Cheat Sheet

Vegetable Gardening For Dummies

Everyone loves good food, and food grown in your own vegetable garden is simply the best. You just need a few essential elements for a successful vegetable garden: a properly sized site with a good selection of veggies, fertile soil, and plenty of sun. And to keep your vegetable garden productive, you can use a few easy methods to prevent pests and other problems.

The Five S’s of Vegetable Gardening Success

You can break down the essential elements of a successful vegetable garden into five words, all starting with the letter S. Here’s a foolproof formula:

  • Selection: Grow what you like to eat! While the easiest vegetables to grow are bush beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and squash, grow vegetables that you know you and your family will enjoy. That being said, grow a variety of vegetables and try a few new veggies each year. You never know who may acquire a taste for Brussels sprouts!

  • Site: Locate your garden near a walkway, next to the house, or someplace where you pass it each day. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. By visiting the garden for ten minutes each day, you can keep it in good shape. Make sure that your site also has easy access to a water source and is relatively flat.

  • Size: Start small. A 3-foot-x-6-foot raised bed and a few containers are plenty to get started in a small area. If you have the room, try a 10-foot-x-10-foot garden. It’s better to have success with a small garden the first year, and then graduate into something larger the next year. (For example, if you want to produce food for storing and sharing, a 20-foot-x-30-foot plot is a great size. You can produce an abundance of different vegetables and still keep the plot looking good.)

  • Soil: The best garden has fertile, well-drained soil amended with compost annually. Building raised beds allows the soil to drain faster and warm more quickly in spring. (Raised beds are kind of like wide, flat-topped rows. They’re usually at least 2 feet wide and raised at least 6 inches high, but any planting area that’s raised above the surrounding ground level is a raised bed.) Plus, you won’t be compacting the soil by stepping on it, so your plants will grow stronger.

  • Sun: Most vegetables grow best with at least six hours of direct sun a day. If you have only three to four hours a day, try growing leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce, mesclun greens, and Swiss chard, or root crops like carrots, beets, and radishes. You can also consider planting a movable garden. Plant crops in containers and move them to the sunniest spots in your yard throughout the year.

Deciding Which Vegetables to Plant in Your Garden

Are you having trouble deciding which vegetables to plant in your garden? This list is a quick reference to help you determine which vegetables are good for your particular needs:

  • Attractive vegetables: Why hide your love of vegetables? You can plant these vegetables right in your front yard where everyone can enjoy their beauty. Try these plants for an attractive-looking and productive garden: asparagus, eggplant, fennel, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, lettuce, peppers, rhubarb, sunflower, and Swiss chard.

  • Easy-to-grow vegetables: If you plant at the right time of the year, these vegetables are almost foolproof: broccoli, bush beans, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, peas, potatoes, squash, Swiss chard, and tomatoes.

  • Heat-loving vegetables: These vegetables can take the heat (and perhaps even better than you can!): beans, corn, eggplant, melons, okra, peanuts, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and watermelon.

  • Short-season vegetables: If your growing season is short and sweet, try growing these vegetables: bush beans, carrots, cress, lettuce, mesclun greens, peas, radishes, scallions, spinach, and summer squash.

  • Vegetables for shadier gardens: If you have a garden plot that receives fewer than six hours of direct sunlight, try these vegetables: beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach, and Swiss chard.

  • Vegetables kids love to grow: The following vegetables are fun, easy-to-grow plants, and kids love to harvest and eat them (sometimes right in the garden): blue potatoes, carrots, cherry tomatoes, gourds, peanuts, pole beans on a teepee, pumpkins, seedless watermelons, sweet potatoes, and Swiss chard.

Preventing Pests and Other Problems in Your Vegetable Garden

Before you reach for the insecticide sprayer to attack pests in your vegetable garden, try some of these lower-impact methods to reduce problems from harmful insects and diseases. Often, a pest problem in a garden can be averted before it actually becomes a problem.

  • Plant your vegetables in the proper locations. Many pests become more troublesome when plants are grown in conditions that are less than ideal. For example, if you grow sun-loving vegetables in the shade, mildew problems are often more severe.

  • Choose resistant plants. If you know that a certain disease is common in your area, choose plants that aren’t susceptible to that disease or that resist infection. Some vegetable varieties are resistant to specific diseases. For example, some tomato varieties resist verticillium, fusarium, and nematodes.

  • Know the enemy. The more you know about specific pests and diseases common to your area — when they occur and how they spread — the more easily you can avoid them. For example, some diseases run rampant on wet foliage. If you know that fact, you can reduce the occurrence of these diseases simply by adjusting your watering so you don’t wet the plants’ leaves or by watering early in the day so the plants dry out quickly.

  • Keep your plants healthy. Healthy plants are less likely to have problems. Water and fertilize regularly so your plants grow strong and more pest resistant.

  • Keep your garden clean. By cleaning up spent plants, weeds, and other garden debris, you eliminate hiding places for many pests and diseases.

  • Encourage and use beneficial insects. Beneficial insects are the good bugs in your garden — the insects that feed on the bugs that bother your vegetables. You probably have a bunch of different kinds of beneficial insects in your garden already, but you also can purchase them to release in your garden. In addition, you can plant flowers that attract these insects.

  • Rotate your plants each year. Avoid planting the same plants in the same location year after year, especially if you grow vegetables in raised beds (any planting area that’s raised above the surrounding ground level). Rotation prevents pests and diseases that are specific to certain plants from building up in your garden.

If an insect or disease does get out of hand, treat it effectively without disrupting the other life in your garden, which includes everything from good bugs to birds. Control measures may be as simple as handpicking and squashing snails, or knocking off aphids with a strong jet of water from a hose.

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