Vegetable Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition book cover

Vegetable Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition

By: Charlie Nardozzi and The Editors of the National Gardening Association Published: 08-21-2009

Want to grow your own vegetables? You can do it the fun and easy way with this practical guide. From selecting the right spot to preparing the soil to harvesting, Vegetable Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition, shows you how to successfully raise vegetables regardless of the size of your plot or your dietary needs.

Articles From Vegetable Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition

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36 results
36 results
How to Test Your Soil

Article / Updated 03-30-2022

To have a successful garden, test your soil and amend it if necessary to create the best possible growing environment for plants. Testing your soil means you determine the pH level and nutrient content. Both are important factors in how well your garden grows. Importance of pH levels and nutrients Too much of this nutrient or too little of that, and you have problems. Just as humans need the right balance of nutrients for good health, so do plants. For example, when tomatoes grow in soil that’s deficient in calcium; they develop blossom-end rot. Sometimes, too much of a nutrient is detrimental: Excessive nitrogen causes lots of leaf growth (such as clematis or peppers) but few flowers or fruits. The right pH enables plants to use nutrients from the soil. Soil is rated on a pH scale, with a pH of 1 being most acidic and a pH of 14 being most alkaline. If your soil's pH isn't within a suitable range, plants can't take up nutrients — like phosphorus and potassium — even if they're present in the soil in high amounts. On the other hand, if the pH is too low, the solubility of certain minerals, such as manganese, may increase to toxic levels. Most vegetables and ornamentals grow well in a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6 and 7. Soil-testing methods The only way to find out whether your soil will be to your plant's liking is to test it. Don't worry; analyzing your soil isn't complicated, and you don't need a lab coat. Here are two ways that you can test your soil: Use a do-it-yourself kit: This basic pH test measures your soil's acidity and alkalinity and sometimes major nutrient content. Buy a kit at a nursery, follow the instructions, and voilà — you know your soil's pH. However, the test gives you only a rough picture of the pH and nutrient levels in your soil. You may want to know more about your soil. Have a soil lab do a test for you: A complete soil test is a good investment because a soil lab can thoroughly analyze your soil. Here's what you can find out from a soil lab's test in addition to the pH level: Your soil's nutrient content: If you know your soil's nutrient content, you can determine how much and what kind of fertilizer to use. In fact, many soil tests tell you exactly how much fertilizer to add. Soil problems that are specific to your geographic region: A soil test may help you identify local problems. The soil lab should then give you a recommendation for a type and amount of fertilizer to add to your soil. For example, in dry-summer areas, you may have salty soil; the remedy is to add gypsum, a readily available mineral soil additive. Fall is a good time to test soil because labs aren't as busy. It's also a good time to add many amendments (materials that improve your soil's fertility and workability) to your soil because they break down slowly. To prepare a soil sample to use with a do-it-yourself kit or to send to a soil lab, follow these steps: Fill a cup with soil from the top 4 to 6 inches of soil from your vegetable garden, and then place the soil in a plastic bag. Dig six to eight similar samples from different parts of your plot. Mix all the cups of soil together; place two cups of the combined soil in a plastic bag — that's your soil sample. After you've collected your sample, consult the instructions from your soil test kit or the testing lab.

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Preventing Pests and Other Problems in Your Vegetable Garden

Article / Updated 03-30-2022

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. Avoid harm to beneficial insects and animals 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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Where to Put Your Vegetable Garden

Article / Updated 03-29-2022

When deciding where to plant your vegetable garden, assess sun exposure, soil quality, and water access. Choosing a garden site that's best for growing vegetables is based on good old common sense, as these tips reveal: Keep it close: Plant your garden where you'll walk by it daily so that you remember to care for it. Also, a vegetable garden is a place people like to gather, so keep it close to a pathway. Make it easy to access: If you need to bring in soil, compost, mulch, or wood by truck or car, make sure your garden can be easily reached by a vehicle. Have a water source close by: Hauling hose around to water the garden will cause extra work and frustration. Keep it flat. You can garden on a slight slope, and, in fact, a south-facing one is ideal since it warms up faster in spring. However, too severe a slope could lead to erosion problems. A sample yard with possible (and impossible) sites for a vegetable garden. Considering garden size and sun exposure If you're a first-time gardener, 100 square feet is plenty of garden to take care of; start small and build on your success. However, if you want to produce food for storing and sharing, a 20-foot-by-30-foot plot (600 square feet total) is a great size. Fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, melons, cucumbers, and eggplant, need at least six hours of direct sun a day for good yields. The amount of sun doesn't have to be continuous though. You can have three hours in the morning with some shade midday and then three more hours in the late afternoon. If your little piece of heaven gets less than six hours of sun, you have some options: Greens, such as lettuce, arugula, bok choy, and spinach, produce reasonably well in a partially shaded location where the sun shines directly on the plants for three to four hours a day. Root crops, such as carrots, potatoes, and beets, need more light than leafy vegetables, but they may do well getting only four to six hours of sun a day. A site that's sunny in midsummer may later be shaded by trees, buildings, and the longer shadows of late fall and early spring. If you live in a mild winter climate ― such as parts of the southeastern and southwestern United States ― where it's possible to grow vegetables nearly year-round, choose a spot that's sunny in winter and summer. Multiple sites could be the answer You can have multiple vegetable garden plots around your yard matching the conditions with the vegetables you're growing. If your only sunny spot is a strip of ground along the front of the house, plant a row of peppers and tomatoes. If you have a perfect location near a back door, but it only gets morning sun, plant lettuce and greens in that plot.

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Vegetable Gardening For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-25-2021

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.

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The Five S’s of Vegetable Gardening Success

Article / Updated 06-18-2019

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.

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How to Grow Vining Vegetables

Article / Updated 04-25-2017

You need lots of room when you grow vining vegetables like cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins. Don't have the growing space for vining vegetables? No worries; you can plant the smaller, bush (nonvining) varieties of some of these plants. The vining vegetables belong to the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae) of plants. They all love heat; grow long stems; have separate male and female flowers on the same plant; produce lots of fruits; and take up a great deal of room in the garden. First, choose a full-sun area of your garden. Plant seeds about 1 inch deep in the soil, and space them so they have room to ramble. For vining varieties, plant hills at least 6 to 10 feet apart. For bush varieties, plant seeds about 2 to 4 feet apart. Here are some other growing tips: *Fertilize: Add a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost to each planting bed. To increase fruiting, add a side-dressing of 5-5-5fertilizer after the plants begin vining. Water: To get the best-sized and best-tasting vining crops, give your plants a consistent supply of water. The general rule is to water so that the soil is wet 6 inches deep. Hand-pollinating vining vegetables Proper pollination is a key to growing cucumber-family crops. Poor pollination can cause problems; for example: zucchini rotting before it starts growing, too few fruits on squash plants, and misshapen cucumber fruits. Pollinate the plants by hand to ensure a bountiful crop yield. Just follow these steps: Identify the male and female flowers. Male flowers are long and thin, whereas female flowers are short and have a minifruit behind their flowers. Before noon on the morning that the male flower opens, pick the male flower and remove the petals to reveal the stamen, which contains yellow pollen. Swish the stamen around inside a female flower that has just opened. Repeat with other female flowers, using the same male flower. Stay awake for some cuddling. Enemies that target vining vegetables Here are a few diseases and pests that love vining crops: Anthracnose: This fungus loves cucumbers, muskmelons, and watermelons. During warm, humid conditions, the leaves develop yellow or black circular spots, and fruits develop sunken spots with dark borders. Space plants a few feet further apart than normal so the leaves can dry quickly. Destroy infected leaves and fruits and rotate crops yearly. Bacterial wilt: Sure signs of the disease are well-watered plants that wilt during the day but recover at night. Eventually, the plants wilt and die. To control this disease, plant resistant varieties and control the cucumber beetle, which spreads bacterial wilt in your garden. Cucumber beetle: This 1/4-inch-long, yellow- and black-striped (or spotted) adult beetle feeds on all cucumber-family crops. The adults eat leaves, and the larvae feed on roots. To control cucumber beetles, cover young plants with a floating row cover or apply a botanical spray such as pyrethrin on the adult beetles. Squash bug: These 1/2-inch-long, brown or gray bugs attack squash and pumpkins late in the growing season. They can quickly stunt your plants. To control these pests, crush the masses of reddish-brown eggs on the underside of leaves. Also, rotate crops and clean up plant debris in fall where the squash bugs overwinter. Squash vine borer: In early summer, the adult moths lay eggs on squash or pumpkin stems. After the eggs hatch, white caterpillars tunnel into the plants' stems. They can cause well-watered vines to wilt during the day and eventually die. Look for entry holes and the sawdust-like droppings at the base of your plants. To control these pests, slit your plant's stem lengthwise from the entry hole toward the tip of the vine with a sharp razor, and remove the caterpillar. Then cover the stem with soil; it will reroot itself.

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How to Grow Tomatoes

Article / Updated 04-25-2017

Tomatoes require a long growing season, so your best bets are to buy plants or start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date. Either way, you want a stocky, 6- to 10-inch tall transplant ready to go into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. To jump-start tomatoes, preheat the garden soil by laying a plastic sheet over the garden bed, pull it tight, cover the edges with soil, and let the plastic heat the soil for 2 weeks before transplanting. Planting, trellising, and pruning tomatoes To get the best tomatoes, you need to plant properly, keep the fruits off the ground, and prune them. Here are the basic steps for planting tomato plants: Dig a hole twice the diameter and depth of the tomato root ball. Place a small handful of all-purpose organic fertilizer or compost into the hole. Plant the tomato transplant up to its two top-most set of leaves. Roots will form along the buried stem. Bury the stem vertically or horizontally in the ground, leaving at least two sets of leaves poking out. So soon after you transplant, you have to decide which trellising method to use: Staking: Drive a wooden or metal stake into the ground next to the tomato transplant. Fasten the main trunk of the tomato to the stake with plastic ties. Caging: Insert a three-ringed metal cage into the soil around your tomato transplant. Keep branches inside the cage as the plant grows. Stake or cage your tomatoes. To keep tomato plants vigorous, remove extra side branches. When these suckers are 3 to 4 inches long, remove them by pinching them out or by cutting them back to the main stem with scissors. Remove suckers from tomato plants. Fertilizing and watering your tomatoes Side-dress your tomato plants with a complete organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5. Apply the first side-dressing when the tomatoes are golf-ball sized, and then side-dress every three weeks. Use fertilizers with lower rates of nitrogen; higher rates cause tomato plants to sport lots of dark green leaves and produce few tomatoes. Tomatoes need 1 inch of water a week, but they may need more in areas with hot, dry, windy summers. Eliminating pests and other problems Here are a few insects that are a problem with tomatoes: Tomato hornworm: These huge, green caterpillars, which sometimes grow to 4 inches long, have a horn-like "tail." A few hungry hornworms can devastate a tomato plant quickly. If you see a hornworm that has what looks like grains of rice stuck on it, leave it alone! The "rice grains" are actually the cocoons of its natural enemy, a parasitic wasp. Pick off hornworms and drown them in soapy water. Tomato fruitworm: This green, 1-inch-long caterpillar with white or yellow stripes feeds on foliage and fruits. They can be handpicked from plants. Stink bug: These 1/2-inch-long gray or green shield-shaped insects primarily feed on fruits, causing hard, white or yellow spots on the tomato skin. To control stink bugs, keep your garden weed-free.

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How to Transplant Seedlings

Article / Updated 04-25-2017

After you prepare your garden beds and harden off the seedlings, it's time to transplant your seedlings into the garden. Transplant seedlings on a calm, cloudy day, if possible. Late afternoon is a good time because plants can recover from the shock of transplanting without sitting in the midday heat and sun. Your garden soil should be moist, but not soggy. If the weather has been dry, water the planting area the day before you plant. Moisten the soil in your flats or pots so it holds together around the plants' roots when you remove the plants from their containers. When setting out plants in biodegradable peat pots, make slits down the sides of the pots or gently tear the sides to enable the roots to push through. Make sure that no part of the peat pot appears above the soil; the exposed peat acts as a moisture wick and can dry out the soil quickly. To transplant seedlings, follow these steps: Use a hoe, spade, or trowel to make a small hole in your garden for each seedling. The hole should be deep enough so the transplant is at the same depth in the ground as it was in the pot (except for tomatoes). Make the hole twice as wide as the root ball. Unpot a seedling (unless it's in a peat pot) by turning its pot upside down and cupping the seedling with your hand. Be sure to keep the root mass and soil intact. If the seedling doesn't come out easily, gently tap on the edge of the pot or gently press on the bottom of each cell of the flat with your fingers. Whatever you do, don't yank out a plant by its stem. Check the root ball's condition. If the roots are wound around the outside of the pot, work them loose with your fingers so they can grow out into the soil. Unwind larger roots and break smaller ones (this won't hurt them) so they all point outward. Try to keep as much of the original soil intact as possible. Mix a diluted liquid fertilizer into the soil of the planting hole to help the plants get off to a fast start. Reduce the recommended strength on the fertilizer container by half. For example, if it says apply 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, use only 1/2 tablespoon. Put each prepared seedling into the holes that you made. Plant seedlings at the correct depth. Tomatoes prefer deeper planting. Remove all but the top 3 or 4 sets of leaves, before planting. Tomatoes grow extra roots along the lower portion of their stems and thrive with this treatment. After firming the soil around the roots with your hands, form a shallow soil basin around the base of the transplant. The soil basin serves as a moat around the seedling to hold water. When you water or when it rains, the moisture stays in the moat and drains to where the roots are located. Depending on the conditions, water the bed that day or the next. If the weather has been dry or if the soil is sandy, you may want to water the entire bed; if it's rainy or the soil is already very wet, wait until tomorrow to water. Keep the bed moist while the seedlings get established and begin to grow strongly. Mulch after the seedlings become well-established. In extreme hot, dry weather, provide temporary shade for transplants with paper tents or wooden shingles pushed into the ground on the south or west side of the plants. If you don't get an ideal transplanting day and the weather is hot and sunny, shade the plants until the sun goes down. And don't be alarmed if your plants look a little droopy after you set them out; they'll soon recover. Cabbage seedlings can droop and look almost dead, for example, and be up and growing in a day or two.

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How to Start Seeds Indoors

Step by Step / Updated 04-25-2017

If you have the space for it, you can start your own seeds. Starting seeds indoors is easy and a lot less expensive than buying plants from a nursery. When you start your own seeds, you can grow unusual varieties of the plants you want to have in your garden.

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Garden Stakes, Trellises, and Cages for Your Edible Garden

Article / Updated 04-25-2017

Staking garden plants, tying them to a trellis, or growing them inside wire cylinders reduces disease problems because it allows for better air circulation and keeps the fruits off the ground where they may be attacked by pests or become sunburned. Some vegetables, like peas and beans, have climbing habits that require some type of support. Other edibles — including tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons — have sprawling habits that benefit from staking or support. Supported plants also are easier to harvest and require less space to grow. Support vegetables using one of these techniques. Beans and peas: Twining or clinging plants like beans and peas grow best when they're supported by some type of string trellis. An A-frame string trellis enables you to grow plants on both sides, but single poles are fine, too. Handmade wooden teepees are a great way to support your beans, and kids love them because they're great places to hide. Leave one side of the teepee open so your kids can get inside, and then plant beans around the base of the teepee. In time, the beans will cover the trellis, creating a great fort for your kids. Melons and cucumbers: You can plant bush varieties of melons and cucumbers inside small (2- to 3-foot-high) wire cylinders similar to those used for tomatoes. But for more vigorous varieties, use a sturdier version of the A-frame trellis that's used for beans and peas. Instead of using string, cut 6-foot-by-6-foot pieces of hog fencing (it has 6-inch squares) and nail them to each side of the trellis. The wire provides better support for heavy fruit (like melons) than string does, and the wide-open fencing doesn't constrict the growth of the fruit (so you get straighter cucumbers). You can purchase hog fencing at agricultural stores. You also can grow melons on a trellis. Choose small-fruited varieties of watermelon or any variety of cantaloupe, and plant your seeds at the base of the trellis. Tie the vines to the trellis as they grow. After a fruit forms, slip the leg of an old nylon stocking over the fruit, tying the bottom of the stocking in a knot. Then tie the other end of the stocking to the wire trellis so that the fruit is supported. As the melon grows, the stocking expands and supports the fruit, which may break off otherwise. Tomatoes: You can support tomato plants by tying them to stakes pounded into the ground next to the plants. You can grow them inside wire cages, which you can buy at nurseries or easily build yourself out of hog fencing. Or you can construct string or wire trellises, like you do for beans and peas. If you're growing indeterminate tomato varieties, which keep growing and producing fruit all season, choose or build cages large enough to support the huge plants that will grow. Also be sure to secure them to the ground well so they don't blow over during a summer thunderstorm.

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