The proper pH level is important in order to maximize absorption of nutrients from the soil. Test the pH of the soil every 3-5 years. (Simple test kits are available at garden stores.) A low pH means the soil is acidic. A high pH indicates alkaline soil. Most plants prefer a pH around 6.0-6.8.
Most commercial fertilizers have 3 numbers on the package, such as 5-10-5. The first number indicates the amount of nitrogen, the second phosphorous, and the third potassium. Nitrogen is needed to grow the green leafy part of the plant. Vegetables that produce a blossom that then evolves into the vegetable, such as squash, require little nitrogen; if the plant gets too much nitrogen it puts too much energy into the leafy growth of the plant. Phosphorous encourages blossom growth, and potassium nourishes the plant once the blossoming has begun.
Placing mulch around plants helps keep weeds from growing, and aids in moisture retention. There are many ways to mulch a garden. Grass clippings are usually readily available, but avoid clippings that have weed seeds. Apply clippings 1-3 inches deep taking care not to touch the plant with the clippings. Freshly cut clippings generate heat that in turn can cause burning and damage the plant. Another great mulch is rotted straw.
Some gardeners add a layer of newspaper and/or cardboard under the grass clippings, or hay/straw to further help discourage weeds and encourage water retention. By the end of the season the paper/cardboard will be partially decomposed. This can then be turned into the soil along with the grass clippings/hay further adding to the organic matter of the soil.
Seedlings need damp soil to get a good start, but the soil should not remain saturated with water. One inch of water will penetrate about 4 inches down into the soil. If soil is high in clay and the water does not soak in fairly quickly, or it is sandy and dries out quickly, you may need to add more organic matter to help with optimal water drainage.
Water the seedling in the pot before transplanting to encourage the soil to adhere to the root ball.
Tomatoes want direct sunlight, so plant in the sunniest spot in the garden,
Dig a hole about 3-4 inches deeper than the pot, and around 1-2 times the diameter of the pot. Planting the seedling deeper than it came in the pot encourages new roots to develop along the stem that is buried beneath the soil.
Add a small amount of fertilizer (per instructions on the package) that has a little nitrogen, more phosphorus and a small amount of potassium. A fertilizer high in nitrogen will result in large, leafy plants with little fruit. A fertilizer that also has other minerals and calcium are helpful to the tomato plant. Cover the fertilizer with 1-2 inches of dirt so the fertilizer will not come into direct contact with the seedling.
To take the tomato plant out of the pot, hold the plant by its stem and gently remove from pot. Remove the bottom leaves of the tomato plant. Place the plant in the hole and cover with soil, pressing it down firmly to hold the plant upright. Water thoroughly. One inch of water will penetrate the soil about 4 inches.
To stake or not to stake? There are multiple types of stakes for tomato plants including metal or wooden cages. Tomato plants will do better over all if they are staked. Staking keeps the plant and the fruit off the ground. By keeping the plant off the ground, it will be less likely to develop disease or rot; it will encourage air and sun to reach the inside of the plant, reducing risk of pests and increasing the ease of picking. Staking shortly after planting will encourage training of the plant as it grows.
Peppers need full sun and lots of water. They do best if they are not planted where they were placed last year. They prefer soil with pH of 6.0-6.8. Plant 3-4 inches deep, 12-18 inches apart, in rows around 3 feet apart.
Dig a hole about 1-2 inches wider than the pot the plant comes in and 3-4 inches deep. Place a small amount of fertilizer (per instructions of the fertilizer being used) in the bottom of the hole. Use an all purpose vegetable fertilizer rich in phosphorous and potassium and light in nitrogen. Cover the fertilizer with 1 - 2 inches of dirt to protect the roots from touching the fertilizer.
Before transplanting, water the pot well to aid in removing the plant from the pot and to protect the roots from drying out. Noting the point where the stem emerges from the dirt, remove the plant from the pot. Place in the hole and fill in dirt up to the same level it had been in the pot. Do not bring the dirt higher than this point.
Create a shallow bowl of dirt around the plant to hold water. One inch of water will penetrate the soil to about 4” in depth. Mulching around the plant with grass clippings will help retain moisture. Be careful to keep clippings from touching the stem of the plant.
You may want to tie a stake to the plant to support it when it begins to develop the peppers. Be careful not to put the stake so close to the stem that roots are damaged.
Harvest frequently to encourage higher yield. Peppers become sweeter as they mature. It’s a dilemma whether to pick to encourage new growth or to let ripen on the vine for taste, so plant a few extra plants to provide for a continuous supply of peppers throughout the growing season for fresh eating.
Herbs can be either annuals, bi-annuals, or perennials. An annual is a plant that grows for one season; a bi-annual has two growing seasons; a perennial continues to grow year after year.
Most herbs grow best with full sun in rich, well-drained soil, and a pH from 6.0 to 6.8.
Basil (an annual)- Plant about 6”-12” apart; it will grow 12”-36” in height. To encourage a bushier plant, pinch off the top leaves. New leaves will grow at the base of the lower leaves.
Chamomile (an annual)- Plant 4”-6”; it will grow 1’- 2 1/2’ in height.
Cilantro (an annual)- Plant 12”-18” apart; it will grow 24”-36” in height. As the weather gets hot, the plant will develop flowers and then seeds. The seed is coriander.
Dill (an annual)- Plant 3”-5” apart; it will grow 3’-5’ in height. Once the plant develops a flower, dill seeds will develop. Both the fine fern like leaves, and the dill seeds are used in cooking.
Parsley (a biennial)- Plant 6” apart ; it will grow 6”-18” in height. The first season’s leaves will be more flavorful than the second year’s growth. The second year often bolts quickly.
Marjoram (a perennial)- Plant 12” apart; it will grow 1’-2’ in height.
Sage (a perennial)- Plant 30” apart; it will grow about 12”-16” in height.
Thyme (a perennial)- Plant 6”-12” apart; it will grow 4”-12” in height.