Despite how inexpensive produce in the vegetable aisle at a store may be, nothing beats the taste of home-grown vegetables. Gardeners who grow their own vegetables can also control the way in which they are grown by eliminating pesticides and incorporating natural means of fertilization and pest control. Growing your own vegetables is simple, but there are a number of cultural practices that you must undertake to be successful.
Have your soil tested in the fall to prepare the soil for spring planting. From year to year, growing vegetables can remove nutrients from the soil. By testing your soil you can determine what nutrients need to be returned to the soil in order for your plants to thrive. Most land grant colleges maintain a soil testing facility as a part of their community and continuing education programs. By contacting your local extension agency, you can find out how to take soil samples and where to send them for testing.
Add amendments to your garden based on the results of having your soil tested. Examples of soil amendments include compost, manure or other organic materials such as shredded, dried leaves or vegetable wastes. If the soil test indicates that your pH is not between 6 and 7, adjust the pH with sulfur or lime. Sulfur lowers the pH of soil, while lime raises the pH. Spread these over the garden to a depth of 3 inches. Turn them into the soil with a rotary tiller to a depth of 6 inches.
Plan your garden to give each plant the optimal space and light that it needs to grow. Low-growing shallow rooted plants such as greens, carrots and onions should be planted in the northwest corner of the garden, while corn, pole beans and other tall plants should be planted to the east so that they don’t shade smaller plants. Vine crops that are supported in cages or planted on hills such as gourds, cucumbers and tomatoes should be planted along the south side of the garden.
Rotate crops yearly to help reduce the chance of spreading diseases and to thoroughly use the nutrients available in soil. For example, beans and peas return nitrogen to soil, which can be used by other vegetables planted in the same soil the next year. You should never plant potatoes, tomatoes or eggplant near one another or in the same ground in successive years. These plants are in the same families and can spread or nurture diseases in the soil that affect one another.
Plant companion plants together. Companion plants are plants that benefit from one another. For example, tomatoes grow well near marigolds, basil and garlic because the three companion plants all help to repel insects. Avoid bad companion parings, where only one of the two vegetables benefit from the pairing. Bad companions include onions and peas, corn and tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkin.
Time your planting for an optimal harvest of plants. Beans and corn can be planted in waves for a succession of food later in the summer. Fast-growing plants such as lettuce can be interplanted with slow-growing plants such as endive. The lettuce will be ready for harvest and removed from the garden before the endive needs the space.