Backyard Gardens: Interview With a Vampire…. er, Ag Educator

A woman came into our office last week. She is new to Chandler, OK and she wanted to find some ways to get involved in the community. While she was here, we got to talking about backyard gardens. It got me really excited to start planning my garden for this year!! Since the weather is supposed to be really nice this weekend, I am hoping I have a little time to get out and clean my beds so they are ready to go for cool weather veggies next month!! I wrote a little bit about small space gardening last year. If you don’t already have a garden spot, you might want to read that post.

I decided to do a little interview with Cody Linker, our Lincoln County Extension Agriculture Educator and ask him what we need to be doing for our gardens, and when we need to do them. Here’s what we talked about:

What should we all be doing first? “Get a soil sample. It needs to be collected properly, which means you need to go six inches deep into the ground and take at least 15 different spots throughout the garden. So, you’ll want to get a clean bucket, take a little soil from your 15 random spots and mix it all together in the bucket. You will need at least 2 cups of soil to get a good result on the test.You can take your soil sample to your county extension office to get it tested. In the state of Oklahoma, a routine soil test costs $10.”

When do we need to do this? “For a spring garden, you really need to do this now. January is the best time. For a fall garden, get your soil tested in mid-June.”

What next? “Plant selection. There are very few garden vegetables that we cannot grow in Oklahoma, so depending on where you live, your plant selection is where you can have a lot of fun. Choose the vegetables that you like to eat! Keep in mind, different fruits and vegetables require different soil pH. When you have your soil tested, you might want to talk to your Ag Educator about pH and what you want to grow.”

When can I plant? “This time of year, when we get a few warm days, I get a lot of people coming to my office to ask me about this. The weather is so unpredictable January-April and it is important to not get in too big a hurry. We always have a chance of an Easter freeze. If you’re not prepared to protect you plants by covering them with buckets and mulch, you’ll probably be replanting. There have been years where people in this area have planted the same vegetable three times because of those late-spring freezing temperatures. Some root vegetables can be planted early, like onions, potatoes, carrots…Crops that are concealed under the ground can be planted between Valentines’ day and mid March.”

What about bugs? “Plain soapy water is where I start. You can make your own by mixing dish soap with water to make a pretty thick consistency. Put it in a spray bottle and you can just spray it on your plants. The soap basically suffocates the insects. it puts a coat around them that smothers them out. This is for minor pests like aphids and squash bug larva. You may need to manually kill larger adult bugs by squashing them, and you’ll need to check for eggs on the underside of the leaves. Just wipe them off and dispose of them. This works best for small gardens. A two-acre garden might require something more. If the soapy water isn’t working on your particular pest, you may need to move to a commercial insecticide.”

Are all bugs bad? “No. There are some beneficial insects too. You need pollinators, like bumble bees, butterflies, wasps and moths. Also there are some insects that eat pests like lady beetles eat aphids.”

Is there anything else we can do to protect our gardens from pests? “Sure. There are companion plants like marigolds that attract pests away from your vegetables and to the flower. These will also add a nice visual element to your garden.”

What else do we need to know? “There is a best time to water, and it isn’t at high noon. You want to water your garden either in the morning or late evening, so that the plants can actually benefit from the moisture, and it is not just evaporating in the hot sun.”

Which is better, plants or seeds? “If you have a good place to start your seed, and you don’t have to worry about frost, seed is a great option. It is much less expensive and you know better what you are getting. If you don’t have a good place to start your seed, then pre-started plants from a nice green house is also a great option for you. Just keep in mind that tags are easily lost and switched by young children in the stores. There is a good chance that you get a plant or two that were mislabeled.”

I am so excited about getting started, aren’t you? But after talking with Cody, I guess I will have to wait a little longer! I just love homegrown tomatoes and okra, and it is so much fun watching my little girl get excited about picking the vegetables. It is a great way to teach kids about where food comes from, and make some warm, fuzzy memories they will keep the rest of their lives.



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