Vegetable Growing for Beginners
If you have never grown vegetables before the first thing that you need to decide is where to plant them in your garden. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day although greens can manage with less. Choose a site in an area that will not be shaded by buildings or trees and one that is near to a water supply. You will not want to have to cart water any further than absolutely necessary. Protect the site with a fence to keep out dogs, rabbits and other animals which can damage your crops.
To grow vegetables successfully the soil needs to be fertile, deep, friable and well drained. Unless you are very fortunate your soil is unlikely to meet these criteria, but over a period of time you will be able to increase the fertility of the soil by following good cultivation practices.
The first task is to dig over the whole of your site. Dig to a depth of 8-10 inches and continue working the soil making it loose and friable. Do not dig when the soil is too wet. How do you know? Squeeze together a handful of soil. If it sticks together in a ball and does not readily crumble under slight pressure by the thumb and finger, it is too wet.
The soil will be improved by the addition of organic matter. It helps release nitrogen, minerals, and other nutrients for plant use when it decays. Well-rotted compost or manure can be dug into the soil. Alternatively a mulch of partially rotted straw, compost or crop residue on the soil helps keep the soil surface in good condition, slows water evaporation from the soil, and suppresses weeds.
Before you you start to plant your seeds there is one futher consideration - the layout of your beds. The standard practice has been to plant your crops in rows some eighteen inches apart or just wide enough to allow you room to walk between the rows. This means that every time you walk on the land your soil is being slightly compacted. The alternative is to create a raised or wide bed. In this method you divide your site into a number of beds about four feet wide with a narrow path in between. This allows you to reach the center of the bed from either side without treading on the soil.
If you grow the same crop year after year in the same bed, there is an increased risk of disease infecting your crops. To minimise the risk you should avoid planting crops of the same family in the same soil for three seasons. You can achieve this by having a four bed rotation and moving the crops on to the next bed each year.
When choosing seeds it makes sense to choose disease resistant varieties where these are available. Saving your own seed is not always a good idea for at least two reasons. Firstly because seed saved from plants grown from hybrid seed will not come true, and secondly your home saved seed may have become cross-pollinated from other crops grown on your land.
In the warmer parts of the United States most seeds can be sown directly into the beds. You will have to cultivate the soil to a fine tilth and then sow the seeds at the depth recommended on the packet. In cooler areas, or where you want early crops, seeds will need to be sown in trays or flats indoors. Overhead light, either natural or artificial using flourescent tubes, and warmth is needed to ensure satisfactory germination and growth. Before they can be planted out in the beds, the seedlings have to be hardened off by placing them outside for longer periods each day so that they become accustomed to the outdoor temperature.
Once your crops are all planted out in the beds they will require regular watering, weeding and fertilizing. On average your plants will need one inch of water a week. If this is not provided by rainfall, you will have to make up the difference. It is better to give the garden a good soaking once a week rather than applying small amounts of water every other day. The best time to water is early in the morning. Hoe your beds regularly to control the weeds and leave the soil in a loose, friable condition to absorb later rainfall.
If you follow this advice, you should be rewarded with a fine crop of vegetables which will be far fresher and tastier than any that you buy from your local supermarket.
Hugh Harris-Evans is the owner of www.garden-supplies-advisor.com">The Garden Supplies Advisor where you will find further articles, gardening tips and product reviews.