by Kim Riedel
In a quest to survive this past dreary and cold winter, I kept myself busy with some different ideas, plans and discoveries.
My curiosity about aquaponics sent me to books, You Tube, and asking several people for guidance to find out more information.
Aquaponics is the process of growing plants in a soilless media such as hydroponics but uses the nutrients from the fish tank to fertilize the plants rather than having fertilizer or other additives added to the water as in hydroponics. The fish fertilize the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. The fish and plants work together so the water can be recycled indefinitely (unless it evaporates). You should be able be grow more plants in less space than a regular garden, and plants should grow faster and larger. It should be a fun experiment.
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During my research, I met a fellow passionate gardener at work who has let me test some of his creations from produce he has grown: peanuts with a coating of pizzazz from chili peppers, pepper sauce that I have used for marinating meats (makes the onions even hotter than the meat), lemon candy with chest expanding, flaming hot pepper in it, pear butter with the most heavenly warm taste (not from pepper), and then to calm down all the taste buds, he brought in some excellent banana bread and blackberry cobbler! It makes me miss the gardening season, though I have made peach cobblers, strawberry pies, and berry milkshakes this past winter with produce from last year’s crops.
I am restarting the red worms again after accidentally baking my last ones in the compost pile last year, and I have a collection of minnows and other fish that will assist me with the aquaponics. I thought that I would tone down the amount of plants that I start early each year by buying seed packages with few seeds rather than by bulk, but I believe my plan backfired on me. I have a wide variety of tomatoes (over 30 heirloom varieties) and peppers. My time ran out for other plants that I usually raise.
Yet, what a wonderful time of year this is! Spring is one of my favorite seasons as I observe the first glimpses of life from tulips, hyacinths, lilies and daffodils and seeing the first little flowers blooming–all signs that the work in the garden is about to begin again!
Keeping a gardening journal is important by recording different events. It will benefit you next year to know planting dates, temperatures, when certain plants bloomed, varieties, successes and disappointments. Before jumping into the new season, remember, April showers may bring May flowers, but they also create wet gardens. Squeeze a handful of soil into a clump…if you can’t crumble it and it remains in a clump, it’s too wet to work. Keep good air flow to plants…the drier they are, the more reduced chance they will become diseased.
Here in Moultrie, we are in heat zone 5 and it’s a good time to plant frost-tolerant vegetable seeds in the garden along with cauliflower and other cool weather plants. It is also the best time to plant most shrubs as they can grow roots before we are hit by the hot weather, and then they’ll be well established before winter comes. Most shade trees may be pruned in April, though wait for late fall to prune oaks. Apricot and peach trees need pruned just before they bloom, and spring flowering shrubs should be pruned after they flower. Examine trees and shrubs for winter injury, and make sure all dead and weakened wood is pruned off of them. This is also the ideal time to transplant and divide perennials (except for Oriental poppies, peonies, and bearded iris). Plant exchanges with friends and neighbors are a great way of getting rid of excess plants and also acquiring new varieties of plants for your own garden!
Some of the jobs on the April To-Do list are:
*Construct a compost pile
*Plant strawberries and pinch off first year flowers to develop strong root systems
*Tie grapes and brambles to supports
*Most perennials don’t require pruning, though some, such as mums, will become bushier if the growing tip is removed
*When repotting houseplants, use fresh potting soil and if changing containers, go only one size larger.
Enjoying this coming gardening season shouldn’t be hard with so much to see, feel, and experience! Meet up with other gardeners to swap stories, share excess produce, and come up with new ideas to try in your garden. The enjoyment of gardening comes not so much from completing a garden but in doing it: the daily experiences, the surprises, and the satisfaction keep us gardeners coming back year after year.
Kim Riedel is a master gardener and owner of Kim’s Country Mall in Sullivan.