To grow a healthy vegetable garden, you need an area that’s sunny and has good soil. Add organic matter, such as compost, to feed your plants and prevent diseases.
To avoid planting too early or too late, read your region’s frost dates and seed packets carefully. Print out your zone’s information and refer to it when making your plan.
There are several considerations to address for successful vegetable gardening.
Before planting a vegetable garden or anything, the soil should be tested.
A soil test provides information about soil pH and plant nutrient levels in the soil and allows a gardener to know what needs to be done before you grow.
Soil tests are available through the Wilkes Cooperative Extension Office and are free from April 1 through November. After getting results of a soil test, one can start to prepare the soil.
Avoid working in wet soil because it increases soil compaction. The soil can be tilled with a shovel or tiller once the soil is dry enough. A 2-3-inch layer of compost can be added and tilled to add organic matter to the soil.
Growing vegetables in containers is a great option. Add potting soil containing compost, shredded pine bark mulch and vermiculite to containers, but avoid using garden soil in containers. Raised beds are another option, but the soil in beds should also be tested before planting.
What and where to plant?It can be hard to decide what to plant because there are so many great choices. A great place to start is to look at the Western North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs.
There are also planting calendars for other parts of the state. There are three seasons — spring, summer and fall — for growing vegetables. Day length and temperatures in each differs greatly.
Choosing vegetables to grow during the right season is a key to success. Another decision when deciding how and where to plant is plant spacing. Plants need space to grow and some vegetables like tomatoes grow vertically, while others like cantaloupes spread out. Providing adequate sunlight is also important and most vegetables require full sun.
Direct seeding is an option for plants do well being directly sown in the ground. Vegetables such as radishes, beets, beans and peas germinate quickly and benefit from direct seeding.
Other plants like lettuce or carrots have delicate root systems and can be damaged when transplanted.
Vegetables such as tomatoes, squash and cucumbers can be transplanted or directly seeded. When direct seeding, consider the plant spacing requirements.
Thinning of seedlings may be needed after direct seeding. Thinning is the process of removing extra seedlings that come up to have even spacing along your row.
For example, spinach should be thinned 3-5 inches apart to allow for adequate growing space. A challenge with direct seeding is that it exposes seeds to weather elements and weed pressure.
When deciding whether to direct seed or transplant, consult the back of the seed packet for instructions.
Starting seeds indoors to transplant is a great way to prepare for planting in your vegetable garden. There are many different ways you can start your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse.
One must consider when seeds need to be started to have plants ready to plant on time. For example, bulb onions need 12-15 weeks to grow indoors or in a greenhouse to have them ready to transplant in your garden in the spring.
Other vegetables, like cucumbers, only take a few weeks before being ready for transplanting. When plants are ready to be transplanted in the ground, they should be hardened off soon.
Hardening off is the process of allowing plants to adjust from their protected environment indoors or in a greenhouse to the fluctuating conditions of the outdoors.
To start to harden off your seedlings, place them in a shady place protected from the wind for one hour and then return them to the protected environment.
Over the next 7-14 days, gradually increase the time the plants are outside and increase the amount of sunlight they receive. Once hardened off, your plants are all set for transplanting in the garden.
To learn more about vegetable gardening, contact the Wilkes Cooperative Extension office.