It’s wonderful to see how popular vegetable gardening has become this past year. Nowadays it seems like everyone wants to grow their own food! Whether you’re new to vegetable gardening, or have been doing it for a while, it never hurts to pick up some tips. Check out these ideas to make food growing more productive, easier, and fun.
Vegetable gardens may be utilitarian, but they don’t need to be ugly. To create a garden that looks as good as it tastes:
Make long-lasting raised beds from wood or steel. Cedar is expensive, but is one of the longest-lasting woods. Even pine can hold up for years, especially if treated with a food-safe wood preservative.
Lay stone or concrete pavers to define pathways. They look good, and also absorb and reflect heat, raising the soil temperature.
Vegetables with texture, structure and color add beauty: Lacinato kale, rainbow chard, Sungold cherry tomatoes, artichokes, onions and garlic are some examples. Repeating plants in various spots in the garden creates visual rhythm.
Add pollinator-attracting flowers to your vegetable beds. Low-growing, long-blooming alyssum is a pollinator favorite, as are cosmos, bachelor buttons, zinnias, and annual salvia. Not only do they look nice, pollinators get fed and your crops get better pollination.
Add compost or soil amendments two or three weeks before planting, to give the materials time to incorporate.
Add a balanced, granular organic fertilizer with an NPK of 5-5-5 before planting a new crop. This is especially important when growing vegetables in containers.
Can you tell when a radish is at its crunchy best, or has turned woody and tasteless? If you haven’t grown vegetables before, or you’re trying something new, find out each vegetable’s “days to harvest” – how long it takes that crop to mature. Also learn how to tell when a particular vegetable is ripe or past its prime.
Don’t plant too close together. Overcrowding means less light and air reach the entire plant, leading to disease and reduced vigor. The seed packet or plant tag will tell you how much space a plant needs.
When planting transplants, create a small berm of soil around each plant to catch water and direct it to the roots.
If you live in a cool climate, plant the tallest vegetables at the back of the plot, where they won’t shade the plants growing beneath them. Live in a warm climate? If you are growing vegetables that wilt in the blazing afternoon sun, site the tallest growers where they’ll provide shade to those below.
Grow sturdy varieties of tall sunflowers to use as living trellises for vining plants such as cucumbers or squash. You can eat the sunflower seeds or leave them for the birds.
Until all chance of frost has passed, keep sheets or row covers at hand to toss over vegetable beds at night. Cut-off milk jugs or soda bottles work well for individual transplants.
Mulch with straw. This light, attractive alternative to wood mulches can be incorporated into the soil at the end of the growing season. Avoid hay, which is loaded with weed seeds.
Soaker hoses or drip irrigation take the hassle out of watering as well as keep water off plant leaves, which can lead to disease. Systems are inexpensive and easier to use than you might think.
Vegetables are heavy feeders, so fertilize with an organic fish emulsion every two weeks in the growing season.
Immediately remove dead, dying, or diseased plants, fruit, flowers, or foliage. Leaving them can spread disease and attract pests.
If you’re growing annual flowers in your vegetable beds, keep them deadheaded or they’ll quit blooming. Save and dry the seeds of zinnias, bachelor buttons and sunflowers to plant next year. Remember to label them!
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By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs
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