Are you thinking about starting a Home Vegetable Garden this year? Here are some must read tips to get you off to a strong start!
Home Vegetable Garden
Plan Your Garden in the Winter
The best time to plan your spring garden is winter! Beginning in January the seed catalogs come out in full force. Sign up to get your free catalogs to figure out what you want to grow. You’ll be amazed by the varieties of each vegetable – so many more delicious options than the run-of-the-mill varieties at most grocery stores.
Plot out what you are Planing Where
I like to plan where my vegetables will go in excel. The squares are great for visualizing where things will go. Plus I love that each tab can be a different years’ garden plan so I can remember where to rotate my crops, but more on that later.
In our plan (see above) each square is a foot.
Make it Fun for Kids
Make it fun for kids to plan what you are going to plant in you vegetable garden by cutting out the pictures of what you want to grow and gluing them to a piece of paper in the arrangement you’d like.
Take your plants growing habits into consideration
Each plant has a different growth habit. Pole beans and tomatoes can reach over 6 feet while cucumber and pumpkins like to send runners through the garden. You will want to plan your garden to make sure your tall vegetables don’t shadow your shorter crops. If you put cantalope too close to your peppers with will intertwine and the peppers will not get the light they need.
Try Something New!
Modern grocery stores have made us believe there is one type of green beans, 4 colors of peppers, and one color of tomato. But there are so many more delicious and fun-to-grow options out there! So read the description in the catalog to make sure you are in the right growing zone for a particular crop and then drive in! Try growing a sweet yellow watermelon, chocolate tomato, purple pepper, or pretty purple pole beans!
Prepare your Soil
As long as weeds grow in an area, you can grow crops. But that doesn’t mean you will have robust, bumper crops without a little prep. You can take an analysis of your soil if you like.
- As soon as the soil can be worked it is time to get prepping! So not too wet, moist is okay, and you can stick a shovel easily in the ground.
- Start out by clearing off any weeds
- Add in compost, leaves, manure, etc. to improve your soil
- till the soil by hand with a space or a tiller so that the top 12-14″ is light and fluffy.
Consider Planting in Raised Gardens
While it may take more time and be slightly more expensive, you will love planting in raised gardens. You will need wood or similar to make a “box”. Ideally you want it to be at least 12″ off the ground. Never step in the box so the soil will always stay light and fluffy, easy to plant, easy to weed, and idea for roots to grow. The higher you go the less work on your back…. but there is more expense in filling in dirt.
HINT: Don’t make it any wider than 4 feet so that you can easily get to all of your garden bed without setting foot inside.
Our Favorite Seeds
- Carrots – Envy Hybrid (66 days) – After using this variety last year I will NEVER try another kind! We got an average of 12” long carrots. They were not split at the bottom (they plowed right through our clay soil), did not have hard cores, were uniformly sized (not extremely tapered which made them easier to peel), and the most delicious carrots we tasted! PERFECT!!
- Peas – Alderman – the vines grew over 5 feet tall and produced a LOT of peas. Each pod had about 10 plump peas in each. The plant did amazingly well even in the unusual spring we had (when my other variety died out). Heat tolerant & all around amazing producer.
- Tomatoes – For a HUGE harvest of sauce tomatoes go for the Super Marzano! The plants got 9 feet tall!! The extremely LOADED plants even pulled over my meg square cages that never come over. The fruit was almost coreless & seedless. It was all meaty & produced very thick sauce that we preserved to use all winter – YUM! (Note: The only reason we aren’t doing these again is with our vacation plans we are afraid we will not be home for the big harvest or would just be getting back & we’d have a LOT of preserving to do.)
- Beans – Pickin & Grinnin was an amazing producer for us last year (even in the odd season that reeked havoc on most of my other crops). Once it was ready it produced over and over and over throughout the end of the summer. Very tender 6-7” long beans on compact ‘bushes’; no staking required! We saved the pails from berry picking – they made GREAT kid size baskets (10” deep and 12” wide)
- Peppers – We had AMAZING results with all 3 varieties we planted last year: Wonder Bell, Lady Bell, and Golden Star. All produced THICK walled fruit that lasted for weeks and weeks on the vine. It was incredibly full flavored. Each plant set about 8-10 peppers at a time; with plenty more after we picked the peppers. The peppers were still going strong when we had to pull them out to prepare for winter.
Seed Companies to Order From
- Territorial Seed Company – I feel like they have the best variety you will find anywhere! There are dozens and dozens of choice per plant. The plants thrive in my garden (even when they have to wait a couple weeks to get planted). The only downside is cost. I feel that they are a more expensive & they rarely have coupons. So if I can’t find what I want elsewhere….. then I know I will find it here!
- Henry Field’s – This is my favorite. You will find a large variety of choices, great descriptions, online customer reviews, PLUS coupons for $25 off an order of $50. They have quality products!
- Gurney’s – They have good products, but limited selection. They usually have the best coupons (giving you $25 off $50, $50 off $100 etc.) but like I said they have a choice or two for each product and not much unique items. If you are just starting gardening maybe this is a good choice.
- Gardens Alive – I got $25 free (no minimum purchase) to try them out. They have all natural fertilizers, garden solutions, and organic plants & seeds. They also have a descent selection of heirloom seeds. So if you are looking for great quality, but fewer choices they are a great option.
I think the reason I love gardening so much & that our garden does so well is all the help I have from my kiddos & all the love they give to the veggies =-) We have such precious memories gardening together. One year we got 30 (10-12”) cantaloupe from a 16 square feet of garden!! We kept joking Goofy could be the only kid with a melon stand instead of a lemonade stand!!
Why Rotate Crops
Only Plant What You Will Eat
Talk to your Neighbors!
Keep that Garden Growing
- Keep those weeds pulled! It is easier to get them picked when they are little so week often! Weeds not only look aweful, but more importantly they steel nutrients, sunlight, and water from your intended plants!
- Water Smart – Keep a rain gauge to see how much watering your plants are getting naturally so you know what you need to supplement. You want a couple inches of water ever 5 days or so. It is much better to water all at once than just a sprinkling it ever day. Why? You want to encourage your plants to send deep roots. If you water frequently they will form surface roots which makes the plants weaker and if you ever forget to water your plants will suffer terribly. If you water deeply, plants will send deep roots making it a stronger plant and more able to withstand not being watered for a time. Remember, you are not watering the leaves… you want to water the roots. So drip hoses are best to just focus on watering the dirt. Watering leaves not only will not accomplish your goal, but may also put your plants at risk for powdery mildew.
What’s New This Year
Like I mentioned before with lots of mini trips to use up vacation time I am not doing some of the interesting things I’ve tried in the past (peanuts, beets, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, watermelon, additional tomatoes & peppers). This year I am maximizing on things we love that will be ready towards June/July. I am trying to use two different varieties that will be ready at different times to give us extended crops: potatoes, corn, peas, green beans, carrots, and spinach. My 4 square feet of garden I save for 6 feet tall cucumbers usually produces 35 jars of pickles; so no need to add to that favorite!
Last year I did not start seeds indoors and it worked out great. I checked our forecast on May 1st (and with no frost in the forecast) put all the seeds in the ground. This of course varies by your planting zone (found in all seed catalogs!) I found that planting directly in the ground took exactly the same amount of time as starting them indoors, but with less mess & time!! YEAH!! The only exception to that is I bough my peppers & tomatoes as plants.
TIP – I sprinkle grape kool-aid around corn when I plant it to keep the birds from eating it – works GREAT!
My kids are already looking forward to helping me plant our seeds and I look forward to harvesting garden fresh veggies!! We always save a LOT of money & I know where my veggies come from. So, are you planting a garden this year?