Trips to the farmers market can be a pleasure, but for devout locavores, nothing beats fresh produce from their own backyard. Fortunately, spring is the perfect time to start a vegetable garden that will supply crops year-round.
First, gardeners should decide which plants they will enjoy growing and eating. There's a wide variety of spring vegetables that are easy to grow and yield a nice crop size. Peppers, hot peppers and cucumbers do well, according to Tucker Bantom of Perino's Garden Center. Eggplants and string beans also are a great choice, as they are easy and grow quickly.
"Some people like the vegetables that produce in volume, like tomatoes, lettuces, bell peppers, okra and green beans," says Roddy McGoey from The Plant Gallery.
For a first garden, Bantom suggests a 4x8 plot. With this size plot, gardeners will have plenty of room for crops, but won't be overwhelmed by maintenance. The most important thing is finding an area that gets six or more hours of sun a day. "Gotta have the sun to make the veggies come," Bantom says.
Before planting, make sure the soil is of good quality.
"Most people try go straight into the ground without adding any fresh organic soil, and they are largely disappointed, because they didn't get a soil that gives nutrients and gets good drainage," McGoey says. "Lay in [new soil], put a nice layer of water over the top, see how it compacts, and see if you need to add a little more sand, or a soil amendment, like a soil conditioner. If you are buying a good bag of garden soil from a garden center, those are light and fluffy and provide good drainage."
After planting their gardens, people should maintain and protect the crops every day.
"Things can happen quickly with vegetable gardens," McGoey says. "High heat, high humidity and a lot of moisture, these all act like as a conduit [for problems]."
Bugs, birds and bacteria pose a threat to produce. Becoming knowledgeable about various pests is important, and experts at a local garden center can help.
"[The] No. 1 thing [is to] keep [plants] well-watered," Bantom says. "Water in the morning — they can be a little dry at night — and watch out for those worms. ... Bugs like the night time and moisture, so if you keep [plants] dry [at night], they won't be as apt to come into that area."
Certain non-edible plants help keep pests away while increasing pollination and adding to the garden's visual appeal.
"Plants like marigolds, which bees and butterflies are attracted to, give good cross-pollination," McGoey says. "It's better if you also plant some plants that are hosts for caterpillars so they aren't working on your vegetables. For the monarch butterfly, plant a
McGoey notes that spring is the best time to use horticulture oil, an organic pest control product that won't work in the summer heat.
"[Horticulture oil] is your best organic product to help with aphids and mealy bugs and spider mites," she says. "Horticulture oil has a product in it called neem [that] smothers the bugs".
Bacteria and fungus also pose threats to plants. If a plant is diseased, eliminate it.
"Sometimes you might just have to remove a plant in order for a bacteria or fungus not to spread," McGoey says. "[Spores] travel on the wind, so if you've got one in the vegetable garden, you should get that out. Don't even bother treating it, just remove it and replace it."
Once gardeners get started, they should be able to enjoy fresh vegetables within three months. Keep the garden growing from season to season while rotating crops, trying new things and refining techniques.
"Keep [plants] well-fed, well-irrigated [and] you should have a pretty decent yield for a crop," Bantom says.