I have been immersed in the world of vegetables.
As I am planning my very first vegetable garden this year, I have spent the last two weekends studying, like a student, how to grow vegetables. It brought me back to my university days. For several nights I have sat at the kitchen table after the kids have gone to bed, with my library books and my notebook, busily learning.
The culmination of this effort is a page of notes for each vegetable I want to grow: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, mint and spinach. I have learned a lot. For example, cucumbers like hot weather, but they like their fruit to stay cool and shaded under their large leaves. Their roots are vulnerable at the seedling stage so it is best to plant them in a pot that can go directly into the ground outside.
Now peas hate the heat, and so are the very first to be planted in the spring – a full 4 weeks before last frost date! Hot weather converts the sugary goodness within their pods into starchy blandness, so one hot afternoon on the vine in the middle of summer can make all the difference.
As for beans, there are two types – little guys that grow in little bushes (bush beans), and then big trailing types that grow up poles (pole beans). I am going to try both. The pole beans can be grown up a 6′ tripod of bamboo or wood stakes; I think this will look so pretty that I am going to put them in my front yard.
Carrots take the longest to germinate, so much so that gardeners forget where they have planted them. So some people plant them mixed in with radishes, just to mark the rows (radishes sprout and grow quick, but since you have to pull them all out after the carrots finally do come up, I think that this is too much work and a waste of radishes).
Tomatoes are the divas. They are well loved, but high maintenance. I learned that there are two main types, those that stay in a bush (determinant) and those that climb on a vine (indeterminant). I will try some of each. For those that vine, you have to give them a trellis or stake support, and tie them as they grow, at every 12″ or so. You also have to prune off the little suckers, so that the plant only maintains 2 to 3 main stems to focus its energy. You need to side dress them with compost when the flowers come out, and keep them well watered but not too much or else their skins will split. They are very frost sensitive so they should go out one week after last frost and then be covered up with blankets if there is any risk of frost thereafter. This is where container gardening has some advantages, as you can just whip in all your containers inside if there is a chance of frost!
Then there is the lettuce, it grows fast and aplenty and if you plant a few seeds every week or so you will have lettuce all season long. Great!
Some plants are started from seed outdoors, and some have a longer growing season so have to be started early indoors from seed, and then planted outside as a seedling later on. Every plant has a different plant date according to the kind of weather they like (peas like cool, cucumbers like hot) and they all grow at different rates and have different harvest times as well. It can get bit confusing to keep straight, so I decided to pull out my nerdy spreadsheet skills and map this thing out:
So it looks like next weekend, we will be planting our first seeds indoors, parsley, lettuce, oregano and mint to be exact. The weekend after that – peppers. The weekend after that – our diva tomatoes. Interestingly enough, the weekend after that we will be starting our basil indoors from seed at the same time we are supposed to be planting our peas outside from seed (April 9th). This seems ridiculous since this is only a few weeks away and there is still currently 3 feet of snow outside. Melt baby melt! That part of the schedule might have to be adjusted. It looks like I will be busy harvesting in July, and for some crops, will be able to put in a second planting before fall. Lettuce I will plant all summer long. Tomatoes will be saved for last, ready at the very end of the growing season (like all divas, they make you wait).
This will be my first crack at raising seedlings indoors, so if it doesn’t work, I will just buy seedlings at the nursery. I figure it is worth a try and will be fun for the kids to be involved too. I am sure they will love to help plant the seeds, and see how they germinate and grow. I am hoping to have two little helpers in the garden all season long. It will give us something to do together outside, and who knows, maybe they will eat all these new vegetables that they had a hand in growing…
So my planting dates are coming up quickly, and I needed to get my hands on some seeds. Since I did not have time to order them from a seed catalogue this year, I browsed varieties using online seed catalogues, looked up which varieties were recommended for my area, and then took all this information to my local nursery to buy packets of seeds off the rack. It was fun!
So much potential, those little packets. What goodness will they bring?