Why and how to grow a vegetable garden?

Picture of fresh vegetables.

The price of food in markets is going only one direction—upward!

To cope with this problem, more and more families are growing gardens.
But gardens are on the increase for more than economic reasons.

Office workers find that ‘getting next to the soil’ by working in a garden provides a pleasant change of pace from their usual schedule.

Another major reason that people have turned to gardening is to provide more nutritious, better-tasting vegetables for their table.

A garden has definite benefits for youngsters too.

It can be used to teach them a sense of responsibility, the need to care regularly for what is assigned to them.

Learning to identify various plants broadens a child’s knowledge and makes him alert to the wide variety of plant life that beautifies our earthly home.

How does one grow one’s own garden?

There are a number of hints and practical suggestions, which, if not already known and followed, can help to make even one’s first garden a productive success.

Size of your garden

Picture of a small vegetable garden.

First, the size of the garden must be considered.

A man with a large family may want a fairly large garden to provide fresh vegetables at cheaper cost.

However, he may also have a very demanding job and other responsibilities calling for his attention. So he must consider:

Will the garden yield enough to be worth the time and energy to take care of it, as well as the money that must be invested?

He may decide on a smaller plot than what he originally had in mind.

Of course, the size of the garden will also be determined by the amount of land that is available.

Families with spacious backyards can probably find a convenient sun-drenched spot for a productive vegetable garden.

The nearer to the house that it is located the greater the likelihood that the garden will get attention during free moments that family members may have during the day.

Even those living in more confined circumstances can often arrange to have a garden.

Small strips of ground running along a driveway might be cultivated.

Or a trellis with bean or tomato vines can be placed along a wall or up over a patio.


Mobile-home dwellers can cultivate crops under the edges of their trailer on the sunny side, and city apartment-house residents can have rooftop and window-box gardens.

Enterprising people have found other ways to get land for a garden.

One family placed an advertisement in a local newspaper asking if anyone had land on which they could grow crops.

They received a number of responses and finally chose a large plot of very fertile soil located just a few blocks from their home.

Actually, however, a large garden may produce less than a smaller one.

Why?

Because the well-chosen smaller plot may have better soil.


A word about soil

Picture of hands holding a plant and soil.

Essentially there are three types of soil.

The finest of these for growing vegetables is loam.

Why?

Because loam is rich in humus, an organic matter from living things that have died, decayed and returned to the soil.

Loam is dark, soft and crumbly.

While it holds water, it also allows for drainage and is fairly easy to dig.

The other two primary types of soil, clay and sand, are not so richly endowed.


But with hard work and the addition of proper nutrients to these soils, some vegetables can usually be made to grow in them.

For instance, consider clay.

It is usually light colored and consists of very tiny particles.

These stick together, making for poor drainage.

But if sand, peat moss and bone meal, as well as other soil nutrients, are mixed into clay, it may become suitable for growing crops.

Similarly, sand, the opposite of clay and coarse in structure, may require special working, but some vegetables can definitely be made to grow in it.

Asparagus, for instance, actually prefers a somewhat sandy soil.

More likely than not your soil is a combination of the three basic kinds.

A nursery expert can probably give you exact advice about how best to treat whatever soil you will be using.

Even if you have the best soil in your garden, it will produce well only if it is properly prepared.

Views vary as to how this is best accomplished.

Ideally, according to many gardeners, soil to be sown in the spring should be partially readied the previous autumn.

If it is thoroughly spaded and turned to a depth of about one foot, moisture will sink in during the winter months.

Fertilizer can be worked into the ground at the same time; this serves to condition the soil.

A growing organic-gardening movement advocates avoiding chemical fertilizers.

Such gardeners use only organic material such as animal manure and compost as fertilizer.

At one time organic materials were available only from farms.

But today treated organic fertilizer can often be bought at nurseries as easily as chemical varieties.

Too, some gardeners who live in the city have found that organic fertilizers can be obtained at little or no cost.

In most cities there are horse stables and zoos that often allow gardeners to take or buy animal droppings for fertilizing purposes.

Then there is treated sludge.

When mixed with grass clippings or straw, sludge can serve as excellent fertilizer. It may be obtained from sewage plants.

The fertilizer applied to many beautiful golf courses is actually nothing more than sludge that is sold under a trade name and at a high cost.

If you prepare the soil at the time of the growing season, it may be a little harder to work.

Weeds should be pulled and the ground turned as soon as it is dry enough.

Then a treated fertilizer might be added. It is usually not wise to add fresh manure at this time, as it is likely to burn the plants.

The surface of the soil can then be raked level to prevent hollows where water will collect.

Knowing where your garden will be located and something about the soil puts you in position to determine what vegetables can be grown in it.


Choosing and planting vegetables

Picture of a gardener planting.

A perusal of seed catalogs will reveal that a wide variety of plants are available for any garden.

Obviously you will give preference to vegetables that your family particularly enjoys eating.

If the children are allowed to share in selecting garden vegetables, you may find that they feel more involved in the project and thus readily cooperate in taking care of the garden as it grows.

But there are other matters to consider.

Why not select those vegetables that ordinarily cost more at the market or those that have a large number of uses?

Some families choose to grow tomatoes, not only because they are expensive where they live, but also because tomatoes have a wide variety of uses.

They can be served fresh in salads or can be canned, juiced, cooked and made into purees and pastes for sauces.

A wise choice of vegetables for your garden may also later furnish a mutual protection by warding off certain insects.

For instance, beans and potatoes make good’ “companions” in the garden.

Why?

Because beans drive away Colorado potato beetles, and potatoes protect the beans from the Mexican bean beetle.

Tomatoes and asparagus are another wise combination.

Once you know where the garden will be situated and its size and which vegetables you will be growing in it, then you might work up a simple plan on paper, showing which plants you will be growing in each part of the garden.

Take into consideration the amount of space that is needed between rows of each type of vegetable.

Since some vegetables, like radishes, lettuce, scallions and early cabbage, ripen early, you would want them conveniently located in the garden, easy to get at as they mature.

Also, you would want any larger plant, like corn, to be situated so that it does not block out needed sunlight from smaller plants.

Plant your garden according to your plan, carefully placing seeds at the correct distance from one another and at the right depth in the soil.

Once the garden is planted it will need regular attention.

Caring for the garden

Picture of a watering jelly can.

Usually a weekly hoeing will keep the garden free of weeds.

This process also creates a thin dust mulch on the surface of the ground, and this aids in the conservation of water.

It is wise to avoid cultivating the soil when it is wet, as this causes lumps to form and these harden as they dry.

Be careful, too, when hoeing near the roots of plants so as not to damage these.

As to watering, it is ordinarily best to give plants a good watering once or twice each week.

A thorough soaking, allowing the water to penetrate four to six inches, is better for the plants than frequent shallow watering.

Frequent light watering can have an adverse effect, drawing the feeding roots of the plants up to near the surface.

However, plant roots should penetrate deeply so that they will not be scorched by the sun.

Thus, proper watering is essential to have healthy crops.

Insect pests are a major problem for many gardeners.

There are a number of relatively safe dusting powders on the market for killing insects.

If used as directed, the gardener and his pets, as well as the plants, will not be harmed.

Here, again, however, more and more gardeners prefer what they call “natural ways” to dispose of bugs.

Some gardeners make their own safe sprays.

For instance, they grind up several long pods of hot peppers and then add an equal measure of water and a small amount of plain dishwashing detergent (to make the mixture cling); this serves to discourage chewing insects.

Others have used molasses diluted in 50 parts of water as a spray.

Some, too, have made concoctions that include various mixtures of ground onions, garlic, mint and geranium leaves, chives, turnips, cayenne pepper and cauliflower seeds.


Enjoy your garden

Picture of vegetables just harvested.

In time your hard work will pay off—vegetables will appear!

Carefully watch to be sure that they do not get overly ripe before you harvest them.

Peas are delicious if picked at the right time; but they get hard if kept on the vine too long.

Staying too long on the vine also makes string beans “stringy.”

Picking the crops that you have planted and patiently cared for and then watching as your family enjoys eating them bring much satisfaction.

Most gardeners consider this satisfaction the finest reward for growing a vegetable garden.

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