Last year has been difficult in many ways for most of us, and many people have turned to nature for recreation, exercise, and distraction, including gardening.
The basic trend is for healthier living in general. As we move away from processed foods, we celebrate nutritious products we can grow ourselves.
Get more bang for your buck with less maintenance. Most new gardeners want to get it right the first time and use raised beds that are easy to manage. Use the experience and service of Berks County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners to answer your gardening questions.
YouTube videos can be learned quickly and easily. However, choose websites wisely. It’s fun to experiment with a few new varieties and techniques each season to freshen up your gardening ideas.
Many gardeners continue to strive to maintain ecological relationships with natural pest control. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices do not use poisonous chemicals as we find ways to encourage the helpful insects like ladybug larvae, assassin bugs, lacewing and tiny predatory wasps that devour the insects that harm our plants.
Encourage pollinator insects by growing nectar-rich flowers such as borage, coneflower, daisy, milkweed, goldenrod, penstemon, bee balm, yarrow, zinnias and sunflowers. You can even get your native pollinator garden certified. The more native choices we make, the better.
In the vegetable garden, choose more disease-resistant plants and use techniques like crop rotation to prevent disease so we can work with nature and let nature do the work.
Gardening in a smaller space is a strong trend for busy people. We want more compact plants that take up less space in our gardens, with robust, bushy and productive plants. We can increase our yields through subsequent planting, ie after the first harvest with another one in the same season.
In addition, we can use intercropping to avoid monocultures or large blocks of the same plant, which tend to attract insect pests. We can plant marigolds, which repel nematodes, or plant onions, beets, or herbs in front of larger plants like tomatoes to make efficient use of space throughout the growing season.
Growing vertically is a trend that minimizes space, creates less floor space and better airflow for the plants. Growing vertically makes it easier to manage plants because there is less bending, stooping, and kneeling. The plants grow their fruits where we can see them, and the vines do not spread out on the ground where they would pick up pathogens such as epidemics and wilts.
Many gardeners already use various vertical techniques such as teepees and cages. It’s easy to install a panel of 16 by 4 foot cattle fencing, arched into a strong, graceful arbor, supported by metal T-posts, and secured with zip ties or metal wires.
Winter squash, runner beans, melons, pasta beans, and cucumbers are tied up with tendrils with minimal guidance so that their fruits can hang freely, making harvest easier. The panels can also be cut into 4 to 6 foot pieces to support pea vines and define tomato plants. The sturdy livestock panels will last for many years, won’t rust, and are cheaper than buying pre-made grids from a gardening store.
Another quick, easy trend is gardening without digging. Basically, you can kill weeds and start a new garden by filing cardboard and then covering it with 6 to 8 inches of well = degraded compost. Use wood chips around the planting area to define the space, control weeds, and conserve moisture.
In addition, drinking hoses can be buried 2 inches deep between two rows, placing the water exactly where it is needed. This is important because additional overhead watering in addition to normal rainfall encourages weed growth outside the planting row and makes the gardener more work.
Another point is to avoid tillage as much as possible. Disturbance of the soil leads to the creation of weed seeds, which sprout quickly and are aggressive. Working on earthworms and microorganisms is very difficult. In raised beds with healthy soil, the gardener only needs to incorporate fertilizers or additives such as lime or sulfur, urea, peat moss or compost at a rate suggested by your last soil test.
Make sure you mulch bare soil to control weeds and stick to the weeds that break through the mulching barrier.
Another popular growth trend is gardening with bales of straw. Basically, the straw bales (not hay bales) are placed in the garden in winter, regularly treated with fertilizer and left to soak up water. The straw breaks up in the bale, which ultimately results in a nice, moist planting medium.
Even if you have poor soil, vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers can thrive in bales of straw as they are provided with even moisture and nutrients. Your plants are less susceptible to disease because the plants are not in contact with the soil and therefore do not ingest soil-borne pathogens. Trimming suction cups will thin the tomato plants, which allows for better airflow and fewer mushrooms.
Establishing raised beds with nutritious soil, natural pest control, selecting native plants, growing vertically, and gardening with straw bales are modern solutions to the common problem of having less space and time to maintain a productive garden. These trends only make more sense for a home gardener.
I still smile at the memory of my little son who says, “Mom, you just throw in a few seeds and food comes out! That is amazing!”
Nature can give her bounty if we just let it. The best part is the fun we have enjoying the process and its rewards.
Tina Ehrig is a volunteer master gardener for Berks County Penn State.