We have started planting our spring garden here at the Yardstead. We are located in north Florida so we can start a little earlier than gardeners in more northern states. Spring is one of my favorite times to work in the garden. The weather is nice and I really enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. Spring is also the most productive time in our garden and we put a lot of vegetables in the freezer to be eaten later in the year. In this article I will cover some basic steps in planning and growing a vegetable garden: Locating a site, planning vegetables and layout, preparing the soil, planting and weed control, and harvesting.
Locating a site for your garden is a very important factor in how well your plants will grow. You should select an area that gets a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. It's also important to locate the garden .....
near a water supply. Our garden here is laid out in a rectangular plot, with mostly straight rows of plants. This is a common garden design, but there are many more ways to grow vegetables as long as the plants get the required sun light, nutrients and water. So you could work vegetables into your regular landscape along side ornamentals or other plants. You could plant small patches here and there instead of having a single plot. Container gardening is also popular in places where space is tight and I have seen some fine vegetables growing in pots on top of buildings. Select warm season vegetables such as beans (including bush beans and pole beans), cantaloupe, sweet corn, cucumber, egg plant, lima beans, okra, peas, hot peppers, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, squash (including zuchinni), tomatoes, and watermelons. Check the planting specifications for the vegetables you plan to plant as well. Most seed packets list the recommended plant spacing and row spacing along with other planting instructions such as planting depth etc... All these should be considered as well when selecting the site to plant your vegetables.
Once you have decided where you are going to plant, you can begin to prepare the soil. Sites being planted for the first time will need to be broken up. Tillers, shovels, cultivators and hand spades all work well for breaking up the soil several inches deep. Ideally this should be done a few weeks before planting to allow the soil to re-gain its natural structure a bit, but it is no problem if you do it while you are planting. Many people plant in whatever soil is available in the plot they choose and grow good healthy vegetables. I recommend that you have your soil tested or test it yourself with a kit from your local home and garden or farm store. There are however a few things you can do to impove the soil while preparing. Adding organic matter such as compost, manure, etc to your soil is a good way to supply nutrients to support healthy plant growth. It is best to add the organic matter a few weeks in advance (when tilling), but if it's well composted it can be added during planting. Thoroughly mix the materials into the soil and pack it lightly into a firm bed for planting.
Plant your seeds or plants according their individual requirement which is usually easy to locate on the seed packets or seediling containers. Water your plants thoroughly after planting. The newly prepared and moist soil is a prime target for weeds which thrive on the same conditions as your plants. The weeds will compete with your plants for nutrients from the soil and sunlight and should be removed as soon as they are discovered. You should check each of your plants at least twice a week for weeds and remove the weeds as necessary. For small plots or container gardens this no big chore, but for large gardens this can consume a lot of time and energy. The best way to handle weeds in my opinion is prevention and this can be done in several ways without using herbacides or poisons. Using weed cloth or landscape fabric alone stops many weeds, but I have seen more stubborn weeds like nut-grass grow through the material. Using weed cloth, landscape fabrick or sheet plastic with a light mulch on top seems to work better and stops the more stubborn weeds as well. At the Yardstead we are currently trying to stop weeds by using a heavy mulch about 8 inches deep, which is working well, but its still early in the season. I will be following up with another article in a few weeks with full details on how its working and details on other methods we have tried in the past.
You have tilled, planted, weeded and watered and now its time to reap the rewards. Harvest your vegetables as they become ripe. Eat them fresh or put them up for later. If you plant your plants in stages you can have fresh vegetables ready every week, and many vegetables will produce for weeks! Later in the season when plants begin to die you can replace them with other plants and keep the garden going on throught the summer and into fall. Check with your local agriculture extension office for information about what varieties grow well in your area, planting schedules and anything else related to your garden. You may also post questions or comments about gardening in the Yardstead Forums. We will be posting more articles about spring gardens and gardening in general on a regular basis so check back soon and don't forget to visit our gallery for more gardening pictures.