It's time to start gardening! If you are thinking about a vegetable garden, this article is for you. There are few things better than picking your own lettuce for dinner, or picking a handful of cherry tomatoes as a snack. Vegetable gardening is as simple as you want to make it. Why not try tomatoes or eggplant in containers? For the more adventurous, larger gardens have a few basic requirements; select the sunniest site possible, make sure you have access to water, fencing is almost always necessary, and prep your soil.
Traditional layouts suggest rows run North/South, tall crops on the north side, early Spring crops (such as peas) on the Southern border to be tilled in early Summer for another crop. There are also historic layouts, such as Three Sisters, and Hidatsa, which focus on companion plantings - specifically corn, squash and beans. For more information on companion plants, what they are, why they work click here.
Another alternative to traditional layouts are raised beds. Raised beds have many benefits - the soil warms faster - so you can plant earlier, they have better drainage, you can install a layer of mesh on the bottom to keep rodents out and they are easier to weed. TIP: When building raised beds, be sure you can reach to the center of the bed.
What to plant? This is personal preference. Plant what you and your family eat, but be creative - try edemame (soybean), or cherry tomatoes as a new snack. Plant violas as an edible flower to add to salads. Peas are an early reward for spring gardeners. Green beans are bountiful and can be canned, pickled, and of course, eaten fresh out of the garden. Peppers, hot and sweet, - make your own hot sauce! If you have the space, plant different varieties of squash - Summer, Acorn, Butternut all have vastly different flavors and uses. Plant pumpkins for Halloween decorating and Thanksgiving pies.
Seeds vs Plants - Again, this is personal preference. Because our growing season can be fickle,and I see the care given to seedlings in our Greenhouses, I use plants as much as possible. Certain crops, such as radish, beet, carrot, pea - are almost always direct seeded into the garden. Lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes can be started from seeds, then transplanted into the garden, or purchased as plants to be transplanted into the garden. If planting seeds, make sure you read the labels on the seed packaged for the appropriate time to plant, and spacing between plants.
So you have planted your garden, what now? Water, weed, feed, weed, water - you get the gist of this - like every garden, your vegetable garden needs regular watering, weeding and feeding. Some plants need more water than others - tomatoes for example usually need more water than peppers. All will need to be weeded. Remember you are eating what you are growing, so be selective if using any weed prevention, bug repellant and fertilizers. Espoma has a line of fertilizers approved for Organic Growers, Tomato-Tone, and Garden-Tone for example. Safer has a line of certified organic fungicides and insecticides for use in organic vegetable gardens. As always, follow the instructions on the labels.
As Summer progresses, enjoy the veggies of your labor
Landscape fabric has been successfully used in gardens for a long time to prevent weeds and conserve moisture. What's new is a product that incorporates weed cloth with drip irrigation that connects to your garden hose. EvoOrganics weed free watering blanket is a must for busy gardeners.