We’re in the Deep South, that’s growing zone 8 here in the U.S., so we have a nice long growing season. I pretty much have a garden year around. One thing that I really appreciate about our long growing season is that it affords us lots of room for trial and error. We can replant or redo something we tried and failed at, usually with success. This past year (2014), we lost our first tomato planting due to the heavy spring rains, but we were able to replant and enjoy a wonderful harvest. On the down side of that, it also gives the grass and weeds a long time to regroup and try a new frontal attack.
As my grandfather taught me, “The basics are the same for everyone, but we all have our own way of gardening.” Don’t be afraid to try and fail, learn and implement the lessons in your next garden. Angi at SchneiderPeeps is offering a great resource for you to cut down on some of the trial and error: The Gardening Notebook (just so you know, this is an affiliate link for me – see our Disclosure/Disclaimer Page for full info). This eBook is packed with over 100 pages of helpful information about various plants, planting, harvesting, seed starting, and printable worksheets (you know I love these!) to help both the new and experienced gardener.
Gardening in Zone 8 does have its own challenges, especially along about July and August. Here are some tips for every Zone 8 gardener.
- Have a “go to” person or book – My grandfather and grandmother taught me everything their parents taught them about gardening, so I rely on that knowledge. Here is a nice link to show you what to plant and when in Zone 8. It says for Louisiana, but it applies to all of Zone 8.
- Keep a journal – Now that The Gardening Notebook is available, I printed out its journal pages to use instead of my old spiral notebook. It’s important to record your garden layout – what and where you plant; a kind of sketch of your garden. Keep track of what you ordered and from whom you purchased it. Also record which variety your family liked best, which produced best, things like that. This will help you with your crop rotation and keep you from ordering something you didn’t like, something that didn’t perform well, or from a company you didn’t like doing business with.
- You have to “visit” your garden every day – some days may not take more than 10 – 15 minutes. Other days, you may spend an hour or more, depending on your garden size. You should pull weeds or hoe them, check for signs of bugs or worms and deal with those, check for ripe fruit, just generally take care of whatever you see needs to be done.
As a gardener, you will have to decide on site selection, plot size, which vegetables to grow, and how much to plant. Remember, “It’s better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one!” One of the common mistakes beginners make is planting more than anybody could eat or want. Trust me, you can only give away so many zucchini, cucumbers, and peas. So plan wisely.
A 16’x10′ garden plot can feed a family of four for one season, longer if you preserve the harvest. Adjust the size of your garden to add more or make less. If you choose this size, making your garden 11 rows wide with each row 10 feet long, would probably be the best use of the space and running the rows north and south may help take full advantage of the sun.
- A garden spot close to the house may help discourage wild animals from nibbling away your potential harvest, maybe. I’ve had deer come to the back porch to eat rose blooms and lettuce in the raised bed.
Vegetables love the sun. They need at least 6 hours of full sun every day, and preferably 8. Here in Zone 8, getting enough sun is not the problem. Protection from the sun is something we have to consider. Some vegetables, like lettuce and spinach, appreciate partial shade so be sure to check the sun requirements of your chosen veggies. I put my tender plants in raised beds located where they can be sheltered by shade in the late afternoon.
Know your soil. You can check with your local nursery or cooperative extension office about soil test kits. Vegetables love good, loamy, well-drained soil. We’ve never tested our soil. It’s just not something we’ve ever had need of.
Enriching your soil can be done in several ways. We improve our soil with compost, mulch, crop rotation, and cover crops. We also add manure from the farm animals. Remember, fresh chicken manure will burn your tender plants, so compost it or let it age some before spreading it directly on them. If you have cows, you can add their manure directly to your garden. If you buy manure, be sure you ask how and what the animal was fed, especially if you are an organic gardener, like we are.
We have very hot and dry weather here in Zone 8 from late June until early September. To offset the effects of this, most of our garden is deep mulched. By 2016 the whole 100′ x 50′ patch will be deep mulched. This aids in moisture retention and keeps weeds down so the soil isn’t disturbed so much by hoeing.
Vegetables need a lot of water, at least 1 inch of water a week. There are many systems and techniques for accomplishing this. We use soaker hoses, catching rain water, and springs we have here on the farm.
- Planting flowers in your garden not only brings beneficial insects, but can deter some unwanted critters as well. We plant marigolds, zinnias, and nasturtium.
Know your local frost dates. Remember the date in the almanac is approximate, keep your eye on your local weather. Plant too soon and you lose the crop, plant to late and you lose the crop, don’t be frightened by this, nature is designed to give us clear warning and prep time. Here in Zone 8 our predicted first frost date is November 15th – Seems late to you northern guys, Huh? Also our predicted last frost date is March 15th. We always have a cold snap just before Easter so keep your eyes on that date as we usually get at least one freezing night during that few days.
Of course, you’ll need some basic gardening tools. Every gardener should have a hoe, a garden rake, a leaf rake, a shovel, a potato or hay fork, shears, and good gardening gloves.
Finding a seed company you trust may take some trial and error, but be patient, it will be worth finding someone you feel good about doing business with. Most gardeners start looking through their seed catalogs in January, maybe February, just because the desire is starting to bud. Be sure to order early. Your local farm supply can also help with your gardening needs. Of course, saving your own seeds will help your seed bill a lot. Our post A Seed is a Seed is a Seed? Right? offers helpful information on seeds.
- Save your seeds – some people say this isn’t necessary, “We can always order seeds.” I strongly disagree with this philosophy. It’s becoming harder to find reliable seed companies who have heirloom seeds and not Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds. By law, GMO seeds belong to the corporations and you can’t legally save those seeds for reuse. It isn’t hard to save seeds from your plants; for help with this, see our post on seed saving.
Don’t let all the information about gardening overwhelm you. Remember to look at the task you have on hand today, one step at a time. Keep your goals in view while being flexible and willing to adjust to achieve the goals you and your family set. When my boys were young we had a saying: “By the yard it’s hard, by the inch it’s a cinch!”
So what if you don’t live in U.S. growing zone 8? Well, don’t despair, here is a list of articles designed especially for you! You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging, did you?
Joybilee Farm in Canada
The Northern Homestead in Canada
Homespun Seasonal Living in Montana
Idlewild Alaska in Alaska
Grow a Good Life in Maine
The Homestead Lady in Utah
Learning and Yearning in Pennsylvania
Little Sprouts Learning in Oklahoma
Pierce Ponderosa in Georgia
Homemaking Organized in Washington
The Farmer’s Lamp in Louisiana
Preparedness Mama in Texas
SchneiderPeeps in Texas
I hope you have found the answers you need or at least some help in getting started in gardening. Please ask any questions you have, or share your experience with others by leaving a comment, or by using the Contact Me page. Happy Gardening!
Safe and Happy Journey,