Here in South Texas spring and fall are the two times of year when a vegetable garden is a good idea. As the first day of spring is Saturday, this is a good time of year to start putting in the vegetables that will ripen just about the time the really hot weather descends on the area.
Before the actual planting begins, picking a site for the garden is very important. According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturist Joseph Masabni, the ideal garden area gets full or nearly full sunlight and has deep, well-drained, fertile soil. The garden should be near a water outlet, but not close to competing shrubs or trees. Also take into consideration what vegetables you plan to grow. There are vegetables that are appropriate only for small gardens, whereas some are appropriate for large gardens.
In a small garden, some vegetables that will do well include, beets, broccoli, bush squash, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, English peas, garlic, green beans, lettuce, onion, parsley, pepper, radish, spinach, and tomatoes.
For large garden, those vegetables would work as well, but larger gardens can also accommodate cantaloupe, cauliflower, collards, cucumber, mustard, okra, potato, pumpkin, Southern pea, sweet corn, sweet potato and watermelon. Vine crops such as watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, and cucumbers need large amounts of space, but if you plant them near a fence or trellis you may need less space for vine crops. “It is important to select the right variety of each vegetable. If you plant the wrong variety for your area you may not get a satisfactory yield no matter how much care you give the plants,” said Masabni.
He said if the garden does not receive full or nearly full sunlight, try growing leafy crops such as leaf lettuce, mustard and parsley.
The vegetables that require lots of light are beans, broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, okra, onion, pea, pepper, potato, pumpkin squash, tomato, and watermelon.
Vegetables that tolerate partial shade are beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard, parsley, radishes, spinach, and turnips.
Another consideration is the length it takes for the vegetable to mature. Long-term crops require a long growing period, so they should be planted where they will not interfere with short-term crops.
Crops that mature in thirty to sixty days include beets, bush beans, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, radishes, spinach, summer squash, turnips, or turnip greens.
Crops that take eighty days or more to mature include brussels sprouts, bulb onion, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, eggplant, garlic, Irish potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Also, plant tall-growing crops like okra, staked tomatoes, pole beans or sweet corn on the north side of the garden where they will not shade or interfere with the growth of low-growing crops such as radishes, leaf lettuce, onions and bush beans.
Masabni suggests planting gardens as early as possible in the spring so vegetables will grow and mature during ideal conditions. “Using transplants rather than seeds, when possible, allows crops to mature earlier and extends the productive period of many vegetable crops,” he said.
Some other “do’s” with gardening include doing the recommended varieties for your area of the state; sample soil and have it tested every two to three years; apply pre-plant fertilizer to the garden in the recommended amount; examine your garden often to keep ahead of potential problems; keep the garden free of insects, diseases and weeds; use mulch to conserve moisture, control weeds and reduce ground rots; thin when plants are small.
Some “don’ts” include depending on varieties not recommended for your area (he does recommend trying limiting amounts of new releases); plant so closely that you cannot walk or work in the garden; cultivate so deeply that plants roots are injured; apply chemicals or pesticides in a haphazard manner or without reading the label directions; use chemicals not specifically recommended for garden crops; and store leftover diluted spray.