Vegetable Garden Wisdom

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Follow the sun

It takes 6+ hours of direct sun to grow vegetables, which may be why so many people decide to grow in containers – so they can move the plants to the sunniest spot available. \ We grow in pots, in raised beds and in traditional garden rows, but this raised container garden is the future for us and maybe you, too.

Sunlight means the absence of shade, so how you orient the garden beds or pots makes a difference. The point is not to put tomato cages or bamboo tipis for beans where they will shade the plants around them. In my garden, rows run east to west so the sun comes up over them during the day. If I put the bean poles at the east end, they’ll shade everything to their west. Instead, I put the beans, cukes and other trellised veggies on one long row at the south end of the space. The sun travels over them and the rest of the garden, too. With shorter rows or square foot garden arrangements, let the tall plants occupy the west side so their shade falls out of the way.

Get some water

If you think water management doesn’t matter, that the Good Lord will provide enough rain, you might want to grow something besides vegetables to avoid disappointment. Access to water is not enough, you must also use it.

Whether in beds or containers, it is true that if a vegetable plant wilts from lack of water or sits in wet soil too long, it will be stressed, possibly stunted and disappointing. Here’s how I get water to my vegetables and believe me, there’s a use for each kind:

  • overhead sprinklers
  • soaker hoses
  • bubblers
  • drippers 
  • old-fashioned hoses with nozzles

Garden Soil is not dirt

  • If grass will grow, so will some vegetables for awhile. If not, get a soil test first. The key quality to vegetable garden soil in beds or containers is good drainage so ample amounts of water and fertilizer must flow through the root system. That produces strong, rapid growth and steady progress towards great food.
  • Organic matters as amendments and mulches
    • Compost, leaf mold
    • Barks
    • Manures
    • Gin moat, ground tree stumps

Fertilizer wisdom

Plant nutrition can and should be a topic for an entire blog, but here’s the capsule version. Use complete fertilizers which contain all of these elements:

  • The primary nutrients
    • Nitrogen for shoots
    • Phosphorus for fruits and flowers
    • Potassium for roots
  • Secondary nutrients include calcium, magnesium and sulfur
  • Micronutrients include boron, copper, iron, chloride, manganese, molybdenum and zinc
  • More issues to consider
    • Agriculture v Horticulture formulas
    • Fast v slow release modes of action
    • Organic v Chemical sources

So, What to Grow?

  • Spring Garden Vegetables
    • Lettuces

Lettuce comes in 2 basic types, those that make a solid head and those that do not. Head lettuces have names like ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Great Lakes’, which is a definite clue to how hard they can be to grow around here. Work your way up to the head lettuces, as they are definitely worth the extra effort and taste much better than the nearly white, often tasteless grocery store types. Give each head of lettuce a solo 5 or 10 gallon pot for plenty of room to grow when you decide to give them a grow. Start instead with the lettuces that do not make a solid head, called the loose leaf types. Some of them, like romaine and bibb, make sort of a head at their center which tastes quite different from their outer leaves. The combination of inner and outer leaves of semi-heading lettuce makes a salad that tastes harmonious. 2-3 plants of semi-heading lettuce fills a 10 gallon pot. Even looser heads are the hallmark of leaf lettuces like ‘Oakleaf’ and ‘Red Sails’ with delicious leaves that sprout up en masse from a small center. Unlike the others, leaf lettuces can grow individually or be interplanted very closely with each other and mescluns. In that case, you’ll use scissors to harvest leaves for salad and watch new ones sprout again right away.

    • Greens

If your Broadleaf mustards get bitter by late spring, try Tendergreen. It’s sweet! Mesclun is the name given to salad mixes made from a wide range of lettuces, mustard, arugula, chickory, endive and raddichio, among others. Sow these seeds over the entire surface of any size pot, and thin the seedlings to stand 1-2” apart to harvest as small leaves, or 4-6” apart for larger leaves.

    • Radish

Thinning is a necessity to grow vegetables, but certainly for root crops. Radish sprouts are tasty, so toss them into a salad if you can’t bear to compost th

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