Ten Steps to a Successful Vegetable Garden
Select a good location
The amount of sunlight, soil type, and other factors are primary considerations when selecting a garden site. Fitting garden areas into the overall design of the landscape also can enhance the property value.
Soil—Vegetables grow best in a well-drained, fertile soil. A well-drained soil is one through which water moves rapidly. When drainage is poor, water replaces the air in soil and roots suffocate. Roots will not develop without a constant supply of oxygen. Vegetables grow poorly in heavy clay or poorly drained soils. Poor soils can often be improved by incorporating compost or well-rotted barnyard manure into the soil. The site should be fairly level to avoid erosion problems. If a slope is the only choice available, run rows across the slope to form contour terraces. This should help minimize soil erosion during heavy rains.
Sunlight—When selecting a garden site, choose an area in full sun. The garden site should receive at least 6 hours of direct sun each day. Avoid shady sites near buildings, trees, or shrubs. If the best garden site is in partial shade, plant vegetables that can tolerate low light intensities, such as lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and parsley.
Plan your garden layout
the next step is to plan the arrangement of crops in the garden. First consider each of the points listed below. Then sketch a map of your garden area showing the location of each vegetable, the spacing between rows, and the approximate dates for each planting.
Size of garden. The size of your garden depends on the space available, the quantity of vegetables you will need, and the amount of work and time you desire to spend. Make the garden just large enough so that it will be interesting and fun for the whole family. Don’t make it become a burden. Proper spacing between rows is important to allow for growth of plants, ease of cultivation, and efficient use of space.
Kinds of vegetables. Choose vegetables that you and your family enjoy. Make sure, though, that they can be grown successfully in your area.Some crops utilize space better than others.
Grow recommended varieties
Gardening success can be greatly influenced by the varieties you use. Select from recommended lists and from those know to do well locally. It is a good idea to try one or two new varieties each year. Plant them next to old favorites for comparison. Keep a notebook or journal from year to year to note what varieties perform best. For mini-gardens, try bush or dwarf varieties and the more colorful ones. Seed catalogues will be a big help in finding these
Obtain good seed, plants, equipment and supplies
Seed. Buy clean, viable, disease-free seed. Most seed from reliable seed companies will meet these specifications.
Plants. Some vegetables do best when they are started indoors and then transplanted into a garden. The plants should be healthy, stocky, medium-sized, disease-free, and insect-free, with good roots. Avoid using plants that are tender, yellow, spindly, or too large. Do not use plants with spots on the leaves, brown lesions on the stems, or knots on the roots.
Equipment. Have all your equipment and tools ready before you begin to work the soil. A hoe, spade, garden rake, trowel, measuring stick, and planting line are essential for all gardens. A wheel hoe or hand cultivator is practically a necessity for larger gardens that are intensely cultivated. A seed drill is also desirable for larger gardens. Keep all tools clean and well sharpened. Each time you use them, clean them thoroughly and rub them with an oily rag before putting them away.
Supplies. Obtain fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides early so that you will have them when you need them. Other supplies you may need include mulching material, stakes, plant protectors, and pots. As you read this guide, make a list of the miscellaneous supplies that are required for the vegetables you are going to plant and have them ready before you begin gardening. Always follow the pesticide label instructions.
Prepare and care for the soil properly
Improve soil tilth. A soil that is in good tilth, or physical condition, is loose and easy to work, and has proper water-holding capacity, drainage, and aeration. You can improve your soil tilth by adding organic matter, either by spreading manure, compost, or similar matter on the soil and working it in before planting or by turning under a green-manure crop.
organic matter and is easy to produce. It can be made from leaves, straw, grass clippings, manure, and any other disease-free waste vegetable crop.
Fertilize the soil. Fertilizer applications should be made before planting. Later in the season additional applications may be necessary.
Have your soil tested, especially if it is your first year in your present location. A soil test will indicate the amount and availability of nutrients in your soil. If you do not who does soil testing in your area, contact your local extension office. The lab will analyze the soil and send results of the test along with fertilizer and lime recommendations for your garden.
Correct soil acidity. A slightly acid soil is best for growing most vegetables. If the soil test indicates that your soil is more acid than it should be, apply the recommended amount of lime. Add lime only if it is needed and avoid overliming.
Some soils are too alkaline. This can be corrected by adding sulfur to the soil. A soil test will indicate whether your soil is too alkaline. Work the lime or sulfur into the soil at the same time that you apply fertilizer.
Plant your vegetables properly
Much of the success of your garden depends on when and how your vegetables are planted.
When to plant. How early you can plant depends on the hardiness of the vegetables and the climate in your area. Certain vegetables can withstand frost while others cannot.
How to plant. There are no magic tricks or difficult techniques in starting seeds or in setting plants. But there are some simple steps you should follow to insure success.
Seeds. In starting seeds in the garden, follow these directions:
- Use disease-free seed.
- Mark out straight rows to make your garden attractive and to make cultivation, insect control, and harvesting easier. To mark a row, drive two stakes into the ground at either edge of the garden and draw a string taut between them. Shallow furrows, suitable for small seed, can be made by drawing a hoe handle along the line indicated by the string. For deeper furrows, use a wheel hoe or the corner of the hoe blade. Use correct spacing between rows.
- Hill or drill the seed. “Hilling” is placing several seeds in one spot at definite intervals in the row. Sweet corn, squash, melons, and cucumbers are often planted this way. Hilling allows easier control of weeds between the hills of plants. “Drilling,” which is the way most seeds are sown, is spacing the seeds by hand or with a drill more or less evenly down the row.
- Space seeds properly in the row. The number of seeds to sow per foot or hill is suggested in Table 2. Space the seeds uniformly. Small seeds sometimes can be handled better if they are mixed with dry, pulverized soil and then spread.
- Plant at proper depth. A general rule to follow is to place the seed at a depth about four times the diameter of the seed. Cover small seeds such as carrots and lettuce with about to inch of soil. Place large seeds such as corn, beans, and peas 1 to 2 inches deep. In sandy soils or in dry weather, plant the seeds somewhat deeper.
- Cover seeds and firm soil. Pack soil around the seeds by gently tamping the soil with your hands or an upright hoe. This prevents rainwater from washing away the seeds.
- Thin to a desirable number of plants when they are young. Remove the weakest plants. Do not wait too long before thinning or injury will result from crowding.
Transplants. Some vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, pepper, sweet potato, and tomato, are usually started in the garden by means of transplants. You can buy these plants or grow them yourself indoors. Follow these directions when setting plants into the garden:
- Transplant if possible on a cloudy day or in the evening.
- Handle plants with care. About an hour before transplanting, thoroughly water plants and soil in the containers (pots, bands, flats, etc.). Roots of plants in flats should be blocked out with a knife to get as much soil as possible with each root. Carefully remove plants without disturbing the roots. Keep a ball of soil around the roots. Keep the roots moist at all times when they are out of the soil.
- Dig a hole large enough so that the transplanted plant sets at the same depth that was growing in the container. The only exception to this rule is if you have tall, spindly tomato plants. They can be set on an angle in a shallow trench. Cover the stem with soil roots will form along the stem.
- Use starter solution to get plants off to a fast start. Mix an all-soluble fertilizer high in phosphorus (e.g. 1-52-17 or 10-50-10) at the rate of approximately 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. When you transplant, place about 1 cup of the solution around the roots of each plant.
- Cover the roots with soil and firm the soil tightly around the plant.
- Protect plants from heat, wind, or cold if necessary. Plant protectors (sometimes called hot caps) made of paper or plastic are available to lessen trouble from frost in the spring. Homemade devices can be made from baskets, boxes, or jars. Do not leave the protector over the plants longer than necessary. If it gets warm during the daytime, remove the protector or open it so that the plants receive ventilation.
Irrigate with care
Water is very important for producing high-quality crops. Although rainfall is a good source of water, there are usually some dry periods during the growing season when you will have to water your garden. It is important to do it properly.
When to water. Water plants once a week during dry periods (when less than an inch of rain falls during a week). Water early enough in the day so that moisture on the plants will dry off before dew appears; this will help prevent disease.
How to water. Soak the soil thoroughly to a depth of at least 6 inches rather than sprinkling the garden lightly at frequent intervals. The water should get down into the root zone of the plant. About 1 inch of water a week, including rainfall, is desirable for vegetables. To measure the amount you are applying, place 4 or 5 cans in the area being irrigated. They will collect approximately the same amount of water as the soil.
Mulch & cultivate to control weeds
Cultivation by hoe or cultivator is the method most commonly used in gardens. The main purpose of cultivation is weed control, although on some Illinois soils cultivation may be needed early in the season to loosen the soil and aerate the roots better.
Begin cultivation as soon as weeds begin to sprout. Repeat cultivations as weeds appear. Do not work the soil if it is too wet. Roots of many vegetables are near the soil surface and can be damaged easily by a hoe or cultivator if you are not careful when cultivating. Shallow cultivation is desirable near plants and later in the season.
Mulching is covering the soil around your vegetables with protective material. Most vegetables benefit from mulching. Tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, beans, and potatoes are some of the crops for which it is most practical to mulch. Besides controlling weeds, the mulch will save moisture, keep the soil temperature more even, and keep the fruits clean.
Leaves, grass clippings, peat moss, sawdust, ground corncobs, straw, foil, paper, and black plastic can all be used for mulches.
Organic mulches, such as sawdust, leaves, straw, or corncobs, should be placed on the soil after the plant is well established; usually this is just after the first cultivation. Spread the material evenly over the soil between the rows and around the plants. Mulches like leaves or straw are usually applied 3 or 4 inches deep.
If you do not apply nitrogen with mulch, be on the alert for a nitrogen deficiency, shown by light green or yellowish leaves.
Chemical herbicides for weed control are not generally recommended for use in home gardens.
Be prepared for pests and problems
Insects and diseases can cause much damage to your crops if precautions are not taken before these pests arrive in your garden.
- Select disease-resistant varieties (see Table 1).
- Use only disease-free plants and seed.
- If possible, buy treated seed.
- Sow thinly and plant at proper distances (see Table 2).
- Keep down weeds in and around the garden (see Step 7).
- Provide good drainage.
- Stay out of the garden when plants are wet.
- If pests become serious, check with your local extension office or garden center for identification and control of the problem
- Rotate crops. Do not plant the same vegetable in the same location the following year.
Harvest at peak quality
he quality of your vegetables cannot be improved after harvest. It is therefore important to harvest your crops at the proper maturity. See Tips on Growing Specific Vegetables for information on harvesting specific crops.
To maintain quality after harvest, handle vegetables carefully. Avoid bruising or damaging them, for injury will encourage decay. Cool vegetables such as sweet corn, peas, asparagus, and leafy crops to below 40° F as soon as possible unless they are eaten immediately.
Vegetable Planting Times – Guidelines for Long Island
HOME VEGETABLE GARDENING
Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners
Questions About Your Vegetable Garden
Tips on Growing Specific Vegetables