How to Grow Great Vegetables | Reader's Digest

How to Grow Great Vegetables

Whether you’re planting in pots or a large backyard patch, here are a few tips to green your thumb.

By Reader's Digest Editors

When planning your first vegetable garden, start small. Many first-time planters get so excited about the prospect of growing their own produce that they overdo it and get overwhelmed by bushels of food they can’t use. Whether you’re planting in pots or a large backyard patch, here are a few tips to green your thumb.

Prime Your Patch

Check the drainage.
Drench the soil with a pail of water, wait a day, and squeeze a handful. If water runs out, you need to improve drainage by adding compost or organic matter.

Pull up the weeds.
Your vegetables don’t need competition; so get rid of unwanted greens!

Identify your soil.
If a ball of soil falls apart easily in your hand, it’s sandy. If it clings together, it contains lots of clay. Adding organic matter helps both problems. You want dirt that crumbles like chocolate cake.

Check acidity.
Buy a simple soil testing kid and find the pH level of your soil. Plants put in the wrong kind of soil will fail to thrive and will be vulnerable to diseases. Use lime powder to make the soil more alkaline, or sulphur powder to make it more acidic. Don’t add lime at the same time as fertilizers. The best pH for growing vegetables is about 6.5 to 7.

Till the soil.
Turning the soil over with a digging fork will create a good growing medium.

Feed the soil.
Plants are hungriest for nitrogen, and you can supply it by sprinkling a pint of soybean meal (an organic fertilizer) on your patch.

5 Essential Tools

1. Fresh, quality seeds

Many seeds do not keep well, so start fresh every year.

2. Watering can

A five-liter can is a good size.

3. Soil testing kit

Testing kits are useful for determining the pH of your soil.

4. Electric propagator

Give your seedlings their best chance at life by placing them first in an electric propagator, with temperature and humidity control panels and a durable base tray suitable for direct planting or seed trays.

5. A plastic cloche cover

This provides a sheltered space for young plants and helps them get used to the outdoors gradually when they emerge from the warmth of the propagator.

Pick Reliable Growers
For a rewarding harvest, start off with plants that have the best chance of growing in your soil. Also, mix vegetables together to maximize your crop. For example, try growing beans, squash or beans, potatoes and corn together. Beans can grow up the corn stalks instead of up purchased trellises and corn and potatoes suppress the growth of weeds. The corn plant provides support for the beans and the beans acquire and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and feed the corn plants, eliminating the need for fertilizer.

The best growers include:

Carrots

Sow very thinly, .4 inches deep. Allow 9.5 inches between rows. When they begin to sprout, cover with a horticultural fleece to protect them from carrot flies.

Salad mix

This is a seed blend of lettuces and other salad-worthy greens. Buy two packets, one of lettuce and another that includes mustards, kales or escaroles for variety. Sow small patches of each mix, and then plant a little more a few weeks later.

Broad beans

These grow best in cool wet conditions, so plant them early. Sow in double rows about six inches apart.

Perennial herbs

Thyme, dill, and sage are simple to grow, and they come back each year. Thyme grows well in areas too dry for other plants.

Beets

Sow sparsely in rows nearly an inch deep and 9.5 inches apart.

Brussels sprouts and cabbages

Plant these hardy vegetables towards the end of April, directly in the ground, .4 inches deep.

Onions

Plant onions six inches apart, making a small hole and then filling it with soil.

Swiss Chard

This is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Plant Swiss Chard in clusters 24 inches apart for year-round greens.

Sources: House Beautiful (UK), Greenfootsteps.com, Weekendgardener.net, helpfulgardener.com, Motherearthnews.com, The Dallas Morning News

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