On April 21, 2016, the Snarky Gardener gave a presentation on vegetable gardening for beginners at the Kent (Ohio) Free Library. The audio isn’t the greatest, but hopefully you’ll gain some new information.
Most people take pictures of their family or pets. The Snarky Gardener has professional photos taken of his vegetables.
This fall I took my award winning vegetables to have their pictures taken (say “Cheese!”). I have several projects in the works that need really sharp images of my produce and as you can see, these are dazzling. Many thanks to Kara Whaley http://www.karawhaley.com/ for putting up with my shenanigans and doing such good work.
The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!). The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.
This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds. In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage. Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.
The Snarky Gardener lists the top vegetables to plant in July and August
Just because you didn’t get around to planting a garden in May and June doesn’t mean you have to go without for the rest of year. The secret to planting in summer is knowing that the first frost of the year (usually in early October here in NEO) is your limiting factor. So you need either vegetables that will be done fruiting by then or that can handle a little cold. I’ve kept this list to direct seeded plants as it’s hard to get starts by the time summer starts. Seeds can be obtained online, garden stores, and from friends.
Here’s my list:
1. Bush Green Beans
Many green beans are bush varieties, meaning you don’t have to have a pole (or corn) for them to go up. The bush bean will usually produce within 60 days of planting but will only have beans for two weeks before the plants die off.
Carrots are a good choice as they can be planted through out the year and can handle frost. Make sure to keep them watered until they germinate.
3. Short season corn
Believe it or not, there are short season varieties of corn which give you ears with 62 days of planting (like Early Sunglow). Just make sure you get them in by the first of August to assure they have time to develop before it gets cold.
Bush zucchinis (like Burpee’s Sure Thing) are great for a short season with days to maturity in the 48 to 60 day range. Just plant them in mounds and let them go.
Kale, which is related cabbage and broccoli, is a versatile plant that loves the cold but will grow will in the summer also.
Peas are a spring and fall crop, so it’s best to avoid growing them during the hot months of the summer. To get them going in August, you’ll need to shade and water them diligently until temps cool down. Starting them inside first and then transplanting them in September is also a possibility.
As you have noticed in this list, bush varieties of vegetables are the way to go for a short season garden. Just remember to read the number of days to maturity and count forward to your first expected frost.
Spend some time to observe your chosen spot. You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred. If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens. Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.
2. Start small
Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out. Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort. Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.
3. Grow what you like to eat
Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes). If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.
4. Grow easy stuff
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin. Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area. For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble. Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.
5. Mulch a bunch
Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants. Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch. You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will. Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)
6. Visit often
Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else. Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food. Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do. I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all. Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).
7. Learn about food seasons
Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather. It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started). Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times. They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped. Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.
8. Watch out for critters
If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal. A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space. There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some. Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea. Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.
9. Think outside the box
There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”. Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc). If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching. And don’t be limited to your backyard. Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).
Good luck and happy gardening!
Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.