Starting Early

Garden to Table

Garden to Table: A Grow Your Own Food Q&A

February 2022
Planning for the season ahead

Gardening has so many benefits! Not only can you grow your own delicious healthy food — your salad can’t get any fresher than lettuce picked from your garden 15 minutes before dinner — but it’s great for your mental and physical health, and the kids can get involved too. Did you know that immersing your hands in the soil is said to have antidepressant effects?

In this ongoing series, we hope to help current gardeners as well as inspire beginners to start. Fauquier County has so many resources to support gardeners, and a lot of people with a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Jim Hankins, executive director of the Fauquier Education Farm, is our local expert, and he is answering questions from our readers.

I have decided that this is the year I want to start vegetable gardening. What are some good local resources for a beginner? Is the Fauquier Education Farm offering any classes this Spring?
The Fauquier Education Farm has ten free workshops each growing season that each directly relate to what we are growing at the farm. These workshops are advertised on our Facebook page and website. The Fauquier/Rappahannock Master Gardeners also offer some very good workshops throughout the year through the Fauquier Cooperative Extension office on Pelham Street in Warrenton.

I’m planning to start some spring crops indoors soon with grow lights. Can I leave the lights on 24/7 or should I turn them off at night?
Plants will do better if you give them a sleep period without lights each night.

I have found that lids and heat pads are helpful with germination, but should I remove them after my seedlings sprout?
Heat pads and clear plastic tray tops are really helpful to assure good germination rates, but it is best to remove them within a day or two after the seedlings have come up. Excessive moisture trapped under the clear tops can lead to a condition called, dampening off, which is when an otherwise healthy looking seedling will develop a brown spot on the base of its stem and fall over and quickly die. You can baby your plants too much, so take off the tops and let them get some healthy air flow.

I have noticed driving by throughout the years that you use a black ground covering around many of your crops at the Fauquier Education Farm. What kind of material is it? Is it something that might be helpful for the backyard gardener vs. traditional mulching?
Mulching is going to be your best form of weed control. We use a lot of woven landscape fabric because it is reusable for many years, it’s highly effective at weed control, and because it helps conserve ground moisture. The biggest drawback of the material we use is that I don’t know of any retailers that offer it in smaller quantities, you normally have to buy a full 300 foot roll. It comes in widths from 3 feet to 15 but most people don’t need 300 feet of it. Get together with friends to buy a roll, or look at hay and straw mulch, both can be very effective.

I’ve often heard that a mild winter equates to a bad summer for insects, including garden pests. With all of our recent snowy ground cover, is there any hope that they might not be too bad this year? Have you ever noticed significant changes from year to year?
I have also heard that hard winters can mean less insect pressure, but my experience hasn’t shown that there is any significant difference from year to year. You can learn more about farmscaping to support more beneficial insects that eat the bad ones. Row covers are also highly effective at keeping insects from ever reaching some vegetables. And there are a number of safe and effective organic sprays available to help control pests.

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