Have you begun the process of planning your 2016 vegetable garden? I can hear the chuckling, if not outright laughter, at the thought of doing so now while 2015 gardens are still in full swing. Although December and January are when seed catalogs arrive and you have hours to plan your upcoming garden, it is NOT a time when you can walk out to the garden and critically inspect it, weighing its merits and its problems. Thus a critical review of this year’s garden now is the key to improving your next year's garden's overall performance. So what should you be looking for? Following are a few suggestions.
Look at how many hours of sunlight your garden receives each day. If part of your garden gets a lot of direct sun and part is shaded, especially in the heat of the afternoon, knowing those boundaries and understanding your chosen plants' sunlight needs can be key to a more productive garden. Some plants, such as okra, thrive in sweltering mid-summer conditions and full sun. But others, especially early season vegetables such as lettuce will last longer with a little shade. Thus, having some areas with afternoon shade can be an advantage. So take note of how many hours of sunlight your garden gets, which areas receive partial shade, and what times of day are they shaded.
Next, note the soil condition. In southwest Ohio, this year has been an excellent example of why well-drained soil is beneficial. After significant rain, do your plants' roots sit in waterlogged soil for an extended period? Outright replacement of your garden's soil is generally not practical, but you can improve the soil you have. Getting a soil analysis is an important first step. Your county's Extension office can assist you in submitting a soil sample and understanding the results. Another resource is Fertilizing Vegetable Garden Soils, found at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1601.html. Soil testing in late summer provides the critical information you need to amend the soil before planting next year.
Along with supplementing the soil's nutritional bank, adding organic matter is almost always helpful. It not only helps waterlogged soil drain, but in dry times it improves the soil's ability to hold water; releasing it to plants as required. This can consist of compost, fall leaves, peat moss, or a fall/winter cover crop, to be turned under by springtime.
Critically look at this year’s plants. How did they begin the season, set fruit, and mature? How are they doing now as prime harvest season has arrived? For example, that early tomato you planted in late April may have been the fastest out of the block, but you may prefer more tasty varieties for late summer. Which plants did very well and which do you feel are lacking? Critically examine your plants for general health, vigor, and evidence of disease. Pay attention to which varieties of plants do best in which garden locations.
Crop rotation is important in a garden to reduce problems with soil borne diseases. This can be difficult to do if your garden is small and you want the same types of vegetables every year, but make a sketch of your garden now to help you plan a different rotation next year. Planting varieties which are resistant to the diseases you have seen in your garden also helps control disease. Take notes on what disease problems you have this year so you can look for resistant varieties next year.
Early September is a great time to take a walk through your garden with a critical eye to help in planning for next year. Document what you find so you won’t have to rely on your memory when the seed catalogs arrive in December and January and you begin to dream about your 2016 garden.
For more information on home, lawn, indoor, or outdoor garden care and tips, as well as other garden topics, visit www.ohioline.com and click on the Yard and Garden link, or call the OSU Extension, Butler County, at (513) 887-3722, or in Middletown at (513) 424-5351, ext. #3722.
News Release provided by Tom Birdwell.