By ERNIE REZENTS
For The Maui News—
When most people think of gardening they think of growing something to eat. This was even more apparent during my fall 1991 semester while teaching in Taiwan. Twenty million people on an island, high priced land, and large concentrations of people in cities and towns, made growing vegetables, rather than ornamentals, the preferred crop. Most non-farmers had small or no yards and bought their vegetables and fruits from stores and “farmer markets”. Some city dwellers grew fruit trees and vegetables on roof top terraces in tubs. Those who did not have a roof garden grew leafy cabbages and assorted greens on their balconies in containers filled with a hydroponic solution or soil. Ornamentals were on sale at nurseries to decorate homes. The wealthy could afford small yards landscaped with ornamentals and a few fruit trees with or without vegetables.
Many of us are fortunate to have yards to grow edible and ornamental plants while others have balconies that provide space for container gardening. It might be appropriate to write about growing vegetables before we delve into other sorts of plants.
The first thing you should consider is the site. Select an area with good sunlight.
Light is necessary for plants to produce their own food and grow in a healthy manner. During the summer, the garden should have full sun in a section for warm season vegetables and partial shade in another section for cool season (leafy) vegetables. Of course the summer and winter sunlight will be different in amount and direction so take that into consideration.
My main garden receives a half day or more of sun during the summer and slightly less during the winter. Be aware that small trees grow up to be big trees and may provide unwanted shade in the future. My garden provides evidence of this so nearby trees are pruned to control shading.
Your site should be close to a source of water so that hoses are convenient. A spigot is necessary even if you plan to use drip irrigation.
A site with good soil helps make for success. You can amend poor soil to improve it, but gardening is much easier if you are starting out with rich soil. Adding organic material such as manures and compost will improve the quality of your soil.
Wind is important for drying our wet plants and blowing away some pesty insects, but is it too strong? Do you need a wind break?
Is the area large enough for expansion if you want to get bigger?
When you have selected your site, remove the grass and weeds from the area. Digging, pulling, and maybe even the use of herbicides may be necessary. Healthy grass and weeds are more sensitive to herbicides, so you may need to water the area and apply your herbicide when regrowth occurs. Follow label directions and safety precautions.
After your soil is free of grass and weeds, dig it up thoroughly. The soil will be easier to dig if it is slightly moist. Of course a sandy soil will be “duck soup” while a clay soil will be sticky and difficult to work. After the soil has been softened, and before any soil amendments have been added, collect soil six to eight inches deep from the four corners and center of your plot and mix it up thoroughly. Remove two to three cups of this and take it to BEI in Wailuku, or HGP, or UHS in Kahului to be analyzed.
The soil test will cost you a few dollars but will include a complete determination of what is present and provide a recommendation of amendments to supply missing nutrients. The analysis will even suggest how to correct the soil’s pH.
If you wish, you can provide an edging around your garden with treated 2×4’s or 2x 6’s or do raised beds (2 feet. wide by eight to ten feet long). Think about how you will get into the garden for harvesting.
Balcony folks will have a limitation of space and therefore need to be more selective in what is planted and in what quantity. Because of their use of containers, weeding and digging will be minimized. It may not be worth the expense to have your soil tested but pH and available plant nutrients are still important. The pH can be maintained either by renewing the container soil periodically or through soil amendments. Nutrients can be provided through the use of organic matter or fertilizers.
So prepare your plot, or container, and next month we will get into the layout and planting your vegetables. Successful gardening to you.