A vegetable garden can be the perfect addition to your landscape. Growing your own vegetables organically ensures healthful produce and saves you the high prices of organically grown produce at the grocery store.
When thinking about how to start growing vegetables, the first thing you’ll want to look at is seeds and placement.
• Situate your vegetable garden in a sunny place and start growing food early in the spring. Keep planting all summer long so something fresh and tasty is always ready to harvest.
• Place the garden near your kitchen. It will be easy to run out and pick a few things you need, and you can spy on the garden from your window. Picking tomatoes after you see them blush crimson is a perfect way to get them at their best.
• Soak seeds to get a jump on the season. Before germinating, seeds need to drink up moisture, just as if drenched by spring rains. Once they become plump and swollen, the little embryo inside will begin to grow.
When you grow your own vegetables, you’re feeding your family with healthier and less-expensive foods that will give them the nutrients they need while giving you hours of enjoyable gardening.
Growing Lettuce, Peppers, and Tomatoes
Grow lettuce in the spring or fall for a delicious salad starter. Add to the salad in summer when you can harvest the delicious peppers and tomatoes straight from your vegetable garden.
Lettuce grows during cool weather in spring or fall. Even when crowded, it will produce usable leaves, but plants grow better when widely spaced. In flower beds, an edging or clump of lettuce does double duty. Leaves can be green or red, frilled or plain, depending on the cultivar.
Produce late fall, winter, and early spring lettuce by growing extra-hardy varieties such as Arctic King or North Pole and creating sheltered planting places for them:
Raised beds covered with heavy-duty floating row covers can provide protection from frosts and light freezes in early to mid-spring and mid- to late fall, or even winter in mild climates.
Cold frames, heated by the sun, make it possible to grow lettuce earlier in spring and later in fall or winter. Cold frames are translucent rectangular boxes, about 2 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. The top is hinged to open so you can tend plants inside or cool the cold frame on mild, sunny days. Plant seeds or seedlings of lettuce in the frame and close the lid to hold in the heat.
A hot bed, which is a souped-up cold frame, is a great place for winter lettuce. Lay a heating cable under the cold frame. Cover with wire mesh to prevent damage to the cable and top with a layer of sand mixed with compost.
For an extended lettuce harvest, pick the largest leaves from the outside of the plant and allow the younger inner leaves to continue growing. But when springtime weather begins to get warm, you need to take the opposite strategy. Cut off the entire plant before it begins to send up a flower stem (a condition called bolting) and turns bitter.
Get twice the harvest by planting a lettuce and tomato garden in an 18- or 24-inch-wide pot. You can pick the lettuce as it swells and leave extra growing room for the tomatoes. Here’s how to proceed: Fill the pot with a premoistened blend of 1/3 compost and 2/3 peat-based potting mix. Plant several leaf lettuce seeds or small seedlings around the edge of the pot and a tomato seedling in the middle. Place the pot in a sunny, frost-free location. Water as needed to keep the soil moist, and fertilize once a month or as needed to encourage good growth.
Colorful ornamental peppers last longer than flowers and add festive color and texture to beds and borders. Plants range from six inches to several feet tall. Foliage may be green or purple. The glossy fruits grow from an inch or less in length to more than six inches and can be pointy, round, or blocky. They have bright colors and waxy coats and range from cream through yellow, orange, red, purple, and brownish-black. Grow peppers during warm weather in full sun, after the danger of frost has passed.
There is nothing like a fresh, sun-warmed tomato, so they are on everyone’s list. There are many kinds to consider, from beefsteak to cherry to heirloom varieties. There are also petite types bred specifically for hanging baskets. Tall and rangy cherry types can be trained up a trellis or over an arch.
Prune tomato plants to direct maximum energy into tomato production. Choose your pruning plan based on what you want from your tomatoes. For larger and earlier (but fewer) tomatoes, remove any shoots that emerge on or beside the main stem, and tie the stem to a stake. For more tomatoes later, let plants bush out and support them in tomato cages. Pinch off any flowers that open before July 4.
Choose between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes according to the way you prefer to harvest. Determinate tomatoes (such as Celebrity) tend to stay compact and produce most of their tomatoes at about the same time. This is convenient for freezing, canning, and sauce making. Indeterminate tomatoes (such as Big Beef) keep growing and developing new tomatoes as they go. They produce a greater yield but spread it over a longer harvest period.
Dozens of different cultivars are in each class; there are plenty to pick from. You might have to check seed catalogs to find out whether a particular tomato is determinate or not.
Stake your tomato cages so a bumper crop won’t pull them over. Work a tall stake through the wire mesh near the perimeter of the cage, and stab or pound it to 8 inches deep in the ground. This will anchor the cage (and the plant inside) firmly despite the pull of strong winds and branchfuls of ripening tomatoes.
- Early, Midseason, and Late Tomatoes
- Early: Early Girl, Early Pick, First Lady, Glacier, Oregon Spring
- Midseason: Better Boy, Big Beef, Big Boy, Big Girl, Celebrity, Delicious, Floramerica, Heatwave
- Late: Homestead, Oxheart, Wonderboy, Supersteak, Beefmaster, Brandywine