By Evelyn Alemanni
Homegrown vegetables! Now that’s “fast food” — fresh, nutritious, colorful, and convenient. If you haven’t tried growing your own vegetables before, you’re in for a treat. Growing vegetables is easy. There are merely two steps: Plant and eat!
When planning your first vegetable garden, ask yourself these questions:
- What do I like to eat?
- How cold does it get where I live?
- How soon do I want a harvest?
- How much space do I have?
- Is a convenient watering source nearby?
Once you’ve decided what you like to eat, find out the typical last frost date for your area. Locations closer to the coast generally are a bit warmer than inland, and valleys tend to get frost more than other locations. That can help you determine when to start planting.
Although you can start many vegetables indoors, it’s wise to wait until after the last frost date to plant them outside. I like to start lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli in the fall with a second planting in December, since I’m willing to take a chance on losing a few plants now and then. Sometimes all I have to do to protect them from frost is cover them with an old sheet at night. I start my warm-weather crops in March, and replant every month or so until August.
Next, decide how soon you want to harvest. Buying large plants in 1-gal pots yields edibles fastest because they’ve had a head start. Cell-packs of plants also grow fast. Vegetables from seeds take a few weeks longer, but there are many more varieties to choose from. You even can start your vegetables indoors with a seed-starting kit. Be sure to check the information on the package for the number of days from planting until harvest.
Remember to choose the right vegetables for the time of year. For example tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and corn are best for warm months when night temperatures don’t fall below 50°F. Lettuce, cabbage, kale, and broccoli thrive best in cooler temperatures. Here’s some red lettuce, which is simple to grow and ready to harvest in less than two months.
Plant your vegetables in a location where they receive at least six hours of sunlight each day. Regardless of where you plant, excellent soil is essential. If you plant in the ground, be sure to incorporate compost and organic matter first.
If you have terrible soil — either lots of hard sand or just plain granite — raised beds are a terrific solution. They’re easy to build, and you can fill them with wonderful, rich soil in which your vegetables can thrive. Lowe’s sells convenient raised bed kits and you can assemble them in minutes.
If you plant in containers, be sure to start with a fresh soil mix labeled for containers. Add some time-release fertilizer, if the soil mix doesn’t include it. Containers or even window boxes can be convenient ways to have fresh herbs and greens nearby. You can even mix your vegetables with flowering plants for a pretty display. Note the lettuce and red cabbage growing with primroses and bacopa in this container.
Although some gardeners enjoy hand-watering their vegetables, so they can check progress at the same time, it can become a daily commitment. And it’s inefficient. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses connected to an automatic timer are more efficient and help assure your vegetables get adequate water.
Depending on the plants, you might want to cover them with netting to protect seedlings and ripe produce from birds and other hungry wildlife.
One final note: Start thinking about recipes that make the most of your tasty, superfresh ingredients. That way, when you’re ready to harvest, you have plenty of options to prepare and enjoy your bounty!