Springtime in the vegetable garden
By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 3, 2012
Few gardening endeavors are as satisfying as raising one’s own vegetables. While growing produce will cut down on your grocery bills, that fresh-from-the-garden taste is also a major incentive for planting a vegetable garden.
Some vegetables are more challenging to raise than others. Meeting their light, water and nutritional needs is the best way to insure healthy, productive plants. Take time to prepare your beds before planting, adding limestone, fertilizer (either natural or synthetic) and organic matter if necessary. Not sure how much to ad? Consider a soil test. Go to www.soiltest.uconn.edu for more information.
New gardeners especially tend to go overboard when planning the vegetable garden. If this is your first try at growing vegetables, start small. A well-kept garden of moderate size will leave you a lot less frustrated than a large, overgrown one. Keep a garden journal to record the planting dates, location and performance of your vegetables. This information will then help you decide which varieties to grow again and when to plant them. It will also be useful when planning crop rotations for future years.
By now your cool-season crops should pretty much be in. Lettuce, spinach, chard, radishes, kale, peas, beets and carrots are easily grown from seed. Onions are usually planted as small bulbs or “sets.” Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are typically set out as transplants. I did have fairly good luck direct seeding kohlrabi and “Dia Green” broccoli last year, but that may have been because the rains kept the seeds from drying out.
Even if your garden space is limited, you can still produce a bountiful harvest by combining quick-maturing vegetables with long-season crops. For instance, lettuce can be placed in the tomato bed now and the first harvest plucked around the time the tomato plants are set in. More lettuce transplants can be tucked in between the tomatoes. As the tomatoes grow, their leaves will shade the lettuce from the hot, summer sun.
Fast-growing bush beans or summer squash can follow a spring crop of spinach or peas. Scallions, beets, baby carrots and radishes are also good choices for filling in vacant areas during either cooler spring or fall weather.
In the past, the Memorial Day weekend was the traditional time to plant tender vegetables that luxuriate in the hot weather. With this warm winter and spring, and an eye on long-term forecasts, we may be able to set tender plants out a week or two earlier, all the while being ready to cover them if late frost threatens. It really is best to wait until the soil and air temperatures warm before putting tender plants out, as they do not grow well in cool soils.
Once the soil has warmed and the beds are planted and free of weeds, put down a mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. I find grass clippings, as long as no herbicide was used on them, work quite well and are readily available. Usually it is best to leave the clippings on the lawn to recycle nutrients and boost organic matter content, but they can be picked up for a week or two for use in the vegetable garden.
Spend some time learning which insect pests you are likely to encounter and monitor for them regularly. Many insect pests such as leaf miners, root maggots and cucumber beetles can be discouraged by covering your crops with floating row covers or fine netting. They must be removed from cucumbers and squash, however, when flowering starts as bees are required for pollination.
Dress up your vegetable garden with colorful annuals and make it a point to harvest the fruits of your labor regularly. Take pride in your successes and learn from your failings. After all, gardening is supposed to be enjoyed.
If you have questions about vegetable gardening, insect pests or any other horticultural topic, feel free to contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 860-486-6271, visit the website www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.