Gardening guide to help you plan your planting and get the most out of your vegetable garden harvest.
By Sarah F. Ehrhardt, Pewaukee, Wisconsin
What makes a vegetable garden successful? Many people would say it’s heaps of produce. After more than 20 years, I’ve come to believe the best garden is one that produces what you want, when you want it, without waste. Without planning, colorful vegetable seed displays make it so easy to overbuy. But when everything ripens at once, you’re stuck. What you can’t eat or give away you must put up quickly, or watch it rot on the vine.
Thinking your garden through in reverse, well before you buy anything, pays off! I’m always able to use what I grow. You can, too with this gardening guide.
*Be realistic. It’s fun to try a new variety or two, but if your family hates peppers, try other vegetables instead. Even if they love zucchini, unless you’re prepared to preserve or give away the extra, limit your planting so you’re not serving it for breakfast.
*Stagger planting times to get fresh produce throughout the growing season, and to make processing less burdensome. You might plant half a row of beans, wait two weeks and then plant the other half.
*Plan to preserve. Freezing, canning or storing lets you enjoy the bounty for months. Freezing is great for produce you’ll use within six months, especially asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, corn, leeks, peas and peppers. Canning, excellent for most vegetables, keeps food about a year, but if you’re new to it, take time now to read up and decide whether you’ll have the time and equipment. Ball and Kerr offer detailed gardening guides; your local cooperative extension office is a great resource, too.
I keep potatoes and acorn squash up to three months in a dry, cool, dark basement corner. Again, read up on basic prep for this now. Also consider planting some root vegetables, like beets, carrots and potatoes, later in the season and leaving them in the garden, covered with hay to keep the ground from freezing. Imagine pulling fresh carrots for a Super Bowl party in February!
*Get recommendations. Your extension office often has publications with handy charts that detail space needed for the number of vegetables per number of people. Remember, you don’t have to plant every seed in a packet. Trade with friends, or be willing to thin your plants once they’re growing. Here are recommendations for planting vegetables to feed a family of four.
*Consider gardening expenses. Not all garden vegetables plants are created equal. Climbing peas and beans need support; others are so appealing to deer and raccoons that they may require fencing. Will you need pesticides, or are you willing to pay more for plants less susceptible to disease and insects? Factor those investments into planning, noting that some items, like fences, will last for years.
Planning now will yield an impressive return on your time, making your vegetables gardening a real success.
About the expert: Sarah F. Ehrhardt holds a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and has 25 years of experience in landscape design. She still loves to turn the soil and watch plants grow.