In the Garden
How to Start a Summer Vegetable Garden
More and more families are seeing the value in converting part of the yard in to an edible garden. Fresh-picked, home grown vegetables and herbs have more nutritional value than store-bought produce which is picked before it is ripe to make the long journey from farm to table.
Vegetable gardening is also an excellent way to teach children about good nutrition, and they are more likely to eat their vegetables when they participate in their growth and harvest.
You don't have to have an acre of land to grow a great vegetable garden. You can even grown many veggies in containers and herbs can grown in a windowsill.
Here are a few quick tips on how to start your own vegetable this summer.
1. Choose a Spot
- Start small, with an area about 4 to 6 feet square, so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Look for a level, sheltered site that’s sunny for six to eight hours a day, and close enough to a faucet or rain barrel that watering it won’t be a problem.
2. Choose Your Plants
List your family favorites, then consider adding a few that might be hard to find at your market. Remember, unless you're going to make preserves, you'll only need enough to eat over the summer.
- Look for varieties that are disease-resistant. For small spaces, choose compact dwarf bush hybrids, and pass on corn.
- For more choices, buy directly from seed companies; most now have online shopping.
- A combination of seeds, homegrown seedlings and nursery plants may work best. Some vegetables thrive when sown outdoors; other varieties do better and yield faster when whole plants go into the garden.
- Keep co-planting, or companion planting, in mind (for example, for pest control, plant basil close to your tomatoes). Marigolds keep bugs away and borage will attract bees.
Tip: Along with your garden plan, keep a notebook of the varieties you plant or snap a quick photo of your garden, too, to remind you where you planted.
3. Planning the Plot
Draw a rough design (graph paper is great for this), consulting your seed packets for spacing, spread and height information. Place the tall plants along the northern edge of the plot so they don't shade the short ones.
- Design your plantings in single wide or staggered rows, in blocks, or on raised beds (each about one square foot).
- You may want to plant a few rows of annual ﬂowers to cut for bouquets, or devote a space in the garden to perennial herbs.
- Include permanent paths, about 2 to 3 feet wide (a good idea, since soil gets compacted underfoot). Mulch with bark or straw, or lay stone or brick pavers.
4. Preparing the Soil
Be patient – working soggy soil compacts it, making it harder for plants to thrive. Squeeze a handful of soil; if it falls apart when you open your ﬁngers, it’s dry enough to dig.
- Measure and mark out the plot with stakes and string, then use a straight-edged spade to cut around the edges. To remove sod, use the spade to cut it into a grid, then lift out each square with a garden fork and shake off the soil. To deter weeds, you can push in metal or plastic edging around the perimeter.
- Using a garden fork and shovel, turn the soil to a depth of at least 1 foot, removing all roots. Cover it with about three feet of composted manure, then work that in, adding compost and a few handfuls of bonemeal, if desired. Finish by raking the surface into a ﬁne texture.
5. Planting Tips
Follow the seed-packet instructions for each type, then tamp the soil and keep it moist until the plants are established.
- Plant homegrown or nursery plants on cooler days, if possible, to reduce transplant stress.
- Stake peas, beans and tomatoes; use branches, a fence and tomato cages.
- Leave some space for additional plantings, such as lettuce, to ensure a fresh supply, or a midsummer planting of corn or beets.
- In the following years, remember to rotate crops. Don't plant the same thing (or a related plant) in the same spot two years in a row.
6. Watering and Weeding Your Garden
- Don't spray plants directly with a hose. Water the soil around the plants with a watering can or lay a soaker hose along the rows. Either method conserves water and keeps plants dry, which reduces mould and disease (if you're really lazy, put the hose on a timer).
- To make it easy on plants, hand-pull or hoe weeds before they get big. Plan on half an hour a day to keep them under control.
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