Week Four-Hygiene, Thinning, and Staking
May 23, 2014
Author: Ian Whittington
Category: General News Stories from the Garden
After four weeks I finally have my plot completely set up.
Okay, well not completely set up, but I’m close. Basically, I can see a vision of what my plot will become. Everything is covered in straw, I have stakes up, and everything is planted. And best of all, things are actually growing!
This week was all about hygiene, thinning, and staking. Since for the most part everything is already in place we’re getting into the part of the program dealing with maintenance. First up, hygiene.
Gardening hygiene revolves around best practices to ensure your garden is as healthy as possible.
Some good garden hygiene practices are:
- Don’t work with plants when leaves are wet-prevents fungus and bacteria transfer
- Pinch off damaged or broken branches and leaves-reduces drain on plant resources as well as entry points for viruses, fungus, and bacteria
- Pull up diseased or dead plants-limits spread of plant disease and hiding places for pests
- Clean your tools when done in the garden-reduces the spreading of disease and helps your tools last longer
- Wash your hands before and after working in your garden
Now full disclosure, our instructor Joe admitted to the class that he doesn’t really follow all of these guidelines. For instance, and I totally agree with this, who washes their hands before sticking them in the dirt? He also admitted that he doesn’t, except of course when he’s sharing them with other people, clean his tools once he’s finished with them. Apparently they’re quite dirty. Still, he concedes that these are good guidelines to know. Again these are best practices, and in an ideal scenario you probably should follow them. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this class is that nothing in gardening will be ideal.
Which brings me to the next topic we learned about: thinning. This is actually a sad one. Thinning is basically getting rid of some of your plants. Yes, after all the work you’ve done planting and nurturing them, you may have to kill them.
But why would you need to do this? Well, it all comes down to spacing. Not all seeds will germinate, so to make sure you have enough you plant more than you need. When they do sprout you pull out some to make sure there is enough space between plants. If the idea of getting rid of a healthy plant makes you squeamish, get over it. In the long run you’re doing them a favor. Plants that are too close will compete for nutrients and water, so if you don’t thin instead of having one healthy plant you’ll have multiple dying ones.
This week I had to thin my first plant. Surprisingly it wasn’t one of my cucumbers I had to pull. I planted five of them intending to thin to three, but luckily only three sprouted. No I had to thin…well I don’t really know what the plant was. It’s kind of a mystery plant right now. When I planted it and its two companions some of the assistants thought it was Swiss chard. Later on I heard Joe say it was either that or beets. I hate beets, so I’m really hoping its not. Regardless it bolted so I had to pull it.
Bolting is when a plant grows a flowering stem before harvest. Once this happens the plant is no good. When a plant flowers, its energy is diverted to the flower to aid in the production of seeds. With tomatoes and beans this is a good thing. In a plant where we eat the leaves, not so much. Not if taste matters to you. So unfortunately it had to go. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom this week. With one plant out three more went in. We finally got sweet potatoes!
With my sweet potatoes planted everything I wanted was accounted for. It will be a bit before everything is big and tall, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get ready. The last thing I did before getting all my straw laid out was setting up my stakes. Setting up stakes and trellises are important for several reasons, including:
- Some plants require it-some are naturally designed to climb
- Improved hygiene-keeps plants off the ground which reduces diseases and fruit/vegetable rot
- Easy access-helps in locating ripe vegetables and pests
- Conserves space-helps plants grow vertically rather than over the ground
- Better looking vegetables-allows fruit to hang and be more uniform
Only two plant types in my plot will need stakes: tomatoes and cucumbers. Both are too small to need them now, but since we learned about it this week I decided to go ahead and set them up. The stakes for the tomatoes were easy. All I had to do was stick them into the ground by a tomato plant. Eventually I’ll tie each tomato plant loosely to its stake, but not until they’re taller. Besides stakes, cages would be another way to support tomatoes. We didn’t have them so I’m not using them. Besides, do I really want to have to deal with sticking my hand through one? No.
Setting up my cucumber stakes was a little more involved. Actually a lot more involved. One similarity between staking tomatoes and cucumbers is that each plant will get its own stake. That’s about it. While the tomato stakes stay independently straight up, the cucumber stakes work together to form a teepee. Once my stakes were set up around the cucumber hill, each next to one plant, I tied the tops together to form the teepee shape. Then I wrapped string around the teepee, each level a few inches apart, to give my cucumber plants something to wrap around as they grew up. Overall I’m pretty proud with how much cucumber teepee turned out.
After getting my entire plot covered with straw I was done for the day. I’m really happy with what I’ve done so far and am very excited to get to my first harvest. Of course it’ll be months before that happens but I’m starting to believe it’ll actually be a success. I mean now that everything’s planted there’s really nothing left to do. Except of course making sure my plants don’t dehydrate, get eaten, and take over the whole plot. That shouldn’t be too hard. Right?