Growing your own vegetables is the best way to get fresh, local food! If you’re new to it, keep in mind that it’s a process and there isn’t really a right or wrong way, so just have fun! Trial and error is the best way to learn. The below information will help you get you started.
Seed or Transplant
There are several options for starting a vegetable garden. Plants can be directly seeded into the soil, started by seed indoors and transplanted, or purchased as a plant or seedling and transplanted. Many vegetable plants do well either way, but some benefit from seeding early indoors, while others benefit from direct seeding.
Many slow-growing and/or heat-loving plants usually have better yield when started before they can be planted outdoors. It’s easiest to purchase finished plants instead of seeding, since seeding indoors requires the right conditions, which might include a heating pad or supplemental lighting. Plants that generally do better when transplanted include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, and peppers.
Some plants that grow quickly, and/or thrive in cool weather do better when directly seeded. Some plants that are best seeded directly include carrots, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce, corn, peas, beans, and radishes.
Planting in Beds
Vegetables generally prefer fertile, well-drained soil. A vegetable garden bed can be as simple as tilling up an area of your yard 12 inches deep and incorporating some compost. Raised beds are another option, created by placing a frame on the ground and filling it with a mixture of topsoil and compost. This can be a good option if you have very poor, compact, or rock-filled soil. Lasagna gardening and straw bale gardening are also popular and effective designs.
Planting in Containers
Vegetables can easily be grown in containers when planted in a container that drains well, is large enough and is deep enough. Be sure to check how large the plant will be at maturity and plan accordingly. Generally the bigger the container, the better. Some vegetables that do well in containers include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard.
Always use quality potting soil when growing in a container, such as our custom soil mix. Our custom soil mix is the same soil we use to grow all of our plants, which we’ve designed to contain a blend of ingredients for optimal nutrient content, moisture retention, aeration, and beneficial microbes. Check moisture daily and water when needed. Apply a water-soluble fertilizer once a week.
Mulch the vegetable garden once the soil has warmed. This helps keep the soil cool, retain moisture, and suppress weeds. Apply a layer no more than 2-3 inches thick and leave a 2-3 inch space free of mulch around each plant’s stem to allow air flow and to prevent disease or rot.
The best mulch options for a vegetable garden are chopped leaves, straw, or marsh hay. Grass clippings can be used, but only if no herbicide was applied to it. Straw is lightweight and provides more air circulation than leaves, grass, or marsh hay. Marsh hay is similar to straw, but can sometimes become compacted and can occasionally contain weed seeds. Leaves break down, which means they provide nutrients and can be left in the garden at the end of the season, but they can also become matted. Leaves from deciduous trees can be found at a nice price – free for the raking! Avoid using black walnut leaves, as they contain a toxin that inhibits the growth of some plants.
Water well after planting. Once established, a vegetable garden requires about 1 inch of moisture per week, usually needing supplemental watering during periods of little to no rain, and/or high temperatures. Try to keep soil evenly moist and avoid watering the leaves to prevent disease.
Adding compost to the garden bed soil before planting usually provides all of the nutrients vegetables need. Slow-release, natural fertilizers such as Espoma Plant-tone or Espoma Garden-tone can also be added for an extra boost. Tomatoes benefit from a dose of Espoma Tomato-tone at planting for healthy growth.
Remove any dead plant debris and weed regularly throughout the growing season to prevent disease and pest issues, and for optimal vegetable production.
Pest and Disease
Monitor plants regularly for signs of pest and disease issues. It’s best to catch problems early for a better chance of control. However, there will always be some insects in the garden, and many are actually beneficial, so don’t be too quick to spray! Try making observations for accurate identification to determine whether or not control is necessary. Identification is critical for choosing an effective method for control.
Identification is also important for choosing the best method for disease control, but the best strategy is prevention. To help prevent disease, avoid getting water on the foliage, and water in the morning so moisture on the leaves can quickly evaporate. Also maintain adequate air flow with proper spacing, weeding, and keeping a space between plant stems and mulch.