Many backyard growers tend to know how to grow vegetables and what they need to do. Others may be intimidated by getting started. I had a question last week if it was too late to start summer vegetables. Starting a vegetable garden and container gardening is quite easy and if all goes according to plan with warm weather and necessary rain, you'll be on a path toward success in your first garden.
Below, I tried to compile a 10 Top List of Basic Information. I could spend hours on each topic but think that this should walk you through a full season. Getting started, selection, management, and harvest are all cornerstones to get growing. As I tend to worry about disease and insect problems I've add an 11. You'll still need to do a bit more research but this puts you on the right path.
1. Know what you can and cannot grow. You are bound by the growing season and your spacing requirements. And yes, you should follow spacing requirements between plants and rows. Some vegetables will grow well in containers. You can also grow a fall garden by planting certain vegetables the end of July/start of August
2. 160 Day Growing Season. In Northern Illinois, the last frost is around May 5th and the first frost is around October 5th. Between these dates is your growing season.
3. Let them mature. Seed packets and transplants will tell you the maturity date for when you can harvest. Make sure that date is within your growing season. While you can stretch it sometimes, you still are confined to this. Depending on when you start your garden, you may want to choose transplants over seeds.
4. Mix it up. Transplants and seeds. Disease resistance and heirlooms. Nightshade Family and Cucurbit Family. Not only will some of these features help you if disease becomes a problem but they can also attract a wide range of good insects to the garden.
5. Add to your soil. Your plants will need a fertilizer, usually a 10-10-10 is fine. But adding aged manure or compost will enrich your soil and start to feed these microorganisms that make the plant nutrients available. Organic matters, like manure and compost, will not fully address your plant's nutrient needs.
6. Stake em. Tomatoes need trellising to support them. Peppers may benefit from trellising. Even cucumbers may like a netting you provide for them. Tomato cages can be flimsy so you want to get heavy duty cages to support your plants. It is better to over support them then to under support them.
7. Mulch em. A good straw mulch and other organic material can keep weed problems from being an issue early on. Mulching can also address Blossom End Rot in tomatoes into the season too. In the fall, the mulch can be turned over into the soil.
8. Water in the Morning. Only water at the base of the plant. Bacteria and fungi that spread disease commonly move by water and if any of your plant is wet, this can spread disease. This is why watering in the morning will let these leaves dry out and keep disease from spreading. For that matter, avoid working in wet conditions. You might spread disease without realizing it.
9. Pick when ready. While many vegetables will change color when ready to be picked, other ones may require you factoring in their maturity date (when they are ready to be harvested) or other clues that you need to know. For instance, not all melons will slip off the vine and may need to be cut.
10. Get the proper diagnosis. Calling the Master Gardener hotline to diagnose your problem will ensure you are able to address problems early on. Too hot. Too wet. Too cold. Too dry. Many of these conditions increase disease problems, poor pollination, etc.
11. Remove and clean at the end of season. Yes, the last thing you want to do is this but removal of dead plants will keep any disease problems from entering the soil. Clean your garden tools and stakes with a rubbing alcohol solution