Pick the right plants to start your vegetable garden
Planting your own vegetables can improve your diet and your grocery bill.
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, but David Trinklein, associate professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri, says aspiring gardeners should also consider produce’s nutritional value. For example, radishes may grow easily, but spinach packs more vitamins.
These five vegetables are easy to grow and give the home cook a bounty of healthy menu options.
Broccoli does best when temperatures remain between 40 and 70 degrees. This makes it an ideal vegetable for both spring and fall in most parts of the country.
Broccoli is a particularly thirsty plant; give it lots of water. Harvest it when the heads are 4 to 8 inches in diameter. Each plant yields one central head, followed by side shoots that also develop into smaller additional broccoli heads. These additional heads develop after the central head is removed.
Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable garden inhabitant, although they are slightly more delicate and disease-prone than other plants.
Tomatoes come in hundreds of varieties. Consult a greenhouse or garden center to determine which ones are most compatible with your climate and cultivation style. Give tomatoes full sun and well-drained soil to help them fight disease.
Planting tomatoes in different parts of the soil each year can also avoid diseases that build up in the soil.
Carrots are hardy, take up little space in the garden and grow best in the fall and early spring.
Don’t plant carrot seeds deeper than a quarter-inch below the soil. Loose, crumbly soil helps carrots grow straight and avoid forking.
Carrots do best in warm, moist conditions. Protect your newly planted seeds with a thin polyethylene film that keeps warmth and moisture from escaping. Remove the cover when seedlings appear.
Onions may not be as nutrient-rich as other vegetables, but they certainly are versatile. You can plant green onions to add zing to salads and recipes, sweet onions for burgers and sandwiches, or storage onions to use during winter.
You can start with onion seeds or plants, but onion sets, or small bulbs, are the easiest to plant and grow. Onions do best in full sun, but cooler weather.
Since onions have shallow root systems, frequent shallow hoeing and cultivation can keep onions from being overtaken by weeds.
Spinach requires little cultivation and is brimming with nutrients.
This plant grows best in cooler temperatures. Plant seeds as soon as you are able to work the soil in the spring.
If planting seeds in the summer or fall, chill them in the refrigerator for one or two weeks before planting. Harvest spinach whenever the rosettes have at least five or six leaves and are large enough to use. Spinach is best when cut young.
Sources: University of Illinois Extension, University of Missouri Extension
Don’t let your garden get pestered
Pests and disease are the vegetable gardener’s sworn enemies. Home gardeners must decide which, if any, chemical pesticides they feel comfortable using. Try these non-chemical tips to keep bugs and decay at bay:
- Examine plants closely and pick insects off plants by hand. It’s tedious, but effective — and organic.
- Make sure your garden is fenced in to protect plants from bigger pests like rabbits or deer.
- Plant similar vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, or onions and garlic, far apart from one another to discourage insects or disease from spreading.
Source: University of Missouri Extension, David Trinklein