The gray days of winter are dissipating with every streak of pink and red in the early morning sky. The world is starting to bloom again with bursts of color peeking through the newly green grass. With the warm spring air comes visions of summer and the thoughts of enjoying fresh vegetables picked from your own backyard. Now is the time to start thinking about what, when and where you are going to plant. Here are some of the top questions people ask when they are planning their vegetable gardens.
‘I don’t have space for a garden…what is above ground gardening?’
Many gardeners are finding containers to be a great way to overcome difficult gardening locations. Poor soil conditions and confined spaces are often cited as reasons for gardening above ground. The biggest advantage to both raised beds and container gardens is the ability to provide a proper potting media for the plants. Vegetables do quite well in both systems. Containers allow gardeners to bring plants to a deck or closer to the kitchen door for easy access. Think creatively when designing containers — attach a theme like a salsa or pizza garden.
A container will never have the same characteristics as native soil, therefore topsoil isnot recommended as a media. A basic potting mix will provide good moisture retention as well as adequate drainage, important for containers. Topsoil can be used in large raised beds. Plants will develop adequate pore space as roots develop through several seasons of gardening.
‘Do I need to fertilize the soil before I plant?’
Yes, you should fertilize! How much, how often and what kind are all more challenging questions. Each crop you grow will have unique needs throughout the growing season.
Consult a trusted resource when planning fertilizer needs. Applying most of the recommended fertilizer before or at planting is suggested. Use the remaining portion mid-season as a top dress and work into the soil.
More is not better with fertilizer as too much can be detrimental to plant health as well as a waste of money. Some nutrients can be washed away through leaching and erosion, so only use what is recommended.
Many choices are available for organic and conventional fertilizer. Whichever you choose, look closely at the fertilizer analysis and adjust your application rates accordingly. Generally, organic sources require a larger volume of fertilizer to provide the necessary nutrients.
‘What’s the difference between Hybrids and Heirlooms?’
Vegetables (including tomatoes) are usually classified as being either hybridized or open-pollinated. Hybrid simply means that two varieties have been cross-pollinated to produce a specific desired trait. These new cultivars may provide better flavor, more disease resistance or higher yields than the two parent varieties. Hybrids target the strongest qualities of two individual varieties to make one stellar plant.
Hybrid pollination occurs manually by breeders, whereas open-pollinated vegetables are pollinated naturally by wind or insects. Both can be grown using organic or conventional methods. Seeds from heirloom plants can be saved and planted the following year yielding the same variety. Hybrid seeds are not true to type and will likely revert to one of their parent varieties, therefore new seed stock must be purchased each season.
Heirloom plants are open-pollinated and reach all-star heirloom status by being at least 50 years old. There are heirloom varieties of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, but the biggest demand is for heirloom tomatoes. They are thought by many gardeners to have the richest flavors and can sometimes be identified by their unusual colors and shapes.
Some popular varieties you might recognize are Black Krim, Cherokee Purple or Brandywine. Heirloom varieties can have inconsistent shapes and lower total yield because they have not been bred for perfection.
Whether you are planning a small herb garden on your deck or a prize vegetable garden, proper preparation of your soil will ensure success! Planning your garden is half the fun … experiment and try something new this year. Here’s to a tasty summer filled with fresh from the garden goodness!
WORDS – Abby Byrd & Keri Lauderdale Olsen • PHOTOS – Savina Vallacqua