Gardening Tips and Fun Facts
Tarrant Area Food Bank manages two gardens in Fort Worth: the TAFB Learning Garden and the Kindred Spirits Kitchen Garden. If you haven’t had a chance to visit our gardens, you can volunteer for a workday or take a tour. Gardening helps create lasting change in the fight against hunger. Check out these gardening tips and fun facts for inspiration in your own garden.
Soil Is Alive!
A sign of healthy soil is an abundance of soil life. Good garden soil should contain earthworms, mites, bacteria, fungi and beneficial nematodes. These organisms are essential to plant growth and can be supported by adding organic matter and keeping your soil moist. Productive plants come from healthy soil. Don’t forget to feed your soil with compost, dried molasses and other organic soil amendments.
Gardeners are always looking for free or inexpensive ways to expand and maintain their gardens. Now there is an easier way to get wood chips for your garden: Chip Drop! You can sign up for a free load of wood chips that will be delivered right where you need them.
As with any free service, the product may be slightly different than what you would purchase. Check out their website to see how it works and decide if this service is a good fit for your garden!
Many gardeners use straw as an effective and affordable mulch to retain moisture in the garden throughout the year. When shopping for straw mulch, be sure to ask for straw and not hay. Straw is a wheat byproduct, typically the stalk of the plant. Hay is usually alfalfa or grass and is used for animal feed. Hay will have more seed heads that can sprout in your garden and cause a weeding nightmare. Remember: straw is for mulching and hay is for horses!
Donating Garden Produce to Pantries
Do you ever have more produce coming out of your garden than you can consume before it spoils? Some gardeners share produce with friends and neighbors or choose to preserve the food to eat throughout the year. Did you know you can also donate your extra produce to a local food pantry? Check out our Find Food map to find a pantry near you. Give them to call to see if they will accept your garden produce. You can also check out ampleharvest.org to find produce donation locations. It may seem silly to bring a handful of peppers to a pantry, but just think about how much those organic peppers would cost at the grocery store!
There are two kinds of potatoes: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties of potatoes grow to a certain height and then set tubers at the base of the plant when grown in raised beds or in the ground. These are usually “early varieties” that are ready to harvest in 70-90 days. Common varieties include Yukon Gold, Red La Soda and Kennebec.
Indeterminate varieties will continue to grow and will put off tubers along the stem of the plant when it is grown in a tower. These are “late varieties” and will take 90-110 days to produce. Common varieties include Russet Nugget, German Butterball and Elba. For information on how to set up a potato tower, visit this page.
Squash Bugs vs. Stink Bugs
Squash bugs are a major pest in the North Texas summer garden. They look like a long, slender stink bug that lays bronze colored eggs on the leaves of squash plants. If you are not sure how to tell the difference between the two, the squash bug smells sweet when squished and the stink bug…stinks!
Using Cooking Water in the Garden
The water from boiled foods can be used to water and feed your garden. After you are done cooking, save the water from vegetables, eggs and pasta to add back to your garden. Make sure to let the water cool first before pouring it.
The boiled water will contain nutrients that are needed for the rest of your garden to thrive. Hard-boiled eggs leave calcium in the water, spinach deposits iron and potassium, and pasta creates a starchy water that will encourage the release of plant nutrients in the soil. Adopting this practice will benefit your garden and save water! To learn about other cooking liquids you can reuse, visit this page.
USDA Hardiness Zones
Many gardeners use the USDA Hardiness Zones as a guide on which plants are most likely to thrive in their area. Most of North Texas is in Zone 8a. As you plan your garden and what trees to put in your yard, consult the most recent information about the zone you are in.
Adding dried molasses to your soil can help feed soil microorganisms and repel fire ants. Dried molasses can be found at local nurseries and feed stores. Mixing dried molasses and compost together to put on your garden before each growing season will give microbes a quick feast of carbohydrates. These microbes build a healthy soil ecosystem and deter pests and diseases from attacking our crops. With a healthy, active soil environment, pests like fire ants will have to find another place to live, since they prefer poor quality soils without much other life.
See what Howard Garrett, The Dirt Doctor, has to say about dried molasses and other soil amendments that will help your garden thrive.
Adding beneficial nematodes to your garden twice a year can help control many insects that lay their eggs in the soil. Beneficial nematodes can be purchased online or at your local nursery and should be put out in the garden in the spring and the fall. The nematodes will come with instructions on how to hydrate them and at what rate to apply them to your growing spaces.
Beneficial nematodes can help control grubs, ticks, thrips, maggots, fleas, cutworms, armyworms, cabbage loopers, squash bugs, termites and other pests that spend part of their life cycle in the soil. Learn more about beneficial and harmful nematodes.
Want More Gardening Tips?
Join us for an upcoming garden workshop. You can view all of our upcoming classes at tarrantareafoodbank.eventbrite.com.
By Becca Knutson
Community Garden Coordinator, Tarrant Area Food Bank