Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vegetable Gardening Tips

Summer campers helped tend a
vegetable garden at Duke Gardens.

Let Duke Gardens help you grow
your own bountiful garden.

By Kate Blakely

Gardening tips always take on the perspective of the gardener. What the gardener cares about intimately shapes the information he or she is sharing. Vegetable gardening is no different. Amidst all the wonderful info about growing veggies, it’s the intent that makes each tip unique and special.

Vegetable gardener Andy Currin has lots of tips to share. Currin will teach a Spring Vegetable Gardening class that begins Thursday, March 22, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and runs for three weeks. It’s part of Duke Gardens’ Vegetable Gardening through the Year series. Currin shared some tips for how to grow vegetables in a healthy, sustainable way.

Watch when you water. “Of all points of sustainability, the main component is efficient water use,” Currin said. A lot of folks will water their gardens, their lawns and their flowers during the heat of the day, when the sun is working hardest. “You lose more water to evaporation than will actually get to the plants to be useful to them,” said Currin. The best planet-friendly practice is to water in the early morning or after the sun starts going down.

If you want to eat organic, start organically. If you want to grow organic vegetables, you must be vigilant about everything involved, from soil to seeds. “Some of the seeds, if they’re not labeled as organic, could contain seed treatments that would be systemic,” Currin noted. This means that chemical compounds in the seeds will be found throughout the plant. “And that would be included in the vegetables that you’ll be eating. You really have to start with the seed, any soil amendments, anything like that. Everything has to be organic approved.”

Watch (and help) the right bugs. Pollinators and predatory insects are the most beneficial. Currin has a “good list” and “bad list” of insects. At the top of the good list? Hoverflies. They are both a pollinator and a predatory insect, Currin said. Native bees also help out. The orchard mason bee, the bumblebee and the leaf cutter bee work to pollinate plants. Praying mantis, ladybugs and green lacewings also help. “They eat the bad guys,” said Currin. The bad guys? Aphids, thrips and squash bugs.

As part of your organic practices, make sure to complete any pest treatments around dusk, when the beneficial insects are not going to be out and about. That makes the least impact on the beneficial insect population. “Even organic treatments don’t really discriminate; they just take out everything,” Currin said.

Learn more: Want to know more? Consider taking Currin’s vegetable gardening classes at Duke Gardens. The class costs $75; $60 for Gardens members. If you can’t take the spring class (or in addition to it), consider the fall series, which runs from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4, also from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Please call 919-668-1707 to register. Please see our website for more information about classes and other public events at Duke Gardens.

LinkSarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Kate Blakely is a graduate student at Duke Divinity School and a work-study assistant at Duke Gardens.

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