Love the idea of home-grown veggies but have no clue where to start? We asked an expert who assured us that it’s not too late (or too difficult) to plant vegetables and greens to enjoy all season.
Yes, there are an abundance of places to purchase fresh produce around our region… but maybe you’ve toyed with the idea of growing your own. After all, what’s more convenient (and ultimately satisfying) than stepping out your back door to pick peppers, tomatoes, and greens for your salad bowl?
According to Adam Weiss, Woodstock’s master gardener and owner of Pike Lane Gardens, it’s OK if you haven’t done any prior prep work. Just head to a local nursery to select your desired plant varieties and buy organic potting soil (or garden soil if you already have plant beds). It’s important to shop at a reputable place. “You want to know where the plants are coming from,” says Weiss. “Are they organic seedlings? Where were they grown? Have they been fertilized with chemicals, or only organic fertilizers?” By buying organic plants and supplies, you can make sure that you know exactly what is going in to the veggies you’ll be caring for, and later, eating. Also important: Pick plants that can withstand the hottest days of summer. Weiss says tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melon, bush beans, herbs, and kale are all safe bets, but lettuce, carrots, beets, and snap peas? Not so much. Once you’re armed with your supplies, here’s how to make your garden grow.
Select the right spot.
You might have a vision of where you want your vegetable garden, but make sure your plan includes appropriate sunlight, proximity to a water source (i.e. a garden hose or ability to carry a watering can), and adequate protection from wildlife. Some veggies, like kale or bush beans, can thrive with partial shade, but a general rule for most plants is 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. If you’re tending your garden from an apartment balcony or back deck, animals won’t be a nuisance. In your yard, a simple fence should do the trick.
Encourage healthy growth.
Once you’re ready to plant your seedlings in the ground (or in containers and grow bags, if you prefer), your main concern should be watering—in the dog days of summer, this could mean upwards of twice a day depending on how fast the soil dries out, but one inch of water per week is a good goal. Use your judgment—if it’s been raining all week, don’t manually water. Try to avoid overcrowding, too; more plants per container does not equal more veggies, but it does encourage more disease. Although vegetables like radishes can be planted as close as two inches apart, some tomato varieties need at least two feet, so it’s always a good idea to do some research in the planning stage to make sure your vegetables have adequate room to grow. And lastly, don’t prematurely pick your produce! It’s exciting to see the fruits of your labor, but they’ll be much tastier if you leave them be until they’re ready. Inquire at the nursery you bought your seedlings at (or do some online searching) for your chosen plants’ maturity date—it will give you a good idea of when to expect a harvest.
Growing your own produce should be relaxing and enjoyable, not a source of stress. Don’t give up even if your yield isn’t all you hoped it would be. Weiss says it’s best to start small—less is more in year one. “By growing your own vegetables you’re also reducing your carbon footprint, spending quality time in nature, and supporting your own well-being,” says Weiss. He works with companies like Hearst, Paramount, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to teach virtual gardening seminars to employees—and recognizes the benefits of being able to remove yourself from workplace stressors and just take it easy. “You’re connecting with the earth, you’re putting your hands in the soil, and gardening is also a form of art. After 20-plus years of doing this, I still get huge gratification from being able to pick and eat my own fresh vegetables.”