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Making a vegetable garden is often a fun and learning experience for the whole family. Involving your spouse and children in the whole process – choosing what to plant, preparing the garden, planting, weeding, and harvesting – does not only instill valuable skills, but also provide something exciting and challenging to do together for every member of the household.
Vegetable gardening is also great way to take control what you are eating, and live a healthier lifestyle. People who have their own garden at home are more likely to eat more vegetables. In addition, it’s a great form of exercise.
However, as the seasons change, the crops you can plant change as well. Different plants prefer different climates. For instance, spinach quickly goes to seed if it is planted in hot weather.
By planning your garden properly, you can enjoy fresh vegetables at their peak. You can also preserve them by freezing or canning, and have good quality vegetables even during the off-season. Here are a few great tips.
Depending on how severe your winter is, this may be a time to stay inside and plan your garden, rather than doing any actual planting. If you planted root crops in late summer, winter might be the time to harvest them. Most places can’t actually plant crops in the winter, but you can still use this time to get ready for next year’s growing season.
If you don’t have snow on the ground, winter is a great time to improve your soil. Use this time to till in organic matter such as well-composted manure and the leaves you raked off your yard in the fall. The worms and healthy bacteria in your soil will break the organic matter down, and improve the nutritional value of your soil.
If you have never taken a soil sample, winter is a great time to collect soil and send it to a lab for analysis. This will tell you whether you need to add lime or more fertilizer.
“Find out more about this at A & L Eastern Laboratories.
Beneficial results of a soil test depend on a good sample. The sample should represent the area it is taken from. A soil sample must be taken at the right time and in the right way. The tools used, area sampled, depth and uniformity of the sample, information provided, and packaging all influence the quality of the sample.
Late Winter/Early Spring
Spinach, Lettuce, Swiss Chard and the other greens you want for salad are best planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. You can plant them in rows, but they greatly benefit from being planted in either a block or a wide row. When you plant this way, you prepare an area of soil that is about 18″ wide by however long you want it to be, and then broadcast the seed into this area. The plants come up close together, shade the soil, and prevent most weeds from growing.
Onions can also be planted early. Usually, it’s easier to plant onion sets, which are miniature onions that were started from seed the previous year. It is hard to grow onions from seed, but sets are readily available at most feed and garden supply stores and don’t cost that much. Planting sets almost guarantee success. Discover great tips from grow veg.com.
Radishes are a cool weather crop that does well when planted in early spring. They tend to germinate quickly, so it’s helpful to plant a few radishes in each row to mark the rows. Bugs generally don’t like radishes so they can help repel pests.
Peas are also a cool weather crop. Depending on the variety, they may be able to be planted on their own, or may need a trellis they can climb.
Late winter is also the time to start your seedlings indoors. Tomatoes, peppers, and similar vegetables need to be well established before being transplanted into the garden. Plant them in a soilless medium to avoid disease. Keep them in a very sunny window or under grow-lights until they are big enough to go outside. Tomatoes need 6-8 weeks of growth before transplanting. Peppers can benefit from 8-10 weeks.
Before the danger of frost is past, you should be cautious with what you plant. It is possible to plant your sensitive crops like tomatoes, but ideally, don’t plant all your seedlings in case you get a hard frost and lose them. Planting early has benefits, because you’ll get a much earlier harvest. This is especially important if you are hoping to sell vegetables and want to be the first on the block to sell a particular type.
If you are willing to do a little extra work, you can easily protect your tender crops from frost by building grow tunnels, surrounding them with tires, or by simply covering the small plants with blankets or small containers if there is a risk of frost.
Your potatoes should be planted in the late spring because it will take them some time to germinate, so they shouldn’t be at risk of freezing off if there is a frost. Other underground crops like carrots can be planted at this time too.
To stretch your harvest season, plant a second crop of your early spring vegetables. They should be well established before it gets hot, and will be ready for harvest as your early vegetables go to seed.
For the purpose of this article, early summer is the time just after the danger of frost has passed; this will vary depending on your area. Early summer is the time to get the rest of your garden in. At this point, the ground should be warm, and the weather is generally sunny. This is the time of year most people look forward to.
Plant your tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, melons, pumpkins and anything else you want to grow in your garden. All the above plants and many others thrive in well-drained, warm soil. The garden should be located in a sunny area because these plants love to soak up the sun.
To help your plants along even more, plant them in raised beds. This helps keep the soil warmer and improves drainage. You can build formal raised beds, or just rake some of your garden soil into piles and plant your seeds or seedlings there.
When it comes to beans, the more often you pick them, the larger your harvest. Beans want to complete their life cycle by producing seeds. Freshly snapped beans are one of the garden’s best summer treats.
Believe it or not, midsummer is the time to start planning for your fall garden. There is no reason why you can’t continue gardening well into the fall, and supply your family with fresh vegetables long after summer is over.
The main thing to worry about when it comes to fall garden is the fall frost date. Make sure that you choose vegetables that mature prior to that date. This might be a good time to choose varieties that are early maturing. Count back from your area’s first frost date so you know when to plant your fall crops. If you are planting seeds that are mature in 55 days, count back 55 days from your last frost date, then add approximately two weeks more to allow for plenty of harvest time. You can plant just about anything for a fall crop, but the ideal vegetables to choose are beans, and the cool weather crops you planted in the spring.
Planting a fall crop will allow you to have a second harvest of fresh lettuce, radishes or even peas before the cold weather comes.
Dig up all your winter storage potatoes and onions, and harvest all of your winter vine crops, like pumpkins and squash. All of the above don’t need to be harvested until after a frost. A frost will kill the plants above the ground, but the vegetables themselves will be fine. Just be sure to harvest them before the temperature actually drops below freezing.
Never be afraid to experiment when it comes to extending growing seasons. By using grow tunnels, greenhouse frames, or even bringing large potted vegetables indoors, you can grow fresh vegetables for your family almost all year. If you plan properly, and re-plant on a regular basis, you’ll be able to grow more vegetables than you previously thought possible.
Certain plants can be harvested for a long period of time when you continuously re-plant. As mentioned before, beans are one of these crops. Other crops that greatly benefit from a second or third planting include peas, turnips, radishes, and the leafy greens. After the first planting, plant again two to three weeks later.
To make the best use of your garden, and to avoid disease and pests, be careful what you do with plants that are finished producing. You are safe to till under most crops, but be cautious with crops like tomatoes, that are very susceptible to disease. If you till under a diseased crop, you may infect the crop next year. Vine crops can also be risky in this respect so you may want to remove these plants from your garden, and avoid tilling them under or adding them to your compost pile.
Good planning, along with proper weeding and watering will give you a productive garden that yields fresh and cost-effective vegetables all season long.