If You Have the Space
In gardening, success breeds expansion. If your backyard has
enough space, you might want to add a few more crops. Here
are some suggestions to make the best use of the space.
Potatoes. As the cost of bread rises, potatoes are more and
more valued as a nutritious starchy food. Potatoes are easy to
grow, can take marginal soil, and give a good yield for the space
they use. Early “new” potatoes can be planted in mid-spring, just
before the last frost; winter varieties are planted in early summer.
Potatoes are planted directly in the ground, in rows, from cut
seed potatoes or old potatoes that have started to sprout.
Blueberries. This highly nutritious berry plant is a perennial,
waist-high shrub which should be planted along one of the side
borders of your vegetable plot. The soil should be slightly acidic.
Choose from locally recommended varieties. Plant six to eight
bushes for a reasonable harvest, and plant two varieties to promote fertilization. Fruit is borne on the previous years’ shoots,
so once the plant is 3 to 4 years old, prune out the older, central
shoots to stimulate new growth.
Bush cucumbers. Choose from locally recommended
varieties of slicing-type cucumber. Bush varieties are compact,
and better for small gardens. Start from seed in pots, or sow
directly. The soil must be rich, moist and well drained, so make
a small hill and plant two or three seedlings. To retail moisture,
cut holes in black sheet plastic and set it over the seedlings. Protect the seedlings from cold spring nights and pests by covering
them with a clear plastic or glass container. Be sure to remove it
as soon as the sun comes out, or the seedlings will get too hot.
Strawberries. Strawberries are a good crop to get children
interested in gardening, but you’ll have competition from the
predators. Netting is not good enough to protect it—birds will
get caught in the net. Build a frame with 1-inch poultry mesh
around the entire bed. To prolong the harvest, try “ever-bearing”
varieties, which bear fruit all summer.
Spinach beets. These beets are easy to grow, and not a
favorite of slugs and caterpillars. Sow seeds directly into the soil
and thin out the seedlings when they come up. Beets grown for
greens will produce all summer; just harvest the leaves for salad
greens as you need them.
Crops We No Longer Grow
Some gardeners may howl at these suggestions, and rightly so,
as we each have our own preferences and tastes. However, over
the years we have given up on a few crops because of difficulties
with pest management, crop yield or their relatively low prices in
stores and farmer’s markets.
Corn. Corn is a heavy feeder, requiring lots of fertilizer. Keeping up with the demands of enriching the soil can be difficult, and
raccoons have a taste for corn. Corn also takes up a lot of space
for the yield, especially when the price of corn at local farmer’s
markets is so low.
Carrots. Carrots take up very little room considering the yield,
but require rich, deep soil, free of stones. Prone to rust fly damage,
carrots need to be grown under a floating row cover. While a few
carrot plants, especially the baby varieties, are recommended
for a child’s garden plot, we were never successful at growing a
carrot crop. It was too difficult keeping the row cover anchored in
winds, and rust flies would get in.
Pumpkins. It takes a lot of space to grow pumpkins; their
vines can trail along the ground for twenty feet. And in the end,
you get a large squash that doesn’t store well. Better to give any
squash space to a good winter keeper, like buttercup.
Watermelons. Watermelons are similar to pumpkins in the
space they need to grow. They have to be well-grown to be large
and tasty; in our experience, the fruit was always smaller than
expected and not very sweet. Not the best use of space, especially for an inexpensive, short-season melon.
Basic gardening tips are outlined on the next page. Here are
some other general planting tips.
Seeds or starters? Garden vegetables can be grown from
seed sown indoors in pots or trays, sown outdoors directly into
the garden beds, or transplanted from starters bought at a garden center. When sowing seeds indoors in trays or pots, use a
fine, sterilized potting mix (do not use compost or garden soil for
starting seeds). Stand pots in water until the soil is fully wetted.
Set pots on a windowsill for light, but remove at night if frosty.
Some plants, like peas and beans, must be sown directly.
Plants which are directly sown are usually sown thickly (very
close together), and then thinned once they are sprouts. This
ensures a full crop, since some of the seeds may not sprout.
Assign permanent spots for perennials. Most vegetables are
annuals. However, some, like asparagus, are perennials. Once
perennials are established, you won’t want to move them. Take
care to locate perennial crops in an area that won’t interfere with
future plantings of annual crops.
Plant extras. It is unlikely that all your seeds will sprout, so
plant more than you think you’ll need, to ensure a rich harvest.
Avoid direct sunlight when setting your starters. Do it on
a clouded or overcast day, or in the later afternoon, so that the
delicate young leaves don’t wilt in direct sun. Keep them well
watered until they are established. Smaller roots have difficulty
drawing enough moisture from the soil.
Transplant with care. Plants which have been started in any
type of container should never be uprooted or separated from
the soil. Lightly water the pot so the soil is moist, then coax the
seedling out using a gentle tap to the side of the pot. Turn the
pot on its side and the seedling should easily slide out. When
setting out plants started in peat pots, gently tear off the rim
and the bottom of the pots, leaving the rest intact to protect the
roots. The remaining sides of the pot will break down into the soil