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From Martha's Garden to Yours
A passionate and accomplished gardener, Martha's sharing her tried-and-true tips for a successful vegetable harvest, from seeds to summer's end.
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Soil for Seeding
Martha uses seed-starting mix to create soil blocks for the seeds, and she now owns sturdy soil-block makers in three sizes (left). The white plastic markers are used only in the greenhouse, before the vegetables are transferred to their proper beds.
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Plan for the Best
Martha's vegetable garden at her home in Bedford, NY is laid out with rigorous geometry to yield maximum results and easy access. To minimize weeds and retain moisture, each row is mulched with salt hay, a grass harvested in marshes along the East Coast that contains no weed seeds.
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Evenly Space Plants
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Divert Beetles with Mustard Greens
Martha interplanted mustard greens among her cole crops such as kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli. The mustard greens serve as a trap crop for flea beetles. The beetles are attracted to the mustard first, leaving the cole crops to grow undisturbed -- at least in theory.
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Repel Cutworms with Collars
Collars of heavy paper are pushed into the soil around a 'Romanesco' cauliflower and the other brassicas to keep cutworms at bay. Martha removes them when the danger from cutworms has passed.
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Stake Tomatoes for a Clean Crop
Martha's tomato-staking method consists of white nylon twine supported by bamboo tripods. The vines are attached to the twine with trellis clips. Staking tomatoes allows for a clean, disease- and pest-free crop and even ripening of the fruit, and the clips can be reused each year.
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These birch branches are pushed a foot or more into the soil to support the vines of beans, peas, and cucumbers. Martha learned this method of staking from her gardeners at Skylands, her home in Maine.
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Martha has a great idea for growing fresh, flavorful salad greens right at your backdoor: a salad table -- basically, a shallow wooden frame with a mesh bottom. Plus, with legs attached, it allows you to grow great salad greens at waist level from April through November.
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How to Test Seeds
Seeds saved from past gardens may be worth sowing -- but only if they pass Martha's test: Fold 10 seeds in moist paper towel, place in resealable bag, mark with date and type. Watch to see how many germinate. Multiply that number by 10 to calculate the percent of germinations. More than 70 percent is passing. If between 40 and 60 percent, sow thickly. Below 40 percent, it's best to buy fresh seed.
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Space Plants Easily
Set plants too close together and you'll stunt their growth. Set them too far apart and you'll create an opportunity for weeds. Martha knows that your hand is a convenient spacing device. Measure the distance from your thumb tip to your pinkie tip. Compare that figure to the recommended spacing on each plant's nursery label. Then, translate the label's inches into hand spans.
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Measure Watering Time
Gauging how quickly a sprinkler delivers the right amount is easy if you follow Martha's example. Set an empty, regular-size coffee can about 10 feet away from the sprinkler (or closer, if 10 feet is outside the watering zone). Turn on the tap, and monitor the time needed for the sprinkler to deposit enough water to reach 1 1/2 inches on a ruler dipped into the can (the equivalent of what your plants need). Next time, you'll know just how long to run the sprinkler.
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