For the past month we’ve been doing our post-winter clean up and preparing our soil for our veggies. Now comes the fun part — planting! Here’s some important stuff to know and do right now to for a bountiful harvest all summer:
Our raised bed is ready for planting — soil tilled & amended with fresh compost. The only remaining remnants of last season’s crops are our over-wintering garlic (left side) and a few carrots and spinach sprouts.
WHEN:Plants are seasonal – early-season (e.g., spinach, peas), main-season (e.g., tomatoes, peppers), and late-season (e.g., pumpkins, yams) – so a few simple tools help us know what to plant when: Mother Earth News’ Garden Planner lists planting & harvesting dates, and the USDA Plant Hardiness Map shows climate zones across the country. (FYI, most of Northen Virginia is in Zone 7.) Our last frost date in this region is usually early April, so now is the time to plant those main-season veggies!
WHAT: Rather than telling you what to plant, I’d ask: What do you like to eat? Love melons? Plant them! Hate beans? Don’t plant them! It’s that simple. A few other considerations: Do you want a continual harvest (e.g., peppers, squash), or a single harvest (e.g., carrots, garlic)? Have space to grow vertically? Choose vining plants (e.g., beans, cucumbers). No in-ground space? Choose container plants (e.g., cherry tomatoes, herbs). Read plant descriptions for specifics and choose what’s right for your space.
WHERE: Growing space is limited in urban farms, but I think our capacity for growth is limited only by our imaginations, so tuck veggies in wherever you can. (The formal name for this is “intensive gardening.”) Because our Virginia soil is dense with clay, containers and raised beds are great options. Containers are mobile, inexpensive, and easy – you just need good soil (I use organic Gardener’s Gold Potting Soil), and a good container (at least 18” diameter & depth, with drainage holes). Raised beds work well as borders to fenced patios, because the fences provide wind and erosion protection as well as support for trellises. I recommend either Cedar or stone to build raised beds, and they can be installed in a weekend. Just be sure your space gets at least eight hours of direct sunlight if you want lots of veggies.
HOW: Amend the soil by tilling with a cultivator or hoe, and mix in compost and soil builder. This is an important step, because organic matter creates a more nutrient-rich and appropriately-textured soil. (I use organic Bumper Crop Soil Builder and Lobster Compost.) Place your seeds or seedlings into small holes according to the label instructions, then fill in the holes and give a good watering. Your plants may wilt at first, but this is normal – they’ll perk up with some water. Install any trellises or support they’ll need later. Stagger your planting over the course of a month – this succession planting will extend your harvest so you’re not inundated with 100 tomatoes on a single day!
Memories of last season’s melons give me hope for our little urban farm this summer.
Now your hard work is done! Just monitor the rain, and supplement with morning watering (veggies need about an inch of water per week). And keep a garden record – it will help you repeat the successes (and hopefully avoid the mistakes) from season to season. Spend time in your garden, watch your veggies grow, enjoy the process, and remember: Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.