Gardening in central Wisconsin
This is a Wisconsin web site, located in planting zones 3 and 4.
Mulch: Six layers of newspaper make a good mulch. Don't use shiny pages or highly colored pages. Most black inks are made of soybean-based inks, so we don't have to worry as much about metal-based inks getting into the garden soil and into our plants. Until the newspaper gets soaked a few times and kind of mushes together with the soil, it will want to blow off, so weight it down with something (even dirt works). You will not be able to walk on this mulch very much. The paper tills up nicely into the soil in the spring.
Black plastic makes a very good mulch. No weeding required when
you use a black plastic mulch. I've noticed that tomatoes are much less prone to
pick up diseases, and it seems that animals don't enjoy walking on the plastic, which
helps if you have critter problems. For many years, I added some kind of mulch (bark
or grass after mowing the lawn) on top of the plastic, but I've discovered that helps
spread disease (things hide in the organic mulches), so now it's straight black plastic.
Black plastic can even out soil moisture too and can really speed up warming up the
soil in spring. Black plastic isn't as beneficial as far as holding heat in the
ground when fall arrives. By that time, the plastic is pretty well shaded by
folliage and is pretty dirty, so the heat holding capability is reduced.
I use the solid black plastic sheets (10 by 25 feet) for several
reasons; it is what is locally available, I can use it for moisture control, we don't have
a tiller anymore, and I can't kneel or bend over to pull weeds. Simply use a knife
or scissors to cut slits in the pastic where you want to plant, and fold under the little
tabs from the slits so they don't rub against the stem. Use rocks, bricks, dirt, or
anything else with weight or holding power around each slit (after you've put in your
plants) and here and there over the plastic to help hold it down. Because there are
very few holes in your prepared black plastic mulch, the surface of the sheet will capture
rain in little puddles. Just use a knife to puncture a small hole in the middle of
the puddles to drain your plastic. If it has been very wet, don't puncture the
Tomatoes: Indeterminant means the plant will continue producing over a long period of time if frost doesn't kill it. Determinant means the fruit production will be pretty much all at the same time, and when that production is over, the plant will not produce more tomatoes (or very few). Tomatoes are staked because they get heavy with fruit and tip over. The fruit that lays on the ground has a good chance of damage by insects or rotting, plus you won't be able to find all your tomatoes under the plant. The only really good sturdy tomato plant that I know of that does not need staking/support is called Super Bush. I was taught by the old-timers around here that the little sucker stems that grow in the "V" of the main stem and lateral stems should be pinched off as close as possible to the bottom of that sucker as possible. The suckers don't set fruits anyway, and apparently can prevent fruit formation. Some people don't agree with this method. When purchasing tomato transplants, avoid those that have a purple tinge to the stem or leaves. The purple color means the tomato has been under stress (such as cold) and it may be more prone to disease.
Onions: Onion seed generally lasts for one year in storage, so you might as well plant all the seeds you have bought for this year. Onion sets are little bulb-like things and actually were grown last year then put into storage while they were still small. Onion sets will produce little turban tops that contain seeds. These seed pods should be pinched off to force growth into the root (the bulb part). Of course, if you want to produce onions for seed to use next year, go ahead and let those little turban tops develop. There are long-day and short-day onions, and because we have long days during the summer here in the north, that is the type of onion we should use (long-day).
One year I used a row cover without a much, and we had the best looking and biggest weeds you've ever seen. The vegetables looked great too, but so many weeds to pull! Now I only use a row cover if a mulch is present. A friend uses old sheer curtains to cover some of her plants and it works just fine for her. Row covers, in addition to adding a couple of degrees of frost protection, also can prevent cabbage butterflies from laying their eggs in your Brassica plants (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli). I leave my row covers on the entire planting season until I can harvest.
Those of us on farms that use a "clean chute" with their silos can save the used clean chute and cover tomato transplants with it. Makes a nice little greenhouse for the tomato. You do need to put a stake in or the clean chute will blow off. You can weigh down the bottom of the clean chute with dirt to help it remain in place. Most tomato cages are too large in diameter for the clean chute. I use spring-type clothespins to close the top of the chute if the weather gets very cold. Office binder clips (black metal things) work great for holding things in place and are much stronger, have much more grip strength, than clothespins.
Flea beetles are quite heavy out here in the country. We are surrounded by farm fields, so the flea beetles have it made. It is impossible to control all the weeds that these beetles feed/grow on. Flee beetles seem to come out of the soil when it warms up. There is no way you could ever catch one of these tiny insects, but you can see them on the soil and in the air. Flea beetles make holes in leaves and can pass diseases to your plants. When there are heavy infestations, like there are around here, all those little holes can really suck the life out of the plant. Black plastic helps, but wherever there is a hole in the pastic, you can see these insects congregating. A row cover can also help if the flea beetles are not already living under the row cover.
Cut worms are not a problem in my garden. Slugs, which resemble snails but without a shell, are problems when it has been wet. Slugs will eat just about anything that you want to keep. They are drawn to any fruit (tomatoes, melons) laying on the ground. They will hide under bricks, wood, planters or anything else directly on the ground. If you do find slugs, you can sprinkle them with salt (regular old table salt) to kill them. Talking about salt, my sister-in-law uses salt in her asparagus bed to keep the weeds down. Asparagus originated near oceans, so it is immune to the salt.
Like farmers, we rotate our crops every year. I don't think a garden plot gains the same benefit as farm fields with crop rotation. By the time a tiller works up the garden soil in spring, I think it spreads diseases throughout all of the soil. A home garden plot is just too small to have total success with crop rotation. It is still important to use crop rotation, but don't worry excessively if this can't be accomplished in your small garden.
Corn must be planted in blocks because corn is pollinated by air and not by insects. A long single row of corn is a no-no. Several short rows adjacent to each other is much better (that's what makes a block; plants clustered together). Pumpkins and winter squash can be planted within your block of corn. Pole beans can also be planted in your corn. You can plant pumpkins and squashes together in a corn patch, but you should avoid pumpkins and squash plus pole beans because you will not be able to reach the pole beans because of all the vines from the pumpkins and squash. If you have a very large corn plot, you could plant beans on part and your vine produce far away from the beans. Pumpkins and squash have very prickly stems and leaves.
Most garden seed packages provide information on planting depth so I won't go into that much here. The general rule is to plant seeds 3 times the seed width (not the length of the seed).
You cannot save seed from hybrid plants because the next generation may not resemble the hybrid. Seed should be saved from your very best plants (healthiest, most productive, etc.). All seeds must be absolutely mature when harvested, then thoroughly dry before putting into storage. Almost all seeds need to go through a "cold" period before they will germinate the following season. Some plants only produce seeds the second year of growth.
Pick many fruits and vegetables before they mature. When over-ripe fruits,
vegetables, or old flower blooms are left on a plant, the plant thinks it has done its job
of reproducing its babies for the next season, and it will stop producing new fruits,
vegetables, or blooms. Zucchinis and cucumbers are particularly prone to this.
The only other trick that might save plants hit with light frost (assuming they haven't been covered) is to apply a light water spray to the plant foliage before the sun rises. The technique has something to do with preventing the cells in the plant from bursting. This is a really tricky procedure because you have to walk around your garden repeatedly to water the plant foliage (with a hose) as the sun is rising. It is time consuming and you have to work fast.
Medicinal Herb Garden
Botanical and common names cross reference.
Copyright 2003 Barb Krultz, Greenwood, Wisconsin firstname.lastname@example.org