Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Let's talk veggies

We can all grow good simple food. It is considerably cheaper than the grocery store, not to mention better for you and YUMMY! While it may sound like it takes a big yard, there are many veggies you can happily grow on your porch in containers. When the robins start pecking, time to start planting! When the rain is coming, time to plant seeds and set out your transplants. Start the tomatoes indoors in pots, in a bright window or in the greenhouse. Tomato seeds are best sown 5 to 6 weeks prior to the last frost date, and can be worked up in successively larger pots until transplanting. Space plants at least 2 feet apart in every direction. Caging them will help support the vine and keep the fruit off the ground. To produce the best-tasting fruit, choose a very sunny location and water deeply and infrequently.

Peas are best planted directly into the garden a few weeks before the other common spring vegetables such as beets and carrots. For peas, choose a sunny, moist location where there is mellow garden soil (make sure its been at least 6 months since the last application of compost). Peas must not be planted too deeply--do not be fooled by their large size--they're pansies about germination and don't like to push through too much dirt. Each pea seedling is precious--do not thin them! Instead provide a trellis (chicken wire is really the best) stretched between a couple of 4-foot wooden stakes or fenceposts, located directly above the seedlings and along the row. Don't dally about the trellis--if peas don't start climbing early they tend to stunt! Keep the rows at least 3 feet apart, and weed very carefully so as not to injure the fine roots of the peas. If you catch the season correctly, peas can provide a great deal of food in season.

Once your peas are up, start thinking about planting beets, carrots, cooking greens, salad greens, and onions directly in the garden. Make shallow furrows about 2 feet apart on the soil surface, sprinkle in the seeds and barely cover with soil, then tamp securely and keep the new planting evenly moist until germination. Cultivate between the rows to remove any weeds before they get big enough to compete. When the seedlings develop their second set of true leaves, thin them out to give sufficient room for the development of the mature plant.

In the late spring, after the soil has truly warmed up and all danger of frost is passed, sow the beans, corn, cucumbers, and squashes directly in the garden. You may also wish to plant more of the cooking and salad greens at this time in order to assure ongoing harvest into the summer.

Corn is best planted in a block of at least 3 rows, with rows 2 feet apart. Planting in this manner assists in pollination and development of full ears. Make the furrows about 4 inches deep, sprinkle composted chicken manure in the bottom of the furrow, drop the corn seeds (1 every 4 inches or so) in the furrow, then cover with soil and tamp securely. Water thoroughly after planting, but then hold off on the water until the corn shows above the ground-hot, sunny, dry days provide the best conditions for germination, and a hard crust on the surface makes it difficult for crows to pull up the seedlings. After the seedlings reach 3 inches or so, thin them to a foot apart, and cultivate frequently and shallowly, pushing soil up around the plants as they mature (in order to give them more wind resistance).

Beans are best planted in rows near the corn, as they benefit the corn with their nitrogen-fixing roots. Beans must be kept carefully weeded in order to assure uninterrupted growth and ease of picking the green pods.

Squashes and cucumbers are best planted in hills. Mound the soil generously (about 3 feet across and 6 inches tall) and plant 7 to 10 seeds in each hill. After germination, thin the seedlings to 3 per hill, and cultivate frequently to deter weeds. These plants must not be over-watered, as too much water can rot the fruit. Keep the summer squashes and cucumbers picked at early maturity, as they taste better that way, and the plant will be stimulated to produce more flowers and fruits.

In these days of higher food prices and questionable "big ag" practices there is really nothing better you can do to feed yourself and bolster your self sufficiency than to grow your own food. This is a life skill easy to learn now, before grocery stores are bare. You can do this, I believe in you.


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