Few activities are as rewarding as growing your own produce. The term “victory garden” was coined in WWI as a way to support the troops. Even today, growing your own salad feels like some sort of victory. As with any gardening, this hobby can start small – containers on a sunny deck; medium – raised beds; or quickly grow to a large plot to feed the whole family – or neighborhood. However it’s tackled, planning is the key start:
Location, location, location. Minimum of 6 hours of sun (5 is OK for rooting crops like carrots, radishes, onions & beets), flat to very slightly sloped, with good access to water. Avoid near or under pine or redwood trees. Rich, loamy soil is a must – so be prepared to amend your soil.
Lacking good soil or the perfect in-ground site shouldn’t stop the gardener. Raised beds or even planters are suitable for most summer vegetables and may actually help keep unwanted pests away.
Amend with compost / organic matter, going easy on the manure. Don’t replace the existing clay – just amend it roughly 50 / 50 with rich compost.
Drip lines or soaker hoses are the best as they will water at the soil as opposed to over the tops of plants and leaves. This will reduce disease issues later in the season.
If in an area accessible by deer, or even your family dog, you may want to surround the garden with a light poly fence or net.
Draw out the garden before planting. Note vegetables by general overall height and plan the garden so the taller vegetables will not shadow over the shorter plants.
There are advantages either way. Most gardeners will choose a mix of both. Planting from seeds is more economical and may provide a more diverse assortment. However, buying transplants from the nursery saves time and avoids many challenges with starting seeds.
Carrots, radishes, beets & turnips are good examples of root vegetables that are perfect for cool weather. Tender, young green tops can be (sparingly) harvested for soups, stews & salads!
Seeds are available year-round; however, bulbs are briefly available in September to get a jump start and reducing the ripening time.
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, arugula, bok choy can be grown through most of winter.
Takes an investment in time (3-4 months) but well worth the spectacular flavor! Harvest the full head OR pick just the outer stalks as needed to keep producing all winter long!
Spinach, leaf lettuce, chard and other leafy greens are tried and true fall/winter plants.
Many gardeners think fall beans and peas taste even better than the spring crop! They must be planted early enough to begin harvesting before heavy frost sets in.
Starting too early will actually stunt or stop the growth of vegetable plants – thus setting the garden behind.
Each year – plant tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables in different locations through the garden to avoid developing nutrient deficiencies and reduce chance of encouraging soil borne diseases.
Especially if trying to plant early in the year, if possible – plant in stages over a few weeks. This will spread out the eventual harvest.
It's common, even encouraged to initially plant a little closer than necessary to account for likely loss of a few plants. It will be necessary to thin a few less productive or healthy plants to provide enough sun, irrigation and nutrients for the lucky keepers.
Not just to brighten up a garden with color – many beneficial insects will be attracted to the flowers, then will hang out for a hearty lunch of aphids and thrips. Check for compatibility first to ensure the right match.
Some good examples include:
• Marigolds with tomatoes
• Nasturtiums with beans
• Zinnias with cabbage
Probably the most common question is “how often should a vegetable garden be watered?” While there is no universal answer, the average is about once to twice per week for a spring garden. Monitor the weather and soil moisture content. Watering with a drip system or soaker hose will reduce frequency (not to mention reducing diseases). Adequate soil amending initially will also help. However – a vegetable garden can also be watered by hand if a soaker system is not possible. Just try to limit the amount of water over the leaves – use a watering wand or longer neck watering can.
Vegetable gardens are heavy feeders. Initially amending with compost helps but will not be enough to last the entire season. Liquid or dry plant food? The answer is, “What are you more likely to use?” Liquids are easy to apply. Dry fertilizer tends to last a little longer. Choose what you are more likely to actually apply. Organic or organically based fertilizer is the preference for most long time vegetable gardeners. Follow the label for amount and frequency.
The two most important controls for diseases in a spring garden are: allowing adequate space between plants for proper air circulation. With less light, cooler temperature and possible rain - more space allows for less breeding opportunity for diseases; secondly - watering only when necessary and water at the soil, not over the plants.
A water-soaked spot at the blossom end of tomato fruits is the classic symptom of blossom-end rot. This relatively common garden problem is not a disease, but rather a physiological disorder caused by a calcium imbalance within the plant. It can occur in pepper, squash, cucumber, and melon fruits as well as tomatoes.
Causes include planting too early, overwatering or using too much manure or high nitrogen plant food. Aside from addressing these issues – applying calcium (IE: Bonide Rot-Stop) will help prevent the issue.
Symptoms include older leaves turning yellow, dying, and dropping off infected plants without wilting of the entire plant. Shoot tips wilt during the day and may curl upward. Lower stem tissue is darkened by the infection. This is a soil-borne fungal disease. This is the prime reason for rotating crops. Monterey Complete Disease Control will help if the problem begins affecting your garden.
Seedlings fail to emerge, young leaves wilt and turn green-gray to brown, seedling stems become water soaked, soft or mushy. These issues are from a fungus or water borne mold. Reusing seed starting mix, planting seeds too early, over-watering can all cause this issue. Using fresh seedling mix and properly sterilizing pots and tools before planting will help.
A disease leading to white, powdery spots or coating on leaf and stem surfaces. Prevention through adequate spacing (for good air circulation) and watering at the soil is the best control. Topical controls include horticultural oil, neem oil, sulfur and biological fungicides like Monterey Complete Disease Control.
Small soft bodied, usually green (though sometimes white, brown or yellow), highly prolific insects. A few one day seems to be thousands the next. Easily controlled with patience and persistence, along with insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, beneficial insects.
Among the most destructive pests in the vegetable garden. Control starts with keeping a clean garden; remove fallen leaves and debris. The avid gardener might pick the mollusks out by hand in the evening. Copper tape acts as a great barrier for container or raised bed gardens. Relatively safe controls such as Sluggo & Sluggo Plus are simple to use.
Nearly microscopic arachnids, usually identified by the hint of silk webbing. Controls are similar to those used on aphids.
They like to hide in decaying logs and plant matter – so another reason for keeping a clean garden. Usually not seen in mass in California, though the damage is still unsightly – speckled fruit. Neem oil or horticultural oil works if populations get above acceptable.
Less than an inch in length, grayish brown to black. Damage is limited to squash, pumpkins, melons and other cucurbits. Maintaining a clean garden free of fallen leaves and debris helps maintain control. Difficult to control chemically as their eggs tend to be well hidden, though effective applications of neem oil, insecticidal soaps or horticultural oil may help.
Another small, green insect – usually only noticed by the damage they cause; pale, splotchy, silvery leaves. Typically controlled with blue sticky traps, beneficial insects or the same controls used for aphids.
Though a bigger problem in greenhouses, they are very prolific so a minor infestation in the garden can become major very quickly. Small insects with white wings usually producing almost a swarm of insects when infested leaves are disturbed. Yellow sticky traps are the most common control. Many beneficial predatory insects enjoy whitefly meals.
Many times misidentified as a “green ladybug.” They feed on blossoms, leaves and stems. Monitor cucumbers and squash in particular closely. Remove insects by hand when possible. Heavy populations can be controlled with neem oil or pyrethrins.
Not related to earthworms and microscopic in size. These lead to damaged, misshapen roots or rooting vegetables. These are a key reason for annual crop rotation.
Unwanted plants may attract pests and absorb valuable nutrients needed by your vegetables. Effectively weeding prior to planting is essential. Spraying weed killers once the garden is lush is risky, thus weeding by hand may be the best method of eradication.
Stunning to watch in the wild – deer are less attractive while the eat your rose bushes and vegetable plants. There are many effective repellents - but check the label closely to ensure its approved for use in a vegetable garden. Tomcat repellent or a strong fence may help.
Rats like a balanced diet – including your home-grown peppers. In worst cases, individually caging plants may become necessary. Applying an approved rodent repellent around the garden may help.
Few things are as frustrating as working tirelessly for the perfect tomato just to have it snatched by a bird just as it ripens. Netting over the garden or using bird scare tape helps keep them out.
Beneficial insects for your garden control pests without (or with reduced amounts of) pesticides, and they are attracted with yarrow, dill, parsley, daisies, coreopsis, alyssum, cosmos and other open pollen plants.
Incorporate calendula, nasturtiums and violas for color not only in your garden but also atop your salad!