Nothing is more satisfying than harvesting your own vegetables. It’s a local as it gets. But where to start? What to plant? Is it hard (no)? Is it better to use seeds or transplants? Both. How much sun and space do I need? (Lots of sun, not so much space.) When do I start planting and do I plant all the vegetables at the same time? (See pdf below. If you don’t have a printer, we have copies at the store.)
To get you ready for spring veggie planting, all the information is below. Read on and if you have questions, post them in the comment section and we’ll answer them.
Short on Space, Too Tired To Bend Over?
There are lots of ways to plant a vegetable garden. No yard? Live in an apartment? Try containers on the balcony. Claim a spot in a community garden. Can’t bend over? Can’t squat down? Try raising those raised beds to a height where you can stand or sit while weeding. Prefer the old-fashioned way of digging up the dirt and laying out rows? And, you have space for it? Mark your spot and get started. There is no shortage of ways to grow your own food and herbs. Dirt in a pot or dirt in your yard. All you need is sun and some determination. Let’s start with cool-season veggies, which you can plant now.
Cool Season Vegetables
Some vegetables prefer cooler temperatures, some need warm temperatures, especially at night. Cool-season vegetables can be planted beginning now, warmer ones, like tomatoes, need the nighttime temperatures to be consistently above 55 degrees. (Again, see the pdf above for a chart on planting times.) Here’s a printable list to make errands a bit simpler this week.
Question? Do I use seeds or transplants?
Answer. Both. Try radishes from seed. They germinate easily and quickly and can be harvested in a few short weeks. Depending on the variety, you can be pulling up radishes within a month. Broccoli is much slower from seed—-100-150 days to harvest. So, start with transplants which will shorten your harvest time to 50-60 days. Lettuces don’t like heat, so take advantage of the cooler temperatures and use starts to make the harvest last longer. The staff is happy to guide you in this and help you be successful in learning what works best for you.
Question: What happens if there is a frost?
Answer: You will need to cover germinated plants and transplants with frost cloth or cloches to protect them. Cover at night and remember to remove coverings first thing in the morning. Keep them handy. There’s the possibility for another frost through Mother’s Day.
Warning: if you’re a beginner, go smaller. It’s easy to get overwhelmed once the weeds start growing or the pests show up. Smaller allows for trial and error that every gardener has.
Here’s what you’ll need.
Sunshine. Vegetable plants need 6 hours of sunlight daily, preferably the middle-of-the-day-sun, not the morning sun or late afternoon. Measure your sunlight in different areas (this means keeping track during a day when you’re home) to find the right spot. If you’ve lived in your home 10+ years, assume your landscape has gotten shadier (and perhaps, you haven’t noticed).
Good soil. Soil should allow for root development and good drainage. Water cannot pool in the garden (clay) or run straight through (sandy). Add amendments as necessary. Compost, Kickin’ Chicken, Manure (products we carry) all work to build healthy, productive soil for your garden. For a quick overview of good garden soil, click here. To learn how to calculate how much soil you need for raised beds, read here. A soil test is pretty essential. You can send off your soil samples by following these simple instructions, or you can purchase kits at the store. (Our kits give you an abbreviated description of your soil). You can download a soil sample from here if you want to get a full report from the North Carolina State University Extension Service. Note: You must pick up the soil sample boxes at a local extension office.
For beginners: Don’t be intimidated by all this soil talk and testing. It’s a simple, easy tool to help you be successful. Don’t skip this part (unless you’re growing in containers), and don’t be afraid of soil. It’s the foundation of your garden, and good things will come from it!
Access to water. In the event of a lack of rain, you’ll need to be able to water sufficiently. We’ve had a few good showers of rain lately, but vegetable gardens need rain weekly not once a month or so. Consider rain barrels for storing water for dry days, and give the water bill or well a break. Vegetable gardens need an inch of water over the surface area of the garden bed per week. A rain gauge is very helpful to have near-by and they’re not expensive. To calculate the amount of water your garden needs click here. Don’t forget a good water hose. One can never have too many.
Watering tip: Double-check hoses in early spring for leaks and invest in new ones when necessary. Nothing discourages watering more than knowing it won’t just be the plants that get a good drenching when you’re watering. Good watering hoses are essential.
Space. Determine your space needs. Remember the caution of starting small. This is not a go-big-or-go-home situation. Smaller is better when starting, and small gardens do produce a lot of vegetables. A plot 16′ x 10′ will feed a family of four with extra for give away. If you don’t have that much space, scale it back, but if you have more, don’t get tempted. Vegetable gardens require weeding, watering, fertilizing–basically, some tender care. Be realistic regarding the time and energy you have. Read the back of your seed packets to note how much space is required between plants. Remember, those vegetables will grow and leaf out. If they’re too crowded, less sunlight and air will be able to filter through which results in weak, and long-legged plants as well as open invitation for disease. Err on the side of more space until you’ve planted a few years.
Plant easy to grow veggies. You’ll find heirloom plants and unusual vegetables, both good things, when you shop for your veggies, but go for a few of the tried and true. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow and come in many varieties. They’re a great garden ego booster because you’re guaranteed a harvest. That’s good for the beginner’s soul. The unusual veggie is fun too, and so definitely try some things you’ve never tasted, but give yourself a good beginning with plants that are going to produce for you. Nothing gets you hooked on growing a vegetable garden better than actually harvesting that garden. Nothing is more discouraging than a having little-to-no harvest. Some easy vegetables to grow? Onions, garlic, radishes, lettuces, and squash. Be sure to ask fellow gardeners what works for them.
Tenacity. This comes in handy because weeding is a chore you need to stay ahead of. Keeping the weeds out of the garden is essential because of competition for sunlight, water and much needed nutrients. If follow-through isn’t your thing, give yourself permission to head to the Farmer’s Market without the guilt. There are plenty of things to grow that only require admiring.
Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, and blog writer.
BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.