Not since the era of the ‘Victory Gardens’ of WWII has there been a stronger movement towards producing home-grown edibles. Several factors have coincided to help create this unique phenomenon. First, during the most recent financial crisis, and a concurring rise in fresh produce prices, many were encouraged to establish vegetable gardens in order to trim grocery costs. At the same time, the desire for a clean and healthy lifestyle reinvigorated the organic food movement. Outbreaks of contaminated food and fear of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) compelled more homeowners into vegetable gardening and a younger generation of millennials sought the benefits of fresh vegetables from the garden. Farmers markets, specialty grocery stores and expanded produce selections in traditional outlets are all results of these changing social, economic and demographic dynamics.
So, we have more new gardeners than ever before, which is great, but it also presents quite a challenge for the garden center industry as a whole. Success for these new gardeners is critical to help encourage and reward their efforts. Necessary information, so readily available on our computers and phones often cannot address the specific conditions of a particular situation, the precise features of a local community or well-defined gardening techniques that may be most suitable to a given garden site. Bottom line, there is a lot of information out there but it requires some knowledge to sort it all out. Given that this is prime time for vegetable gardening activities I thought it may be helpful for all gardeners (skilled and inexperienced alike) to share a few tried and true tips for successful vegetable gardening.
The first consideration is garden location which should be as sunny and accessible as possible. For many this may include growing in containers which is an excellent way to be successful with vegetables. Next is evaluating the space needed to contain your produce. Some plants take up a great deal of space (corn, squash and pumpkins) while others (lettuce, peppers and eggplant) take very little garden room. Choosing what plants to grow is very much like shopping the grocery store. We most often grow more of what we like and less of what we don’t and the shopper always gets to choose what ends up on the dinner table.
Many contend that it takes a “Green Thumb” to succeed in gardening however experienced gardeners know that good soil is far more important than anything else. For most of us, good soil doesn’t happen by accident but by amending native soils with a healthy supply of organic matter. Healthy soil is a living entity with beneficial microbes that breathe life into the earth. Compost mixed into native soils brings the earth to life providing the perfect environment for plants to grow. Even with good soil, vegetable plants need supplemental fertilization to perform at their best. Organic fertilizers will not only feed plants but also help develop the beneficial soil microbes so crucial for proper plant growth.
There are a few pests that may choose to feed on your vegetable garden plants but often there are little or no control measures necessary and when there are organic alternatives are available. I suggest making regular and close visual inspections of your developing plants and if something does appear amiss, that you bag a sample or send a picture to a qualified local professional for diagnosis.
Some plants are best planted by placing seeds directly in the garden (carrots, beans, peas) while others are best grown with starter plants (tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplants). Some can be planted early in the season, before the last frost date of May 20th (cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and peas) and others are best planted after the soil warms up later in May (basil, tomatoes, corn and peppers).
When growing with starter plants you will want to acclimate new plants to the outdoors before planting them into the ground. Plants grown indoors are not accustomed to low night temperatures and can be damaged by something as simple as direct sun or wind. Set plants outdoors, out of the sun and wind for 3-7 days before planting.
Of course there are many other tricks and techniques to insure gardening success, but if you follow these few suggestions you will have a much greater opportunity for a successful harvest.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt.