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At a time when venturing to the supermarket without a HazMat suit can be considered risky behavior, maybe it’s a good time to stay home and grow some veggies yourself. While growing garden goodies is second nature to some folks, it may seem daunting to those whose only experience with lettuce is opening up and rinsing a bag of romaine hearts from Trader Joe’s. Whether your crops are grown in a large plot in your backyard or small herb pots on your kitchen windowsill, nothing beats the taste of the ones you’ve produced yourself.
Beds or Containers? Size Matters
If you have the room and the time to work a large area, then by all means plant your vegetables directly into the ground. Before each gardening season, soil should be amended thoroughly with homemade compost or a bagged soil amendment from the nursery along with an organic type of fertilizer. There are many options, and any nurseryperson worth their poop should be able to advise you.
If time and space are limited, plant in containers. Generally, bigger is better, and I wouldn’t recommend growing vegetables in anything smaller than a 15-gallon container. Some ideas for containers are oak barrels, ceramic pots, galvanized cattle troughs, and even old bathtubs. I don’t recommend using terra cotta pots, even large ones, as they are porous and dry out very quickly.
One advantage of using raised beds or large containers is that you can control the growing medium. This is important especially if your existing garden soil doesn’t drain well or is on the clay-ey side.
If you have large raised beds or boxes to fill, you can purchase a 50/50 or 70/30 compost/topsoil mix. This type of product is usually available in bulk at garden supply stores like Agri-Turf Supply, Pro Garden, and All Around Irrigation and is much more affordable than buying 6,000 bags of potting soil.
For anything smaller than raised beds, I would, however, fill them with a good-quality potting soil like FoxFarm Ocean Forest or Kellogg brand.
If you only have a balcony or patio to work with, you can still do some small-scale farming. Window boxes and smaller containers will work as long as you water and feed your plants more often. Bush beans take up less room than the vining type and don’t require a stake or trellis. If planting tomatoes in containers, look for the word “patio” or “determinate” on the label. This means that they stay more compact.
Where to Plant? Location, Location, Location
Whether you plant in the ground or in containers, most vegetables require a lot of sun to flourish. Crops grown in too much shade are prone to mildew, bugs, and a skimpy yield.
What to Plant? Tomatoes and Turnips and Beans, Oh My!
Beets, carrots, corn, cukes, eggplant, green beans, leaf lettuce, lima beans (don’t make that face!), melons, peppers, pumpkins, radishes, summer and winter squash, endive, Swiss chard, artichokes, turnips, and, of course, tomatoes can all be planted now.
Basil, oregano, parsley, and rosemary are also options. Peppermint and spearmint are best kept in containers or cutouts of their own as they are invasive and will turn a veggie garden into an herb garden.
Gardening of any kind, and vegetable gardening in particular, is a great American pastime. Now, more than ever, it’s a valuable way to pass the time at home. If you plant now, all of your bounty can be shared with friends and family when we can again come together. Garden alone now. Eat salad together later.