Happy August! I wanted to post an update on our vegetable garden, since it's finally time to harvest just about everything. We've been picking various veggies for a couple of weeks, including zucchini and summer squash, cucumbers, lettuce, green and purple string beans, and cherry tomatoes. This week, we have found corn beginning to grow, ripening roma tomatoes, and bell peppers getting larger.
A few tips for a backyard vegetable garden:
1. Frequent watering: you've got to do this. Every day. We've been lucky to have our neighbors' son come over when we've been away, so that it's getting done each day. Rich usually turns the sprinkler on for about 20-30 mins each evening. He also fertilizes the garden once a week. Just be sure to use fertilizer that's made for vegetable gardens vs. non-edible plants only.
2. Good soil: To get the best soil for a vegetable garden, we've found that tilling composted manure into the soil has made a huge difference. We've also added in soil from our compost pile when planting a vegetable garden, and doing both of these things has really enriched the soil. One other tip for cultivating great soil is to toss your fall leaves on the garden after you've raked them up. They compost under the snow all winter, and turn into awesome soil by spring!
3. Keep weeds and grass out of vegetable garden: After intensive weeding for the first few years, we were stuck on how to keep weeds and grass out of the garden, and this really works. Rich tilled the manure and compost into the soil, then rolled out and staked the weed blocker fabric on top. It's worked really well! You just cut little holes where you plant each seed, and voila!
4. Use both seedlings and seeds: We do a little bit of both. Our local farmstead and greenhouse does an amazing job with growing seedlings, and so we just pick up a 6-pack or two of baby plants of the things that didn't take well for us. Planting a vegetable garden from seeds can be less expensive, and some plants do well every time (string beans are an example of this), but some plants (for us, this has been bell peppers) just don't do well from seeds for us. Either way works, and you can decide if you want to turn your dining room into a greenhouse for a couple of months or not. Wait, that's just us? Hmm. Where do you guys start your veggie plants?
5. Harvest regularly: Once things start ripening or are ready to pick, it's a good idea to harvest at least every other day. If left too long, tomatoes can split open, cucumbers get too big and seedy (better to pick them when they're still pretty narrow), beans can get tough if they're too big, and lettuce can get wilty or topple over. Looking over the plants regularly can also help you identify and remove dead leaves or non-fruiting branches on tomato plants, and to find and remove pests such as green tomato hornworms or Japanese beetles, both of which can really destroy things.
If you're looking to create a beginner vegetable garden, I'd suggest trying leafy lettuces since they grow all summer long and are really easy to care for. I'd also try cucumbers and string beans. If you give them something to vine on, like chicken wire staked into the ground, they climb and grow without much maintenance.