As we enter the exciting growing season of 2023, many of us may be tempted to head to the nearest garden store or nursery to purchase seedlings for our vegetable gardens. However, if time and interest allow, it's worth considering the art of growing from seed. While it may not be as easy as it sounds, there are tips and tricks that can make the process more manageable.
One of the main reasons to grow from seed is the greater choice available. Passionate gardeners often share their favorite seeds at seed exchanges, allowing you to grow unique varieties like purple tomatillos or patty pan squash. Additionally, heirloom seeds are often preferred for their better flavor, taste, and ability to withstand weather fluctuations, as compared to hybrid varieties which can be susceptible to disease and pests.
Without further advocating for heirloom varieties, let's focus on the best ways to plan for a successful summer garden:
1. Start seeds indoors to give summer-loving varieties a head start, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and brassicas, as April weather is unpredictable and may not be ideal for planting. Follow your regional chart for last frost dates and time your seed starting 4-6 weeks before the last frost date.
2. Grow enough vegetables for your family's needs, keeping in mind that generally, you should multiply a vegetable 3 to 4 times per person, except for high-yield varieties like cherry tomatoes, where one plant per person is sufficient. Only grow vegetables that you and your family will enjoy over the season, but also consider experimenting with new, exciting varieties.
3. Begin seeds in peat pellets, paper containers or toilet paper roll seed starters, and transfer them to larger containers once they germinate. Plant extra seedlings (at least 3 per starter container) to ensure the most robust ones can be selected and to avoid disturbing the ones you wish to keep.
4. Gradually introduce seedlings to the outdoors through hardening off, starting with a couple of hours per day and leaving them outside overnight close to transplant time. For direct sowing, plant cold weather crops like radish and peas in April if the soil is workable and doesn't need further amendments. For summer-loving crops, wait until after the last frost date.
5. Choose the right location: Select a location with good sunlight, water drainage, and soil quality. Vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight a day, so choose a spot that gets plenty of direct sunlight. Make sure the soil is well-drained to prevent waterlogged roots, and if necessary, amend the soil with organic matter like compost or aged manure.
6. Use companion planting: Planting certain vegetables together can help to improve their growth, health, and productivity. For example, planting marigolds next to your tomato plants can help to repel harmful insects and improve their flavor, while planting beans next to corn can help to fix nitrogen in the soil and improve soil fertility.
7. Water regularly: Vegetables need consistent moisture to thrive, so make sure to water them regularly. Water deeply and thoroughly, and try to avoid getting water on the leaves as this can encourage fungal diseases. Consider using a drip irrigation system or soaker hose to deliver water directly to the roots.
8. Mulch your garden: Mulching your garden with organic matter like straw, leaves, or grass clippings can help to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and improve soil health. Apply a layer of mulch around your plants, making sure to keep it away from the stems to prevent rot.
9. Monitor for pests and diseases: Keep an eye out for pests and diseases that can damage your vegetables, and take action as soon as you notice a problem. Consider using natural pest control methods like neem oil, diatomaceous earth, or companion planting to repel pests and prevent damage.
10. Harvest regularly: Harvest your vegetables regularly to encourage continued growth and productivity. Check your garden daily for ripe produce, and pick them as soon as they are ready to prevent over-ripening or spoilage.
11. Rotate crops: Rotating your crops each year can help to prevent soil-borne diseases and improve soil fertility. Plan your garden layout in advance, and avoid planting the same crop in the same spot for at least two years in a row.
By following these tips, you can create a successful vegetable garden that provides fresh, healthy produce for you and your family to enjoy. Happy gardening!