The arrival of seed catalogs by mail and the appearance of seed racks in stores signal the time to start planning your garden. Both the catalogs and the seed displays appear in time for early spring sowing of slow-starting seeds indoors.
1. What’s your climate like?
When you select the vegetables you will grow„ consider two climate factors.
- The first is frost tenderness. The length of the growing season for frost-tender vegetables is determined by two dates, the last spring frost, and the first fall frost. Plan to grow frost-tender vegetables only in the period between the two average dates for your area.
- The second important climate consideration is the temperature preferred by the vegetable—warm or cool. Even when the danger of frost is past, warm-season vegetables need adequate heat to germinate the seed, set fruit and ripen their crops. Cool-season vegetables will usually recover from a moderately heavy frost and can he grew throughout the winter in mild climates. These grow poorly when it’s hot.
With most warm-season vegetables, the fruit is what you harvest (tomatoes, squash, melons, peppers, eggplant); with most cool-season crops you harvest the leaves, roots, or stems (lettuce, spinach, carrots, broccoli). Seeds of warm-season crops will not sprout and plants will not grow if the weather is not warm enough for them; cool-season crops will bolt in warm weather, producing premature flowers and seeds instead of the leaves, roots, stems, or immature flowers that you want to harvest.
If you think your climate is too cool for the crops you want to grow, try early varieties—they require less heat to mature than late varieties. Some warm-season vegetables, however, require so many warm clays and nights that they rarely succeed in northern states.
Carefully consider your climate and the beginning of the frost-free period before deciding when to plant. Don’t assume that because seeds or plants of a particular vegetable are on display it’s the best time for setting them in your garden. Dealers sometimes offer frost- tender plants too early for safe planting.
Once you know the climate requirements and length of the growing season of a particular plant, you might find that spring may not be the best time to plant some vegetables. In warm regions, for example, autumn is the best season for planting cool-season vegetables. And to avoid harvesting an overabundance of vegetables over a short period of time, plan for successive small plantings of many crops. Good timing is one of the key secrets to successful vegetable gardening.
2.Include some perennials
Only a few vegetables will come back reliably for several seasons, sending up new growth from heavy, frost- hardy roots: asparagus, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, multiplying onion, and rhubarb. (Jerusalem artichoke, a native American relative of the sunflower, is grown for its starchy tubers. The true artichoke is a perennial only where winters are mild.)
Don’t confuse these true perennials with annual plants that give you volunteer seedlings each spring from seeds dropped the previous year. Tomatoes, for example, are prolific reseeders. Volunteer plants can be grown to harvest, but they may not look or perform like their parents.
3. Climbers save space
Plant-for-plant, pole (climbing or runner) types often yield twice as much as bush varieties. Some people claim that pole varieties have more flavor than bush kinds.
Plan on training the vines up supports such as stakes, tepees, or frames. You’ll need 8-foot-long, 2 by 2-inch stakes for individual plants. For several plants, use 8-foot long 4 by 4-inch stakes as posts, running wire and heavy string between them. Tepees can be made of lightweight stakes or bamboo poles.
In very hot climates, don’t use metal frames, chicken wire, or galvanized clothesline wire for stringers. Plant leaves and tendrils can burn from touching the hot metal.
Only pole beans and tall peas actually cling. Beans cling strongly with spiraling, twining vine tips; peas that are bothersome to maintain can become excellent sites for vegetable beds. Drive short pegs or posts in the corners of these plots to keep hoses from knocking down the plants.
If you have scouted your property and can’t find a good site for a vegetable garden, don’t be discouraged. Look around your immediate neighborhood for idle land on which to plant a garden, such as easements under power transmission lines. (Check to see if you need a permit.) Small businesses sometimes have back lots that are eyesores but can be gardened in return for cleaning them up. And some forward-looking cities rent small vegetable plots for modest fees. Don’t depend on the inherent honesty of people to protect an off-premises garden, though. Passers-by may succumb to the temptation to take vegetables unless you can fence the area and lock the gate.