Vegetable Gardening Tips

Written by Sarah Provost
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Of all the gardening tips I've heard and passed on, the most useful is this: don't overdo it. More gardens fail because their caretakers became overwhelmed and gave up than because of weather, pests or disease. My first garden was a total disaster for that very reason. It's difficult to exercise self-restraint when faced with seed catalogs and garden centers bursting with plants, but I try to buy for my garden the same way I pack for a trip: choose what I want, then put half of it back.

Mulch is the gardener's best friend. Mulch is any material that helps the soil retain moisture and cuts down on weeds. Layers of newspaper or plastic will do, but organic mulch such as shredded bark or straw is more attractive and can contribute to healthy soil structure.

Not everyone has room for a compost site, but if you do, take advantage of it. Kitchen waste such as vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells and the like, when piled or put in a bin and left to rot, produce a rich material called humus. Humus can be used for mulch or as a soil amendment, improving your garden and reducing waste in landfills.

Choosing What to Plant

Every year, seed catalogs trumpet dozens of new hybrids. There's a new tomato, for instance, developed especially for salsa: it can be finely diced without getting mushy. Space-saving hybrids are particularly useful for those who have only a patio or balcony available. You'll probably have to start the newest hybrids from seeds, since they are not likely to be available yet at nurseries.

Complementary planting can help control pests. For example, planting onions next to carrots helps repel carrot-loving insects. Edging your garden patch with marigolds discourages both insect and animal pests.

Putting the Garden to Bed

A little effort at the end of the growing season will pay off handsomely in the spring. Remove all dead plants, then till or dig the soil thoroughly, adding lime, fertilizer or compost as needed. Then mulch it deeply, and in the spring, you'll be able to get growing much earlier.

Successive sowings prolong your harvest and help you make the best use of your space. If you have a twelve-foot row of peas, for instance, plant the first three feet, then wait a week or ten days to plant the next section. You can also reuse space vacated by early harvesting. Plant peas early in the spring, for instance. After they have been harvested, remove the spent plants and sow fast-growing beans in the same place so they can use the same supports. After the beans are in, start planting some more peas for a fall crop.

Deep watering is much better for your garden than frequent shallow watering. Wetting the soil shallowly encourages the plants to grow shallow roots, which are more susceptible to damage from weather or pests. Water in the morning or evening, not in the heat of midday. Morning is best if your schedule allows, since it helps prevent molds and fungi.

Finally, the best tip of all: enjoy your garden every day! I like to go out in the early morning, coffee mug in hand, and just wander through the garden checking things out. It's a wonderful way to start the day! If you're new to gardening and looking for useful tips or solutions to particular problems, it never hurts to check online. There are plenty of gardeners out there who have faced similar problems, and are making the answers available to beginning gardeners.

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