Fun with Vegetables in Your Garden
MAR. 04, 2021
Now that it’s beginning to look less like winter and more like spring, like me, you may be eager to get out in the garden and figure out what needs cleaning up and what needs settling down. You might even be putting together a list of gardening tasks—some tasks for you, some for other family members, and some for those folks who show up in their big truck with lots of powerful gardening tools and muscles, lots of muscles.
We’ve all been through a lot these last twelve months, and you’re probably waiting impatiently for changes, such as less time stuck indoors at home and more opportunities to get outside for exercise and fun. And, you may also be eager for some things to return to “normal.”
I’m going to try adding a new normal to my garden this year—vegetables. Maybe you’ll want to try that too. Yes, we’ve all grown a tomato plant in a pot on the patio. You may even have started an avocado plant from a pit or grown a tiny pineapple. But let’s get serious here. How about growing some crunchy vegetables in your garden? We’ve all learned how important self-reliance is, so why not feed yourself some crisp, sweet carrots and tangy radishes? I’m picturing myself wandering outdoors in June and August and even October to harvest my own pretty pea pods and an embarrassingly plump zucchini or two. Doesn’t that sound great?
So, if you’re willing to give this a go, let’s begin by figuring out location; where in our lovely flower beds can we make room for peppers, lettuce, and cabbage? (That’s right; I’m not suggesting we dig up our pretty hostas and lush roses. No need for long, tidy rows that break the symmetry of your garden’s design. We’ll plant veggies among and around the flowers and shrubs. We can even focus on planters and pots for our aspiring veggies.) Sunlight is the most important element if you want lush, juicy, plentiful vegetables. We’re going to have to carve out spots for planting vegetables or placing planters and pots in bright sunlight. Expand
Next, we’ll need to be sure those sunny locations we’ve identified have access to water, preferably easy access. Will the sprinklers reach the bean vines and carrots? Finally, will your vegetables be reasonably well protected? Growing vegetables are vulnerable to buffeting winds, careless footsteps, and curious dogs and cats, hungry rabbits, and deer. You’ll want to think about how you might protect your ripening vegetables from these dangers and marauders.
If you’re going to try containers for your vegetable garden, you’ll want to consider the same issues of location. But, you’ll have the advantage of portability. If the spots you choose seem not to work for your young plants, move the pots and planters. If you try vining vegetables, like beans and peas in hanging pots, you can even move them during the day to capture the best light. (A handy tip about those beautiful, big planters and urns: instead of filling them top-to-bottom with soil, fill the bottom third of the container with those Styrofoam peanuts and then pour the soil over them. The pot will be lighter and you’ll have better ventilation and drainage for your plants’ roots—particularly helpful if you’re growing root vegetables.)
Okay, now that we’ve figured out where we’re going to plant vegetables, we have to figure out when to plant them. Timing is, as usual, vital. Most vegetables are annuals; they will produce for only one growing season. New seeds and cuttings are necessary each spring. A few, however, are perennials; watercress, rhubarb, asparagus, and garlic will send up new growth each spring, as long as the winters are not too harsh. Herbs are also perennials. (Another handy hint: Herbs are enthusiastic members of the garden. They will usually take off, grow like weeds, and come back bigger, but not necessarily better, with each growing season. I recommend relegating your herbs, if you grow them, to pots and planters, where you can keep a close eye on them. If they get rangy or woody, cut them down-to-size; they’ll thank you for it with tastier leaves and buds.)
And looking deeper at timing, perennial vegetables fall into one of two varieties—“cool season” or “warm season” plants. This refers to when the seeds or starter plants are set in the soil. When the earth is still cool, not frozen or very cold, lettuce, spinach, carrot, and radishes can be planted. Tomatoes, peppers, melons, and cucumbers are warm season vegetables and do well when they are set into soil that has been warmed and quickened with awakening worms and root systems.
So, we have perennial and annual, warm and cool season plantings, and the third element of timing is maturation—of particular interest as you anticipate your lushes veggies on your table. You can look up the number of weeks or months it will take a given vegetable to ripen. Baby leaf lettuce and radishes will be ready to eat in approximately 25 days. Tomatoes, melons, and squash take 2 or 3 months before they can be harvested. When you know the maturation time for the vegetables you’re planting, you can plant in two-week intervals, so you’re not harvesting all the tomatoes or all the cabbage at the same time.
Now, I’m going to close this little pep talk on a fun note. Heirloom and unusual vegetable seeds and starter plants are now easily available. There’s a lovely Chinese Pink Celery that’s sweet and crunchy. Or, you might have fun planting chartreuse and purple striped Dragon Tongue Bush Beans. One of my favorites is Black Aztec corn, which has beautiful, blue kernels, and makes delicious cornmeal or a stunning decorative addition to your fall arrangements. And while we’re considering fun, edible plants, remember you can throw in some edible flowers to accent your garden and garnish your dinner plates. Marigolds, Calendula, Viola, and Nasturtiums are hardy, little ladies and easy to cultivate.
We’ll have to compare notes on the success of our vegetable-growing experiments. Our summer tables will be loaded with goodies; we’ll be “growing local” as well as “buying local” this year.
MAR. 04, 2021