Things to Consider when Starting Your Vegetable Garden

What to grow

  • Favorites of the family
  • Valuable crops (herbs)
  • Short season crops (40‐50 day crop vs. 85 day crop)

Space needs

  • Sunny location 8+ hrs of sun is crucial to plants that form fruit (tomato, cucumber, squash, eggplant, peppers, melon.) Many leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, etc.) need less sun
  • Choose a high spot—cold air settles in low spots and shortens the productive season. Low spots also tend to have drainage problems
  • Start small: 2'×2'×1' deep container to 10'×10'+ plots
  • A 30’×30’ garden will yield enough fresh produce for a family of 4
  • Intensive culture requires expert care but little space: bush bean (6"×6"), beet (4"×4"), carrot (2"×2"), chard (9"×9"), lettuce (6"×6"), onion (3"×3"), pea (2"×2"), radish (1"×1"), spinach (4"×4"), tomato (24"×24")

Time needs

  • Most vegetables are annual crops, so demand much attention during the growing season
  • Begin small: it’s wise to allow time for proper care of a productive, smaller garden
  • How much time do I need: OSU researcher estimates that a 10'×10' garden requires 40 minutes per week for planting and cultivation, plus an additional 30 minutes for each watering session.

Ideal calendar

  • Fall – soil test, soil amendment
  • Winter – plan, order seeds
  • Spring to fall – sow, fertilize, water, weed, and harvest

Soil preparation

  • Test for pH; your local Master Gardeners can help with this 
  • Add dolomite lime (magnesium and calcium) to balance acid soil
  • Add 2" of compost to improve soil structure & long-term source of nitrogen
  • Add fertilizer – annual crops need extra help to grow well
  • Work the ground only when soil moisture is ideal; wait if you can squeeze water out of a handful of soil
  • In containers – use potting mix, not garden soil

Planting

  • Check soil and air temperature before planting; a soil thermometer comes in handy
  • Soil and air temps for some favorites are: Pea (35°F), onion (35°F), carrot (40°F), bean (50°F), eggplant/pepper/tomato (55°F), basil (60°F)
  • Sow seeds directly for short season crops such as: Salad mix (21 days), chard (30‐ 55 days), peas (62 days)
  • Sow indoors or purchase starts for long season crops
  • If purchasing starts, select healthy plants firmly established in pot but without encircling roots.
  • Transplant after soaking roots in water to rid any air bubbles; take care not to damage roots in transplanting and water thoroughly after transplanting
  • Make raised beds by mounding soil to improve drainage and raise soil temperature in root zone

Fertilizing

  • Know your N‐P‐K by learning to read fertilizer labels
  • Leafy greens need more nitrogen (N), fruits such as tomatoes need more phosphorus (P), and roots such as potatoes need more potassium (K)
  • Plants use only nutrients that are dissolved in soil water; most nutrients in soil are not soluble
  • Apply fertilizer at the right time: Chemical fertilizers dissolve quickly and are immediately available to plants; Organic fertilizers need to break down before becoming available to plants, work them into soil a few months before planting
  • Organic fertilizers –Nitrogen: fish emulsion (3‐5%), composted chicken manure (3%), blood meal (12‐15%); Phosphorus: bone meal (12‐24%); Potassium: kelp meal (2‐5%)
  • Fertilize according to needs:
  • Heavy feeders – beet, collard, kale, lettuce, parsley, spinach, tomato; Light feeders – carrot, garlic, onion, chard, mustard, pepper
  • Do not fertilize soil builders – bean, pea, soybean, clover

Watering

  • Water to keep the root zone evenly moist; dig down 6‐8” after watering to check soil moisture
  • Drip system delivers water to the roots to minimize loss to evaporation
  • Overhead watering dampens leaves and can foster disease
  • The most critical stage for watering varies by plants: Beans/peas during flowering and pot development; Broccoli/cabbage during head formation and enlargement; Eggplants/peppers/ tomatoes from blossom set to fruit enlargement; Lettuce and other leafy vegetables from germination to harvest; Onions during bulb formation

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