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Spruce Pine gardener shares favorite tips

Ryan Champion of Spruce Pine started gardening with his grandfather when he was 5 or 6 years old. He has grown lots of produce over the years, and he has learned many gardening tips.

“A lot of people don’t realize there’s more to it than just digging a hole and dropping seeds in,” Champion said.

Here is his best advice for successful springtime planting:

1. Work your ground early. “I like to plow in the fall. In some places, I plant cover crops such as clover to put nitrogen back into the soil,” Champion said. “I try to work my ground a little in the winter, especially on a new spot, in order to give time for the grass to die out.”

2. If needed, put lime on all garden spots to raise the pH level of the soil and help fertilizer work better. “I usually like to put the lime on in the fall,” Champion said. “The better the pH of the soil, the better whatever is being planted will do.”

3. Don’t plant your seeds too deep, or they won’t come up. Okra, for example, should only be planted 1/4 inch deep. The depth needed is different for every vegetable.

4. Some vegetables need allday sun in an open area. “Be sure of what is necessary for what you are planting,” Champion said.

5. Different types of fertilizer work best for each vegetable. Make sure to address the needs of whichever vegetable you are planting. “I put 33-0-0 regular ammonium nitrate on corn,” for example, Champion explained. “One of the other fertilizers I use on vegetables is 82424; it has more phosphorous and potash.

6. Keep the weeds out.

7. Stay away from harsh chemicals as much as possible. “I use Sevin Dust sometimes, though, to keep various bugs away, like Japanese beetles and bugs that eat okra,” Champion added.” Liquid Sevin Dust that you mix with water and apply by spraying seems to work better for me. I try not to use it any more than I have to. You have to experiment. What’s needed depends on factors such as your soil.

9. When okra starts producing pods, Champion likes to trim some of the leaves. “It helps the sun get down into the plant and also helps because the leaves use up a lot of moisture. Removing some of the leaves helps the water get where it really needs to be.”

10. After corn comes up, Champion recommends planting pole green beans around it, as they will grow up the corn stalk. He said this will often strengthen the corn stalks and make them more resistant to high winds.

11. Don’t be afraid to thin out your crops. Things need room to grow. Thinning things out often makes it where they can produce more later, and it helps them be more likely to thrive than they would be if they were all bunched together.

12. Save seed from year to year. “Last year, I planted seed that I had kept frozen since 2005 – oldtimey white field corn,” Champion said, “and I made quite a good crop from it.”