As Fresh As It Gets
Raising food continues to be a hot trend in home gardening. People want to know that the food they are putting into their bodies is as healthy as it can be, and homegrown food simply tastes better than store-bought.
When planning a home vegetable garden, there are a few things to think about to ensure you have a bountiful crop of fresh food to enjoy. Choosing your location is a key component to a successful season.
Most vegetable plants need at least 6 to 10 hours of full sunlight per day. Tomato, cucumber, pepper, and squash need the most sun, while most leafy crops such as lettuce, most herbs, spinach, bush beans, and beets can grow in three to four hours of bright sun.
Often vegetable patches are found in the far back corner of the yard. I encourage changing the location to closer to the house. Keep in mind that you will need to check the water needs, look for pests, remove weeds, and harvest the ripe produce regularly. It is much easier to keep an eye on all of these things when your plants are nearby.
If it’s your first time raising a vegetable garden, start small! Get a feeling that first year for how much time it takes before investing a lot of money into a new hobby. Think about how likely you are to use, freeze, can, or give away excess produce. I always make sure to plant extra tomato, bush bean and sugar pea plants. Both the neighbor kids and their dog love to pick and eat these foods while standing in my garden! I love sharing my fresh veggies, (at least with the kids). I also love to share my excess crops with the Lansing City Rescue Mission, and other shelters in the area. Weeding can be time-consuming, but weeds compete for water, nutrients, and light. Also, the lack of airflow that lush weeds cause encourages foliar disease. A 4’x8’ garden plot is an ideal starter size. Pick a few varieties of plants you would like to try, be sure to read the tags, and follow spacing instructions. Don’t cram them in or you will end up with a smaller, not larger harvest.
Another key to success is having healthy soil that is level and free of large rocks and roots. It is important to determine your soil type, PH, and nutrients. The best way to find this information is to do a soil test at least every three years. Click on the link for a soil test from MSU https://shop.msu.edu/product_p/bulletin-e3154.htm once you have the results add the recommended amendments and organic matter.
Added organic matter provides better soil porosity and water filtration, and increases the water-holding capacity, reduces water usage and provides nutrients. Well-managed, healthy soil is able to support healthy, vigorous plants.
I like to use shredded leaves, straw or aged shredded bark for mulch three inches thick around plants. These mulches regulate soil temperature, retain moisture, suppress weeds, and keep diseases that may be in the soil from splashing up onto the foliage. The mulch also provides organic material into the bed which is carried down into the soil by rain, beneficial insects and microorganisms.
When deciding where to place each plant in the vegetable bed, I try to use companion planting where I can. Companion planting in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in proximity for a number of different reasons, including pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial insects, maximizing use of space and to increase crop productivity. I love the book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, and there are many books on companion planting, or click the link to learn more. https://www.ufseeds.com/learning/companion-planting/
Once the garden is planted, you will need to watch for pests regularly. Record what you find in a journal, so you can rely on that information in future years. With a variety of pest management tactics, it is possible to eliminate or reduce the need for pesticide applications. Identify insects and their lifecycle. Only a few are actually pests, many more are either beneficial, or do no harm. Also remember that not all life stages of the pests cause damage.
Be sure to rotate where the varieties of vegetable plants are every few years. Rotating crops help maintain soil fertility. Differing crops use different amounts of soil nutrients, with some crops adding nutrients to the soil. In addition, rotating plant families help manage soil-borne diseases like verticillium wilt, and soil-dwelling insects like corn rootworm. These types of diseases and pests only prefer certain kinds of plants. Plant healthy plants, and keep tools and equipment clean.
Hand pick, or use an old pair of kitchen tongs to remove large insects and drop them into soapy water. If you do need to apply an insecticidal soap, do not apply it in the early morning when pollinators and beneficial insects are most active. Early evening is best. If deer, rabbits, or the neighbor’s dog are causing problems, you may need to invest in fencing. I always plant marigold plants through my gardens to deter rabbits and add cheery color.
When the seedlings are up and growing, or potted transplants are in, give the plants at least an inch of water per week. A long soaking drink every few days encourages the roots to grow deeper, where they are better protected and able to access nutrients.
When your vegetables are ripe, enjoy eating fresh, or cooking the wonderful bounty your garden will provide. I know I love sitting down to dinner with my family, feeding them a healthy meal that was the result of the time and effort put into our own garden.