Detroit News, Saturday, June 21, 2008
Jeff Ball: Yardener
New at growing your own veggies? Try these tips
The Burpee Seed Co. has just announced that its vegetable seed sales are up 40 percent over last year. We are hearing that garden centers are having trouble keeping vegetable seedlings on the shelf. Vegetable gardening had been on the decline for almost 20 years, but now, more yardeners and gardeners are getting into growing their own vegetables.
I’ve been growing my own vegetables for more than 30 years, so I thought I would share some nuggets of information with you newbies who are thinking about joining the crowd.
New gardeners make two common mistakes. First, they overlook the importance of having terrific soil. Secondly, they start off with a garden that is way too big the first year. Both problems are easy to avoid.
To start your gardening adventure properly, it is best to build your garden in the fall and start planting next spring. You really need six months for the soil to get its act together before trying to grow plants. I would dig my new patch sometime in September or October when the heat of summer is past. The key to this task is adding as much organic matter to the soil as possible. That can be compost, chopped leaves or Canadian sphagnum peat moss. Then, cover the freshly dug area with 3- to 4-inches of straw or hay, which will protect the soil through the winter and will serve to add food for the worms and soil microbes.
Many folks start off with such enthusiasm that they inevitably make that first garden too large. I suggest starting with no more than 100 square feet; maybe three 8-foot by 4-foot raised beds. You can grow 200 pounds of vegetables in a garden that size. You can build the raised beds with pressure-treated planks in the fall or in the spring.
In the spring, you pull back the straw mulch, and you will see that the soil is already looking terrific. You now are ready to plant, but again — don’t lose control. Plant only those vegetables that everyone in your family likes to eat. No more than 10 different vegetables is a good limit for the first year.
For instance, in my 100-square-foot garden I have six tomato plants in cages, two trellises of cucumbers, one trellis of pole beans, five Swiss chard plants, three summer squash, which spread outside the garden edge, and all the lettuce we can eat until Thanksgiving. In the fall, I add some kale to the mix.
I save a lot of space by growing much of my garden vertically. I try to have every square inch of garden growing something through the whole season. Once set up, this small garden takes about one hour a week to manage.
Jeff Ball, a Metro Detroit freelance garden writer, has a yard care Web site at www.yardener.com, and his blog is at gardeneryardener.blogspot.com. Note his new e-mail address at jeffball@starband .net.