Planning Next Summer's Vegetable Garden by Ellen Bell
It's never too early to begin planning next summer's vegetable garden. In fact, sales of greenhouses and seed starting supplies usually begin in late December and early January, and by the end of February, most retailers have a variety of seeds for sale on store shelves. If you want to plant a vegetable garden this coming summer, some advance planning will ensure that you are able to get all the seeds you want before they sell out, and you'll be able to start them in time to have healthy young plants ready for transplant into your garden in early or late spring.
The first part of planning your vegetable garden is deciding what to grow. How much space do you have for planting? Someone who lives in the country and has a large plot of land will certainly need to do more advance planning than an apartment dweller with a small deck or veranda. Remember that even if you're limited by space, there are many types of vegetables that grow well in patio containers. Also be sure to consider your local climate. For areas with longer summers, you'll have more options of plants you can grow, plus a longer season in which to grow them. However, gardeners living in cooler climates shouldn't discount the variety of cool weather vegetables they can cultivate such as spinach, peas, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, and beets. You should also honestly ask yourself how much time and energy you'll want to put into your vegetable garden. If you're someone who works long hours and you're tired at the end of the day, you may not want to spend an hour or two every summer evening weeding and caring for a large plot of land. If this is the case, start on a small scale. You can always plant a larger garden next year, if you want.
Next you'll want to obtain seeds and seed starting supplies. Read each seed packet carefully to determine when to start the seeds. If plants take 2 weeks for germination plus 4-6 weeks before they can be transplanted, and the last expected frost date in your area is May 15, then you should sow the seeds indoors around the last week of March.
Finding a good place to start your plants from seed will be very critical to their early growth and development. An ideal location is a warm sunny window facing south or west. If you don't have such a window, a small indoor greenhouse might be a good investment. Indoor greenhouses can be as small as just a couple shelves that occupy only the top of a table or workbench, or they can be as large as a floor unit, standing four or five shelves high. Small indoor greenhouses can usually be outfitted with heat lamps or grow lamps to encourage germination and rapid early growth of seedlings.
Before transplanting seedlings to the garden, be sure to map out where you're going to plant everything. Pay attention to the space requirements of each vegetable, keeping in mind that some need extra space for air flow around the plant, while others need to be close together to promote pollination. Also remember that you don't have to group all similar plants together. If you have 5 or 6 tomato plants, for example, space them out around your garden, mixing them in with other types of vegetables. Inter-planting crops can help discourage insect infestations and other pests.
Preparing for a vegetable garden requires time, patience, and a lot of pre-planning long before the weather even warms up. These early steps may take time, but the effort you put in now will pay you back dividends over the summer in the form of a bumper crop of healthy produce.