Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in Northern New Jersey. Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from a backyard garden are a rite of the summer season.
New Jerseys climate is perfect for tomatoes and many other many crops. A home garden can be started almost as soon as the first signs of spring weather appear. Early plantings of peas, beans, broccoli, spinach and cauliflower can be sown as the first spring rains begin. In fact these and other food crops thrive at cooler temperatures. Spinach has been successfully sown in November for an early spring crop to harvest in April.
Starting Your Garden
The first step in starting your garden is choosing an appropriate size and site. In selecting a site for a vegetable or flower garden, the most important consideration is the amount of sunlight. Before preparing the area that you have chosen, note the amount of full sunlight the area receives. A general rule is that every square foot of the vegetable patch should receive at least five to six hours of sunlight and preferably more. Flowers need plenty of sunlight also, but depending on variety, shade plantings can also be very successful. Some crops such as lettuce and cucumbers benefit from partial shade in the mid afternoon during the hot summer months, but for most vegetables, the more sun, the better. Try to locate the garden away from trees and shrubs because not only do they block the sun but their roots may steal moisture and nutrients from your plants. Drainage is another consideration in siting your garden plot. Low lying areas tend to collect water after heavy rains. These areas can be improved by raising the planting bed. This is done by digging paths four to six inches deep to promote drainage using the soil removed to raise the bed.
If you plan to grow a significant part of your family's food
supply, your garden should be approximately thirty by fifty feet. In
Northern New Jersey suburban housing developments, this may not be
possible but an adequate garden to supply fresh vegetables can be grown
in a ten by ten foot plot or in a "border" garden five feet wide by
twenty feet long. If this is not possible, five gallon plastic buckets
can be used to grow vegetables on a sunny deck or porch.
After selecting a site for your vegetable garden, the next step in starting your vegetable garden is to prepare the soil. Early preparation is best by turning the soil in the fall before spring planting. This gives the added benefit of the pulverizing action of freeze and thaw during the winter. Good soil for growing crops is a complex mixture of physical, chemical and biological forces. A good composted soil is alive with microorganisms that make nutrients available, improves the structure of the soil, helps bind nutrients to the soil and produces antibiotic substances to control or limit disease organisms. Soils are classified according to their texture as sand, silt and clay. Loam is the intermediate between any of these two textures.
The quality of the soil is dependent on the presence of humus. Humus is a dark brown substance made up of decomposing plant and animal matter. Humus modifies the soil color, texture, structure, water holding capacity and air holding capacity. Humus is deferent from manure or straw in that it is the result of advanced decomposition. The soil in northern New Jersey is mostly clay which holds too much water and lacks air. This soil needs to be prepared with organic material and humus as well as cinders or sand to promote aeration. Another consideration is the acidity of the soil or the pH of then soil. Vegetables and flowers do well in neutral (pH = 7) or slightly acidic soil (pH less than 7). In northern New Jersey, the soil can sometimes be very acidic due to acid rain and should be adjusted by spreading some lime over the ground.
Your new garden will need to be protected from pests such as rabbits, woodchucks, small children and dogs. A sturdy metal fence of chicken wire at least three feet high will protect against mechanical damage from these nuisances. Plastic fencing is not recommended as it can be easily chewed through by rabbits. Fencing may be a little pricey but is well worth it considering the hours of labor put into a vegetable garden.
Flower gardens present their own problems if there are many deer in your area. A metal fence detracts from the beauty of the blooms. A light netting similar to what is used to protect fruit trees from birds may discourage deer from foraging in your flower garden and is almost invisible from a distance.
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