Tropical Gardening: If coronavirus has you stuck at home, then plant a vegetable garden

  • Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE Marigolds add color and are easy to grow. They also tend to reduce some root damaging nematode populations.

Spring was officially sprung March 18 and with it comes spring fever. Also, since most Hawaiian families are now under what feels like house arrest because of the coronavirus, we are feeling stir crazy.

It is just the right time consider projects to pass the time.

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By the way, the term “stir crazy” began as a slang term in 19th century London. According to the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, the “stir” means prison and might have originated as a variation on “Start,” a nickname criminals gave to the notorious Newgate prison.

One project to reduce food bills and have some family fun is to grow your own vegetables. Yards and lanai are prime opportunity to help cut food expenses. You can do it by planting vegetables along with your ornamentals. Both require regular fertilization and spraying for insects and disease, so they are a natural together.

In selecting the location, remember most annuals and vegetables must have a full six to eight hours of bright light per day.

Next comes the vexing problem of what to plant.

Choosing plants by height is one problem-solving approach. Some taller growing annuals for the back areas of the garden are cleome and sunflower. Some taller vegetables to try are Hawaiian super sweet corn, and trellis University of Hawaii tomatoes and Manoa wonder beans.

In the center rows and toward the front consider the medium height plants. Tuberose, blue salvia, tall ageratum, red salvia, marigolds and gypsophila are examples. Vegetables include peppers, squash and Waimanalo long eggplant. For low edging, you might use petunias, verbena, dwarf phlox or some of the dwarf nasturtiums. Waianae strain kai choi, won bok, Manoa lettuce and parsley are good varieties of vegetables.

With up to 100 annuals and vegetables to choose from, it shouldn’t be a problem to fill the garden with many kinds of colorful and useful plants.

You can try your hand at success by using the organic approach or the conventional approach or a combination.

Organic gardening differs from conventional gardening mainly in fertilization and pest control. The organic gardener uses natural and organic materials and methods, whereas the conventional gardener will use a combination of all materials and methods shown to be safe, effective and nondetrimental to animals and the environment.

Here are some steps to aid you in supplying your vegetable needs.

Select a spot of well-drained soil near a water supply. It should be close to the home for convenience but should not be shaded by tall buildings or trees. Enclosing the garden spot with a fence is important if you need to keep out wild jungle fowl, pheasants and pigs.

Many gardeners find it helpful to draw out on paper the location of each row and the crop or succession of crops to be planted.

Under normal circumstances you could contact the UH Master Gardener Hotline for information. Unfortunately, the university is closed, so check out garden books available in local garden shope since they should be open for business.

An advantage for using organic materials as fertilizers is that they contain many of the elements also needed by the plants in addition to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Besides the general amounts of minor elements found in most organic materials, certain ones are concentrated into such naturally occurring materials as gypsum (calcium and sulfur) and dolomite (calcium and magnesium). Important minor elements include iron, zinc, manganese and boron. However, care must be taken not to overapply, especially boron since it can be toxic.

Reducing the acidity of the soil is the primary purpose for using lime in the garden. However, liming materials also provide nutrients for plant use.

Calcium and magnesium are the two elements most commonly provided by lime. Lime to sweeten the soil should be applied only when the needs are established by a reliable soil test. Apply lime well in advance of the planting date, preferably two to three months before the garden is planted. Mix well with the soil and keep moist for best reaction.

In irrigating the garden, it is advisable to thoroughly wet the soil once a week unless sufficient rain falls. Thus, the soil will be moistened throughout the root zone. Light sprinkling everyday merely tends to wet the surface and encourage shallow root growth. Use of organic materials such as soil conditioners and fertilizers tends to improve the ability of the soil to retain moisture.

A garden mulch will conserve soil moisture. Mulch is any material, usually organic, that is placed on the soil surface around the plants. Organic materials most commonly used for mulching are leaves, grass clippings, sawdust and wood shavings. Mulches should not be piled up against the stems of plants, since this will create conditions ideal for disease. Synthetic materials, such as plastic sheeting, have been used in recent years.

Among the benefits of a mulch are that it conserves soil moisture, conserves nutrients, reduces soil erosion, reduces weed growth and provides barrier between fruit and soil. It also moderates the soil temperature.

During periods when infestations of various garden pests are high, control by natural means becomes very difficult. However, the following practices will help reduce losses.

Plant varieties resistant to disease and insects. Select pest-free transplants that can be purchased at local garden shops. Keep out weeds that harbor insects and diseases. Hand remove insects where possible.

Water in the morning so plants are not wet at night.

Dispose of severely diseased plants before they contaminate others. Marigolds tend to repel nematodes.

Many organic gardeners approve of and use sprays and other preparations containing naturally occurring materials. Pyrethrin, rotenone and nicotine are examples of natural poisons from plant parts. These give some control to some insects under certain conditions. Neem products are also valuable tools.

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Natural predators such as lizards, frogs, praying mantis and lady beetles should be encouraged wherever possible.

Suitable materials for growing vegetables the organic way are not always easy to locate. Garden supply stores carry many products, especially seeds and equipment, that can be used by the organic enthusiast.

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