University of Vermont Extension
Winter, Spring News
Department of Plant and Soil Science
YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Tempting as it is, try not to just
buy and plant. To have a successful vegetable garden you need to give
thought ahead of time. When planning
your garden consider the site, varieties, where they will go, and when
plant. Be realistic, only plant what you
can maintain with harvest you can use.
It is too easy, especially in the beginning, to start too large.
A successful site for most
vegetables, especially fruiting ones, should get at least 6 hours of
a day-- either continuous, or total from morning and afternoon.
If you don't have a sunny site, consider
leafy crops such as lettuce and spinach that can get by on 3 to 4 hours
direct sun a day. Root crops such as
carrots and potatoes need a bit more light, 4 to 6 hours a day, to have
Another important site factor, and
one you can work around more than light, is the soil. A rich,
well-drained loam is ideal but many
aren't fortunate to have this at the beginning.
If it is clay or sandy, add lots of organic matter such as compost each
year in the spring prior to planting. If
it is clay, poorly drained, or quite rocky, you might want to consider
raised beds on top and filling with a good soil.
A flat site, or as near as possible,
is best. Otherwise it can be hard to
work on, and rains can lead to erosion.
Accessibility of the site is
important in three respects. It should
be close to home, otherwise
"out of sight, out of mind" may apply. If you don't visit the
garden daily, or
may miss pest outbreaks and fruit that is ready to pick. The site
should be accessible to a source of
water. The site should be accessible as
well by cart or even vehicle. If you
need to bring in a load of compost, soil, or mulch, or remove debris,
you access it?
How do you choose among the hundreds of
varieties available, and which crops to grow?
The first consideration is what you and perhaps family like to
eat. Even if a crop is trendy or popular, if you
don't like it and wont eat it, why grow it?
Most crops have some, often many,
varieties. These are particular types or
selections with certain characteristics such as fruit size or color.
some terms you may see in variety descriptions.
A hybrid is a plant resulting from the crossing of other parent
plants. Since you need these parents to
make seeds of the hybrid, sowing seeds of hybrids wont give you the
plants. The other main group is the
open-pollinated varieties, or those that pollinate each other in the
field. They may not be as consistent,
with all the traits of hybrids, but you can save seeds of these and get
plants. If a variety is open-pollinated,
and at least 50 years old, it may be called an "heirloom".
When choosing varieties, look for ones adapted
to your region. This may relate to
ripening time, or "days to maturity"-- one of the key factors I look
for in my northern garden. A great
variety for warm climates, perhaps one you grew up with, may not ripen
in a short northern growing season. A
warm climate crop such as okra, for instance, has some varieties better
to cooler and shorter northern seasons.
A couple of cultural factors to
consider in variety selection are disease resistance and plant
size. Some varieties, tomatoes being a good
example, are resistant to certain diseases.
These are often labeled in descriptions with letters and a key, such as
TMV for tomato mosaic virus. The more letters the better!
Plant size relates to your site, and where
these will be planted.
Assuming you have the right match of
site conditions to varieties, consider the size of crops and growth
habits. Tomatoes, for instance, can be
more upright (determinate) or vining and sprawling
(indeterminate). The latter may need more staking, or more
room, or both. Then there are compact
varieties suited to small spaces and containers.
When sowing seeds or planting transplants,
information on seed packets, labels, and books will tell you such
seed or plant spacing in rows, and amount of space between rows.
These are guidelines, as some recommend
planting in blocks rather than rows.
Depending on use, you may plant closer if harvesting small carrots or
tops of plants for instance. The goal is
to have enough space for plants to get the light and nutrients they
without much competition, and for you to
be able to weed and work among the plants.
Once you lay out your plans roughly
on paper, look at what plants are next to others. Where is the
sun coming from? You don't want tall corn for instance shading
out shorter plants. Some plants are
believed by gardeners to help others, perhaps by repelling
insects. This is called "companion planting"
with books and articles written just on this topic. You may try
nasturtiums, for instance, next
to potatoes to repel Colorado potato beetles.
Radishes may repel cucumber beetles, leeks may repel carrot flies, and
basil may repel some insects from tomatoes.
Finally consider when you will plant. Some "cool" crops (like
can be planted earlier that other "warm" crops (like tomatoes). The
two key factors are first and last frost dates of the season.
Since these can vary, be ready with frost
protection cloth or similar coverings.