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February 10, 2018 3:01 PM   Subscribe

I have a large backyard and would like to start a vegetable garden. I need direct links ( or direct....directions) on how to grow certain vegetables within my climate zone, as well as how to prepare ground for plants. All other advice and experience welcome!

According to Urban Farmer (which is a fabulous resource) I'm in 7B or 8A. (Hampton Roads VA).
  • Here's a list of vegetables I'd like to grow:
    1. peppers (pablano and bell)
    2. carrots
    3. corn
    4. tomatoes (whichever is good for making sauces, i don't like raw)
    5. cucumber
    6. may peas
    7. green beans
    8. green onions/scallions
    9. yellow squash
  • I'm looking at this for 2 people, with a family to give leftovers to. How much room will i need for each vegetable?(I do not expect this to be my sole vegetable source)

  • Which vegetables are worth buying plantlings for, which are okay to start as seeds?

  • All general-knowledge tips are greatly appreciated! Watering, harvesting, shade,
    bugs, fertilizer, where to buy seeds or supplies, etc.
posted by FirstMateKate to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Contact your local cooperative extension office. They are usually great, and you can get a soil test kit from them which is step one.
posted by mightshould at 3:14 PM on February 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Start with soil. Your best bet is to reach out to a nearby university with an agriculture extension office -- there's a fair bit of information on soil-testing options in your area available here. This is the time of year to get your testing done, because turnaround can take a while, and you'll want to start any soil remediation before you plant.

Depending on the kit, you may or may not get soil composition analysis -- that is, whether your soil is sandy, loamy, heavy with clay, etc. You can check out soil surveys here to get an idea of what you might be dealing with. Clay and sand can have particular challenges, so it's good to know in advance.

If there are any metals in your soil, don't despair! Raised planting beds are a totally doable option for the scale you're considering. If you have difficult soil (like, a lot of clay), raised planters can be easier than trying to remediate all the soil.

You might consider a small herb garden, while you're at it! Just simple things: basil, thyme, chives, dill, mint -- you can put them in a box, or in an old barrel planter. They're low-effort and very rewarding.
posted by halation at 3:14 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great advice, just to help anyone that comes by, the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center is run by the city in conjunction with Va Tech. I will reach out to them Monday. They have a whole selection of PDFs available on vegetables (as well as annuals and perennials, etc). Great place to look! I'm not too worried about the soil, there are people in my neighborhood with vegetable gardens, and (as halation pointed out) raised beds are always an option! Step one is down, now on to step two!
posted by FirstMateKate at 3:43 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grow veg in a cooler clime (the UK) on a super-heavy clay soil - dig down a few inches and you can literally throw pots from our soil.

Raised beds of some form are pretty great. We started with used scaffold boards but upgraded to treated timber as the untreated boards needed replacing every couple of years, and that's a pain. Treated timber these days isn't really a problem unless you're hardcore anti-chemicals - what little leaches into the soil doesn't spread, and quickly washes away, so I'm fairly sure that we're not going to poison our family. An advantage of raised beds is that they encourage a certain amount of orderliness - each crop to its own area. We top up with compost we make ourselves - I'd suggest designating a corner for composting if you can. We also have a lady who sells sacks of well-rotted manure door-to-door, so we buy some of that. Basically, whatever your soil, keep adding what organic matter you can, and your crops will get better and better.

Beans, being in the main climbers, give you a lot of food in a modest space. We also have a few apple and cherry trees around the beds, and they're my favourite. Just make sure you have a mix of early and late varieties, whatever you grow. Squashes and pumpkins take up a lot of space; we prefer to grow courgettes (zucchini) as you get new fruit on an almost daily basis, even with just a couple of plants. Peppers are easy to grow, Personally I favour Spanish Padrón peppers, which you can blister in olive oil and serve sprinkled with salt - they're good with a beer. Peppers tend to all fruit and ripen at once, so consider preserving, and grow a few different ones. Onions/scallions/leeks are great, and onions and shallots in particular keep really well and can be harvested as you need them. Consider also some soft fruit - we love our raspberries - modern varieties are big, tasty, and crop heavily. Herbs of all kinds are mostly easy to grow, especially things like thyme and rosemary. Don't be tempted to designate a lot of space for herbs; after all, you'll only use them in small quantities. We've grown potatoes, but store -bought potatoes are generally much less hassle, so we only grow smaller salad varieties, like the Pink Fir Apple.

Rotate your produce from year to year, and compost/dig in all of your vegetable waste. Look into companion planting - some of it seems a bit marginal, but there are definitely things that complement each other.
posted by pipeski at 3:48 PM on February 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Square Foot Gardening is really great for beginners. There’s a Facebook group that is pretty supportive. It’s an easy system that minimizes the typical work that goes into a garden.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:04 PM on February 10, 2018

Best answer: Hot weather plants you'll want to start from seedlings -- peppers, tomatoes. (Scallions you might start from a plant too, I'm not sure.) You CAN start them from seed, but you won't get a lot of production because the growing season won't be long enough.

Corn you need to plant at least 4 plants by 4 plants (each plant spaced 1 foot apart), for them to be able to pollinate each other. The four in the middle will get the best cobs (each kernel is fertilized separately (the corn silk carries the pollen to the kernel). The larger a patch you plant, the more middle you'll have. Edges will get middling cobs, corners pretty meh. Corn is HELLA FUN TO GROW and I commend it to you just for its funness (it is SO MUCH PLANT that grows SO FAST), but you won't get a significant amount of corn without a huge corn patch.

Since you've got corn, peas/beans, and squash on your list, you can try "three sisters" planting, which is a traditional indigenous way to grow them in the Americas (for more than 6,000 years!). The corn provides the scaffold for the beans, which fix nitrogen (i.e., fertilizer) in the soil for the corn and squash, which shades the roots of the beans and corn from the blazing sun with its huge leaves, conserves moisture, and helps shade out weeds. The three grow better together! And it's an interesting way to grow them, and sometimes visitors to your garden will always be curious to hear about.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:05 PM on February 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

You're asking for a lot of information, so I would go to the library and get a stack of gardening books. The Extension service will have pamphlets and access to Master Gardeners. I get tomato seedlings because I'm in Maine and we have a short growing season and I don't have a good indoor seed-starting space.
posted by theora55 at 4:06 PM on February 10, 2018

Best answer: Put in as seedlings:
peppers (pablano and bell)
tomatoes (whichever is good for making sauces, i don't like raw) - ROMA

Direct sow in the ground:
may peas
green beans
green onions/scallions
yellow squash
posted by xo at 4:17 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make sure you put your garden in a sunny part of your yard. Mulching around plants will reduce the need to pull weeds. Ask your neighbors about their gardens, they'll give you tips and maybe even seedlings. Be careful of zucchini, a couple of plants are more than enough. Corn depletes the soil. Deer, raccoons, rabbits, and any number of other creatures can wreak havoc if you don't fence them out.
posted by mareli at 4:43 PM on February 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is no one resource that will plainly spell out what to do, because there's too many different ways to do it. There's some great gardeners on youtube, my favorites are MIGardener and CaliKim.

In my experience, gardening is extremely one of those things where you can read a hundred books and none of them will make more than the vaguest sense until you have spent a couple of years putting plants in dirt and seeing what happens. Happily, that's gardening, so you'll be doing it while you learn to do it.

Square Foot Gardening is a really good way to get a feel for spacing, and was my favorite jumping-off resource. My recommendation is to start small this year, don't tear up the entire yard and put in wall-to-wall beds right now. Either build one modest (maybe 2'x8' or similar volume) bed or even just stake out the place you think the bed should go and use fabric beds/pots this year, with a faucet-sourced drip irrigation (if you even need it, it may be rainy enough where you are) and throw some plants down and see what happens. By winter you will have leveled up and have opinions about things you can't even think of right now, and you'll have seen where the sun moves over the course of a year, and the books and videos will all make way more sense than today.

I recommend starting from plants (with the exception of things that just are always direct-sow like carrots) your first year or two, focusing your energy on the beds and your care and feeding routines. Note that some of the items on your list are cooler-weather crops and some are warmer-weather and that really will matter in a 7-8 area. If you have a Local Plant Store, they'll get in ideal varieties for your local growing conditions at more or less the right time, and that should be plenty to keep you busy this year.

This is the first year I've found San Marzano tomatoes on the shelves at both chain and local garden centers, and they have been a very popular canning tomato in the US for several years. But honestly, just about any homegrown tomato cooks up delicious - I routinely roast all the ones I grow and they're all good. You can also freeze them whole and then throw them into soups, sauces, and stews in winter.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:43 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seed catalogs have a lot of this information. Check out fedcoseeds.com. You also just have to grow things to see what does well.
posted by bullatony at 6:15 PM on February 10, 2018

Best answer: A corn technique that I had luck with: Place a 5-gallon bucket (or anything with a 12"-16" diameter) on the ground. Plant corn seed around the edge of the circle, with seeds about 6" apart. This helped my corn pollinate itself and stand up to the wind a little better.

Can I caution you about carrots? They tend to be a bit on the fussy side because of their soil requirements (light and loosely packed); this may be less of an issue if you do raised beds.

Bush-style green beans work well for me, especially because come harvest time, I can pull the entire plant and foist it on a child for picking (which means that when the child gets bored, I can at least pick beans in the shade).

Poblanos, YES! Please make sure to stake or cage them. A happy plant will be three feet-plus high, and with the weight of the peppers, they become vulnerable to falling over. Bells, same deal.

Lyn Never is right about the San Marzanos--excellent for sauce, soup, salsa. They are BIG, so you must must must support these plants. Five-foot cages would not be too much. Consider planting these with basil. (And look into companion planting.)

Trellis your cukes.

Agree with the suggestion for an herb planting as well--which herbs do you like? Which ones would go nicely with the veggies you grow? Cilantro is lovely...and as a cooler-weather plant, always comes in waaaaaay too early for salsa-making.

Are you thinking about spaghetti squash? Really good with a fresh red sauce.

Do you have room for a water barrel under your downspout? I use polytotes, which are ugly as sin, but I don't have to tap my well to water the garden. Maybe a rain barrel would work for you? That's another question for your extension service. Also, I swear by cardboard and a 4" thick layer of mulch as moisture retention and weed suppression.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:22 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ooooh, and I forgot garlic! Plant cloves in the second half of October, harvest heads close to July 4. Incredibly easy and so satisfying.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:34 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Harvest to Table is my go-to site for veggie-specific growing info.

On youtube, I like The Rusted Garden. He's in Zone 7, so should be pretty relevant to you.

Here's some good advice about seed starting vs. buying seedlings.

Artistic Gardens has really cheap sample seed packs if you want to play around and try a bunch of stuff. They don't have a huge selection of interesting veggie varieties, but that can actually be a good thing when you're just starting out. (FYI, their shipping tends to take forever, so order ASAP.)
posted by gueneverey at 8:33 AM on February 11, 2018

Response by poster: Wow these are all such good answers! I love you, mefi. Thank you for the great advice, and the support even though this is a huge task with a high risk! I'm still very excited, I don't mind failing. It's about the experience
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:32 AM on February 11, 2018

Best answer: If you want varieties suited to your region, check out Southern Exposure.

Some random thoughts:
-You have a long growing season, so consider planting successions. When a crop starts to go downhill, it's nice to have a new one to replace it.
-I like growing purple snap beans, because they're purple and they're faster to pick because the beans are easier to see
-General Lee is a good variety of cucumber for this region (sorry, I didn't name it)
-Water and weed and pray over your carrots every day, and don't be disappointed if you have trouble with them. They're very slow to germinate.
-Harvest your veggies frequently (every 2-3 days), and pick them smaller than you think you should for maximum tenderness and flavor.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:40 PM on February 11, 2018

Best answer: hey, I, uh, garden near by.. I second toastedcheese's comment about SESE - their catalog is great.. (And I'm late again ordering, thanks for the reminder.. ). The catalog gives good information for each plant like soil conditions, pests+control, when to plant/start, what grows well in our hot and muggy summers etc.

With any hobby: how much money and time do you want to invest ? I'd suggest start small, because the time commitment can get overwhelming if you aren't ready. (I grew peppers and eggplants in 5 gal buckets for a few years when I started.. )

Are there community gardens near by ? Up the peninsula, we started a community garden 2 years ago, and it's a great resource - I get a good plot of land (better than my yard) and lots of folks to chat with while weeding/planting etc. Great way to learn!
posted by k5.user at 7:18 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

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