Some friends of mine have been asking me gardening questions and I think they are worth sharing:
Q) I've planted seeds and I realize I don't really know the difference between weeds and sprouts. Any ID tips or weeding tips?
A) It depends what you've planted. Typically anything that comes up looking like a grass is a weed, unless you've planted corn, which comes up looking like thick grass, or dill, parsnips or carrots, which come up looking like the daintiest little grasses. You could look up images of the things you've planted and pull anything that isn't them. You can also just let the sprout develop for a little while to determine if it's a weed or not. Start observing the plants in your garden and compare them with plants you see when you are out for walks. Common weeds are usually prevalent in other places in your area. My friend also mentioned a solution to his own problem, which is planting in rows.
Q) I've waited the 6-10 days required for beans, and only one has popped up. Should I replant?
A) Probably. Animals could take the sprouted seeds (a chipmunk had taken his) or it could be a watering issue. Seeds need the soil surface to be constantly moist, which could mean watering daily or even twice a day. Once the plant is growing, you can reduce watering.
Watering technique is important. For seeds, you keep the soil surface moist, but no mature plant in the world benefits from a light watering every day. This makes the roots grow close to the surface (that's where the water you’re giving them is, after all) and therefore they are less drought tolerant. You want to water deeply and infrequently, so that roots stretch downwards searching for water, anchoring the plant and making it more drought tolerant. Most vegetables (and newly planted perennials and trees) like an inch of water per week. Rainfall usually provides this, but supplemental watering may be needed.
Also, a note on animals. Boy, they love to eat sprouted seeds. I covered an area I seeded with row cover, which I hope will work. You can also cover your whole garden with rowcover. That is what I'm having some friends in Hartford do whose garden was getting raided by squirrels. Row cover can be ordered from Johnny Seed Catalog, Fedco seeds, or gotten at Natureworks in North Branford.
Ok, and one more note. This one's on beans. I planted some pole beans that I was very excited about. They were getting eaten big time by insects. It's insect damage because they're missing very tiny pieces of leaf. Animals would just chomp large parts off. SO my solution was to plant more beans of different varieties. I figure more plants will spread out the damage more. It has worked, and my precious beans are growing!
Q) How far apart do I plant vegetables?
A) Seed packets will usually tell you a spacing. For most seedlings, I stretch my fingers as wide as they will go and plant them as far apart as my thumb and pinkie. Lots of people plant tomatoes too close. I give mine lots of room to grow--I plant mine about three feet apart. I also plant them very deeply. Tomatoes grow roots along their stems, so you should always plant them deeper than they were in the pot. This way they grow extra roots and they don't have to expend energy holding themselves up.
Q) When do I plant vegetables?
A) Cold-hardy things like greens (kale, collards, broccoli) can be planted approximately April 15th-August 1st. The end of that time span gets a little tight for planting seed, so you'd probably want to transplant. Tomatoes go in May 15th-June 15th. You'll want an early-maturing variety if you plant toward the end of that time span. Beans and squash can be seeded or transplanted May 15th-July 15th. There are better resources out there than this simple answer, but those are some guidelines.
I know many people are gardening for the first time, or trying it again after a long break. Be patient. Some of your vegetables will get eaten by bugs and animals. Remind yourself that you can always go to the grocery store and they can't. Some of your crops will turn out horribly and others will be amazing. Neither outcome has anything to do with you, really.