A vegetable garden is a good way to provide delicious and healthy produce to your family without spending a lot of money. With some careful planning and prep work, you can grow nutritious vegetables in every season. Follow these steps to ensure a bountiful harvest year-round.
Design your garden. Two to three raised beds (four-foot by eight-foot each) planted with easy-to-grow crops can feed up to four people. Maximize your harvest by interplanting, or planting compatible varieties, in the same row. Try pairing slow- and fast-growing plants to make the most of your space. You can also sow cool-weather crops such as baby greens beneath leafy veggies or vines. The top plants will shade and protect the cool-weather crops, allowing both to thrive during warmer seasons. Grow climbing varieties like tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, and squash on trellises to create room for additional crops below.
Select your crops. Plants that perform well in raised beds during warm growing seasons include peas, tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, lettuces, and sweet potatoes. For cool seasons, consider planting leafy veggies such as kale, mache, endive, spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, and mustard greens; leeks and scallions; and various root veggies, including beets and carrots. Many vegetables will produce more than one crop per season. Beets, beans, carrots, rutabagas, radishes, and turnips are good choices for multiple harvests. Planting marigolds or onions around the perimeter of your garden will deter pests from snacking on your garden.
Make a planting calendar. To establish a calendar for your garden, determine the expected last frost dates for your area as well as the seed germination (soil) and growing (air) temperatures for each of your intended crops. If you need help, your local cooperative extension or garden center can provide support. As a rule of thumb, most winter veggies should be planted in late summer through early fall. Plant seedlings for summer crops in the spring according to last frost dates.
Winterize your garden. To protect your crops from frost and cold temperatures, you’ll need to shield them while allowing light in. Other than a greenhouse, the best winter gardening structure is a cold frame. A cold frame is essentially a raised bed with a cover made of plastic or glass. Build an inexpensive cold frame by taking a simple raised garden and adding reclaimed windows or a glass door to the top with hinges. The cold frame will protect your plants in the winter. After harvest in the spring, you can use it to transplant the seedlings started indoors. Once frost is no longer an issue, simply remove the cover. Another winterizing option is to make a tunnel over your beds — bent pvc piping draped with plastic sheets or thin fabric works well. If building a tunnel or cold frame isn’t for you, try inexpensive, temporary solutions with recycled materials. Place plastic bags or empty milk jugs (with the bottoms removed) over your plants at night. When temperatures warm during the day, remove them.
Make use of indoor space. Gardening doesn’t have to take place solely outdoors. You can grow a variety of herbs indoors as long as you have adequate light. Starting seeds inside saves time and money, and may produce better results. You can use empty yogurt containers, egg cartons, or other plastic cups for your seedlings. Plan on starting your seeds one to three months before the last frost date, depending on the variety. For best results, grow your plants under a white fluorescent light instead of in a window. As your seedlings reach three to four inches and six to eight inches, transplant them to larger containers to ensure a hardy root system. Once outside soil temperatures reach the target range for your seedlings, it’s time to transplant.