Posts Tagged ‘vegetable garden planning’

Nothing better than fresh, home-grown vegetables.

The time has come to look through your favorite seed catalogs and make some decisions about what you want to grow this season!

Rattlesnake beans

Usually, I can only find my favorite
rattlesnake pole beans in catalogs!

These catalogs (and their websites) offer a much wider selection of vegetable seeds than you will see in most garden stores. So if you want some varieties that are a little out of the ordinary, ordering from a seed company is the way to go.

Of course you have your old tried and true favorites but every year there will be some exciting new varieties that are hard to resist and in most cases, you will only be able to find these new and different vegetable seeds in your catalogs or online.

Don’t procrastinate!

Order your seeds soon so they arrive in time to start some of your crops indoors to get a jump on the season.

Transplants vs. Direct-sowing

Confused about which seeds to start indoors and which are best to sow directly in the garden? There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these practices and the answer really depends upon the individual crop.

  • Plastic lids cover each flat.

    Indoors, you can control lighting,
    humidity, and temperature for
    optimal germination and growth

    Starting seeds indoors allows you to have more control over the growing environment.

  • Certain pest and disease problems that plague young seedlings in the garden are avoided when plants are started indoors.
  • Pre-emergence weed preventers can usually be used in areas of the garden where transplants will be set out but not where you plan on planting seeds. Read the label before using a pre-emergent to be sure it is safe for your transplants!
  • Replacing early season crops in the garden with started plants allows you to produce another crop quickly.
  • Transplants must be hardened off before planting in the garden. Direct-sowing avoids this.

Certain crops perform better when set out as transplants while others do better when the seed is planted directly into the garden soil.

Here are some general guidelines:

Eggplant seedlings grow under lights until it is safe to plant in the garden

Eggplant seedlings grow under lights
until it is safe to plant in the garden

  • Crops with rapid top growth and slow root growth, like corn, beans, squash, and melons, don’t transplant well and are generally more successful when seeded directly in the garden.
  • Crops with rapid root growth and slower top growth, such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and celery, will do better when planted as transplants.
  • Root crops are more successful when they are direct-sown as they tend to be more flavorful, tender, and straight if they grow at a steady rate from germination to harvest. Transplanting interrupts this steady growth.

Cool-season veggies to start indoors:

Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, Kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts

Cucumber seedlings transplanted and mulched in the garden

Cucumber seedlings transplanted
and mulched in the garden

Cool-season veggies to direct-sow:

Peas, radishes, turnips, parsnips, beets, spinach, carrots, potatoes (from seed potatoes)

Warm-season veggies to start indoors:

Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, celery

Warm-season veggies to direct-sow:

Beans, corn, okra, cucumbers*, squash, melons, pumpkins

* – Cucumbers can also be started indoors to get a jump on the season.

Next time …

When to start your seeds; both indoors and direct seeding in the garden

Until then – Happy Gardening and get those seeds on order!

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Nothing better than fresh, home-grown vegetables.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

I KNOW we’re supposed to rotate our vegetable crops in the garden. It’s one of the golden rules of vegetable gardening to help control insect and disease problems. People with small backyard vegetable gardens often have a difficult time rotating crops because their garden space may be too small. This isn’t an issue for our garden; it’s plenty big. My problem is that we didn’t really plant in a systematic way over the last few years. It’s not like we planted randomly but we didn’t group the plants in the right way to make it easy to rotate our crops.

Some of the tomato blights can be reduced through crop rotation.

Some of the tomato blights can be reduced through crop rotation.

Why is it so important to rotate the crops in your vegetable garden? Crop rotation is one of the simplest ways to reduce the buildup of pests and diseases that affect different groups of plants. In addition, some crops, like beans and peas (the legumes), fix nitrogen during the growing season and add this important nutrient to the soil. Crop rotation takes advantage of these factors and moves groups of plants with similar cultural requirements around the garden in a systematic way.

A simple rotation plan divides the vegetable garden into four sections. Vegetable crops are divided into four groups mostly according to family and planted into each of the four sections.

For this rotation plan, the four plant groups are:

  1. Tomato family: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant
  2. Greens and the mustard family: lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts
  3. Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, soybeans
  4. Squash family and Corn: squash, pumpkin, melon, cucumber, and corn

Carrots, beets, onions, and garlic can be planted in any of these sections.

Tomato devastated by blight

This tomato has been devastated by one of the fungal blights.

This simple plan rotates the four groups through each section of the garden so that none is replanted into the same section until the fourth year. The squash family always rotates to where the tomato family was growing the previous year, the tomatoes go where greens were, greens go where legumes were, and legumes go where squash and corn were growing. Easy!

I have one problem with this plan – planting tomatoes and potatoes side by side in the garden. One year we had a really bad infestation of potato beetles that ravaged our potato crop. It was so bad that we ended up spraying them (with Sevin I think). For some reason, this didn’t seem to faze them and I was horrified to discover one day after work that they had moved over to my tomatoes!

Colorado Potato Beetles can be devastating to potatoes and tomatoes.

Colorado Potato Beetles can be devastating to potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

Even though it was many years ago, I’m sure Andre remembers me coming to him that evening in an absolute panic exclaiming that “all my tomatoes are going to die and who ever thought that potato beetles would attack tomatoes and they are chewing right through the stems!”

Andre laughed at me because I was really worked up about it. “Calm down!” he said. “Take this and spray your tomatoes tonight. They’ll be fine!” I can’t remember what it was but it worked and my tomatoes were saved but I have been reluctant to plant potatoes and tomatoes together ever since. This is probably why we are having trouble figuring out where we should plant everything this year.

It is important to keep in mind that tomatoes should never be planted in the same area where potatoes were planted the year before and vice versa. We DO follow this practice.

Mexican Bean Beetles really destroyed our bean crop last year.

Mexican Bean Beetles really destroyed our bean crop last year.

Rotating crops in the vegetable garden reduces the need to spray pesticides and fungicides because it doesn’t allow disease organisms to build up in the soil or allow overwintering insects that emerge from the soil in the spring to find their desirable host plants within easy reach. It just makes sense – an inexpensive, environmentally friendly way to have a successful vegetable gardening experience!

Now I’m going back to the drawing board to figure out where we should plant the tomatoes, beans, and cukes this year. The potatoes and onions are already in the ground and the greens are in containers on the deck for easy access at dinnertime and we’ve just started harvesting some delicious spinach for our salads, yum!

Here’s more information on plant groupings for crop rotation.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Nothing better than fresh, home-grown vegetables.

It’s January and that means it’s garden planning time.

At our house January means vegetable garden planning time because this is when all our vegetable seed catalogs begin to arrive in the mail. Saturday mornings in January are often spent browsing through these over a steaming cup of coffee or two.

Cherry Belle radish is a wonderful variety that I never knew was an heirloom.

Cherry Belle is a wonderful radish that I never realized was an heirloom.

This year we are planning to grow a few more heirloom varieties. These old-fashioned varieties have become more popular and have been steadily creeping into the pages of the seed catalogs; heirloom tomatoes, heirloom beans, heirloom carrots, heirloom squash …

There are heirloom varieties of almost every type of vegetable. We’ve actually been growing some of them for years – I just never knew it because they weren’t listed in the catalogs as such.

What exactly is an heirloom plant? The answer isn’t truly clear cut. I have seen heirlooms defined as varieties that are more than 50 years old, more than 100 years old, varieties grown before World War II, but in the simplest terms, these are open pollinated varieties where the seeds have been passed down for many generations. These are the vegetable seeds that our ancestors planted back in the days before commercial chemical fertilizers and pesticides were commonly available. The seeds from the most successful, most flavorful plants were carefully saved and replanted from season to season and passed on from generation to generation.

Regardless of their age, heirlooms are plants that are open-pollinated, meaning they are pollinated naturally and grow true from seed year after year. This is in contrast to hybrid varieties which are the result of the intentional cross pollination between two related but distinctly different varieties. Seeds from hybrids are often sterile or, if they do grow, they produce plants that don’t have the same characteristics as the parent plant. This is great for the seed companies because it forces the gardener to purchase new seeds each season – the seeds can’t be saved and replanted from year to year.

Rattlesnake beans are a delicious heirloom pole bean - my favorite.

Rattlesnake beans are a delicious heirloom pole bean - my favorite.

Why grow heirlooms? Some people swear that the flavor of heirloom vegetables is far superior to that of the hybrid forms. In my (so far) limited experience with growing heirloom tomatoes and beans, I have found this to be quite true – which is why we have vowed to try more this year.

The modern hybrids were created to promote certain traits; disease resistance, uniformity of shape and size (often for ease of shipment), uniformity of color (for marketability), ability to keep for a long time without spoiling, and a larger per plant yield. Unfortunately, it seems that for some of these F1 hybrids, flavor and texture may have been lower on the list of desirable characteristics. Go figure!

A colorful salsa made from various heirloom tomatoes - beautiful AND tasty!

A colorful salsa made from various heirloom tomatoes - beautiful AND tasty!

Heirloom varieties have had the benefit of generations of gardeners who hand selected the seeds of the most successful and tastiest of the harvest to keep for the following year. Over time this careful selection has yielded delicious results and wonderful diversity; purple carrots, striped beans, black radishes, round zucchini, pear-shaped tomatoes …

While they may not have a perfect shape with uniform color and smooth skin like many of the hybrid varieties and though they may be more prone to some diseases, heirloom vegetables are definitely worth growing for their outstanding flavor and unique characteristics.

Here are some interesting heirlooms we want to try this year: ‘Ronde de Nice’ (a small, round zucchini), ‘Delicata’ (a cream colored winter squash with dark green stripes and sweet orange flesh), ‘Tennessee Sweet Potato’ (a large, pear-shaped winter squash), ‘Pruden’s Purple’ tomato, ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’ tomato (an orange colored tomato that just sounds cool!), and ‘Black Krim’ tomato. We’re still looking but hope to make our final decisions this weekend and place our orders! I’m looking forward to a great gardening season!

Check our website for a list of our recommended seed catalogs including many that carry heirloom seeds!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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