The National Gardening Association says Americans spent $1.4 billion on vegetable gardens last year. That’s up almost 25 percent from the year before. Now is the time to get the beds or containers ready as the frost free date to safely plant (around Mother’s Day) is almost here.
The startup cost of installing a vegetable garden will not be cheaper than buying vegetables at a supermarket at first, but over time, it will be less expensive. It is estimated that for every dime spent on seeds, you will reap about a dollar back in produce. Not a bad return.
You do not have to be an expert to grow vegetables. Plants need three main things: proper sunlight, water and great soil. All it takes are a few considerations:
- At least 6 hours of full sunlight
- Good drainage
- Close access to water
- Limited competition from large trees and tree roots
- Protection from marauding pets and animals
- Soil should provide nutrients and minerals
A few suggestions on deciding what to grow:
- Grow what you like.
- Select gourmet vegetables that you cannot get locally.
- Try herbs. They are easy to grow, yet expensive at the store.
- Grow only what you will eat. Two tomato plants per person will supply plenty for fresh salads. Typically, one tomato plant may yield 30 lbs. One eggplant plant will yield roughly 12-14 fruits.
Start small. The easiest vegetables to grow besides herbs include carrots, green beans, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, squash and cucumbers. Basil is also super easy. Have fun by growing a few varieties of each vegetable or herb. Some easy and unusual choices would include Arugula, Elephant garlic, Ground cherry, Hyacinth bean vine and French Sorrel.
Don’t forget about the soil. Most vegetables prefer a soil pH between 6.0-6.8. If you do not know the pH of your soil, you can get it tested. Many soils benefit from adding compost and peat amendment. Go organic!
If you are want an organic garden, it may help you to think about companion planting and using flowers to attract beneficial insects and biological control. Companion planting is merely planting vegetables, herbs and flowers near each other to assist with pollination, pest control, higher yields and better taste. An example would be to plant Thyme near strawberries because the strawberry borer that attacks the berries loves Thyme, but it does not affect Thyme.
Planting flowers such as Alyssum, Cosmos, Baby’s Breath, Calendula, Echinacea, Lobelia, Monarda and many others helps to bring beneficial bugs. This will balance the garden ecosystem by pollinating and protecting the plants from “bad” insects that can do major damage to your veggies, not to mention adding color and vibrancy to your veggiescape.
Even if all you do is plant a few pots with Tomatoes and Basil to enjoy with fresh Mozzarella, the satisfaction in knowing that you grew it will reap a huge sense of accomplishment.
Here are some excellent resources to help you get started:
From the Carnegie Library:
Companion Planting App:
Let us know how it goes!