One of the many things Wisconsinites love about the spring and summer months is the produce that's in season. Planting your own garden allows you to enjoy all of this produce at its peak of freshness while saving you money on your grocery bill. Growing your own will also reduce your consumption of unwanted fertilizers and pesticides that most grocery store produce contains, plus home grown simply tastes better!
Start your project by deciding what regional produce you use most often. Also consider how much sunlight your proposed garden location will be receiving. Seed packets provide useful information about the conditions each plant needs to reach its full potential. If you’re having trouble deciding, stick with hearty plants that can be used in a variety of ways. Tomatoes are great for beginners as they grow quickly and produce all season long. Other low-maintenance plants that do well in Wisconsin include peppers, carrots, beans, herbs, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. Check with your local garden center for more information on what types of produce will thrive in your area.
Next, call Diggers Hotline to have your property checked for utility lines. If any lines run through your proposed garden location, you may need to adjust your plans. Keep in mind that if you are planning to use a powered rototiller, you are required to stay at least 18” away from all markings. Lines can be buried just a few inches underground – never make the assumption that your equipment does not dig deep enough to damage utility lines.
When the Diggers Hotline start time has passed and your markings are complete, begin by rototilling the garden area. If you are planning to till a larger area, consider renting or purchasing an electric rototiller from your local hardware store or garden center. If the area is slightly overgrown, it may be helpful to trim down or remove existing plants and weeds before tilling. As the blades of the rototiller grind through the dirt, they will aerate the soil and break down remaining weeds and plant roots.
Whether you are working with seeds or seedlings, be sure you plant at the proper depths. Seed packets typically provide the depth that the seeds need to be planted, how far to space them apart, how much sun and water they will need, and how large the mature plants will be. Giving the plants enough space is essential to the plant’s growth as well as the organization of your garden as you’ll need enough space between rows to access ripe plants. Labeling your seedlings will also help to organize your garden and make maintenance easier.
Make sure you keep your garden well-watered and free from weeds. You want the soil to stay damp: if it is dry to the touch and you have trouble pushing your finger into the soil, you need to water your plants. Avoid overwatering: the soil should be damp, not flooded. Focus watering at the roots, as wet foliage can be damaged by the sun. Watering in the morning is best for most plants as it gives enough time for the roots to hydrate and the leaves to dry off before the sun is fully risen.
Before you know it, you’ll start to see little fruits and vegetables sprouting. Wait until they are fully ripe before picking them as the best flavor comes from being ripened on the plant. Picking the produce once it is ripe will also help to encourage the growth of more produce. Soon you’ll have more fruits and vegetables than you can eat, but don’t forget that you can preserve, pickle, freeze, or share your delicious home-grown produce with your friends and family.