It's Memorial Day Weekend, and what better way to celebrate than by planting a Victory garden to produce fresh vegetables all season long for the kitchen, grill, and maybe even the neighbors!
The trick to the home vegetable garden is not really in the growing. The secret lies in the variables surrounding the growing process. It is the what, where and how often of the garden that makes a difference.
The first key to success is choosing the space. Many growing guides will explain, for example, that tomatoes require at least 5-6 hours of light a day. This amount is a real minimum. The fact is that almost any vegetable garden in the northeast needs the most sun it can get its leaves on.
Preparing the Soil
For an initial garden, choose the sunniest spot in the yard and till the earth. Large forks and shovels are appropriate on a small plot, but for any large garden, renting a rototiller may be a good investment, for the back as well as well as the vegetables. Go as deep into the topsoil as possible, eight inches to a foot will give plenty of room for roots to stretch to a water source during the drier times. Adding amendments like peat moss or composted manure during tilling will enrich the soil and improve its consistency. Fertilizer can also be applied and worked into the dirt.
Most every garden as at least one tomato plant with the hope of receiving dozens on the other end. When picking a tomato seedling at the garden center, pay attention to the labeling to make sure it will yield the desired fruit for its intended use, i.e. slicing, sauce, etc. Also look for a healthy plant, which is not always or even usually the biggest. Look for tomatoes with a dark green or even purplish tinge with thick stalks. These will usually be plants that have been grown over a long period of time and treated to colder conditions so that they will be hardier when they are transplanted outdoors.
Pay attention to spacing suggestions on plant labels. Tomatoes can be planted as close as 18 inches apart or as far as four feet. The close proximity of the any vegetables growing together generally results in a smaller yield as they are competing for nutrients. If variety is more important than quality, however, squeeze them in.
A great way to get the most out of a garden is to practice companion planting. This entails planting short-lived crops like radishes or lettuce in between long term crops like peppers and tomatoes. Because the quick crops will come and go in about a month they will leave space for the longer-term vegetables to fill in, and the more space taken up with vegetables the less room for those pestering weeds. It is also a nice technique because the payoff of all the hard work of the garden comes along quicker and lasts late into the season.
It has to be done. Just buckle down and do it. A little time each day can make a world of difference for the garden as well as the back.
Once plants begin to be produce be ready, have a few recipes already chosen to take advantage of the newly picked veggies. While tomatoes are slow to ripen and give plenty of advance notice, zucchini and summer squash grow very rapidly, often doubling in size in a day. These vegetables and cucumbers warrant almost a daily check for prime picking.
Sometimes at this point, all that is needed is a little salt and a maybe a fork, but however it is enjoyed, the efforts are always worth it! Enjoy!
Information for this column was contributed by Volante Farms, 292 Forest St., Needham.