Growing your own fresh vegetables in the backyard is an exciting experience. Choosing vegetables suitable for your area involves determining the number of frost-free days in your location and selecting plants that mature within that time. But, before you are ready to plant, there are other concerns you must address.
Selecting the garden site is one of the most important aspects of growing a productive garden. Not only does it require full sun for six to eight hours a day, the area should be level, or slightly raised in the center, to allow for good runoff during heavy rains. Sunken areas pose the problem of collecting rain and becoming waterlogged.
Testing the soil to determine its pH level and balance of nutrients provides you with the information you need to amend the soil. An inexpensive soil test kit from the hardware store gives you a quick analysis, but your cooperative extension office offers soil-testing services for a minimal fee. Follow the instructions for gathering the soil sample and preparing the soil test. You will receive a written summary detailing the condition of your soil and recommendations for amending the soil to adjust the pH and balance nutrients. Follow the instructions to amend the soil.
Plants require adequate water to grow and thrive. Most require the equivalent of 1 inch of rain a week. If your area does not receive adequate rainfall, supplemental watering is necessary. Although gardens can be watered with a sprinkling can or bucket, a garden hose with a spray attachment makes the job easier. Watering deeply to saturate the soil to the root level once or twice a week, depending on the needs of the plants, is preferable to frequent light watering. Deep watering encourages deep root formation, while light watering encourages roots to form near the surface of the soil. Plants with shallow roots cannot tolerate dry periods and may not provide adequate support for mature plants.
Keeping weeds under control is vital to the success of your garden. Defined as any unwanted plants that invade your garden, weeds grow rapidly and compete with your vegetables for space, water and nutrients. Hand-pulling or cutting weeds with the blade of the hoe may keep weeds in check. Applying mulch also provides an effective weed barrier and serves to conserve moisture, as well. Grass clippings, hay or straw make good mulches for vegetables, such as peas, that prefer cool soils. For heat-loving plants, such as melons, peppers and tomatoes, black plastic or landscape fabric is often used.
Many vegetable plants, even those planted in rich, organic soil, prefer a boost of fertilizer during the growing season. Water-soluble formulas designed for vegetables are easy to apply by mixing with water, or by using a feeder attachment to the hose. You can find both organic and inorganic fertilizers in the hardware store or home improvement centers. Follow the directions carefully and avoid overapplication. Too much fertilizer or too strong a formula can damage plants and inhibit production.