University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
IMPROVE YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Ten tips provided by Dr. Lois Berg
Stack, University of Maine Extension, will help you to improve your vegetable
garden. These range from choosing the
right seeds and plants, to maximizing yields, to dealing with all the produce
in the end.
Tip one: choose the right site. Most vegetables need full sun. If you don’t have this, consider those that
will tolerate light shade (4 to 6 hours of direct sun daily)-- lettuce,
spinach, arugula, and parsley. The site
also should have good loamy soil, or at least soil that is well-drained. If you don’t have such soil, consider raised
beds or adding soil in raised hills 6 to 12 inches high called berms. Choose a site away from roads that get salted
in winter, near your home so you visit them often and don’t forget and neglect
them, and accessible to supplies and water.
Tip two: manage your soil
properly. Improving your soil over time
will lead to higher yields. Do a soil
test (kits are available from state university Extension offices), adding lime
and fertilizer according to the results.
There are synthetic and organic nutrient sources; add those that match
your philosophy and budget.
If you can plan ahead, it is good to prepare
the garden space a year ahead and then use a “green manure” cover crop (legumes
such as peas, annual grasses such as oats or wheat, or a mix) that can be
tilled in, providing organic matter and some nutrients. When a garden is not planted, or after the
harvest, plan on a cover crop to help control weeds and erosion.
Tip three: control weeds and pests appropriately. This means checking your plants often, weekly
if not every few days. This way you’ll
learn what is normal, and what is not, spotting pests and problems early. They’re easier to control before they reach
great numbers. If just a few, perhaps
you can tolerate these with no control needed.
If they reach a “threshold” in numbers where controls are needed, apply
correctly and choose ones gentle on soil, pollinators, and the environment.
Tip four: select the right
vegetables for your site, and your goals.
This will give you the most production that you can use. Some, such as carrots and onions, for
instance need a loose soil. Some
vegetables and varieties grow better in the shorter and cooler seasons in the
north. Check the days to harvest to make
sure there is enough time between sowing and your first average fall
frost. Some crops such as tomatoes have
varieties better suited for certain uses, such as canning or slicing or sauce.
Tip five: use good seeds and
high-quality seedlings. Poor quality
seeds, perhaps left over ones, may germinate poorly. Seedlings that are not vigorous will get off
to a poor start and likely produce poorly.
Use clean tools, sowing and growing media, and pots; dirty ones may
harbor disease which will kill your plants.
If you’ve started seedlings indoors, harden them off gradually to the
outdoors—both full sun and temperatures.
Tip six: plant and space
properly. Spacing for seeds is often
given on seed packets, and for transplants in catalogs and books (or check with
your local plant nursery professionals).
Usually seeds are sown more thickly than needed to ensure enough plants,
but then need thinning out to ensure good productive ones. Allow enough space for plants to grow when
mature, something that is easy to misjudge when you plant small seedlings.
Some, such as corn, are best
planted in blocks (for pollination) while others, such as potatoes,
are best planted in hills. If you have limited
space, interplant a cool crop such as lettuce with longer warm-season crop such
as squash. You’ll have harvested the
lettuce before the squash takes over the space.
Tip seven: experiment.
Try new tools. Many newer ones are
designed ergonomically to make gardening easier. Try new plants. Many newer ones have improved flavor and
yields; some may grow well on your particular site, others may not.
Tip eight: extend the
season. One problem growing in cold
climates is the shorter growing season, and often cooler one. Some techniques can help, such as black
plastic on the soil to warm it sooner prior to planting. Many use thin white fabric row covers for
frost protection, and to keep away some insects. A coldframe can help you get a start on the season,
as can individual “cloches” or protection around individual plants. Winter mulching some vegetables can preserve
them for a later harvest.
Tip nine: garden smart. A good example is weed management. If you eliminate annual weeds before they go
to seed, or keep nearby natural areas mowed, you’ll have fewer weed seeds to
cause future problems. Newspaper layers
in rows, covered with mulch or sawdust, will save lots of time and labor with
weeding. Staking plants shortly after
planting will save having to deal with, possibly damaging, unwieldy plants when
Tip ten: harvest and process produce properly. Harvest at the right stage, usually mature
but not overripe. Decide if you have the
time and space for various storage methods, the main ones being canning or
freezing. You may try constructing a
root cellar. If still too much produce,
and your friends and relatives have plenty, consider donating it to a local
food shelf before it starts to spoil.
Even better, when starting your
garden, plant an extra row just to such a donation. Plant a Row
for the Hungry-- a program of the Garden Writers Association (www.gardenwriters.org)--
doing just this, and has more on their website on becoming involved. Since 1995, over 14 million pounds of produce
has been donated, providing over 50 million meals. With one in
American households living with food insecurity, according to USDA figures, and
the demand for hunger assistance growing 70 percent in recent years, there is
even more need now for you to plan for some extra produce in your garden when