We are told to eat 6 to 8 servings of vegetables a day. Think about that for a minute. That is a lot of vegetables to swallow, and for some of us a tough task. Picking fresh vegetables from your own backyard that you grew from seedlings can make that task a little easier.
One of the best parts about growing a vegetable garden is freshness. You cannot beat the flavor of a snap pea or a wax bean grown in a home garden. Other advantages to vegetable gardening are trying new varieties you cannot get in the supermarket, always having your favorites on hand, and you can grow what you like to eat. Nothing else rewards you for all of your hard work and care as a productive vegetable garden does.
How do I get a productive vegetable garden you wonder? It is not as hard as you may think. First of all, picture how your garden will look. Planning is one of the most important parts of a vegetable garden. It is best to sit down before you plant a thing with graph paper and a pencil, catalogues and your imagination. Picture in your mind where you see all of your plants going. How many beds will you have and how big will they be? It’s better to take a little extra time now, with some paper, because changes can be easily erased. Changes are not so easy once everything is planted and growing during the season.
Row planting vs. raised bed gardens, which way to go? Row planting is good for a farmer who needs to get all of his large machines in between plants. For the home gardener, fewer rows mean fewer pathways that are a waste of good growing area. Just think about that entire prime growing area you are walking on. Raised beds are a more efficient way to use space and more pleasing to the eye. The best size for a raised bed is 4’ x 4’. This size allows you to reach halfway in from any side. Raised beds also warm up more quickly and can be worked and planted sooner. “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew is an excellent book, which tells all about the raised bed way of gardening.
To assure success in your garden you must start with healthy soil. A healthy soil is one that is rich in organic matter. Your soil should have a crumbly texture, which allows air, water and nutrients to flow through it. Adding organic matter each season (whether at the beginning or at the end) will help you attain good soil texture. Test your soil to make sure the pH level is between 6.5 and 6.8. Most plants will grow at this pH level. Rotating your crops every three years is a way to assure that your soil will not be depleted of the same nutrients and that insects and disease do not get a foothold in the area.
Watering your vegetable garden weekly is very important. Plants need a steady supply of water in order to mature properly. About one inch of water a week, which equates to 60 gallons per 100 square feet, is fine if the weather hasn’t been overly hot. In that case a little more water may be needed. Always try to water in the morning so the plants’ leaves have enough time to dry. Leaving the plants wet overnight can lead to fungus problems. The best way to retain moisture in your soil, especially during the hot days of summer, is to mulch the area around each plant. You can use grass clippings or hay. Mulching has an added advantage – fewer weeds.
Insects are a gardener’s nightmare. Aphids, beetles, slugs and caterpillars can destroy a garden and undermine all of your hard work. Insecticidal soap, sprayed on the top and underneath of the leaves, will keep all but the slug at bay. For him, use slug bait, sold at most garden centers, or create a roadblock around your plants by using crushed eggshells. Slugs slide over the eggshells and die.
Succession planting is a way of achieving a continuous harvest, every gardener’s dream. For example, green beans can be planted every two weeks to assure you’ll have beans through the end of the season. Once a crop is finished, clean out the area and plant something else that will have enough time to mature before your areas first frost. For example, once your peas are done producing, clean the area out and plant beans, once your radishes are done plant carrots. Never leave an area unplanted, utilize all the space. Have fall crops, such as broccoli and lettuce waiting to be planted in August so you can have a late season harvest. The ideal situation is to always have vegetables being harvested at different times of the season, not all at once.
Harvesting is always the fun and rewarding part of vegetable gardening. When planning your garden, always look at the number of days to maturity for each plant. This number is counted from the time you plant your seedling into your garden. If a crop matures in 50 days, count the day you plant the seedling as the first day and continue out until you get to the 50th day. That day is your day of maturity. Find out your areas last frost date to make sure you do not plant too soon. Also know what your areas first frost date is so you can make sure the vegetables you plant in August will have enough time to mature.
Keep your garden plans and date them. Make notes as to how your garden is growing during the season. Note what worked, what didn’t and what you would do differently. Where will you move certain crops next year? When did the tomatoes and peppers bloom and were there any insect or disease problems? Take out these notes prior to next seasons planning so you can make your changes to the new season’s garden.
Food for thought. Even with the best planning, vegetables have a way of overwhelming us. We get so excited and over plant and then wonder what we are going to do with all of the fruits of our labor. Our neighbors always come to mind first as receivers of our over abundance, but how about a local pantry. They are very receptive to fresh produce. What a worthwhile way of sharing your bounty!!!