Master gardener shares tips for growing vegetables, flowers

Last updated: April 30. 2013 11:58AM - 281 Views

Abington Journal/Elizabeth BaumeisterBroccoli grows in a plot in the Abington Community Garden
Abington Journal/Elizabeth BaumeisterBroccoli grows in a plot in the Abington Community Garden
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Visit these online resources recomended by Master Gardener Donna Zagrapan:

“Ten Tips on Gardening with Kids” by Rory Klick

A one-page PDF document published by the American Community Gardening Association written for adults training children in gardening.

“Vegetable Gardening: Recommendations for Home Gardeners in Pennsylvania”


A 64-page PDF document published by the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Vegetable Growing Guides”


Published by Cornell University, this interactive database of 58 garden vegetables includes detailed descriptions and growing instructions, site and soil requirements, varieties, and solutions for managing pests and diseases.

“Plants for Beneficial Insects”


This online database published by Audubon gives examples of the useful plants that will attract a variety of beneficial insects.

Did you know little kids aren’t the only ones who like to play in the dirt?

No, really. Adults do it too (they call it gardening) and so can you.

Donna Zagrapan is a Penn State master gardener, president of the Clarks Summit Shade Tree Commission and co-chair (along with Carolyn Crowley) of the Abington Community Garden, which includes about an acre of 100 garden plots.

The garden was started about six years ago, and Zagrapan said almost 100 people take care of their own garden plots there.

“It’s a place where you can go to garden and grow your own vegetables,” she said, adding they don’t use any chemicals in the garden, because they prefer the food grown to be organic.

All kinds of people, from kids to senior citizens and from families to church groups, are involved in the garden. And they plant everything from tomatoes to onions to sunflowers.

Zagrapan said gardening is a good activity for kids of all ages (and adults), because it helps them to see where their food comes from and why they need to protect the earth from which it grows. She said it’s also extra special to be able to pick and eat food that you grew all by yourself.

“Nothing tastes as good as home grown vegetables,” she said.

Here are five tips she offers for starting your own garden at home:

1. Plant what you like to eat. If you plant vegetables that you like, not only will you enjoy watching them grow, you’ll also enjoy eating them. Three top favorites for kids are carrots, radishes and squash.

2. Include some plants in your garden that attract beneficial insects. Although some bugs seem nasty, others can be good to have around. Planting flowers that attract butterflies can also liven up your garden. For more information, see the resources under the “Want to learn more?” box.

3. Fertilize the soil. “The most important thing in gardening is the soil,” said Zagrapan. She said the best thing to do to have good soil for your garden is to add compost, which could be year-old leaves (shredded leaves are the best), manure or even shredded newspaper. She said compost can also be made from table scraps, although it is important to know what materials to use and what not to use. Oil, eggs, meat and fish will give off a bad odor that can attract unwanted rodents and anger the neighbors. The compost will need to be mixed, watered and turned over, and can take a minimum of three months to make.

4. Do your research before planting. “It’s really not hard if you pay attention,” Zagrapan said, explaining the importance of reading the information on the back of seed packets and following instructions. “If it says to plant the seeds three feet apart,” she said, “plant the seeds three feet apart.” It’s also important to know when the best times to plant certain vegetables are and what type of soils and climates they grow best in.

5. The job doesn’t end once the seeds are planted. Your garden will need to be weeded and watered regularly for it to grow. Be patient. Different types of plants take different amounts of time to grow. When researching a vegetable plant, find out how to tell when the food is ready to pick, and wait until that time to begin your harvest.

Then, enjoy.

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