Vegetable gardens are back. Growing your own garden makes economical “cents.” Here’s how to do it!
Lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables from the grocery–are they really safe to eat? Now more than ever homeowners are growing their own food! According to Harris Seeds, vegetable seed sales are up 80 percent for 2009. That’s no small potatoes! In a struggling economy and with the horror stories of unsafe foods, we are planting vegetable gardens to save on our pocket books and produce our own high quality vegetables. But there’s a difference in today’s gardens–they aren’t grandma’s vegetable gardens. They are small spaced gardens, potted edibles in containers on the patio or hanging from baskets on the balcony. These are the vegetable gardens of today–you can grow them even if you don’t have the space.
Saving Big Bucks in the Backyard
• Produce from a 10 by 20-foot garden is equivalent $4000 spent in the grocery store!
• Leafy green vegetables and herbs are worth $15 to $20 per square foot.
• Tomatoes, peppers, and radishes vary from $5 to $10 per square foot.
What Veggies Want
• 8-10 hours of sunlight
• Healthy, enriched soil
• And a good babysitter!
First time veggie gardeners need to consider their garden’s location, size, design, and type. If you are going to plant a garden right into the soil you’ll have to prepare the site. Totally remove grass by hand or apply an organic herbicide to kill it. Enrich the soil by mixing in compost, peat moss, and manure.
My favorite gardens are raised bed gardens that are easy to manage. Either way, whether the garden is planted directly into the soil or in raised beds, make sure you create four spaces–known as a quadrant garden (try spaces 8 by 8 feet). A quadrant garden allows you to rotate crops every year and prevent the spread of disease.
Raised Beds ROCK!
If you have a small plot, try building a raised bed by mounding soil or building a box with timber (do not use treated lumber) or stone. The raised beds should contain soil 18-24 inches deep.
The benefits are endless. Besides looking tidy and clean, the soil heats up faster in spring and drains well. You can mix soil to exact specifications. Soil compaction is reduced (since you wonï¿½t walk on it) which allows more oxygen to get to the roots. Plants can be planted closer together (you can produce nearly two times the amount of produce) which helps reduce weeds.
TIP: Have your soil tested! County Extension Services offer testing kits for $10-15. You’ll receive a soil report card with advice on how to make it better. Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants will lead to Healthy People.
The most important factor is to make sure your soil is “alive.” Healthy soil leads to healthy plants. It is loose, easy to work, and teaming with soil microbes, compost, and amendments. Every season make a point to amend or enrich your soil with compost, peat moss, and manure. Mix these ingredients to a depth of six to twelve inches.
Pick the Right Plants
It’s easier said than done if you’ve never grown a garden. If you don’t have the time or inclination to start your plants from seed like they do at The Beekman, I recommend going to a reputable garden center and getting to know the employees. They can provide you with a wealth of garden know-how, plus you can always call on them for help.
Most vegetable plants can be purchased either as transplants or as seeds; however, it’s too late to start many of the seeds now. Always pick sturdy and squatty dark green plants. Check out the roots by gently tapping the plant from its container. Roots should be white, vigorous, and plump. If they aren’t, don’t buy them! Other plant considerations include disease resistance, size of plant, variety, heirloom vs. hybrid, and/or organic.
Planting is a Family Affair
Planting shouldn’t be complicated. But you’ll save yourself huge headaches down the road if you plant veggies according to their families to help avoid the spread of disease. Start by categorizing plants by family i.e., all nightshade plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. These plants take nitrogen from the soil. Legumes, beans, and peas put nitrogen back into the soil so they are naturally a good group to follow the nightshade plants. Google “crop rotation” for more information.
Rebecca Kolls joins the Dr. Brent Garden Party to help judge the best seedling transplanting tips. Gardeners around the country know Rebecca from her many years as the gardening contributor to Good Morning America, and as host of her own syndicated television show: “Rebecca’s Garden.”
Visit the Garden Party website to join the Garden Party and try your hand at winning some of the fabulous monthly contest prizes!