Growing vegetables might seem like a challenge, but most veggies willingly cooperate with beginning gardeners. With budgets getting tighter you might be considering changing a flower bed to a vegetable garden or taking out part of the lawn and planting veggies. Many vegetables grow well in pots in places like patios and balconies. There is only one hard and fast rule about vegetable gardening: Plant only the veggies you and your family will eat.
Vegetables are considered to be either cool season or warm season varieties. Warm season veggies need higher soil temperatures, above 60 degrees, to germinate and long warm days to mature. Many warm season vegetables are actually fruits but are thought of as vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and beans. Beginning gardeners have success with beans, cucumbers and squash. Tomatoes can be a challenge because they're prone to diseases, insects, bottom rot and splitting. In very hot weather tomatoes will not set.
Cool season veggies like peas, lettuces, leafy greens and root vegetables require cool temperatures to thrive.These vegetables are planted as soon as the average date of the last frost has passed and the ground is workable and not too muddy. Planting cool season vegetables too late results in bolting. Bolting is when plants start to flower and then go to seed. Lettuce, greens, cabbage family plants and root vegetables taste bitter when they start to bolt. Good choices for a beginning gardener are leaf lettuces, peas, leafy greens, radishes and carrots. Head lettuces can be tricky. Cabbage family plants take quite a while to mature, as do some of the root veggies.
Consider the hardiness zone where you live. If you have short summers, for example, then select varieties of vegetables that mature more quickly.
Good soil is the backbone of any garden. Spend time adding organic matter, compost and other soil amendments. Dig the soil well to loosen it and mix in the organic matter. Soil that is clay-like needs more organic matter and possibly sand mixed in. Your local plant nursery can tell you what additions you need to make to your specific soil. Once the veggies are planted you can't make up for poor soil by adding more fertilizer.
Plant as deep and wide as the seed package directs. Planting seeds too shallow means the seedling may dry out before it gets a good root system developed. Plant too deep and the seedling is exhausted before it ever reaches the surface of the soil. Overcrowding the plants means they fight for water, sunlight and food. Planting too far apart wastes space in the garden. Bigger seeds like peas, squash and beans are easier for new gardeners.
Fertilizer and Water
Keep an eye on your garden and water if necessary. Seedlings and newly planted plants require more water than those with more developed root systems. Most veggies need an inch of water a week. If the weather is very hot, additional water may be necessary. New gardeners have a tendency to over-water and drown the plant's roots. Fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer per package directions. Too much fertilizer is not a good thing. It will burn the plant and slow its growth.
Pick pests such as worms and caterpillars off by hand and drop them in a bucket of water. Control aphids by spraying them off with a strong stream of water. Most other insects can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Follow package directions to the letter. If at all possible do not use strong insecticides on plants you're going to be eating.
Harvest when ripe or when the vegetable gets to a manageable size. Over-ripe veggies are mushy. Veggies that keep growing, like summer squash and eggplant, get woody when they're giant-sized. Greens and lettuces may be harvested at any size. Peas and beans should fill out the pod. Both can be picked and eaten when immature.