Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Vegetable Garden Planning

It is time to discuss Vegetable Garden Planning. I will be borrowing a great deal from Barbara Damrosch’s “The Garden Planner” (sold right here at Skillin’s) in this discussion. She writes the following:

“Vegetable gardening is so popular that to many people it is gardening. When they parcel out the limited time, space and resources they have for gardening, the vegetable garden gets a mighty share; only lawns, on the average get more. In fact about half of the families in the United States have some sort of vegetable garden.

Why, with ample fresh produce available year-round in the supermarkets, is this tradition still alive and well? Sometimes the initial goal is to save money. If gardeners are efficient and diligent they often do so, but not, I would guess, very often. Usually I hear them joke in fall about the squash that costs them a dollar apiece to grow, or the peas that were fifty cents a pod after figuring the cost of the fence, tools, fertilizer and other aids, and the cost of their time. The following Spring, undaunted by these economics, they are back in their gardens again.

I grow my own vegetables for two reasons: the quality of the crops I can produce myself, and the quality of the time I spend doing it. There is no question that food picked from my garden tastes better than food that is picked six states away, rides in a truck, sits in storage areas, waits in display bins in the store, rides home in my car, then idles in the refrigerator until it is the right item for the menu. Vegetables ripened in the garden and eaten right away have many more vitamins, too. I also appreciate the fact that I can control what chemical fertilizers, if any, are used to grow my vegetables and whether they are sprayed with pesticides….And as I investigate the selection of vegetables available to me as a home gardener, I realize more and more how much better it is than that in the produce department. Supermarket vegetables are usually bred for ease of transportation and storage…and the ability of the crop to bear all at once for most efficient harvest. In choosing what to grow in my garden, on the other hand, I look for better flavors and nutrition, new and unusual varieties to try out and, quite often, a crop that does not mature all at once over a long period of time.

All these are benefits I have discovered during the course of growing vegetables, but they are not what motivated me in the first place. Initially it was simply the itch to get out there in the Spring, to smell the warm earth, and grub around in the garden in the sunshine, feeling fit and contented, watching my bounty ripen. The harvest was extra. I think there is a basic satisfaction in growing food for the table, and that most of us who do it enjoy the activity of gardening itself just as much as the result.”

Here are some more pointers about planning a vegetable garden that Barbara Damrosch goes on to discuss:

*What type of vegetables to grow? The first criterion should be your appetite and that of the people you live with. But do keep in mind a vegetable garden is a golden opportunity to try the new and unfamiliar.

*Take our climate into account. In the northeastern USA, we have no problems with cool-weather crops such as broccoli, peas, lettuce and cabbage. Ask your neighbors what grows well for them or check with us here at Skillin’s!

*How big a garden? The most common mistake made by new and old gardeners is that they plant too much. Either the upkeep overwhelms them and much of the garden succumbs to weeds, bugs or drought or the harvest is too bountiful, and they cannot keep up with the picking, let alone the eating and preserving. You will probably find it more fun and rewarding to start small.

*Choose a site that receives lots of sun and drains well. Trees can be cut to let in more sun and we at Skillin’s have plenty of natural products to help your soil!

*Try to start with a sketch of your vegetable garden plot to make the buying of seeds and starter crops and the ultimate planting more efficient.

We have just scratched the surface of planning a vegetable garden. We will discuss more aspects as the season progresses, but please let us know of any questions you may have!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 7, 2008

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