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Just when it seemed winter would never end, the mail carrier would deliver some hope to our door. Usually around the end of February, seed catalogs would arrive, signaling
it was time for my dad to begin planning what vegetables he would plant in our family’s huge backyard garden.
Gardening is showing a pandemic-related resurgence as more Americans began growing their own food during shelter-in-place restrictions last year and amid concerns about food shortages. Many garden suppliers reported they sold out of seeds and plants as people rushed to convert their backyards into their own produce patches.
A great garden doesn’t just happen — you need to plan for it. This is a good time of the year to consider what you want to plant, where you want to plant it, and how much space and time you want to devote to it.
What To Plant
Three main things to consider when deciding what to plant: 1) What is easiest to grow. 2) What will give you the greatest yield for the least amount of effort. 3) What you actually like to eat.
No. 3 is really important because there’s no sense in planting something that you and your family will tire of eating after you’ve picked only a few of them.
Some vegetables that are easy to grow are zucchini and most members of the squash family, tomatoes, beans and peppers. They also can yield a large harvest, so make sure you don’t plant too much if you don’t plan to eat or preserve all your crops. It’s so easy to be tempted into buying more plants than you need, only to find that you end up knee-deep in vegetables.
When considering what to plant, also consider the timing. Vegetables such as onions, sweet peas and lettuce need to be planted early in the spring. If it’s June and you start thinking you’d like to have homegrown lettuce, it’s almost too late to plant it. Tomatoes, peppers and the traditional “summer vegetables” can wait to be planted until after the last frost of the season. If you decide you want to start those plants from seed instead of buying plants at a greenhouse, allow about six to eight weeks before the last frost so that you can start your seeds indoors before setting them into the garden.
In choosing how much to plant, consider how you will use your produce. Will you eat it as soon as it’s picked? During the growing season, will you plan your meals around what’s in the garden? Will you can or freeze the excess, or will you share it with others?
Where To Plant
After you’ve planned what you want to grow in your garden, the next step is figuring out where to plant it. The obvious choice for a garden is in your backyard, but if you have no yard, container gardening also can yield some good results.
I live in a townhome with no backyard, yet I grow tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, beans, lettuce and blueberries out of containers placed on our deck. One advantage of container gardening is that you can move the containers around so your plants can get the optimal sun exposure. And container gardening is easier on the back and legs than is traditional gardening.
Raised beds are a good choice for the beginning gardener. The beds can be made of wood, stone, metal or bricks and filled with soil. Raised beds are easy to work and allow you to plant more intensively so that you get more out of a small space. You can make the beds whatever size you want to accommodate your yard and the number of plants you want to grow.
Or you may decide you want to designate a plot of ground in your yard and create your garden from there. You’ll need to start by removing the grass, leveling the garden site, and applying soil and other organic material (compost). A soil test can determine the pH level of your garden soil and guide you to the correct use of fertilizer for the plants you want to grow. A number of websites, such as smallblueprinter.com, offer online tools enabling you to design your garden and add plants and other objects to your design.
Your garden will need sunshine and the right amount of moisture. The site you select should receive at least six hours of sun per day, according to the experts at The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Make sure the soil is well drained so that you don’t end up with a bunch of rotted roots. And avoid places that get too much wind so that your plants don’t get damaged.
1. Water. You’ll need to supplement the water your garden receives if Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough rainfall. If you don’t want to lug buckets of water to your garden, invest in a hose with a sprayer attachment, or consider investing in a drip irrigation system.
2. Compost. Even the best soil needs help. Applying composted plant material or well-aged manure will help your soil drain well and help it hold moisture as well as add nutrients.
3. Know your zone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture established Plant Hardiness Zone Maps to indicate what regions of the country have the best climate conditions for growing certain plants. Download the map and find your zone at plants.usda.gov/hardiness.html.
Aside from the health benefits of eating homegrown fresh food, vegetable gardening boosts our health in other ways.
Gardening combines physical activity with social interaction and exposure to nature and sunlight. Sunlight lowers blood pressure as well as increases vitamin D levels in the summer, the National Institutes of Health reports. Working in the garden restores dexterity and strength, and the aerobic exercise that is involved can easily burn up the same number of calories that you might burn up in the gym, the NIH said.
Make this the year you plan to boost your health by planting a garden
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