The process of soil correction and optimization can take years if you are using your own mineral soil, but it is still important when using potting soil and compost to keep a vigilant eye on the quality and composition of your soil.
4. Know what to plant, when. It’s not just about location, timing is everything in farming. A beautiful, sun-drenched plot with perfect soil could be for naught if plants or seed are in the ground at the wrong time.
Planting times are completely contingent on where you live and on the predicted weather for that specific year. For example, Atlanta is in Zone 8a and 7b according to the USDA’s Hardiness Zones. Thus, you should consult weather, temperature and other predictable factors before you plant your garden.
In general, cool season plants should be planted from March or August to November. Warm season plants should be planted in April. Winter or cool season plants should be planted with protection (plastic covering) in October. Each “season” indicates when the crops are harvested, not planted.
Regarding the approaching warm season garden, check the soil temperature with a thermometer to ensure that it is 65℉ before planting.
5. Keep your garden hydrated. Leaves and mulch should be added to the top of the soil around plants and in walkways to slowly add organic material to soil, aid in water retention and promote fungal growth.
Simply using a ground covering that has not been sourced organically makes your operation not organic. For example, hay or straw can have residual synthetic herbicide treatments on it that could harm your crops and decrease the quality of your produce.
A plant should never be watered arbitrarily. Use your finger. If the soil is dry and light, water your plants. If the soil is damp and water can be squeezed from it, wait to water.
For most open-field plantings in Georgia, the sun will do a pretty good job of drawing the majority of moisture from the soil, so water your plants daily unless a summer thunderstorm soaks them for you.
6. Protect your garden from harmful pests and diseases. To grow a healthy plant, you need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, productive soil, compost, mulch and proper watering. But what if you do all that and then the insects and critters decide they want a taste of your crop too?
Plants that don’t need to be pollinated (i.e. leafy greens or plants without flowers), can be covered with a fine mesh to prevent insects and animals from eating them. But if they need to be pollinated, there are a few options for predation prevention.
Enclosures of chicken wire or fencing are often the only defense against squirrels, rabbits and other small animals that will nibble your plants to death. However, if deer are your public enemy number one, you have a bigger battle to fight. Deer are able to clear fences that are nine feet tall. And yes, by “clear” I mean jump over. “Fly” may be more appropriate. So, tall fences need another layer, a very literal other layer. Mike Cunningham has found that a double fence system seems to work best if you can’t afford a twelve foot fence.
As your garden grows, constant observation of growth is necessary, but further than that, constant monitoring of what insects are interested in your garden is important. Around 90% of insects that you will see in your garden are good for your garden (pollinators, wasps that eat caterpillars), but there are also the enemies that will destroy your garden. Once you have identified the presence of malicious invaders, an attack plan will be needed, and soon.
Even still, it is good to plant flowers that attract beneficial pollinators and insects (try buckwheat, basil, clover, daisies and many others).
Most synthetic insecticides are blanket killers. This means that when you spray for plant eating moths, you are likely also killing honey bees and good insects as well. But you need to stop the pest before they destroy your garden. There are a few organic options that can be found: organic sprays, dusts, insecticidal soaps, diatomaceous earth, spinosad, organic pyrethrum, neem oil. Always check for target species and proper application.
Disease can still be a problem in your garden if you’ve effectively controlled all of these other elements. Solutions can range from application of copper, soap and milk to potassium bicarbonate, natural fungus blocker and sulfur.