Victory Gardens are in vogue again after 70 + years. Social upheaval like wars and pandemics bring on staying close to home and family, and your mind automatically turns to food and how to keep yourself well fed. Gardening skills, rusty as they might be, can help you out! My last post – Gardening Hasn’t Been Cancelled-Start a Victory Garden – focused on seed-starting veggies inside and this post focuses on starting a veggie bed outside.
Factors to Consider When Planting a Vegetable Garden
- Grow what you love! I don’t like or eat Kohlrabi. But what did I do last year? I had some seeds given to me and planted and harvested them and the Kohlrabi just sat around in my refrigerator. It was a waste of time! Make a list of what you are always buying at the grocery store in the produce aisle. And then cross off the list things that are inexpensive and take a lot of room. Potatoes for me are a prime example; they are cheap and take a huge amount of room. Fresh greens are a winner!
- Decide which plants you will start from seed and which you will start from transplants. I have a greenhouse and a place to start seeds. Many people don’t – so buy your transplants to get a jump start.
- Decide if you want to freeze, can or preserve. I love to can my heirloom tomatoes so I grow a lot. What is a lot? For me that is 24 plants, but this year I have 50! That probably means I will give lots of transplants away. For hot peppers, I grow a ton, as they are easy to dehydrate and keep. I am still using my dried peppers in March.
- Determine which crops can be grown and harvested first for space considerations. For instance, I just planted peas which I will harvest by June, which frees up space for later-planted pepper and tomato plants.
- Plan your garden space. You don’t have to get geeky about this, but draw a rough sketch of where you will place your plants as a guide. When you are faced with a huge newly tilled area and lots of little plants, it helps. Raised beds are an option, but should be built now and filled with soil, so they can settle. Look at Gardener’s Supply for their excellent free advice on planning a garden with a simple garden plan.
- Test your soil. Agriculture offices will test your soil for free, but think ahead as it takes 3-4 weeks, sometimes longer in the spring rush. If you don’t have time, don’t sweat it and just plant.
- Look at your seed packets for direction. Seed packets are a wealth of information on days to harvest, how deep to plant, when to plant, etc. Some, like “Botanical Interests” seed packets are like a primer on how to grow that particular plant.
- Don’t forget the flowers! I know, I know, you want food! But flowers bring in the pollinators and beneficial insects that will make your garden healthier and more beautiful.
- Compost. Start a small compost pile of dead material and kitchen scraps as you can start using it later in the summer to top-dress your soil for next year. It is also a place where you can schlep your dead plant matter. And believe me, you will have plenty of dead plant matter – like old pea vines.
- Look for the sun! This is the most important thing to consider when planting vegetables. They need a minimum of 6 hours, and more is better. If you have to plant in containers on your deck to receive maximum sun, they that is a good option. I have a small patch of partial shade in my garden and plant parsley, lettuce, and other greens there that like that condition.
The last thing which you should think about is deer. Deer would love to munch on your new buffet that you place before them. Protect your garden with a fence or active barking dogs. I have both!
Skimming Sod & Preparing Soil
I am sure you have heard about lasagna gardening; You layer newspaper and soil on top of sod to kill the underlying sod so you can plant? Forget that! That method takes weeks and unless you started it last Fall, you aren’t going to kill the sod in time for planting this spring. What to do instead? Remove the sod and take it to the compost pile which I suggested you start. It is hard work, I know, but with a flat shovel, you can skim it right off. See the video below on how to skim sod:
Another method is to till, but that takes equipment which you might not have, so skimming the sod is a great alternative.
Once you have skimmed the sod, then rake the soil to loosen it and add some compost. Compost is sold by the bag at big box stores. Rake in the compost to get a good planting surface to make rows and plant seeds or transplants.
Follow your seed packets advice for covering the seeds by depth. Some seeds can just be pressed into the soil and misted with a water hose to dampen it. I use a triangle hoe to press the soil firmly down for good soil contact. If planting transplants, I like to do this in the early evening as they will have time to recover before the hot sun hits them. A cloudy day will work too.
The more debris and weeds you have, the less the soil will make contact with the seeds, and less seeds will germinate. So make sure the soil is nice and smooth. Once I plant my transplants, I mulch so the weeds don’t invade. Black plastic, shredded leaves, grass clippings or straw will work. But you must mulch or the weeds will grow faster than what you planted and you have wasted a lot of time.
Water is essential to a vegetable garden. Place your garden within reach of your hose as you don’t want to haul buckets of water out to the ‘back forty’!
Water everything in – both newly planted seeds and transplants. Use a fine spray as an unfiltered hose burst will wash seeds away.
Don’t bother planting warm weather crops – tomatoes, peppers, cucs, melons, beans, and squash – as you will have to wait until the last frost free date in your area. Look it up at on The Farmer’s Almanac. Mine is listed at April 28, which I think is pretty accurate.
Next post – planting veg in containers