Garden maintenance work begins as soon as you've put seeds and plants into the ground.
You'll need to:
- Maintain the soil fertility.
- Thin crops.
- Prevent weed competition.
- Make sure your plants have enough water.
- Prevent damage by insects, disease, and mammal pests such as woodchucks, deer, racoons, domestic dogs and cats (and other humans).
Practices such as mulching, composting and cover cropping may save time or money, recycle organic wastes back to the soil, and improve soil condition and fertility.
Good soil is essential for success in food gardening.
Learn more about soil and how to maintain it in optimum condition for your crops. Make sure to get it tested every two or three years.
You may also want to practice composting and cover-cropping to help maintain your soil's condition and fertility.
Many gardeners find thinning direct-seeded plants psychologically difficult. But to reach the desired harvestable size, each plant needs enough room to spread its roots and its leaves without undue competition of neighboring plants, incuding weeds.
Thinning plants to the optimum spacing also can help with disease and insect control because it reduces stress for the plants and it allows good air flow between them.
A few crops such as peas and mesclun greens (mixed salad greens, harvested while the greens are small) do well without much thinning. Allowing onions and cabbages to grow more closely together than recommended can help limit the size of the mature crops, which you may choose to do.
However, thinning is a must for leaf and head lettuces, corn, beets, radishes, carrots, spinach, and turnips. Eat the thinnings of leafy greens, herbs and onions. Eventually thin crops so that the leaves of mature plants will just touch their neighbors.
Weeds are simply plants growing where we don't want them. Weeds compete with garden crops for sunlight, moisture, and space. It's important for new gardeners to recognize the common annual and perennial weeds, understand their growth habits and life cycles, and develop strategies for managing the troublesome ones.
Garden Weeds A comprehensive fact sheet on weed management in home gardens.
Weed Identification Wonder what's growing that you didn't plant there? This site hosted by the University of Illinois is a useful guide to identifying common weed species, along with photos.
How, how much, and when to water crops--big mysteries for new home gardeners--don't have one-size-fits-all answers. The asnwers depend on the soil, the season, the planting techniques, and thewater supply/delivery system. These online resources provide advice.
Water Conservation in the Vegetable Garden Tips from Colorado, much droughtier than New Hampshire.
A mulch is any material that covers bare soil and modifies the soil environment. Gardeners use mulches to suppress weeds, buffer extremes in soil temperature and prevent loss of soil moisture.
Mulches can also help prevent plant diseases and reduce insect damage in some crops.
Organic mulches such as grass clippings, straw, bark, chopped leaves, hay, and pine needles add organic matter and some nutrients as they decompose.
While an excellent mulch, hay can be a source of weed seeds, and is therefore less desirable than seed-free straw or salt-marsh hay.
Many gardeners recycle newspapers and cardboard as mulch, wetting them first, then covering with a thin layer of a more attractive organic material such as pine needles or straw.
Garden Mulches Offers more formation on mulching the home garden.
Composting helps recycle garden, yard and kitchen wastes into a natural soil conditioner. Growing cover crops protects soils when you don't have a crop growing and builds soil organic matter when the cover crop dies and becomes incorporated into the soil. Visit our composting and cover-cropping page to learn how.
Visit this page for information on how to handle a wide variety of problems in the home food garden: insects, plant diseases, birds and mammals.
If you don't find the answers you came looking for, call our Education Center's toll-free Info Line, 1-877-398-4769, Monday-Friday, from 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Photo credits: Top right, Janice Stillman. Center left and right, Kathy Martin, Skippy's Vegetable Garden. Bottom left, Peg Boyles. All photos used with permission.