The Q&A Archives: cann't make the garden work

Question: Several years ago I built an area 20 by 20 garden area I raised the area wrapping the area with rail road ties.We had always just put flowers in the area because of low maintainence. We had a problem with a weed called creeping Jenny and have let the area go because of the problem this spring we rototilled it put manure in the soil and tried to use the area for a garden. The only thing that is working out is tomatoes the peppers are coming around, lost the onions and beans.We worked hard to make sure that we pulled the weeds and watered We live in Denver and have not had rain since early spring. Anyway it has been very disappointing and have thought about going back to flowers next year because of poor harvest and the creeping jenni. Do you have any suggestions. We like flowers and would like to see butterflies around if we can't make the garden work

Answer: I think my first question would be, did you apply herbicides to the raised bed to eradicate the creeping jenny? If so, your poor harvest might be due to residual chemicals. If you did not use chemicals to get rid of the creeping jenny, was the manure you used fresh or was it aged? Fresh manure can be hot enough to burn the roots of plants. Aged manure is more mellow because the salts have leached out during the aging process. For an inexpensive, do at home test, try planting radish seeds. They'll sprout in about a week and mature in about a month. If they grow happily, then your soil is fine for planting and the problems you're experiencing may be cultural or environmental.

Raised beds are great because they warm up quickly in the spring so you can plant earlier in the year. They also drain quickly, which is good for plant roots (they don't like sitting soggy soils). However, since the soil will drain quickly you will need to water as often as necessary to keep the soil moist enough for the plant roots. You should water deeply once or twice a week depending upon weather. To test, water as usual and then wait 3-4 days. Dig down into the soil. If it is still moist 2-3" below the soil surface, you won't need to water for another few days. If it is dry, it's time to water. After a few tests like this you'll get a feel for how often your garden needs to be watered.

I wouldn't give up just yet. Your garden can serve two purposes - you can grow veggies right alongside your favorite annuals and perennials. Just make sure that all the plants you choose have similar requirements for sunshine and water. With your tomatoes you can plant parsley, nasturtiums, petunias, etc. With onions you can plant marigolds, dianthus, even coreopsis. The list is endless.

At the end of the season I would either plant a green manure cover crop (vetch, for instance) or cover the bare soil with several inches of compost. In the spring you can dig the cover crop or compost into the soil to help improve its tilth.

If you follow the above suggestions I think you'll have a wonderful garden next year. Enjoy!

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