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Smart gardening.

Squash old planting techniques and turn-ip new ones this year and you could have the best looking garden on your block.

Pine boughs and wrapping paper still litter the living room, yet the mailbox' overflows with seed catalogs, along with Uncle Sam's New Year's greeting--Form 1040. Given the alternatives---cleaning clutter from Christmas or tackling the taxes--most of us prefer an escape to a mental vacation of full-blown roses and ripe tomatoes between the pages of Burpee's, Park's, and Jackson-Perkins. As a result, most of us wind up ordering more seeds and gardening implements than we can use.

Come June, when orderly rows of beans and corn should be gracing the back forty, we discover 16 packages of seeds for exotic things like blue corn and miniature Rubens-painted eggplant on the closet shelf. We end up pitching another batch of "I-meant-to's" into the trash, because the thought of digging or tilling a garden spot, planting, weeding, and watering is overwhelming. Who has the time?

Anyone with the desire to plant has enough time to produce prize-winning produce and dazzling daisies, if they are garden smart. Study the following smart techniques before reading the garden catalogs. Then order seeds and plants with abandon, knowing this year you will have the best looking yard on the block with little effort.

Simplifying the Basics

Raised beds that are dug only once and never walked upon are the easiest and most productive way to garden. However, the initial digging is hard work.

An alternative is to build the lazy gardener's raised bed. Roll out two layers of three-mil black plastic on top of the lawn. These rolls are usually sold in four-foot widths, the perfect dimension for a raised bed. Anchor each side of the plastic with landscape timbers, bricks, or rocks.

Then fill the new bed to an eight-inch depth with garden dirt, manure, peat moss, sand, and shredded leaves or compost. A good mix for a 4 x 8-foot bed is half dirt, two 40-pound sacks of manure and two 40-pound sacks of sand, peat moss, and/ or compost. All you have to add for a bountiful crop is a two-pound box of 6-8-8 fertilizer or two pounds of bone meal and two cups of blood meal. Throw in a pound box of Epsom salts, and you've met the requirements for every type of vegetation you'd want to grow.

Shallow-rooted plants like bush beans, onions, lettuce, spinach, radishes, cucumbers, and strawberries thrive in this kind of bed. Plant seeds closer together than normal; the fertile soil created will support thicker stands of vegetables or flowers.

If you heap fallen leaves on the bed in autumn, a perfect planting surface will await the following spring. You won't even have to turn the continued from page 66 soil. The turf beneath the plastic will have decomposed, too, and the plastic sheet can be pulled out. Corn and other deep-rooted plants can be sown in this bed.

Another easy specialty bed is the "do-nothing potato patch." Find a bare spot of ground (about four by eight feet) that gets at least six hours of sun a day and scratch in two cups of bone meal with a rake or cultivator. Don't dig it in. Water the soil thoroughly. Next, lay 18 whole seed potatoes on top of the soil, cover the entire bed with a foot of hay, leaves, or shredded newspaper and water again to keep the covering material in place. If you use newspapers, shred only the black and white pages and add a thin layer of sand or dirt to keep the papers from flying.

Ignore the bed for four months, until the potato foliage tums yellow and wilts. That is the signal to dig through the hay or paper. You should harvest at least 25 pounds of clean, scab-free potatoes without using any chemicals. And you will find all the potatoes.

If your family is small or you like to try many varieties of peppers, tomatoes, squash, and eggplant, consider containers. Large flower pots, whiskey barrel halves, and even foam ice chests are the thing for small crops. Just make sure containers have a drainage hole.

Even melons can be grown in containers, by trellising or letting the vines crawl over the sides. Several varieties of flowers--all planted in the same tub-will grow into huge bouquets that will stop traffic.

Potted plants, especially peppers, yield higher quality vegetables, because there is less disease and bug damage.

Sow seed directly into containers indoors and take the containers outside when the weather warms to save transplanting.

With intensively planted raised beds and containers, you won't have to worry about weeding, either. The thick stand of plants shades the soil, crowding out any unwanteds.

Easy Maintenance

Watering and fertilizing can be made easy, too, using a pair of gadgets from the hardware store, A hoseend sprayer that costs $3-$4 is worth 10 times its price. It shortens labor by hours and reduces the cost of fertilizer.

A box of 15-30-15 dissolvable fertilizer is priced at half of what you would pay for a 50-pound sack of commercial fertilizer, One box should last the entire gardening season. Spray the dissolvable on your plants at the recommended rate given on the package, and do it every two weeks. The entire process shouldn't take more than 10 minutes.

The other work-saving gadget is a faucet-mounted water timer. Place sprinklers among the raised beds, attach the hoses to the timer, and set the timer to turn on every morning, while you are at work, to soak the garden for 15 minutes. By watering in the morning before the sun is high, roots soak up all the water, and plants avoid fungal diseases. Vegetation dries in the hot afternoon sun.

Container plants can be watered by remote control, too, by using wicks. Run a length of drapery cord through the drainage hole in each pot or tub when filling it with soil. Leave at least a foot of cord hanging out of the bottom. Elevate each container with bricks, wet the soil, and insert the wick into a pan of water that has been placed between the bricks under the pot. These water pans usually need to be refilled once a week.

Smart gardening will free you from the drudgery of continual work, improve the quality of crops, and give you time to stretch out in a hammock and enjoy your yard. So, go ahead and order the purple pepper and giant peppermint-striped zinnia seeds!
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:new techniques
Author:Howard, Doreen G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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