Spring Gardening: Planning Ahead
By: J. Marlando
As I begin the article spring is right around the corner and the time to start planning your summer vegetable garden. If you have a nice size yard you can have a nice size garden, you can also grow in containers even if the only room you have is a small patio. Before we get started, however, I will say that this is not a how-to article. This article sets out to inspire the reader to get out there and do some gardening this spring.
If you’ve never had a garden and you decide to plant this year you are in for lots of wonderful surprises—fresh vegetables actually taste great unlike those you purchase at the supermarket. If, for example, you ever have a potato fresh out of the ground, you will never want to eat a potato from the store again. It is the same for all vegetables but especially tomatoes. Tomatoes, incidentally, are a fruit and can be classified as a berry. Nevertheless, no summer “veggie” garden would be complete without a few tomato plants. And, a tomato from the garden is so much tastier than those hot-house red, “cardboard-tasting” things the grocery store calls Fresh Tomatoes.
Before talking about preparing and planting, however, I am compelled to talk about the romance of gardening: I can think of no greater family project than growing a home garden—this gets mom, dad and kids involved in a loving, fun and very rewarding project. And, there is simply something that is illuminating about the sowing and reaping of a garden. I actually find something mystical and spiritual about gardening but that’s me—yet, no matter who you are, you are going to get a very special joy from your gardening and I can promise you that. And, you can garden almost anywhere you live. In fact, if all you have is a widow box, you can grow your own strawberries this year. Just remember, where there’s a will there’s a way!
Just one other thing, if you have little tykes running around, once your garden is ready for picking, let the kids romp about collecting their own vegetables and see how healthy they start eating without Mom demanding they eat their spinach or salad or the peas on their plates. Okay, with all this said, let’s get going.
I usually start my planning for a garden at the kitchen table. I draw a square representing the actual garden space I have on a piece of paper, open up the Burpee seed catalog and decide what and where I will be planting. I prefer growing most vegetables from seed with the exception of tomatoes and peppers. I usually plant tomato and peppers from seedlings
(My wife does a lot of cooking with bell peppers and there’s nothing I like more than fresh, sliced jalapeno peppers and sliced fresh, white onion cooked with four or five scrambled eggs. A breakfast fit for a king!
The first thing that you need to know is what to plant when: For example I always plant collard greens A lot of people call collard greens a fall and winter plant but I have always had good luck with them after a spring planting. Collards are my exception to the rule, however, and mostly I plant what and when I’m supposed to. For example here in Southern California, the best time to plant potatoes is around the last of December and that’s exactly what I do.
Although I like collard greens better than spinach, I always plant spinach too. I also love planting and growing string beans and pole peas I set a couple of poles in the ground and then tie string between them, eight to ten rows high and eight to ten rows across. For my small garden I’ll only have two of these rows for peas and two for string beans. I’ll do a first planting on row one, wait around ten days or so and plant the second row. Once grown, they are just beautiful to look at much less to eat.
There is lots of variety of eggplants to choose from but we usually plant the black bell as seen here All eggplants are good for you though and good for your blood. The problem is that their flavor is far too delicate for most of us to enjoy. So try this, Grill your eggplant topped with roasted red peppers and olives with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese over all. That gives your eggplant some zing!
We always plant zucchini too. My wife cooks a stuffed zucchini that is, as said, out of this world and they are easy to grow. To me Zucchini growing in the garden always adds a unique beauty to the entire garden landscape—it always looks so happy and healthy! You want to pick your zucchini when it’s young though, no longer than eight inches otherwise it’ll grow into tasteless giants. Both yellow and Green Zucchini plants grow abundantly so I will sometime not pick a couple just for the fun of seeing how big they will grow.
And speaking of healthy food—I always grow onions. Yes, even in summer as long as you plant main crop onions. Everyone tells me onions are easy to grow but I have found that they need their own space away from the main garden because they do not want to be over watered and yet they like their ground moist. I have gown onions from seeds and sets but planting sets assures you of having a good crop as long as you don’t neglect taking care of the plants. My personal problem is I have never had much luck growing little green onions and I don’t know why. Well, I’ll be attempting it again for the fall planting. You can bet on that!
I also love turnips raw so I always grow at least a couple of rows of them. You want to plant turnips early in the spring and then plant your second and third rows around ten day apart. As I say, they are delicious raw but a turnip or two tossed into your Irish stew is doggone good too—does this look yummy or what
We prefer cantaloupe over watermelon at our house but you can grow both. If you live in a place where the summer season is short, it’s best to start melons in the house and then transplant them to outdoors after the last frost. In California where I live, I grow them from seed but I still plant them as early as possible.
Every garden needs lettuce and there are quite a variety of loose leaf lettuce you can grow in the summer. As far as Iceberg lettuce, it’s strictly a winter crop and shouldn’t even be planted until the hot days of summer are gone.
And speaking of hot, summer days, there’s nothing to me more fun and rewarding than growing a small crop of corn Boo hoo, because I no longer have the space to do this in the way that I like growing corn. Yet, if you have only a few square feet where you can plant some corn you’ll probably have a ball growing it. You’ll need, in the very least, two rows of at least four to six corn stocks growing per row. Four to six rows in a small corn patch will assure you get a rich crop of tasty corn. When I was growing a fairly big plot of corn, I would grow a few pumpkins with them or sometimes even our cucumbers if I was short of garden space. Cucumbers are climbers though so if you want happy, healthy cucumbers plant them where they can climb.
Remember too, if you get a big, abundant crop in your garden there is nothing more pleasing then to share with relatives, friends and neighbors. A garden just seems to be a place that brings people together.
Lots of people would love to have gardens but simply do not live where there is ample space to grow vegetables in an ordinary “farming” way. If you have any ground space at all, however, you might want to grow in boxesNew gardeners are shocked at how many wonderful vegetables can be grown in a box even as small as four feet by six feet For one thing the ground can be much better controlled in a box making sure the plants get all the nourishment that they need. Any garden shop selling seeds, plants and sheds will tell you how to get started.
If you don’t have room for boxes, there is always container gardening and a lot of people favor container gardening because in some ways it is so much easier. And, you can grow anything in containers that you can grow directly in the ground—carrots to peppers to lettuce to tomatoes to onions and you name it. In fact, I do a lot of container growing these days and it really is fun and…easy.
I use a product planter called Earth Boxes because they make growing and caring for plants simple and easy. I’ve grown plants in buckets, barrels and pots too of course but, truth said, you have to really stay alert when it comes to watering. Earth Boxes sends all that worry away. Here’s why:
With all the above in mind, you just want to make this summer a garden summer. There’s simply not a greater joy than to pull up a chair with nice, cold lemonade or whatever you have a thirst for while keeping company with the ladybugs and butterflies with nothing to do but watch your garden grow. Now that’s a real slice of heaven if you ask me.
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