As you are awaiting planting time, you are most likely already planning what you would like in your vegetable gardens. If you are like me, you are probably anxiously paging through seed and plant catalogs. Some people love to start their own seeds in their homes, but you need good lighting and room to spread out. Some people go overboard and get easily overrun by all of the plants they have grown. Remember, you do not have to use all of the seed in the packets! If you try to plant all of the seeds, you will be up to your ears in plant material. It is best to start with containers big enough for continual growth because you do not want to deal with transplanting in the house. You will probably have to thin out and pinch the plants to give them a nice and sturdy growth habit.
Once the weather starts to become favorable, you can start introducing the seedlings to the natural elements outside. Remember to ease them into becoming acclimated. One windy day could snap your hard work off at the base! Until the risk of frost has lifted, keep the plants indoors or undercover to protect their tender shoots.
In mid-May, start working your soil to prepare for planting. This is a great time to add compost or fertilizers to your soil. Towards the end of May, the risk of frost is gone and you should start sowing your seeds. For maintenance purposes, you may want to apply a light layer of mulch around your seeded rows to prevent weed growth. Another good way to prevent weed growth in your seeded crops is to plant these in a smaller raised bed so you easily maintain these plants. If I know that I have a busy summer ahead of me, I skip planting seeded crops like carrots, beans, peas, and lettuce because I know that I won’t have time to be weeding them out.
To help combat weed issues in my garden, I usually lay down a weed barrier or mesh with landscape staples. This covers the entire garden, and I slice holes in where I want to plant. I only had to weed once when the plants were first starting to take off. The mesh usually holds water in nicely and only in extreme heat, do I have to supplement water.
There are two types of crops in the vegetable world:
Cool Season Crops: They thrive in cooler temperatures lower than 70 degrees. Cool crops include broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, carrots, cabbage, brussels sprouts, lettuces, leeks, peas, radishes, kales and more! They mature when the weather is cool and their growth slows when the heat of the summer comes. A lot of these crops can be replanted in late summer for the second round of harvest.
Warm Season Crops: They include beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, zucchini and summer squash, pumpkin and winter squash, sweet potato, tomato, and watermelons. A lot of these plants are best started as seedlings because they take a while to get started if cool weather persists in spring. They usually have longer growth periods, so one planting will get you through the entire growing season.
When planning what to plant next to each other. Look at when they will produce and what size they are going to grow to be. You don’t want to grow your tomatoes and squash next to each other because right when the tomatoes are ready to be harvested, you will be fighting your way through the squash vines to find your tomatoes. You may want to consider putting your heavy producing vegetables toward the edges, so you can check them easily and harvest without disturbing other plants. If you have vining veggies like peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and squash, it will be beneficial to give them trellises because it will make harvesting easier. It will also save a lot of space for other fun goodies.
If you have had problems with insects or disease previously, try to move the plant to a different area of the garden because disease and insects can overwinter. Remember to clear any remaining plant debris out of the area. Be careful when treating for any insect problems, you do not want to hurt the pollinators or contaminate your produce. Read the product label to see if it is safe for vegetables. A good way to keep bad bugs away from your crops is to interplant with marigolds. Try using a soapy mixture to spray on the plants, beer, or garlic usually keeps them away. Neem oil is also a great organic resource for pests and diseases.
Once your garden is growing steadily, it may not hurt to fertilize every couple of weeks to give them a boost in the middle of summer. Once the produce is ready to be picked, remember to store them in a dry and cool area so that they do not spoil as easy. If you become overrun with vegies, see if any food pantries are looking for food or set at the end of the driveway with a “free” sign and it will be gone soon! Look for fun recipes for baking, preserving and eating fresh. The possibilities are endless!