It’s time for reading, seeding and weeding
Our world has gone topsy-turvy recently, and we are all hunkering down and staying close to home. There has never been a better time to start a home vegetable garden than now.
Plotting it out
May is a great time to plant all of the warm-season vegetables. If you are growing tomatoes, peppers and
eggplants, you usually want to start with transplants (small plants) instead of seeds. These are readily available now at most nurseries and garden centers. For green beans, corn, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon and winter squash, seeds are a great way to plant. Okra and Southern peas are also grown from seeds, while sweet potatoes are grown from a slip.
Seed packets actually have a lot of information on them, such as proper spacing. If you plant seeds too close together, it will impact the size of the mature vegetables. Seed packets also say how deep to plant seeds and how long it will take from planting until harvest.
Your vegetable garden may be an in-ground garden, a raised bed or large containers — all will work, provided you have at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. The soil should be well-drained and free of grass and weeds. Plant taller vegetables to the north, with shorter vegetables to the south. This allows vegetables to get as much sunlight as possible.
If space is limited, consider trellising vining vegetables.
Till or work up the soil. Broadcast some complete fertilizer like 13-13-13, then plant. If you are growing from transplants, you can mulch as soon as you plant. If you are growing from seeds, let them emerge before adding a layer of mulch. Mulch helps keep weeds at bay, keeps the moisture in and helps to moderate the soil temperature.
In a vegetable garden, you have plenty of options for mulch. Shredded paper, shredded leaves, rice hulls, newspaper, cardboard and straw all work. Avoid bark mulch or pine needles, which take a long time to break down. In about six weeks, side-dress with more fertilizer. Don’t be heavy-handed with fertilizer. Too much fertilizer won’t make your plants fat, but it can burn them up. Light applications of fertilizer applied more frequently are a good idea for home gardeners.
Watering and monitoring
Water is critical for a garden’s success. Too much or too little presents problems. If time allows, water early in
the day so foliage can dry before nightfall. Thoroughly wet the soil when you water. More irrigation will also leach fertilizer out more quickly, so you may need to add additional fertilizer to containers. A water-soluble solution works well.
Monitor for weeds, insects and diseases. There is no such thing as a weed-free garden, but if you catch them early and use good mulch, weeds will be fewer. A good, sharp hoe makes weeding easier. Weeds are not only competition for vegetable plants, they can also be a breeding ground for insects. If you spot an insect or a disease, proper identification will help determine proper control. Take a good picture of the pest, and send it to your local county extension agent or nursery.
There are numerous pesticides on the market, both organic and non-organic. They all don’t work for every pest, so proper identification is critical. Read and follow the label directions. Be careful applying insecticides when bees are actively foraging. If you are spraying during harvest season, know the waiting period from spray time until harvest.
An abundant harvest
Harvest vegetables when they are at the peak of maturity. Picking vegetables early in the day before temperatures heat up will improve the flavor.
A good companion planting with a vegetable garden is an herb garden. Herbs may be annuals or perennials. If you plant perennials, put them to one side of the garden, as they will be a permanent addition, and containerize the more aggressive herbs like mint, garlic chives and oregano. Great summer annual herbs include dill and basil, while the most popular perennial herbs are thyme, rosemary and sage.
There is nothing better than homegrown vegetables straight from the garden to the plate. And if you are really successful, you can take up canning and preserve what you have grown.
So, grab your shovel, some seeds and plants and start growing!