Winter is breaking, spring is emerging, and youre anxious to get your vegetable garden in the ground. It may be too early to plant, but its not too soon to begin planning, preparing for, and getting excited about the bountiful harvest youre sure to have.
After youve daydreamed through the seed catalogs and decided what you want to plant, put your garden plan on paper. Dont treat it as a blueprintyoure raising plants, not a buildingbut as a general guide to map out the location of each vegetable, planting dates, and what plant might follow when each vegetable is harvested.
Dont be afraid to mix flowers and herbs in with vegetables, not only for beauty but utility. Annual herbs such as basil are easy to grow, and the flowers can be picked for a dinner table.
Proper layout is essential for growing healthy plants, says Stephen Cramer, a Colorado State University extension agent for Logan County in Sterling, Colo.
Plant plants together that have similar water requirements, such as cucumbers, radishes, and onions, Cramer advises.
Squash, pumpkins, and melons tend to cross-pollinate, creating genetically defective vegetables, so your gardens layout should place vegetables that dont cross-pollinateradishes, tomatoes, or lettucebetween them.
Determine how much to plant by deciding what you want to do with your garden bounty. A common mistake is to plant too much that you cant keep up with the weeding and watering, Cramer says.
Instead, figure just what youll need, whether its simply to enjoy freshly picked produce nearly all summer, or to also freeze and can. Vegetable seed packets contain the general yield amount.
Locate your garden away from weed sources, Cramer says. Cultivate and mulch to keep weeds down during the growing season, inasmuch as they compete for water and nutrients, look unsightly, and can create a climate for disease, he says.
Prepare the soil before planting as soon as the ground thaws, Cramer says.
The most beneficial thing to do in any garden is to add 1 to 2 inches of compost material, Cramer advises. Regular compost is the best, because its all broken down and ready to be added back to the soil, but you can use aged, odorless manures.
Composting increases the soils organic matter, improves water infiltration, and boosts the soils ability to hold water and nutrients, Cramer says.
Before you know it, the weather will break, the ground will warm, and the time will come to plant the garden youve so carefully prepared.