Emerging from our sunken winter stupor, we hear the birds’ sweet songs, alerting us that spring is finally here. We persevered the winter cold and kept our wits about us after all the hours spent indoors. The return of the leaves, the critters, and the beach traffic, reminds me that it’s time to plant the garden!
Laura and I eat a lot of veggies. Our grocery list usually consists of the same variety of vegetables week after week. We are consistently buying peppers, onions, potatoes, carrots, kale, lettuce, celery, spaghetti squash, tomatoes and avocados. Unfortunately we can’t grow all those things at once – but maybe someday! We are planning two crops this spring and summer to maximize the usefulness of our harvest. We’re also planning on doing some container gardening to maximize our yield. Last year, we grew a small summer garden. With successful lettuce, kale, pepper and tomato plants, we saved a lot of money by avoiding purchasing these veggies. However, this year we are planning to grow even more and save even more money!
Choose your Spring Crop
Last summer, our lettuce, kale and arugula plants got too hot and stopped producing usable leaves by mid-summer. Since we eat a lot of these vegetables, we decided to plant them this spring for our first crop, and then focus on summer veggies a few months later. This requires us to start in early April here in New Jersey. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, us New Jersey folks can start planting a wide variety of cold-weather vegetables the first weeks of April – including broccoli, brussell sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, leek, lettuce, onion, parsnip, peas, potatoes, radish, spinach and chard. These vegetables enjoy cooler, moist conditions for germination.
Plan your Summer Crop
When the weather gets hotter, we’ll start planting our second crop in mid-June. Corn, green beans, cucumbers, celery, okra, peas, peppers, pumpkin, squash, tomato, and watermelon all do well in the summer. We’re planting cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, corn and spaghetti squash this year.
Don’t Forget Herbs
Fresh herbs are super easy to grow, and can generally be planted anytime after last frost – end of March for NJ. They do great in the ground, or in small or large containers. We’re planning on growing basil, cilantro, sage and thyme this year!
Break out the rakes and gloves, it’s time to clean up! Our yard takes a beating throughout the winter time. High winds down leaves and branches all around the yard, and I’m bound to have left something out in the yard all winter long that shouldn’t have been. I take this time to thoroughly clean up all the blown around leaves, branches and lawn chairs.
Walk around to all your garden beds and pull all the weeds. Get as many of those guys out now as you can, and plan to lay down some mulch to help keep them away! Sink a shovel into the garden and start tilling up some soil. I typically buy a few bags of compost/manure mixes to mix in at the beginning of the season. The dirt in our yard is about 6 inches of dirt before you hit clay and sand, so by tilling in fresh organic material each year we have been able to maintain healthy soil that supports bountiful vegetable growth. Container gardening is another great option for a sandy or rocky yard.
Planting: Seeds vs Plants
We’re starting kale, spinach, green leaf lettuce and arugula seeds in fiber pots this weekend. We’ll start our seeds in the pots, setting them outside each morning, and bringing them back inside if the weather is too cold at night. Once we’re ready to plant them in a few weeks, we can just plant the pots in the ground. Sometimes transferring is tricky because you can damage the plants’ roots in the process, so we’re glad to have found the plantable pots at the dollar store.
We’re also considering planting onions and carrots, since they’re frequent purchases of ours. With their long grow time, they would take up a lot of real estate in our backyard. So, we’re going to plant them in large pots instead. Container gardening is a great way to take advantage of limited space, such as a small yard, deck, or balcony. Purchasing potting soil and fertilizer for a container garden is also a much smaller expense than purchasing for a traditional garden. You just need to make sure your pot has good drainage. If you purchase a pot without it, you can drill some holes in the bottom.
Purchasing young plants is another great option for an easy garden. Planting seeds can be hit or miss, depending on the weather, the health of the seeds, and if you remember to water them enough. While young plants are a little more expensive than seed packets, we have had much more success with them. However, they don’t always fare well against the relentless winds and elusive frosts that can still occur during this early season. If you plant young plants, just wait until after the weather has completely broke and you should be in good shape. By planting mid-April or early May, you will still have enough time for a great spring harvest.
You might think a vegetable garden will be a lot of work, but it really isn’t all that labor intensive. Here’s what to expect:
- Start-up: Decide what to grow, fertilize and till the soil ready, then plant!
- First week: Seeds will require moist soil to germinate properly, so keep up with morning and afternoon watering.
- Every day: Early in the spring check your soil for moisture and if dry be sure to water. Later in the summer watering will need to be done almost every morning to keep the soil moist. Be vigilant, keep an eye out for pests eating your crops and take the proper measures to counteract this. And pull any weeds when you see them, before they grow and are harder to get rid of!
- Each week: Once a week, clean the garden. Remove all weeds, leaves, branches, dead plants, rotten vegetables, pest damaged limbs and fruits, etc. Pull any veggies that are full grown and ready to become salads, sides, and snacks.
- Every month: Fertilize as needed to keep your soil healthy and supportive of your plants. Your plants need the support of nutritional soils in order to produce at tier maximum efficiency.
- End of summer: Harvest! After you reap all the benefits of growing your own vegetables for the season, be sure to pull up all remaining plants you don’t need and compost them for next year. If you don’t have an active compost pile in your yard, it’s just as good to till the dead plants back into your garden with blood meal or another nitrogen rich fertilizer/compost starter to prepare the area for next years garden.
So, what are you planting this year? A vegetable garden is simple to start, and has a great return on investment! Let us know if there is anything else you have questions on!