10 Survival Tips for University of Iowa’s Hawkeye Hatchlings – College Magazine, Spring 2021

The University of Iowa has a new motto – “seeds that feed the mind expand.” This is true when it comes to nurturing seeds that will grow into tomorrow’s agricultural products. In order to do so, you have to start at the very beginning. This means that you have to make your garden rows and flower beds from the best possible non-toxic soil conditions. You need to plant everything from tomatoes to wildflowers. And you should make sure that the soil is firm enough to hold in the water that these plants will need to survive.

Of course, you won’t be able to start your garden unless you have a sufficient number of buckets (and covers if you plan to put them under). Choose ones made of rubber or plastic – not only are they breathable but they are also reusable. Rubbermaid totes make great garden bucket covers because they can be washed and reused again. Consider buying an assortment of totes so that you can use them according to the season – for example, you can use them to store damp soil for planting next spring.

When you’re ready to put your vegetable garden to work, it’s a good idea to follow a systematic, step-by-step garden plan. Make a sketch of the areas you want to cover, and the way you intend to do the work. Prepare the soil by removing all the topsoil and dead leaves from around the edges. Dig a hole in the center of the row. Add compost to the bottom of the hole, preferably mixing in vegetable scraps like onions, carrots, and cucumbers. Cover the hole with mulch and put peat moss in the hole, which will help retain moisture.

Prepare a bucket with enough water to cover the entire surface, and be sure to fill it several inches deep. Fill the buckets with fresh filtered water from the tap (it doesn’t hurt to double-check), and run it through your hands while washing the dirt. The water will loosen any dirt that may be stuck to your clothes. Once this is done, place the seeds in the bottom and fill up with dirt.

If your vegetable patch is out in the open where there is fresh air and sunshine, you’ll find that it won’t need much preparation. Just add some water to the plot and sprinkle some organic fertilizer in the holes. Check the soil at least twice a year – a couple of weeks before planting and a couple of weeks after. Be careful to wash any leaves or dirt away from the roots as they grow. When necessary, fill up any holes with more fertilizer.

You’re probably going to have to deal with weeds eventually, so be prepared. Get rid of them by hand or with a hoe. You can also pull them out of the ground by hand. Cut off the main stem, if need be. You can use your fingers to scrape the soil away from the root system and into the soil where the vegetables are growing. Water them only when the soil is still damp – you want to keep the soil damp but not wet.

Another factor that you should consider is lighting. In the winter months, the sun is stronger, so you’ll need a good source of light – a bulb or a candle will do – to keep the vegetables alive. A box or container full of soil and some compost will serve as an easily maintained greenhouse. Place stones in the middle or along the sides to hold in the sunlight. Water the plants regularly and monitor the development of the vegetables. These steps will help you survive University of Iribbutz!

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