VEGETABLE GARDEN PREREQUISITES
I take my hat off to all the vegetable gardeners. Compared to gardening with flowers, raising vegetable crops successfully, especially in one’s early, tenderfoot, start-up years, takes some doing.
For persons who may have been discouraged or feel intimidated by the unfamiliarities of tending a vegetable garden, here are some basics to ease your way into the ranks of the initiated.
First, your garden must be in a sunny spot where the plants will get at least 6 – 9 hours of sun. You can start it by planting seeds or young started plants (called transplants) sold at garden centers. BUT: Which method is best tolerated by which plants?
Transplant Easily: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, endive and escarole, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce (head and leaf), mustard, shallots and tomatoes. Transplant Reasonably Well: beets, celery, Swiss chard, eggplant, onions, parsnips and peppers.
Use Direct Seeding: beans (snap, shell and lima), carrots, corn, cucumber, melons, okra, peas, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, summer squash, winter squash, turnips and watermelon.
Which vegetables are the easiest to grow? Answer: beans, beets, leaf lettuce, peas, potatoes, radishes and spinach. All these can be grown fromseed, are easy to sow, mature quickly, require no staking or pruning, are most resistant to pests and frost, and are easy to harvest.
Which vegetables are planted when? Answer: Early Spring: As soon as the ground is no longer cold and wet (late March-early April): broccoli plants, cabbage plants, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion sets, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips. Mid Spring: After the last average killing frost (about April 25 in this area): carrots, cauliflower plants, beets, onion seeds, parsnips, Swiss chard. Plant two weeks later: beans, corn, potato, early tomato seeds. EarlySummer: when soil and weather are warm: lima beans, cantaloupe, celery plants, melons, cucumbers, eggplant plants, pumpkins, pepper plants, potatoes for winter, squash, tomato plants and watermelons. Mid-Summer to Fall: plant in late June or early July for fall crops: beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, spinach and turnips.
How much do you have to be concerned about fertilizing the soil? Before you assume your soil needs fertilizer, it’s worth noting that lack of adequate soil fertility is almost never the reason for vegetable garden failures. Fertilizing is an important practice, but it is not a cure-all. It cannot compensate for poor soil structure, nor can it counter the influence of close-by shade trees or tree roots.
Soil pH (acidity) is the most important factor to determine because it determines the ability of plants to absorb nutrients. This is a scale from 1 to 14 which identifies soil acidity (when pH is less than 7) and alkalinity (when pH is greater than 7). Vegetables typically grow best in slightly acidic to neutral soil, in the range of 6.5 to 7.5.
The three major elements essential for plant nutrition are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium K). Nitrogen promotes dark green, sturdy leaf and stem (vegetative) growth. Phosphorous promotes root development, flower production, increased fruit set and earlier ripening. Potassium enhances fruit size and quality and disease resistance
Standard tests for vegetable garden soils include pH, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen content is so variable in samples it is of less value in estimating the true nitrogen status of a soil.
Farmers rely heavily on the analyses of soil testing laboratories as to the pH, phosphorus, and potassium levels in their fields. Maintaining these at optimal levels is crucial to crop yields and most laboratories deal exclusively with farmers, who may pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a series of tests which may cover hundreds of acres.
There is a general belief that the Extension Service does soil testing for home gardeners. You often see this written up in gardening books, and it may be true for some states, but Illinois does not offer this service.
Is there a lab that will accept soil samples for analysis of home vegetable gardens? Yes. It is GMS Laboratories, at PO Box 61, Cropsey, IL 61731. This company has been in business since 1983 with a professional staff of soil analysts. Cost for the soil test for the home owner is $15. The test results will be will be sent to you and will include the very important pH, the phosphorus and potassium levels, along with recommendations, (including exact directions), explaining to you how to remedy any findings that may need improvement.
Log on to the laboratory’s web site at http://www.gmslab.com/pages/orders, which has information at the bottom of the page for submitting a sample of your soil. Your garden samples will be pre-paid, so you don’t need to open an account I highly recommend that you have this soil analysis done.
We are fortunate that GMS Laboratory, a full fledged farm-service soil testing laboratory in Illinois, has since1983 offered soil testing to home gardeners all over the nation, including those as far away in California and New York.
A professional soil test does not have to be done every year. But, if you’re serious about maximizing the harvest of your vegetables, it certainly is worth having a periodic analysis done every 3 or 4 years.
Copyright © 2010 – Margaret Balbach