Over the last two years, during this gawd-awful pandemic, garden centers have seen a huge increase in sales of vegetable growing supplies. A lot of people either got into veggie gardening for the first time or simply upped their game due to the extra time they had on their hands, with nowhere to go. For me personally, it has been fun to see so many enthusiastic gardeners getting into growing their own veggies. But after two years, I can’t help but wonder how many of those gardeners were successful and are still at it and how many have tossed in the towel and moved on. Any kind of recreation has to be fun and rewarding for us to continue to pursue it. If you find yourself struggling or just looking for some advice, here are some tips that will help you be more successful.
Good soil is essential. If you are fortunate enough to have good loamy soil, then planting directly into the dirt (with added fertilizer) is the way to go. But if you are like most of us who have rocks and clay, then containers/raised beds will make your gardening life a whole lot easier — the bigger the container the better. Don’t cheap-out on the potting soil. Whether bagged or bulk, spend a little extra and get the good stuff — especially considering that it will last you for years, as long as you enrich it every season with fertilizer.
Feed, feed, feed. I am convinced that the single most common reason for poor results when growing vegetables is a lack of food. Manufactured soils (especially bulk blends) are notorious for not having enough food in them to sustain prolonged growth. I always put down extra food and mix it into the soil before I plant. For me that means using a good organic food for veggies along with some lime, earth worm castings, and some trace elements, like oyster shells and Azomite. As you harvest your crops, you will need to re-fertilize the soil if you are planning on replanting for a late season crop. If you are a Miracle-Grow junkie, you will need to feed weekly for maximum results. Either way, if your veggies are just sitting there then chances are that they are starving and need to be fed.
Sunshine is critical. There are very few vegetables that will thrive in the shade. Most leafy crops, like spinach, lettuce, and arugula, and broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, will do okay. A few root crops, like radishes, carrots, onions, and potatoes, will also tolerate some shade, but these will all perform better if they have full sun, especially here in the northwest. If you are growing heat lovers, like tomatoes and peppers, full sun is absolutely essential.
Don’t rush the season. This time of year is what we call the cool season, best for growing crops that either produce edible roots (like carrots and beets) or shoots (like lettuce and broccoli). Peas will also grow well now during the cool season. Later towards the end of spring (usually in May) is when it is best to plant the heat lovers, like tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, beans, and corn.
Proper watering. Suffice it to say that vegetables, like all plants, will do best if there is consistent water available. The more frequently you check (by sticking your fingers roughly 2 inches into the soil), the more successful you will be.
Harvest at the right time. How many of us are guilty of doing our best to get everything right, but then letting the crop get over-ripe? Check your garden daily when plants are getting close to being ready for harvest. Veggies harvested at their peak are usually so sweet that they often never make it into the kitchen — part of the fun of growing your own food.
This spring, step outside your comfort zone and grow something for the first time or try growing something new. Whether you grow vegetables for yourself, your family or your whole neighborhood, it can be such a fun and rewarding endeavor — plus nothing really tastes as good as homegrown. Stay safe and keep on gardening.
Steve Smith represents Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at email@example.com.