I’ve been gardening vegetables for quite a while now, and I’ve learned some lessons the hard way. Vegetable gardening offers some great rewards – the pride and satisfaction of cultivating beautiful edible plants and the savings on the weekly grocery bill! Here are some tips that should help you plan and grow healthy fresh vegetables in your vegetable garden.
The Versatile Legume
There are two basic types of beans – bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans do not need support, and pole beans are climbers. In my garden, I normally grow bush beans because they require less work. Call me lazy. Call me well-fed.
But I’ve found that pole beans are best in my vegetable garden are nice because they can climb along old fences or up the stalks of taller plants like sunflowers. I’ve also used pole beans to beautify my vegetable garden. I’ve planted these tall bean plants at the end of each row of the vegetable garden, making arches from tree limbs bound to make arches from row to row. The pole beans grow along the branches, making an attractive frame for the vegetable garden.
Beans are a warm-season crop and are easy to grow. They like rich, warm, sandy soil. They need full sun and well-drained soil. Also, I’ve found that they grow better when I rotate them with other vegetables every other growing season.
For the best tasting beans, I wait until all danger of frost has passed and dig the vegetable garden deep. Normally, I work the garden several weeks before I plant the beans because birds will eat the insect eggs and larvae that might damage my plants later. Then I work some lime into the soil to give the beans a healthy start.
I plant my bush beans from one to 1-1/2 inches in the surface and about eighteen inches apart. My pole beans need more space with rows three feet apart for best results. Bush limas need more space than most dwarf bean plants – as much as pole beans. Remember to plant the beans edgewise with the eye pointed down.
Generous spacing allows for easy cultivation with a hoe through the growing season. And if my bean plants get to high, I just pinch off the ends of the growing plants. This encourages outward, rather than upward, growth.
Bush beans include dwarf, snap or string, wax, limas, and what is called brittle beans. Pole beans include pole limas, wax, and scarlet runner. The scarlet runner is a wonderful decorative addition to my vegetable garden. Its flowers are deep red and look great against my old fence. Scarlet runners are nice additions to flower gardens and anywhere you want a vine. The nicest thing about the scarlet runner is that you get both beauty and food.
You Can’t Beat Beets!
Beets are root vegetables that grow on flowering plants. They’re easy to grow, and you can eat almost all of the plant. The top leafy part (a good source of Vitamin A) can be used fresh in salads, and the roots (good source of Vitamin C) can be cooked. Believe it or not, the leafy green part is more nutritious than the root!
While beets tolerate heat, they do best in a cooler climate. They’re good for a long growing season, and you can stagger planting to assure a continuous supply of fresh beets throughout the rest of the year.
Beets need organic soil to grow well. My beets do best in rich, sandy loam. I learned the hard way that fresh manure is fatal for beets. A particle of manure next to a beet root can doom a young plant. To avoid this, I dig a foot-deep trench, spread a very thin layer of manure at the bottom of the trench, and cover the manure with well-crumbled top soil. That way, you get the fertilizer benefits of the manure while also protecting your young beet plants.
When planting, I space rows about one foot apart to leave enough room for cultivation of my vegetable garden. Beet “seeds” are really clusters of small seeds in a dried fruit. They won’t grow well if they’re transplanted, and they need to be handled more carefully than many other vegetables. I plant the seeds about one-half inch deep in the rows. I’ve also found that I have to thin my beet sprouts to keep them healthy. Beets have very shallow roots, so I have to weed the vegetable garden often so that they don’t have to compete with weeds for important nutrients.
The Diverse Cabbage Family
The Crucifer family – cabbages – include many vegetable plants: cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, and kohlrabi (a combined cabbage-turnip).
The high-classed cauliflower needs rich soil and doesn’t tolerate frost. I’ve learned to give my cauliflower plenty of manure water for extra richness. Like with young cabbage, the outer leaves should be well- bent to get a healthy white head. I’ve found it best to plant and easier to grow the dwarf varieties.
Kale is not so picky. Though it needs rich soil like cauliflower, it can tolerate frost. Because kale matures slowly, it needs to be planted in early spring. But you can also plant it in early fall to get an early crop the following year.
The popular brussel sprout is a good substitute for the larger common cabbage plant. I enjoy growing brussel sprouts in my vegetable garden because their stalk stands tall. Almost like an umbrella, the top is a closed head of leaves. But this is not the part we eat. The umbrella crown shades the delicious small cabbages (sprouts) that grow along the stalk.
Like most Crucifer plants, brussel sprouts need rich soil and lots of water. I plant the seeds in May and then transplant the young plants in late July. My vegetable garden rows for brussel sprouts are 1-1/2 inches apart, and I put the plants about a foot apart in the garden rows.
Kohlrabi bridges the gap between cabbage and turnips. Sometimes called the turnip-root cabbage, its stem expands into a turnip-like vegetable. The true turnip swell is underground, but the kohlrabi’s edible part is above ground. Kohlrabi is easy to grow, but I have to encourage the plants to grow fast. Growing too slowly, the swell gets too woody for good eating.
I like to plant the seeds inside in early spring and then transplant them to my vegetable garden as the weather and soil get warmer. I form my vegetable garden rows two feet apart, and put the young plants about a foot apart when I transplant them to the outdoors. Kohlrabi seeds go a long way – an ounce of seed will produce a hundred-foot row of plants. A great early crop, I prepare and serve my kohlrabi like I do with turnips.
One of my favorite cabbage plants is the Savoy. It’s one of the best varieties for cooking, especially for slaw and salads, and it’s best for growing in poor soils. I plant seeds early in the year (February) under cover and then transplant the young plants to my vegetable garden in the spring (March or April). The closer together I plant the young savoy, the smaller their heads. So I try to provide for at least one foot of space in all directions around each young plant.
What’s Up, Doc, with Carrots?
Carrot is a hardy cool-weather plant that creates a thick root in its first growing season. There are two general types of carrot plant: long roots and short roots. For healthy long-root types, I have to work the soil down to at least eighteen inches. The short carrots do well in eight inches of sandy soil. Like beets, carrots don’t tolerate manure very well.
I’ve also found that I must thin carrots frequently. As the seedlings sprout, they are too close together and compete for nutrients and sunlight. I thin a little, wait a while, and then thin again. I love growing carrots because I can harvest the young tiny carrots for my table. I can also wait and have big Bugs Bunny type carrots for my kids.
Cucumbers – the Fresh Pickle
Cucumbers are really fruit, but they can be grouped with gourds among vegetables. I’ve heard the cucumber originated in India. It’s a creeping vine that roots and grows in spiraling strands or climbs trellises or other supports. Its large leaves shade the fruits.
I get the best plants when I use light, sandy, organic soil. And I’ve also found it’s best to plant them on a slope where drainage is easiest. In hot-houses, they can hang from the ceiling where they become beautiful hanging vines. I’ve seen some brave vegetable gardeners keep a hive of bees in their hot-houses to help with cross-fertilization of their cucumber plants.
I’ve found that it’s best to plant the seeds indoors, covered with one inch of rich soil. In an area of about 30 square inches, I plant six seeds with the germinating end down. When all frosts are past, I plant each set of six plants, together with the original planting soil, in the open vegetable garden. Later, I plant them in hand-made hills with four feet of space on all sides.
Let Us Have Lettuce
Lettuce is one of the earliest human vegetable crops, growing wild before it was cultivated by man. I can tuck it into spaces throughout my vegetable garden. It’s a very decorative plant, with a compact head and lovely big green leaves.
As the lettuce plants age, they go to seed. I pull them up, as I have no interest in going into the seed business. But I do want fresh tender lettuce throughout the season. The only way I have achieved this is by planting in early spring and then planting again every ten days or so throughout the summer.
There are many varieties of lettuce with different planting and growing requirements. I prefer leaf, cos, and butterhead lettuce because I can plant them anytime in the early spring. I’ve found that my lettuce doesn’t do well in the heat, so I stop planting about a month before the hottest part of the summer. But I’ve planted lettuce plants in the shade of other plants in my vegetable garden and planted late in the summer to get good fresh lettuce into the fall.
I plant lettuce seeds shallow – from a quarter to half an inch deep – in rows about a foot apart. Then I thin the seedlings so that plants have six to eight inches between them. The nice thing is that I can serve the seedlings I’ve thinned in my early spring salads. Nothing goes to waste.
More than Veges in My Vegetable Garden – Melons
Though they originated in Asia and parts of Africa, melons pleased the taste of ancient Romans. They’re a summer fruit, often grown in hot-houses. They need a lot of space, a lot of heat, and a lot of sun. They also need 3-4 months of growing time, fertile soil, and lots of water.
I prepare 2-3 foot mounds spaced 4-6 feet apart for my melon plants. The mound soil should be compost-rich. Sprinkling sand or lime on and around the mounds helps prevent insect damage to the young plants.
As they grow, the vines get to heavy to stand on their own, so I provide something like tennis netting for the vines to follow. I plant eight seeds in a mound, setting them about two inches apart, and planting them about an inch deep. Watermelon plants need more space – up to ten feet between each mound.
When the plants reach about four inches in height, I reduce the number to two per mound, always picking the sturdiest plants. I cut the close to or below the surface rather than pulling plants up as this is likely to damage the roots of the remaining plants.
One word of advice – be very careful in watering your melons. They’re vulnerable to fungal diseases, and overhead watering may be dangerous for them. I’ve found that drip-irrigation, a slow trickle at the base of the plant, keeps my melons growing healthy throughout the growing season.
The Joys of Vegetable Gardening
I love my vegetable garden. It gives me many hours of peace and serenity as I work with the soil and gently grow beautiful plants. My vegetable garden repays my family with many fresh, healthy meals and good nutrition.
It’s taken a lot of experimentation and some failures to have a productive vegetable garden, but it’s been worth every minute of work. The joy of handling soil and seed, tending to precious young plants, and harvesting beautiful mature plants is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.