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Gardening Tips - Growing Your Own Vitamin & Nutrient Rich Foods

Some plants you may wish to grow in your first garden for Summer harvest:Tomatoes, Peppers, Squash, Bush Beans, Eggplant, and Cucumbers (If you have lots of room then you should also plant Corn.)

Spring and Fall crops include:

• Leaf Lettuce • Broccoli • Spinach • Peas

Gardening For Beginners

Vegetables are easy to grow and are very rewarding at harvest time. The most important requirements are sunshine and watering. Other requirements are a loosened soil, some fertilizer, and a little bit of weeding. If you have an area in your yard that gets sunshine most of the day (6-8 hours in summer) then you can have a vegetable garden. The first time you start a new garden requires the most amount of work, but don’t get discouraged, the work you do in the beginning does not have to be done again each year.

Preparation for Planting

First, draw a plan (to a scale) of the ground at your disposal. Make allowances for paths, borders, etc. It's fascinatingly interesting after you get started. Next, take inventory of your likes and dislikes in vegetables. Put down on paper every vegetable you wish to grow. Then go back to your plan and mark out a definite space or number of rows for the different vegetables. Select early, midseason and late growers of these vegetables you like best. This will give you a constant supply of them.

When garden operations start, be sure to follow your plan. A disregard of your carefully planned program may easily spoil results. Most gardens fail to yield satisfactory crops for lack of adherence to the original plan.

Study the peculiar characteristics of certain vegetables and utilize them to best advantage. Some vegetables thrive even in partially shaded positions, while others require lots of sunshine for best results. As to the actual location of the different rows and crops, here is a good rule to, follow: If the land runs east and west the taller plantings should be on the north, so that the light will not be shut off from the lower growing vegetables. Corn grows so much taller than anything else cultivated that it should, if possible, be placed in the rear of your garden plot.

• Digging the soil and turning it well to loosen it up is the first step. This can be done with a digging fork or a rototiller but careful not to over rototill as that can cause problems with drainage.

• The most important thing you can add to your garden is compost. Spreading a 1" layer of a good compost will add microorganisms and nutrients to your garden along with earthworms and good bacteria. They will do most of the work in your garden to break down the minerals and natural chemicals in your soil and allow the plants to take them up through their roots.

• Fertilizing should be done as naturally as possible. Compost generally has some grass clippings in it which provide enough nitrogen for the whole season. If yours does not, you can add manures, or worm castings, which make a wonderful fertilizer or you can use a store bought organic type fertilizer which has low numbers on the bag such as 6-4-2. Higher numbers on a bag of fertilizer do not mean that it is better for your plant.

• The same situation goes for insect control. There are some really good mild organic treatments for pest control but before you use anything, know what you have and the best way to treat it. Sometimes this is as easy as clearing away a few weeds or adding a mulch. Many store bought pest controls can be very toxic to your plants, good bugs and you. Always read the package very carefully, organic doesn't always mean safe!

Planting Your Garden

Planting Early Crops
Cool Season Crops
- You can sow early "cool-season" crops such as lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and onions immediately after preparing your garden plot. Mark the rows by stretching a string tightly across the area where you want a furrow. Use the corner edge of a long piece of angle iron or aluminum to establish a furrow with a uniform depth. The use of a hoe handle or shovel may create a furrow with variable depths and result in non-uniform emergence, particularly with small seed vegetable crops.You can usually sow sandy soils a little deeper than clay soils.

Warm Season Crops - Wait until danger of frost is past (mid-to-late May) before transplanting tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and similar "warm season" crops.

Tender Crops - Cucumbers, pumpkins and watermelons can be seeded earlier by placing hot caps over the soil one week before planting. This warms the soil and helps those crops germinate more quickly. Keep the hot caps on until the plants emerge and are growing vigorously.

Starting Plants Inside

Warm season crops need a long growing season and usually will not mature if seeded directly in the garden. Cool season crops must mature before hot weather. It is necessary, then, either to start these crops early inside or to buy plants at a garden center or greenhouse. Start seeds in plastic trays or peat pots that are 3-4 inches deep. A good soil mixture contains two parts loam, one part sand, and one part organic matter. Thoroughly mix the soil in a wheelbarrow with a shovel and sift it through a ¼-inch mesh screen. Premixed soil mixtures are available at garden centers.

Fill the transplant tray or peat pots with the soil mixture and carefully firm the soil along the sides. After filling in the depressions, level the soil to about ¼ inch below the top. Firm the soil evenly. Sow the seed by making a ¼-½ inch hole using a dibble or pencil with a tape mark to keep the depth consistent. Sow 2-3 seeds in each tray cell or peat pot.

Start warm-season crops later than cool-season crops. Peppers and eggplant germinate slowly and should be started before tomatoes. Cover the seeds lightly with sand, screened soil, or vermiculite. Gently water the transplant trays using a fine screened waterer to prevent washing the seeds out of the soil. Cover the transplant tray or peat pots with clear plastic and keep in a warm room until germination. As soon as the seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep the seedlings in full sunlight or directly under fluorescent lights. Once the seedlings emerge, thin to one plant and apply a starter fertilizer of 1½ tablespoons of 5-10-5 in 1 gallon of water. Apply approximately ¼ cup of the solution to each seedling every two weeks until transplanting. Rinse the seedlings with water after fertilizing to prevent leaf burn. "Hardening" transplants by shading them for a few days outside using either a lath house or shade cloth and slightly withholding water (but not to the point of wilting) will reduce plant growth delay after transplanting, otherwise known as "transplant shock."


Transplant in late afternoon or on a cool, cloudy, calm day. Water plants well before transplanting. Cut the soil between the plants with a knife so each plant can separate easily with a substantial root ball attached. Seedlings grown in separate containers can be transplanted without disturbing the roots. If seedlings are transplanted in peat pots, make sure the top edge of the peat pot is not exposed above the soil surface or the peat pot will act like a wick and rapidly draw the moisture from the root ball, stressing the plant.

Scrape the dry surface soil from the planting area. With a hand shovel, make a hole large enough to easily receive the root ball of the transplant. Firm the soil around the roots and water with the starter fertilizer solution. Apply ½ cup per plant at planting time.

Transplanted crops may be set out in the garden a week or two before it would otherwise be safe if hot caps are used. Remove the caps after the air temperatures get real warm during the day. If paper hot caps are used, punch ventilation holes in the tops. High temperatures within the hot cap can kill young plants.

Maintaining Your Garden for Maximum Production

Monitor the amount of water the different vegetable varieties need and water accordingly
• Remove
weeds and maintain a good level of mulch
Fertilize as necessary and apply pesticides as instructed according to different plant varieties & infestations

Harvesting Your Crops

Use these guidelines to tell when to harvest your garden vegetables. Common garden vegetables (and a couple of fruits)are listed alphabetically.

Asparagus - Begin harvesting the third year after planting. Harvest when the spears are 6 to 10 inches above the ground but before the heads open. Cut or snap spears off at the soil line. Stop harvesting if spears show a marked decrease in size. Maximum harvest period is 6 to 8 weeks

Bean, Snap Bean - Harvest before pods are full sized and when seeds are tender and about one-fourth developed. Harvesting usually begins 2 to 3 weeks after first bloom. Don't allow beans to mature on plants or bean production will decrease.

Bean, lima, broad - Harvest when pods are fully developed and seeds are green and tender.

Beet - Harvest when roots are 1 1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. Some cultivars may maintain quality in larger sizes.

Broccoli - Harvest when flower head is fully developed, but before the flowers begin to open. Cut 6 to 7 inches below the flower head. Side heads will develop after the main head is cut.

Brussels sprouts - Harvest the lower sprouts (small heads) when they are about 1 to 1-½ inches in diameter by twisting them off. Lower leaves along the stem may be removed to hasten maturity.

Cabbage - Harvest when heads are solid, but before they split. On early cabbage, cut just beneath the solid head. Small lateral heads will develop from buds in the axils of the older leaves.

Carrot - Harvest when ¾ to 1 inch in diameter or smaller when thinning. For storage, leave carrots in soil until a light frost occurs. Use care when harvesting, since bruising favors the development of soft rot during storage.

Cauliflower - Cover curds when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter by tying the outer leaves loosely about the head, or using leaves from other plants in the garden. Check for developing curds every 2 to 3 days, and retie if further development is necessary. Harvest when the heads are full sized but still white and smooth.

Celery - Harvest when plants are 10 to 12 inches tall.

Cucumber - Proper harvesting size is determined by product use. Pickles: Sweets are 1 1/2 to 2 inches long; dills are 3 to 4 inches long. Fresh slicing are 7 to 9 inches long and a bright dark green. Leave a short piece of stem on each fruit. Harvest daily and don't allow fruit to mature.

Eggplant - Harvest when fruit is firm and bright purple to black in color.
Jerusalem Artichoke Harvest tubers after a hard frost. Tubers can be stored in the ground over winter and harvested early in spring or, with mulch protection, during most of the winter.

Kohlrabi - Harvest when the thickened stem is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Lettuce - Harvest the older, outer leaves from leaf lettuce when they are 4 to 6 inches long. Harvest heading types when the heads are moderately firm and before seed stalks form.

Muskmelon - Harvest when a crack appears completely around the base of the fruit stem. The fruit will readily separate from the stem.

Okra - Harvest when 3 to 5 inches long and tender.

Onion - Correct harvesting stage is determined by the type and product use. Harvest onions grown from sets when they are 6 to 9 inches tall for immediate table use. Onions grown from seed for fresh use should be harvested when the bulbs are 1/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Harvest seed grown onions for boiling when the bulbs are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Harvest for storage (seed or set grown) when the tops have weakened and fallen over and the bulbs are 2 or more inches in diameter. Harvest before hard frost.

Parsnip - Harvest after a hard frost or in early spring before new growth starts. To harvest in spring, place a 3- to 5-inch soil mulch over the parsnips. Parsnips are not poisonous if harvested in early spring.

Pea - Harvest when the pods are fully developed and still tender, and before seeds develop fully.
Edible Pod Pea Harvest when the pods are fully developed, but before seeds are more than one-half full size.

Pepper, green - Harvest when fruits are full sized and firm.

Pepper, red - Allow peppers to remain on the plant until they become completely red. This usually requires an additional 2 to 3 weeks.

Potato For storage - harvest when full sized with firm skins. Tubers continue to grow until the vine dies. For new potatoes, harvest at any early stage of development. This is usually when tubers are 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Pumpkin - Harvest pumpkins when they are fully colored and the skins have hardened enough to resist the fingernail test. Harvest before a killing frost.

Radishes - Harvest when the roots are ½ to 1 ½ inches in diameter (Chinese radishes grow much larger). The shoulders of radish roots often appear through the soil surface when they are mature. If left in the ground too long, they will become tough and woody.

Rhubarb - Do not harvest the first year after planting; harvest only a few stalks the second year. Established plantings can be harvested for approximately 8 weeks. The quality of the stalks decreases toward the end of the harvest period. Harvest only the largest and best stalks by grasping each stalk near the base and pulling slightly to one direction. Note: there is no evidence to show that stalks harvested from frost damaged plants are poisonous, so they should be considered safe to eat.

Rutabaga - Harvest when the roots are full sized but before a heavy frost.

Soybean for fresh use - shell out just before pods begin to dry. For dried use, harvest when pods turn brown but before shattering occurs

Spinach - Harvest by cutting all the leaves off at the base of the plant when they are 4 to 6 inches long. New leaves will grow, providing additional harvests.

Squash, summer type - Harvest when fruit is young and tender. Your fingernail should easily penetrate the rind. Long-fruited cultivars, such as zucchini, are harvested when 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 4 to 8 inches long; scallops are taken when 3 to 4 inches long.

Squash, winter type - Harvest when mature. The rind should be firm and glossy and not easily punctured by your thumbnail. The portion that contacts the soil is cream to orange when mature. Leave a portion of the vine (2 to 3 inches) attached to the fruit to help prevent storage rot. Harvest squash before a heavy frost.

Sweet corn - Harvest when kernels are completely filled and in the milk stage. Use your thumbnail to determine this. The silks are dry and brown at this stage.

Sweet potato - Harvest in late fall before the first early frost.

Tomato - For peak quality, harvest 5 to 8 days after fruits are fully colored. Tomatoes lose their firmness quickly if they are overripe.

Turnip - Harvest when roots are 1 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Watermelon - Harvest when full sized. The portion in contact with the soil is cream to yellow when mature.


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