Gardening Notes: General Tips

General Tips

Sowing Depth

  • Tiny seeds like basil and most herbs = barely covered, then press down to restore capillary action of soil.  
  • Small seeds like carrot = 1/2 inch.
  • Larger small seeds like spinach, beet, chard, radish, and okra = 3/4 inch.
  • Large seeds like legumes, corn = 4 times their largest dimension.

Fertility Needs

Minimum soil fertility requirements are based on type of plant.




Plant Spacing

More space lets the root system grow larger, producing a stronger plant and more nutritious, better tasting fruit.  Backyard gardens are often very limited in space, so this becomes a compromise.  Tightly spaced plants will require frequent water to survive.  Hi-res pictures CHART 1  and  CHART 2

Progressive Thinning

Even if it seems counter-productive to cut down plants that you just planted, the process of thinning out your plants will help the remaining plants live a much more productive life.  When your plants sprout, immediately thin seedlings so none of them are touching.  Once the plants start competing for light, thin again so that none of the plants are touching each other.  Continue this process until you thin the plants to their optimal spacing, choosing the strongest plant to survive each time.

My Preferred Methods


Chemicals cause problems, learn how nature performs and reacts and work to recreate natural solutions.  Focus on healthy soil with lots of bio activity and diversity.  Treat the problem, not the symptoms.


Maximize plant output per square foot of land, take advantage of vertical growth using trellises. Requires more input (requires the use of irrigation and fertilizer)


Leave the roots of your plants in the ground, just cut the stem off at the ground level, instead of pulling out the plants or tilling up the soil each season.  (exception: completely pull up diseased plants and throw them away)  The new plants will use existing paths created by old plant roots that are decaying to ease new plant growth.  Encourages soil activity (doesn’t disturb the worms)

Start Seeds Indoors


Hardening Off


Make the Best Use of the Area

Companion Planting

Succession Planting


In agriculturesuccession planting refers to several planting methods that increase crop availability during a growing season by making efficient use of space and timing.

There are four basic approaches, that can also be combined:

  • Two or more crops in succession: After one crop is harvested, another is planted in the same space. The length of the growing season, climate, and crop selection are key factors. For example, a cool season spring crop could be followed by a heat-loving summer crop.
  • Same crop, successive plantings: Several smaller plantings are made at timed intervals, rather than all at once. The plants mature at staggered dates, establishing acontinuous harvest over an extended period. Lettuce and other salad greens are common crops for this approach.
  • Two or more crops simultaneously: Non-competing crops, often with different maturity dates, are planted together in various patterns. Intercropping is one pattern approach; companion planting is a related, complementary practice.
  • Same crop, different maturity dates: Several varieties are selected, with different maturity dates: early, main season, late. Planted at the same time, the varieties mature one after the other over the season.

Guilds (Permaculture term)


Other Tricks I’ve Tried

Tire Stacks

Start 3 or 4 potatoes in some soil in a tire.  Once the plants get tall, pile on more dirt and another tire.  In a season, you should be able to stack 3 or 4 tires high, multiplying the output of the potato crop by the end of the season.

What DOESN’T work:

Don’t fully cover the plants with dirt.  They won’t survive.  Only cover about half the plant at a time, then wait a few weeks.

Don’t use hay (by itself)  It starts to compost and gets very hot, killing any plants growing in it.

Trellis / Vertical Crops

When growing space is limited, you can save a lot of precious space by ‘going vertical’.  Most people put cages around tomatoes to keep them from becoming a big ground cover bush, but you can also train squash, watermelon and cantaloupe to grow up instead of out, saving you lots of soil space.

Pruning Tomato Plants

Tomatoes will grow to be a big bushy clump on the ground unless you support them, but another trick to maximize your yield of fruit per area of soil is to keep the sucker vines pruned.


It will save you a bunch of time and effort if you use quality tools and put a proper edge on your hoe and shovel.  I use an electric grinder to start with and then keep it sharp with a hand file.

Notes/Lessons Learned:

Start seedings early, provide with strong enough light to grow thick, harden off properly before transplanting, plant twice as many seeds as you think you will need to allow for animals and other problems.

See also: Steve’s Lessons Learned 

Companion Planting

One of the many things native Americans figured out was the Three Sisters Garden (Corn, Beans, Squash)

Here are some common suggestions.


Companions: Beet (to bush beans only), cabbage family, carrot, celery, chard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, pea, potatoes, radish, strawberry.Enemies: Garlic, onion and shallot stunt the growth of beans. Allies: Marigold deters Mexican bean beetles.
Nasturtium and rosemary deter bean beetles.
Summer savory deters bean beetles, improves growth and flavor.


Companions: Bean, lettuce, onion, pea, pepper, radish, tomato Allies: Chives improve growth and flavor.
Rosemary and sage deter carrot fly.Enemy: Dill retards growth.


Companions: Bean, cucumber, melon, parsley, pea, potato, pumpkin, squashEnemies: Tomatoes and corn are attacked by the same worm. Allies: Odorless marigold and white geranium deter Japanese beetles.
Pigweed raises nutrients from the subsoil to where the corn can reach them.


Companions: Bean, cabbage family, corn, pea, radish, tomatoEnemy: Sage is generally injurious to cucumber. Allies: Marigold deters beetles.
Nasturtium deters aphids, beetles and bugs, improves growth and flavor.
Oregano deters pests in general.
Tansy deters ants, beetles, bugs, flying insects.


Companions: Beet, cabbage family, carrot, onion, radish, strawberry Allies: Chives and garlic deter aphids.


Companions: Corn, pumpkin, radish, squash Allies: Marigold deters beetles.
Nasturtium deters bugs and beetles.
Oregano provides general pest protection


Companions: Beet, cabbage family, carrot, chard, lettuce, pepper, strawberry, tomatoEnemies: Onions stunt bean, pea. Allies: Chamomile and summer savory improve growth and flavor.
Pigweed raises nutrients from subsoil and makes them available to the onions.
Sow thistle improves growth and health.


Companions: Bean, carrot, corn, cucumber, radish, turnip Allies: Chives deter aphids.
Mint improves health and flavor.Enemies: Garlic and onion stunt the growth of peas.


Companions: Carrot, eggplant, onion and tomato


Companions: Beans, cabbage family, corn, eggplant, peaEnemies: Tomatoes and potatoes are attacked by the same blight. Allies: Horseradish, planted at the corners of the potato patch, provides general protection.
Marigold deters beetles.


Companions: Bean, carrot, cucumber, lettuce, melon, pea Allies: Chervil and nasturtium improve growth and flavor.Enemy: Hyssop


Companions: Cabbage family, strawberry


Companions: Corn, melon, pumpkinAllies: Borage deters worms, improves growth and flavor. Marigold deters beetles.
Nasturtium deters squash bugs and beetles.
Oregano provides general pest protection.


Companions: Bean, lettuce, onion, spinach, thymeEnemy: Cabbage Allies: Borage strengthens resistance to insects and disease.
Thyme, as a border, deters worms.


Companions: Asparagus, carrot, celery, cucumber, onion, parsley, pepperEnemies: Corn and tomato are attacked by the same worm.
Mature dill retards tomato growth.
Kohlrabi stunts tomato growth.
Potatoes and tomatoes are attacked by the same blight.
Allies: Basil repels flies and mosquitoes, improves growth and flavor.
Bee balm, chives and mint improve health and flavor.
Borage deters tomato worm, improves growth and flavor.
Dill, until mature, improves growth and health. Once mature, it stunts tomato growth.
Marigold deters nematodes.
Pot marigold deters tomato worm and general garden pests,

Links to lots more information:

Golden Harvest Organics

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

Cass County Extension

Seeds of Change

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