By Chris Cohan
Pullquote: From tiny seeds and seedlings come big harvests.
Spring is inching closer and closer, and it won’t be long before you find yourself behind on your chores. So, get up early and get moving. If you already have planters and garden beds, you’re a step ahead. For newcomers, it’s time to buy barrels or get those garden beds started.
If it’s beds you are after, you can establish them either as raised or in the ground. Whichever way, make sure you choose a sunny spot. The former warm quickly in the spring and cool slowly in the fall, which is advantageous to most vegetable and herb plants. The extra warmth that a raised bed provides stimulates plant growth and may hasten your harvest.
In a raised-bed garden, you have control over the quality of the soil. Fill it with a high-quality organic growing mix. Add compost, if you have it, or a commercial organic amendment, and disperse it throughout the soil. The result will be optimum air, nutrition, and water circulation throughout.
Raised require less water than an in-ground. Plants are closer together, moisture is applied only where it’s needed, and runoff is eliminated. Early morning is the best time to water the garden, and a thorough soil soaking will keep things hydrated all day. Typically, a little less water is better than too much. Most plants will communicate their moisture needs with a slight wilt of foliage.
Size matters. Keep your raised beds to 4’ wide by 8’ long, an easily workable size. Buy only untreated lumber. Cedar lasts a long time. Pine is cheaper but will rot over time. Lumberyards will gladly cut a 2- by 10- by 8-footer in half to save you a step. Frame out in the prepared soil area, sink wood just 2” in the ground, level, and secure with two metal L angle straps screwed at corners. If all lumber does not fit seamlessly, it’s even better as that aids with drainage. You may wish to start with two beds, because you will be amazed how much they produce.
Everyone is exuberant early in the season. Enthusiasm dampens as summer wears on. To compensate for reality, try hardy, low- maintenance plants. Swiss Chard, especially the rainbow series looks pretty growing even if you forget to pick it. Keep cutting outer stalks for a season long harvest.
Turnips and beets are carefree. Their seeds are big, easy to plant and germinate quickly. Enjoy the green tops while waiting for roots to plump up. If you forget about them for a while, the greens will flourish offering you a bigger harvest when you get around to them.
Bush beans are neat, tidy and prolific. Plant one row followed by a second two weeks later for a long season of beans. Arugula is a tenacious green, which thrives on being picked regularly. Consider a whole row of basil. Enjoy fresh all summer and freeze batches of pesto for wintry nights. Kale will grow into early snow. If you forget to pick, the leaves get large and tough. Whenever you get around to it, pick the big leaves for compost and enjoy the smaller tender ones.
No vegetable garden is complete without tomatoes. Remember to rotate. The following year, rotate planting tomatoes in another bed. This is a good practice with all nightshade plants including eggplants, peppers and tomatoes.
Plant marigolds — natural insect repellants — at all four corners of the beds. Deer and rabbits are another issue. To deter them requires fencing or foul-tasting, but non-toxic, spray.
From tiny seeds and seedlings come big harvests. Over time, by using your favorites you will grow exactly what you like. Imagine the joy and satisfaction you will have sitting down to a meal that you helped grow.