Signs of spring are everywhere!
These tulips were clipped from our garden over the weekend. The red is insane! Their appearance makes up for every drop of rain that fell last month.
The only thing I like getting from the garden more than fresh flowers are fresh vegetables. Over the last few years I have been planting a vegetable garden in the back yard. Being honest it has become a bit of an obsession. I LOVE watching things grow. It must be my inner pioneer – I just know I could have survived and fed my entire family if I had grown up in that little house on the prairie… This is part of last year’s crop.
We picked a batch this big every 3 days last August!
I started with tomatoes and cucumbers my first year and have since added green beans, eggplants, hot peppers, bell peppers, carrots, arugula, and cucumbers. The best part is watching my little minis pick veggies right from the garden and eat them still warm from the sunshine.
Em Planting Herbs, Age 2
We’ve been learning as we go and three years later I consider myself to still be a beginner. I go the easy route and usually buy plants instead of seeds. I dig a hole, sprinkle in some potting soil, and bury the small plants right up until where the leaves or branches start to come off the main stalk. I use wire tents on each tomato, cucumber, and pepper plant. That way they don’t topple over once they are full grown. Once 2-3 plants are in the ground you have a veggie garden! Last year I did try a few seeds. I dropped green bean and carrot seeds into shallow wells, covered them with soil, and a few weeks later they started to grow! I was amazed since I had never technically sprouted anything before. The whole thing makes me kind of giddy. I know. I’m a nerd.
I am thrilled to help new gardeners so come on over in the weeks to come and we will discuss. For the rest of you – here is an in depth look at how to get your garden growing. Karen Oh is a Certified Master Gardener and the mother of three daughters. She has graciously been working at the girls’ school for the last few years and has created a fabulous program for the First Presbyterian Nursery School community. I love that our school cares about helping our children to learn the value of respecting our land and what it can do for us. Here’s what she has to say about getting your hands dirty in the soil.
Q&A with Karen Oh, Master Gardener
What is your theory on gardening as a family?
Fostering our children’s curiosity in nature is great fun and SO important. I’ve been teaching gardening lessons to pre-schoolers for years and now have done a few things with adults and middle schoolers. With most things recreational – do what you like! If your kids want to – let them dig and pick and water – even if the garden looks a mess. Kids really learn by doing in the garden. And it really is true that when a kid grows something themselves – they will try it.
When do you start planting your vegetable and herb gardens?
In our area – you can start spinach and some greens as early as end of March. I’ve got peas and lettuces in the ground now. If you start from seed, warm weather veggies like tomatoes and peppers need to be planted in indoor pots in January or February. Once the weather warms up and they have sprouted in pots you can transfer them outside. Each seed packet explains the days to germination – you count backwards from the day you’d like to put the seedling in the ground.
What are the foolproof veggies that are hard to mess up and fun to grow with kids?
Peas, beans, lettuces, swiss chard, potatoes and carrots are all easy early season plants that you can sow directly into soil as soon as the hard frosts are over. Potatos need a deeper bed but every other seed can be put in a small garden plot or even a grow box with self-watering. If you want an easy kid-friendly project – just get an Earth Box and pick two seeds to plant.
Even if you go away for a week’s vacation – the water retention system make this almost foolproof. If you like pole beans – something to climb on is a must. You can plant by a fence you already have or you can build a trellis from old bamboo or even fallen twigs from your yard.
One of Karen’s Bamboo Trellis Systems
Easy crops for summer that you can plant as small seedlings are: cucumber, tomato, eggplant, peppers, squash and all sorts of fun herbs – try lemon verbena – it grows quickly from woody stalks and smells divine and makes a great tea from the dried leaves. One of my favorite tomato varieties is “sun gold” a small pop in your mouth treat that even my picky veggie-averse 10 year old will eat.
What needs a lot of sun? And what grows better in shady spots?
ALL vegetable need full sun where we live in Connecticut. If you don’t have a sunny plot with at least 6 to 8 hours of unobstructed sun think about ferns or a moss and rock garden.
Is there anything you add to the soil before planting to help things grow faster and healthier?
You can plant directly into the soil if you know its “clean” soil but you’d most likely want to add compost and some organic matter to fortify the soil and be sure there are no major tree roots or large rocks. I recommend raised beds – since they are easy to assemble and move if necessary and then you control your soil. I like the natural cedar beds from Natural Yards but many prefer fiberboard since it will not rot. Never use treated lumber to build a bed – those nasty chemicals can leak right into your soil. I started my beds with a mix of top soil and Coast of Maine Penobscot blend in a 50/50 mix. Bags are 40 lb. each and cost about $10 per bag where we live in CT. Then each fall I plant cover crops to fortify the soil and in early spring put more compost on top.
How often does a vegetable garden need to be watered?
Watering is an art – too much or too little water is the number one problem after pests. The soil should feel damp to a finger pressed an inch below the surface and when watering the puddles on the top should “soak in” within 5 seconds. Certain plants demand more water than others and tomatoes and cucumbers can sometimes need watering twice a day in the heat of August.
Any tricks for getting rid of bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. that nibble away at gardens?
Companion planting is a good way to keep pests at bay. Marigolds and certain herbs like coriander and dill can help but nothing keeps critters out like a fence. If you want to protect your veggies a mesh metal fence which begins under the ground at least 1 ft. and faces out will keep the digging rabbits, groundhogs and gophers away. I have not found any humane option that keeps a persistent chipmunk away!
Good reads about growing veggies:
Starter Vegetable Gardens – Barbara Pleasant
Square Foot Gardens – Mel Bartholomew