Thursday, April 4, 2013

You Can Grow That: If I Were Planting A Vegetable Garden...

If I Were Planting A Vegetable Garden.

A rerun from March 2003

"Spring, the sweet spring, is the year's pleasant king;

Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,

Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing,

"Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!"

Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

The sun is out, green shoots are everywhere, and spring is here! While the nights are still too cool for summer vegetables to be happy in the ground, there is planning and soil preparation we can do and seeds to buy and start. Once the night temperatures are above 55F, the seedlings can go in.

If I were planting a summer vegetable garden for the very first time, I'd....

  • Find a sunny spot, a hose, and a couple of shovels and kids.

  • Take some samples of the plants that are growing there to find out the best way to get rid of them.Mow them off or chop them down, if appropriate, maybe even cover them with plastic for a little while.

  • Dig the edges and make a layout, then water the area with a sprinkler for a little while and plan to come back to it in a few days.

  • Measure it and plot it on paper.

  • Go and ask about what grows well here and when to plant it.

  • Decide what I wanted to grow, writing down everything. Don't forget flowers and herbs!

  • Then....

  • Go through and turn the soil once to bury the chopped weeds, and water again lightly. Let it sit for a couple of days.

  • Turn it again with shovels, spading forks, or a rototiller, mixing in bags of soil amendment that you buy (or have delivered bulk; add some fertilizer to this). Turn, mix, and rake this until the dirt is mixed with the compost and the soil feels kind of fluffy. Rake it all smooth and make your rows.

  • Roll out a simple drip watering system, or a soaker hose. Hold this in place with "anchor pins" or bent pieces of wire. Make sure you'll be able to control the water to your tomatoes separately from all the other plants, as they'll need a lot less frequent watering as the season goes along.

  • Plant! Put in your young transplants, watering each one as you go. Plant seeds carefully, covering them with loose soil and pressing it in gently, then water the whole bed. You'll want an attachment for the hose that makes a gentle spray of water for the seedlings. Don't forget to label each row.

  • Put down something to prevent weeds. Landscape fabric covered with mulch, multiple layers of old newspapers (omit the colored sections), a thick layer of bark├»¿½.weeds grow faster than baby vegetables!
  • Then....

    Check the seeds and young plants each day for watering. You can water with your hose for the first few weeks while the plants are getting going; then you'll use the soaker hose for deeper waterings.

    Go buy a good book on vegetarian cooking! Deborah Madison's is the best I own.

    If I were limited for space, and wanted a little bit of everything, I'd plant:

  • At least 3 - 4 tomatoes. One reliable hybrid, one small-fruited type, one or two sauce types for cooking, and at least one heirloom type for fun.

  • A couple of bell peppers, including one that is a different color; one productive hybrid such as 'Gypsy', and one medium-hot pepper for salsa such as Jalapeo or Anaheim.

  • A cucumber that isn't likely to get bitter, such as Lemon or a burpless type, or an Armenian one to train up on a fence.

  • I'd do several plantings of bush beans a few weeks apart, crowding them in around other plants 'cuz you pull them out after you harvest them. Or make a narrow teepee and grow some pole beans, but be sure to keep them picked or they'll stop producing!

  • Some seeds of carrots, beets, and radishes.

  • I'd probably plant an eggplant. I always do, for some reason.

  • At least a couple of plants of basil. Although I find the pot I plant near the front door is the one that gets used the most. And some other fresh herbs: Italian parsley, chives, oregano, and a couple of plants of English thyme--all scattered around the edges of the garden, or at the entrance, mixed with some lavender for fragrance and beauty.

  • Some green onion seedlings for seasoning.

  • Some strawberries--but don't expect any fruit to make it all the way to the house.

  • One squash plant. Period. And we LIKE squash.

  • At least a couple of potato plants, because they're fun to harvest and taste very sweet fresh from the garden.

  • A couple of okra plants, because they're easy to grow, don't take much space, and it's worth a try cooking them.

  • A few large sunflowers for seeds, even if it's just for the birds.

  • If I had unlimited space, and lots of shovels and kids and time, I'd have

  • Every kind of sunflower, and lots of cosmos for the butterflies and hummingbirds.

  • Borage for the bees, and flowers for the good bugs.

  • Enough Ambrosia melons to have one every day.

  • Gigantic watermelons, and some that fit in the icebox.

  • Wax beans and green beans--and purple beans and Italian beans, and interesting beans for drying for soups.

  • Sweet peppers of every possible color, green and ripe. Hot peppers to use, and some to admire from afar.

  • Tomatoes to share, cook, and can.

  • Okra and eggplant of every kind, just to give away.

  • Three or four kinds of potatoes, so you could dig up a mix of new baby ones right from the garden to boil for your dinner that evening.

  • Sweet white corn from July through September.

  • Three different types of summer squash, so some could grow into huge misshapen monsters.

  • Winter squashes for baking on rainy days. Pumpkins for pie and fun. Weird gourds.

  • A long row of pickling cucumbers so you could pick a few each day to make pickles or relish every week.

  • Some beds planted in cover crops to be ready for the fall garden.

  • Alpine strawberries and mint to sample while you sit in the nearby shade--watching the kids and shovels at work.

  • Maybe that really is Where The Sidewalk Ends.
      © 2013 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca  95616
      Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.