This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Whatever your reason is for feeling moved to plant a vegetable garden in these times of turmoil, it’s a good idea. It is good to get out in the fresh air, get some exercise and any time spent in the garden can be therapeutic. Good intentions are all fine and good, but without positive results it might leave you hesitant to try growing your own food again in the future. All it takes is some effort and a few tips will help too. That being said, here are some tips to help your veggie growing efforts turn out successfully…
Location, location, location. We’ve all heard this expression when it comes to successful business plans and the same can be said for gardens. Veggies need sun, at least a half day if you are going to grow anything other than spinach or lettuce. Find a spot on the west or southern side of the house or out in the middle of the lawn that is not shaded by trees or your neighbor’s two-story house. The sunnier, the better!
Feed them and they will grow. If you have had problems in the past with plants just languishing and not really growing, I would bet my bottom dollar that you didn’t provide enough food. Veggies are what we call “heavy feeders” in the horticultural world, which simply means that if you don’t keep them well-fed, they will not perform to your expectations. My preference for food is a well-balanced organic veggie food that should be mixed into the soil at the time of planting, at a rate of twice the label recommendation. If you are a “Miracle-Gro Junkie,” you will need to feed at least once a week.
Beware of topsoil blends. Not to disparage local purveyors of topsoil, but the fact is that three-way and five-way blends are mostly bark, sawdust, sand, occasionally compost, and rarely any real dirt. They are light and easy to spread, but for the most part they need to mature before plants can benefit from them. In other words, manufactured soils typically tie up nutrients initially, which can result in stunted growth. The solution is to counteract this phenomenon by adding extra fertilizer and compost. Again, feed them and they will grow. The other option of course, is to start with a quality planting mix, like Raised Bed Planting Mix from E.B. Stone Organics, that has exactly what your plants need.
What to grow. Not all veggies are easy to grow and for heaven’s sake, don’t grow something that you don’t even like to eat. Forget Brussel sprouts, forget cabbage (one plant can consume 80% of your garden space) and forget corn (unless you’ve got a huge yard). Never plant more than one zucchini plant or you will end up in marital counseling - they are very heavy producers! Potatoes are easy to grow and a veritable treasure hunt at harvest time, but they make absolutely no economic sense - I grow them anyway. I love broccoli so I grow it, and of course, later in the spring I will plant tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and some winter squash. Peppers can be a challenge, but I know people that plant 12 different varieties of them. Long story short, plant what you enjoy eating and what you can grow well.
Transplants versus seeds. Seeds are cheap, but without restraint and thinning, you will get too many plants (think of the zucchini dilemma). Transplants cost more, but they will mature sooner and you won’t get overrun with extra produce. Timing is a factor as well. The later into the season we go, the more we need to just bite the bullet and plant transplants. four-inch tomato plants are fine in April but by May we should be planting gallon ones.
I suppose none of what I have told you here is earth shattering. Veggies need lots of sunlight, plenty of food and water, decent soil, and above all, they need to be harvested at the right time -which simply means you have to tend to your garden on a weekly, if not daily basis, if you are going to truly enjoy the fruits of your labor. This is not a “one and done” project. Veggies do not thrive on neglect, unlike some other garden plants. Stay safe and keep on gardening!
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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