I don’t know about the rest of you, but every year, when spring arrives, I just can’t wait to plant my garden! This April has been a little tough for those of us who are hankering to get seeds in the ground. Normally, in Virginia, you can start planting around mid-April. Today is April 29th, however, and we had, yet another, frost last night… hopefully, the last one of the season!
If you have never planted a garden but love the thought of enjoying home-grown fresh vegetables this summer, I’d like to offer a few tips. Let me preface this, though, by stating that I’m no master gardener — FAR from it! Each year is another experiment for Art and myself to try new ideas, new plantings, new trellises… whatever strikes our fancy. This year, we’ve chosen to grow Japanese Popcorn in its own separate, little field. If it goes well, we’re hoping to harvest and bottle it as a new Valley Green Naturals product this fall! (We’ll see how it goes…)
Even if you have limited space, planting and tending a garden can be really fun and simple — and OH-SO Rewarding! Started plants can be found at nearly any garden center, Lowe’s or Home Depot. If you’re looking to grow organic, visit http://www.localharvest.org/ to find garden centers or home growers in your area who offer organic seeds and plants. An important note: Don’t let anyone talk you into buying “Round-up Ready Corn or other seeds.” This is a genetically modified seed that can’t be killed by spraying Round-up weed killer. It is readily available at farmers’ co-ops and garden centers. When Art and I first started growing our own vegetables, “Round-up Ready” was recommended to us by several people. (Besides, who in the world would want to spray their home-grown, fresh vegetables with an herbacide anyway?… we figured that a lot of people must do so… yuck.) Cultivating soil and hand-pulling weeds will ensure a fresh and chemical-free garden for your family and friends!
Plan your garden in a sunny spot. Ideally, you should allow 9 to 12 inches between each planting (2 feet for tomatoes), and you should be able to walk between your rows. Sketch out a plan before breaking dirt so that you have a good sense of what will go where. If your soil is thick clay, you may want to purchase and add some compost to loosen it up a bit and provide nutrients. You would be amazed at how much better your vegetable plants will produce simply by being planted in good soil.
Ok, so my thoughts on some of the easiest vegetables to grow…
#1) Tomatoes. You simply can’t have a garden without growing fresh tomatoes… at least that’s my opinion! For a small garden, buy 1 to 4 plants, depending on how many tomatoes you would like, and how much space you have available. Tomato plants continue to produce all summer long, and they can be big producers if they like the soil and are tended properly. Yellow tomatoes are my all-time favorite! Remember to allow about 2 feet between plants. You will also want to stake or cage them as they grow. Cages are available at local hardware or garden stores. Don’t wait too long to do this as the fruit can get heavy and cause vine breakage.
#2)Green Beans! I suggest bush-style green beans. These are awesome little producers and are very easy to grow from seed planted directly in the garden. Plant seeds about one and one-half inch deep, and cover lightly with soil. Allow about 9 to 12 inches between each plant. I love fresh garden beans so much, I usually grow an entire row of them. They, too, produce all summer long.
#3) Cucumbers. This is one plant that you definitely don’t need too many of! One plant will produce enough cucumbers for you, your kids, your neighbors, your relatives…. well, unless you’re planning to do some pickeling, you will likely be happy with the number of cucs received from one or two plants. Use a staking method or frame with chicken wire to allow the vines to climb and hang off the ground.
#5) Head Lettuce. Just watch out for the bunny rabbits with this one! They love lettuce! We actually planted lettuce from seed last year, and it did very well. I like lots of salads, so I planted two rows. As you cut the heads, new lettuce will grow again! Isn’t amazing how Mother Nature just keeps on producing for us!
#6) Zucchini and Yellow Squash. Every year, I make the mistake of planting too many of these incredible producers! Last year, though, I came up with an amazing zucchini-chocolate bread, so I was able to use most of them throughout the summer. Art and I like to slice and cook them up with organic butter and garlic. Then we serve them over steak or with fish from the grill. They’re awesome! These plants should be allowed quite a bit of space. Plant seeds or plants at least two feet apart, and allow space for some sprawl. These guys really like to stretch out!
#7) Sweet corn. If you have the space available, by all means, plant some corn! Nothing tastes better with a summer barbeque! Find a sunny, square area. If you are REALLY limited on space, Corn can be planted as little as 3 rows deep, by 3 rows wide (9 seeds). In one garden, several summers ago, I planted 5 by 5. Planting in a square is important as each stalk pollinates the others when the wind blows. Seeds should be planted about 9 to 12 inches apart, and your corn should be “knee-high by the 4th of July” to ensure a good summer harvest.
Watering the garden is really only necessary if you go for more than one week without any rain. If I do water, I like to do it first thing in the morning, while everything is still cool outside. It gives the garden a nice “boost” for a hot day.