Virginia has a long, successful agricultural history because of its productive soil, long growing season and mild climate. Atlantic currents keep weather mild in the Tidewater region; gardeners can easily raise spring, summer and fall crops of vegetables. Planting a garden in Virginia’s native sandy loam is a pleasure. Favorite crops are tomatoes, potatoes and all sorts of beans. The last average frost date in southeast Virginia is as early as the end of March, but most Virginia gardeners can begin planting by the end of April.
Establish a planting schedule and planting plot for your garden. The city of Powhatan, located just southwest of Richmond, suggests beginning in February with beets, peas, carrots, chard, kohlrabi and collard and mustard greens. Some vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be planted in early spring and again in late August and September. Virginia favorites tomatoes, potatoes and musk melons may be planted in the spring and again in June and July and grow during the state’s hot summers.
Work in plenty of compost or humus to improve the texture and friability of your soil. Cultivate the topsoil to a depth of 6 inches. If you garden in an area with heavy clay soil, remove half the topsoil and replace it with well-rotted compost to improve its ability to drain and get air to plant roots. Add a balanced (10-10-10) slow-release garden fertilizer according to package directions (typically 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet) and work compost and fertilizer in to the soil.
Begin planting early spring crops in one end of the garden and work toward the other, spacing plants according to individual requirements. Spinach and lettuce, for example, are planted 3 to 4 inches apart, but cucumbers need as much as 4 feet of space.
Fertilize again with slow-release fertilize in late July as the spring crops are harvested and before the fall planting begins. Donna Williamson, author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion,” suggests supplementing slow-release applications with a half-strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks in the vegetable garden to compensate for the rapid leeching of nutrients through Virginia’s sandy soil.
Near Richmond, for example, plant fall vegetables (or second crops) beginning in July for some crops, but in September for greens, kohlrabi and cucumber. Plant carrots, peas and lettuce until Oct. 1; spinach and turnips can be planted until Oct. 15. Plant radishes until Nov. 1.