Successful gardeners know how much effort it takes to grow a delicious vegetable. Juicy, ripe tomatoes and crisp, sweet snap beans require extra nurturing that nature alone doesn't always provide. Even hybrid plants bred for vigor and disease resistance need special attention. But the plant also exerts plenty of energy in the growth process. Pushing through the earth and reproducing takes a lot of work too, although a plant's efforts can be lost on a gardener amid tasks like staking, mulching, weeding, watering and harvesting. Distinct development phases show the transformative nature of vegetable growing.
A vegetable's life cycle begins with a seed. Be it white or purple, smooth or dimpled, plump or wafer thin, each seed holds key structural and chemical components necessary to start growth. The growth triggers, however, are external. Water must trickle through a tiny hole on the seed's surface, and the air or soil temperature must reach a certain temperature for the seed to emerge from dormancy. Once these activities occur, the first shoot and root emerge, reaching up and down respectively, as the germination phase progresses.
A vegetable seedling, or tiny plant, emerges from the germination phase. The root system continues to develop, sucking up moisture and nutrients from the soil as the shoot pushes through the earth and unfurls the first set of leaves. The leaves, stalk and stems in turn use the sun's rays to promote photosynthesis, a chemical process that is necessary for continued growth.
As a vegetable plant continues to grow in size and complexity, with more leaves cropping out and the root system spreading to help anchor and feed the plant, it begins to turn its attention toward reproduction. Flowers sprout and rely mostly on bees and other insects to pollinate them, although wind can play a part. Pollination, in turn, is necessary for fruit and seed development. The buds vary, from large yellow blooms on zucchini plants to tiny white flowers on pole bean plants.
Reproductive efforts are the main goal of vegetable gardening. Flowering and pollination pave the way for vegetable, or plant fruit, growth. Without these acts, no deep purple eggplants or light yellow squash will be formed. As a plant grows fruit, it expends more energy than it ever will during its life. Extra water and nutrients are needed if fruit is to reach its full culinary and physical potential.
Vegetables are best known for feeding people. Their inclusion in diet is necessary for the survival of the human race. But their main existence is biological, with the fruit as a large seed pod. Certain seedless hybrid plants have been developed, but most basic vegetable species have seed-filled fruit. In the edible realm, fruit reaches maturity according to its type. Better Boy tomatoes, for instance, are ripe when they turn red, while beans should be picked when they are plump but before the seeds become too tough. Gardeners can repeat the vegetable growth cycle by drying and planting seeds from open pollinated plants.