Last month I wrote about planting my peas in the vegetable garden. This month they are growing like crazy, already about four inches tall and reaching for the wire  support fence. I planted 16 potato pieces, 150 onion sets, a packet of radish seeds and carrot seeds. After one week in the ground, the onions are showing green tips through the soil and the radish seedlings are popping up. I have picked asparagus twice for dinner this week! I have also hand picked and squished about 100 asparagus beetles which appeared the day the asparagus tips peaked out of the ground. So far, hand picking is the only control measure I have used. I am also crushing the tiny eggs being laid on the spears. I will use insecticidal soap if their numbers continue to rise.

For those of you just starting out in the vegetable gardening adventure, I have made a short list of basics. Experienced veggie gardeners can use it as a short refresher.

Happy gardening!


Vegetable Garden Basics

1. Site/Location – Full sun equals 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Close enough to the house that you will want to go it. Water/hose will reach it.

2. What to grow – what you like and will eat.

3. Size – Start small, 10’ by 10’ will provide vegetables while still being manageable. Too big is overwhelming to weed, water, plant and harvest.

4. Basic home grounds test, a Standard Morgan test. Add amendments as recommended. Compost or aged manure worked well into soil.

5. Plotting area– Single rows, wide rows or blocks. They all work. Tall crops on the north. Track shadows so all plants get sun.

6. Timing – Frost dates. AVERAGE – Last spring frost date in CT is May 15th. First fall frost date in CT is Sept. 15th.

7. Cool Season Crops – seed packet will say “Plant as early as soil can be worked”. A good test to tell if the soil is workable is to make a ball of soil in your hand and poke it with a finger, if it falls apart like chocolate cake crumbles, it is ready. If the soil is too wet, the ball stays together leaving only an indent from finger. Working the soil when it is too wet will ruin the structure of the soil and cause compaction. Cool season crops include shell peas, snow and snap peas, lettuce, kale, spinach, carrots, beets, turnip, radish, potatoes and onions.

8. Warm season crops – seed or transplant info will say “Plant after all danger of frost has past”. This varies from year to year. May 15th is only an average. Watch daily weather reports for frost warnings and dropping overnight temperatures. Warm season crops will be killed by freezing temperatures and frost. Planting warm season crop transplants in cold soil will stunt the roots. Warm season seeds placed in cold soil will not germinate until a higher soil temp is reached. Warm season crops include tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, squash, melons and beans.

9. Water – Vegetables need one to two inches of water per week by rain or hose. Feel the soil down where the roots are located. If it is dry, water it. Soaker or trickle hoses are best. They provide a slow, deep watering. Shallow watering keeps the roots up near the surface where it is hotter and dries out quicker. Deep roots make better plants. Keep foliage dry; apply water in the morning, never in the evening. Wet foliage invites fungal disease.

10. Feed –Fertilize when transplanting or when seeds grow into plants with two sets of leaves. Use manure or packaged vegetable fertilizers with balance nutrients such as 10-10-10. Side dress when plants begin to flower and set fruit by again applying fertilizer lightly a few inches away from plants. Follow label directions. Do not over-fertilize as this can harm plants and add to polluted waterways.

11. Weeds – Get weeds out. They compete with and steal nutrients and water away from vegetable plants. Hand pull weeds while still small. Cultivate weekly or more often, by hoeing or scratching the surface to one inch deep of garden soil discouraging weed growth around vegetable plants. Apply mulch around plants, but not touching plants, to block light to weed seeds in soil. This stops their germination. Straw, grass clippings, chopped leaves and pine needles are all good mulches.

12. Insects – If you find an insect in the garden, identify it. It may be a good guy providing pollination or predation on the bad guys. Look it up in a book or contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center for correct ID. You can call or email us.

13. Harvest – Pick produce when ripe. Not picking tells the plant its job in life is done. It has produced a fruit containing a seed and then it will die. Leaf crops will send up a seed stalk. Continuing to remove fruits and leaves will keep the plant trying to make more seed, therefore providing us with more produce.