As the weather warms, we gardeners start thinking about gardening again. With this in mind I would like to mention the wonderful benefits of a spring garden.
Home-grown vegetables have a richer, fuller, and better taste than store bought since you pick them yourself. Home-grown vegetables are easy and inexpensive to grow as well. Vegetable gardening has a lot of appeal: it can involve the entire family from the little ones to the teens. As well as being an educational tool, the time the family spends in the garden is quality time spent together, and can give one a sense of pride.
In today’s economy more and more families are finding ways to save money, and one way to save money on your grocery bill would be to start your own vegetable garden. Vegetables can be grown from seeds or vegetable starts, and more retail garden centers this year are reporting that vegetable starts and seeds are up from last year’s sales. And with our current economy more families are deciding to spend more time at home and in the garden.
Some of you may be thinking to yourself I have never grown vegetables before, and I don’t think I can grow vegetables now. One of my tasks as a professional horticulturist to a private estate was to grow home-grown vegetables. Before I tried to grow vegetables, I was not too confident about growing them. Now as a Texas Certified Horticultural Professional I advise our retail gardening customers on how to grow vegetables. Last year I took my own vegetable gardening advice that I give to my retail gardening customers, plus my horticultural experience and put all that knowledge to the test. The results of the vegetable garden test are in the pictures included in this article.
The vegetable garden that I planted last year had a wide variety of root vegetables and above ground vegetables. Root vegetables would include: potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, beets, radishes, sweet potato, and shallots. The key to growing root vegetables is giving enough space in between each plant so the actual root (vegetable) will mature and not be misshapen because of planting too close. I grew Georgia Sweet onions from onion sets, Cherry Belle radishes, and Tall Top Early Wonder beets, all from seeds. The wonderful aspect of radishes is that the radishes mature in 22 days, and to have radishes all season replant your seeds every ten days. I was amazed and thrilled at how easy it was to grow vegetables from seed. The above ground vegetables include: peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, spinach, lettuce, peas, beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, and cantaloupes. For the above ground vegetables I grew from vegetable starts, green peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries; and from seed there was Tender Pod bush beans, Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce, Mesclun Sweet Salad lettuce, Little Caesar Romaine lettuce, and Early Long Purple eggplant. For recommended varieties to your area, contact your local extension office.
When planning your vegetable garden, either from vegetable starts or seeds don’t forget to add a little color to the garden. In the last couple of years seed companies have established several different colors in vegetables. You can now purchase peppers, carrots, and tomatoes seeds that will produce a wide range of colors. You can purchase bell pepper seeds that come in ivory, lavender, chocolate brown, yellow, and orange. Wouldn’t some or all of those colors look wonderful in a fresh tossed salad or homemade stuffed bell peppers? Carrot seeds now come in colors of yellow, white, golden yellow, red, light and dark purple, and of course your typical orange. Your family will just go wild over the variety of colors that will adorn the family dinner table each evening. Tomato seeds are now available in different shades of red, orange, yellow, and even a dark brown. With all the vegetable colors that are available on the market today, you can now color coordinate your dinner plate with home-grown vegetables, and become the ultimate gourmet chef without paying a gourmet price tag.
Choosing a Location: Choose an area that gets 5 - 6 hours of full sun; and if, you have an area that receives more than 6 hours of sunlight that’s all right, too.
Choosing a Container(s): Pick a container that is 14 inches or larger, but the lettuces and radishes can be grown in smaller containers. I would like to suggest when growing tomatoes or peppers to put one plant per container.
Choosing Potting Soil: Several commercial potting soils are available, and choosing one is a matter of your gardening preferences. Some of the choices are inorganic verses organic, with moisture control or without moisture control, with timed-release fertilizer or without fertilizer. Some potting soils are especially formulated for vegetables.
Choosing a Fertilizer: Several commercial fertilizers are available, and choosing one is a matter of your gardening preferences. Some of the choices are water soluble, granular, time-release, slow-release, organic, or inorganic. Choose a fertilizer that is formulated for vegetable plants.
Choosing an Insecticide: Choosing an insecticide is a matter of your gardening preferences, and while I was growing the vegetable garden I had an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach method. I would only use Safer Soaps or Horticultural Oils on all the vegetables that I grew, and realistically I hardly had to spray the vegetables at all. I was constantly watching for any insect or worm that would start eating my prize vegetables, and when I did see one I would simply dispose of the insect.
Choosing a Vegetable Support: Some of the vegetable plants that I mentioned above will need to be staked or in need of a vegetable cage such as tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, peas, cantaloupes, and sometimes peppers.
Watering: Of all the ingredients that I have mentioned for vegetable gardening success, water, is the most important to a successful vegetable garden. The soil for your vegetables will need to be consistently moist at all times, and the water source should be city water or treated water. This is one of the reasons for one of last’s years E. coil outbreaks; the vegetables that were recalled received untreated water during the growing process. More gardeners are starting to grow their own vegetables this year versus last year due to the recent E. coli outbreaks in store-bought produce. Just another reason to start growing your own vegetables, you supply the water, you supply the insecticide, and you know exactly what ingredients went into your vegetables. For states that are currently under water restrictions, you can water your food crops, personal food garden, or personal vegetable garden without penalty. Wash all vegetables before eating or cooking.
Planting: There are a few vegetables that do not like to be planted next to each other, and the vegetable combinations to avoid are:
Onions with peas or beans. Tomatoes or squash with potatoes.
Carrots with dill or fennel. Beans with onions and garlic.
Planting Tomato Plants: Another planting rule that has always worked for me is to plant your tomato plants deeper than the original soil line, even if you grow your tomatoes from seed. When you are ready to plant your tomato plants remove two sets of leaves or four leaves total and plant the tomato plant that deep in the soil. You just do this with tomatoes and the reason for this procedure is that tomatoes will establish more roots along the stem where you removed the leaves, and tomatoes require a lot more water than the other vegetables mentioned in this article, and tomatoes are one vegetable that is a heavy feeder, i.e. tomatoes require a steady supply of fertilizer.
An article in Chemically Speaking, January 2009 on honeybees and crop yield that has just been published may entice my readers to plant more than just a vegetable garden this spring. The article states that planting more flowers to attract honeybees will help plants defend themselves against attacks from caterpillars. The study suggests that this could lead to a new biological control method to try.
Put on your gardening gloves and reap the rewards and benefits of a spring vegetable garden. Tastier vegetables than store bought that you harvest on your own. As a vegetable gardener you know the ingredients, and there is nothing more rewarding than tasting the “vegetables” of your labors. Take advantage of Hibiscus and More's 10% off spring coupon of orders $50.00 or more. Hurry the coupon expires June 30, 2009. Use redemption code: Newsletter at checkout.
For more gardening information about Roses visit my Spring Newsletter.
For more gardening information about Roses visit my Spring Newsletter.
All photographs and digital images are ©Cheryl Ann Meola 2007. All Rights Reserved. All photographs and digital images displayed in this article are for viewing purposes only and cannot be duplicated.