At their best, vegetable gardens should produce abundant harvests throughout the growing season – meaning tomatoes, cucumbers, salad greens and herbs among others.
Be mindful that vegetable seeds and seedlings require daily watering in order to thrive, avoiding compacting the soil through footfall.
Spring marks an ideal opportunity to plan your vegetable garden, as temperatures increase and days lengthen. By tracking local weather forecasts and noting the date of the last frost, you can determine when sowing seeds outside and planting seedlings can begin in your plot. A soil test can also give insight into whether additional manure or fertiliser may be needed for an optimal garden plot.
March and April are an ideal time for starting seeds of many hardy annual vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, carrots and peas outdoors. Some seeds can even be started off indoors in greenhouses starting in February to get them off to an early start so they are ready to be planted out when frost risk passes.
Tomatoes and peppers can also be planted indoors in March to get an early start in their greenhouse environment, with outdoor sowing taking place after May when frost risk has passed. Salad leaves, summer spinach, courgette and pumpkin seedlings should be direct seeded – it is best to do this every three weeks for extended harvesting opportunities!
Stay on top of watering as soon as warmer temperatures arrive to protect your vegetable plants from drying out. Vegetables require around one inch of moisture per week; make sure that your soil remains moist but not soggy. Watering needs will vary based on rainfall and type of soil – heavier soils such as those rich with clay will require less hydration than lighter sandy ones. Be sure to water the soil, rather than directly watering plants directly as this will help minimize disease and fungal problems. To aid this effort, a drip system can be an essential addition to any vegetable garden. By allowing you to control how much water is applied and connecting into a rain gauge for precise watering needs, this permanent irrigation system makes watering much simpler and more effective, especially when dealing with delicate seedlings.
Gardeners in most areas begin planting seeds directly outdoors for crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers in June. Furthermore, transplanting of cool-season crops such as broccoli cabbage kale and lettuce begins in early June as well. If needed indoor seeds and transplants can also be started to get an early start for outdoor growing seasons.
July is an ideal month to sow vegetable seeds such as greens, carrots and root crops depending on your climate. Cool-season plants like arugula, spinach and parsley thrive when sown by seed in midsummer; their harvest continues into autumn. Midsummer also marks an ideal opportunity for sowing heat-loving peppers and eggplants that thrive when planted early summer; similarly summer squash and zucchini thrive when seeded later on in summer.
Sweet corn is the quintessential summertime vegetable, beloved at barbecues and picnics alike. Producing homegrown sweet corn requires plenty of water and fertilizer – be sure to plant multiple rows so it has time to cross-pollinate for more delicious kernels!
Vegetables such as okra, southern peas and squash as well as fruit-bearing veggies like watermelons, cantaloupe and pumpkins can all be directly seeded during July for harvests to last until Halloween. Tomatoes eggplants and sweet potato slips should also be planted this month for fall harvests.
Vegetable gardeners in colder climates can begin harvesting early-season vegetables in August. August is also an excellent month to sow warm-season crops such as beans, squash, eggplant and sweet corn in preparation for fall harvesting – check the soil temperature using a garden thermometer before planting outdoors to make sure it exceeds 40 F!
Fall temperatures provide ideal conditions for sowing many vegetables, from root crops like carrots and beets to leafy greens such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard. You could also try your luck at cultivating cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts as fall crops; be mindful that some may require additional protection than in spring so plan accordingly.
Generalizing, you can determine an ideal planting time by considering your average frost date and counting backwards from that day for each vegetable you want to cultivate. Most seed packets and starter plant tags provide this information.
Vegetables that must mature prior to frost include broccoli, kale, collards, beets and parsnips. Ideally these crops should be planted during mid to late summer so they have enough time before cooler temperatures arrive in fall. Furthermore, due to longer days becoming shorter as fall sets in they require additional production time–known as “fall factor”.
At nighttime temperatures begin to drop, you can provide additional protection to your fall garden by covering it with insulating fabric or hoops to cover vegetables when nighttime temperatures decrease. This helps prevent plants from freezing and thawing repeatedly which damages their cell walls and disrupts growth. You could also mulch around cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale plants as additional warmth source.
Other vegetables that thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall include beans (whether bush or pole varieties) and sage, both of which continue producing until early winter. Leeks, another mild-tasting brassica or crucifer vegetable, can be grown year-round in most climates. You could also try sowing broccoli rabe in fall if that works better for you – its delicate oniony flavor will certainly be worth waiting for! Cilantro prefers cooler conditions but still makes good harvests in this timeframe.
Cool season crops such as kale, spinach, carrots and lettuce are hardier than their warm weather counterparts; with proper planning and care they can even thrive in cold conditions. You’ll have fresh harvests all winter long; many leafy greens even taste sweeter after frost has hit!
Ideally, when growing winter veggies on your own, seedlings should be started indoors or in a greenhouse in September for best results. This gives the plants enough time to reach maturity before the first frost arrives – or alternatively you could purchase transplants from nurseries and garden centers.
Winter vegetables require ideal soil conditions in order to thrive, with lots of organic matter, low pH (around six), and ample fertilizer added as amendments. Add compost, blood meal (high in nitrogen at 11-0-0 NPK ratio), cottonseed meal or bagged organic fertilizers into planting beds 6 inches deep at least six times a year until everything has settled in completely. Make the beds higher on one side than another to warm the soil and divert cold air away from winter veggies.
Not only will a greenhouse or other structure provide ideal soil, it will also protect your crops from freezing temperatures and wind. Even without one, cloches, row covers or blankets will offer sufficient shelter from both cold temperatures and wind.
Parsnips and rutabagas, among other root vegetables, should be planted in early autumn for late winter harvesting. If planted earlier than necessary, however, these roots must be protected from cold winds until after their first frost. Leafy greens like spinach, arugula and mustard greens can also be harvested all winter; simply mulch these plants when temperatures become extremely cold. However, hardier vegetables such as Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, savoy cabbage winter lettuce chard can remain planted to produce all winter long.