Vegetable Gardening Basics

All gardens have problems. One year it may be insects and disease and the next year it may be a drought. Gardening does require work, but by learning a few basic skills and techniques, you can make your vegetable gardening experience a pleasant one.

Planning the Garden


Choosing a location for your garden is the most important step in the garden planning process. Vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight for best growth. Leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce will grow with less sunlight. Choose a location as far away as possible from trees and shrubs. The roots of nearby trees and shrubs will rob your vegetables of needed nutrients and water. Good soil with good drainage is needed. Have your soil tested before you start gardening to determine if your soil is lacking any needed nutrients. Be sure your water source is close by.

Keep a Garden Journal

Keep a journal of your activities in the garden. Keep a list of the varieties of vegetables grown. Record seeding and planting dates, insect and disease problems, weather and harvest dates and yields. This information will be valuable as you plan future gardens.

What To Grow

Don’t go overboard with your seed ordering after viewing all the colorful garden catalogs with their beautiful pictures of veggies or you may be the gardener in your neighborhood trying to give away zucchini. Grow what your family likes to eat. As a first time gardener, stay away from “exotic” veggies like kohlrabi or hard to grow veggies like cauliflower or head lettuce.

Grow hybrid vegetables. Hybrid vegetables are usually stronger and healthier than other vegetables. They often have higher yields. Many have a built-in disease resistance and they are more likely to recover from bad weather. Hybrids may cost a little bit more than other types of vegetables, but the cost is worth it. If you save seeds, remember that hybrids do not reproduce true to type meaning the new plant will be inferior to the mother plant.

Choose vegetables that have earned the All-America Selections award. All-America Selections is an organization that has been evaluating new vegetable varieties in trial and display gardens across the United States and Canada since 1933. Each year after the evaluations have been analyzed a number of the most outstanding vegetables are designated as All-America Selections indicating that they performed well under all types of conditions.

Draw a Plan

It is always a good idea to draw a plan of your garden. It doesn’t have to be a fancy diagram. Remember the tallest plants in your garden such as corn should be at the north end of the garden and permanent vegetables like asparagus should be at the side of the garden.


If you don’t have space in your backyard or only have access to a sunny balcony or patio, you can still grow vegetables in containers. A container for vegetables can be as simple as a bushel basket lined with plastic, a hanging basket or a self contained growing unit like the earthbox.

All containers, whether plastic or clay must have drainage. Soil in containers will dry out quickly, so frequent watering is necessary. Containers with no drainage will cause your vegetables to develop root rot. Use a sterilized, soilless mix for your container garden. Soilless mixes are light and contain some organic matter. Fertilize with a slow-release vegetable garden fertilizer that is applied in the spring and will provide nutrients for your veggies throughout the growing season.

Basic Tools

Hoe: Great for weeding, covering seeds and chopping up the soil.

Rake: Used to prepare the seedbed and to break-up large clods of soil.

Spade: Used to dig up the garden in preparation for planting and for adding organic matter to the soil.

Trowel: Used for digging holes for transplants and breaking up the soil around plants.

Labels, string, ruler: Used to layout rows and measure correct spacing. Each vegetable should have a label with the name of the vegetable and the date seeded or planted on it.

Watering can: Use to water in seeds and transplants.

Soil Preparation and Fertilization

Before you can plant, soil preparation is a must. Dig the soil to a depth of at least 6-10 inches. Add a two to four inch layer of organic matter and incorporate it into the soil. Organic matter will improve your soil structure and will add nutrients to the soil.

Vegetables need nutrients to grow. A good vegetable garden fertilizer should have an analysis of something like 5-10-5, 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. The first number stands for the per cent of nitrogen, the second number the per cent of phosphorus and the third number the per cent of potassium. Nitrogen promotes green growth, phosphorus promotes root growth and fruit development and potassium promotes disease resistance and root development. If you are growing your vegetables organically, organic fertilizers like peat moss, compost or composted cow manure are a good source of nutrients for your vegetables.

Planning Techniques

Plan to use all the space in your garden. Through planting techniques like vertical cropping, succession planting and intercropping, you can make maximum use of the space you have.

Vertical Cropping

Train veggies like pole beans, peas, cucumbers, squash and gourds to some type of support to save space in the garden. Existing fences, poles, wire cages, trellises can be used for support.

Succession Planting

This technique involves growing a crop like lettuce in the spring and replacing it when the warm weather hits with a crop like beans. In the late summer, you can reverse the process and replace the beans with a cool season crop like lettuce or radishes.


Intercropping is the growing technique of planting fast growing vegetables among slow growing vegetables. An example of this technique would be planting radishes, lettuce or green onions among caged tomato plants.

Planning Tips

Check old veggie seeds for germination. Wet a paper towel and place the seeds in a row about an inch from the edge. Roll the paper towel up from the opposite side and put the towel in a warm area like the top of the refrigerator. Mist the towel to keep it moist. After 10 to 14 days, unroll the towel and check the number of seeds that have germinated. If less than half have germinated, either discard or seed more heavily this spring.

Clean your garden tools. Remove soil and use a wire brush to remove rust. Prepare a mixture of a bottle of motor oil and builder’s sand in a five-gallon bucket. Dip the tools into the sand several times to clean and prevent rusting. This mixture can be used over and over again. Treat the handles with boiled linseed oil and paint the handles with a bright color to make them easier to find in the garden.

Avoid damping off with seedlings. Damping off is a major threat to young seedlings being grown indoors. Damping off thrives in cold, humid, wet, conditions with poor air circulation. Symptoms of damping off include curling, wilting and collapse of emerged seedlings. Some preventative measures that will reduce the likelihood of damping off include: Use high-quality, treated seed; use sanitized soil and containers; keep soil on the dry side; and provide plenty of light and air circulation to the seedlings.

In the spring, never work your soil when it is wet. Tilling or digging when the soil is wet will cause it to dry into concrete-like clods. Pick up a handful of soil before digging and squeeze. If it crumbles easily, it is ready to be tilled. If it doesn’t crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a couple of more days and test again before digging.

Interested in heirlooms vegetables? The Seed Savers Exchange specializes in heirloom seeds.

Preparing a Vegetable Garden Site

This fact sheet will provide the basics of how to make a new vegetable garden, starting with site selection, and then covering soil testing, preparing the ground, cover cropping, and making a plan for fertilizing, weeding, and irrigating your new garden.

Site selection. The first major decision is where to put the vegetable garden.

  • Choose a sunny spot. Most vegetables do best in full sun, over 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. If you don’t have this much sun, consider sticking with crops that are more likely to tolerate some shade, such as herbs, and greens, like lettuce and spinach.
  • Avoid low-lying areas. Plant roots need oxygen, and vegetables are particularly sensitive to being submerged. Avoid putting a vegetable garden in a spot where the water accumulates after a rainstorm.
  • Avoid the perimeter of old houses. Any house built prior to 1978 is likely to have been painted with lead paint that has subsequently chipped and fallen onto the soil around the house. As a result, lead levels in the soil may be high enough that growing edible produce is not recommended. If in doubt, test your soil – standard soil tests screen for lead levels, and alert you if the lead levels may pose a concern.
  • Consider convenience. If you have many spots to choose from, consider a location that is easy for you to get to, and one with easy access to irrigation water.

Choose your garden format. Raised-bed gardens use elevated frames that define a small, manageable space for the garden. While they involve more up-front labor and expense, they work well when the existing soil is not suitable for gardening. In-ground gardens work well when the soil is suitable for a garden, are less expensive to get started, and are easily moved to another location if needed. The rest of this fact sheet focuses on getting started with in-ground gardens.

Test the soil. Vegetable crops grow best in soils with a pH of 6.5-6.8. Our native NH soils are usually much more acidic than this (4.5-4.8), and lime or wood ash are added to raise and maintain a high pH, as well as to supply calcium and magnesium. Lime works slowly, so should be applied in the fall if possible. Wood ash acts more quickly, and can be applied in the spring before planting. If the garden site is still grass, you can apply the lime or wood ash on top of the grass. If your garden site is already tilled and prepared, incorporating or mixing the lime or wood ash into the top 4-6 inches of soil will help it work sooner.

We recommend that gardeners test their soil at least six months before planting to determine the amount of lime needed. Soil testing can be done through a number of private and public labs. UNH Cooperative Extension offers this service. Forms and instructions are available on our website:, or you can call our Info Line at 1-877-EXT-GROW (1-877-398-4769).

Prepare the ground for planting. Most new vegetable gardens start out as lawns or a combination of perennial weeds that need to be removed. Two easy and effective ways to kill perennial weeds in a garden setting are tillage and mulching, or a combination of these. Regardless of the method you use, perennial grasses are most easily killed in the very early spring before they begin to grow, or immediately after they have been mowed very short. Ideally, it is best to start this process the summer before you want to plant the garden, because it takes time to kill the grass and weeds. In addition, there are insect pests (e.g., wireworms and June beetle grubs) that live in the sod and these are likely to be a big problem in a garden that quickly follows the sod. One year without sod will greatly reduce the numbers of these pests. However, if you are willing to take the risk of loss to these pests and battle the weeds, it is possible to prepare the soil the year you want to plant, as long as you start early: before the grass begins to grow.

Tillage. It is possible to physically kill perennial weeds by hand or using various pieces of equipment. A spade or shovel can be used to prepare a small garden plot by hand using the double-digging or French intensive method – which is laborious and time-consuming, but effective. If you (or a neighbor) have access to a tractor and tractor-mounted equipment, using a plow first, and then a harrow or rototiller, can prepare a new garden site quickly. A small walk-behind rototiller can be used instead, but it will almost certainly require repeated uses (perhaps 3 times, once every 2-3 weeks) to thoroughly kill perennial weeds.

This impatient gardener limed the garden site and is tilling in the sod about 6 weeks before the garden will be planted.Tilling the ground a single time is a good start to the process of killing grasses, but they are still alive and will re-grow. Plan to till at least three times, once every 2-3 weeks, to fully prepare this soil.

Mulching. The principle behind mulching to kill weeds is that you are starving them by preventing access to light. In general, perennial weeds and grasses have extensive root systems and a good supply of energy with which to try to re-grow – so successful mulching requires a mulch that completely blocks light, and it needs to be in place for several weeks or months.

Mulching can be very easily done using a heavy (6-mil or heavier) piece of black plastic, weighted down along the edges with heavy rocks or sandbags. As long as the plastic is UV-stabilized, it can be used repeatedly for the same or other purposes. You can also use any of a number of organic materials, such as newspaper, leaves, straw, wood chips, etc. To be successful, the layer must be thick enough to completely prevent light from reaching the plants growing underneath. Avoid using glossy papers and papers printed with colored inks. Wetting these mulching materials as they are put in place can help make a cohesive layer that is less likely to blow away in the wind.

Before removing the mulch, make sure that the sod underneath has been completely killed. Once the mulch has done the job, it can be left in place, with plants planted through it to reach the soil below, or it can be removed.

Before (top) and after (bottom); this piece of ground measuring 20×48’ was covered with a 6 mil piece of black plastic for 6-8 weeks, completely killing the perennial plants that had lived there.

Cover the ground – protect the soil. If you have planned ahead and prepared the ground the summer before you’d like to plant the vegetable garden, you should protect the soil from erosion during the fall and winter by planting a winter cover crop. Oats are probably the most reliable and inexpensive cover crop for this purpose, and they can be purchased at most feed stores. Broadcast the seed at a rate of 2.5-3 lbs per 1,000 square feet onto freshly tilled ground, and rake to gently incorporate. Aim to plant between early August and mid-September to get maximum growth during the fall. The oats will die over the winter, making a thin layer of dead mulch that can be incorporated or planted through in the spring as soon as you are ready to plant the garden. Instead of growing a cover crop (or green manure), you could cover the ground with straw or other organic mulch that can be raked off the following spring.

This cover crop of oats , shown in late September, will protect the ground from fall and winter erosion.

Making a plan and planting the garden. Once the garden soil has been prepared and is ready for planting, it’s time to make a plan for fertilization, weed control during the season, and irrigation.

Fertilization. As mentioned above, we recommend that gardeners test their soil before planting to determine the amount of fertilizers needed. For more information, refer to Fertilizing Vegetable Gardens and Guidelines for Using Manures & Composts in the Home Garden. As a general rule, a vegetable garden will need: 25 lbs/1000 sq. ft. of 10-10-10 OR 60 lbs/1000 sq. ft. of 4-3-3 or similar organic blended fertilizer.

Ideally, half of the fertilizer should be applied to the garden and mixed thoroughly into the top few inches of soil before planting; and half should be applied mid-way through the growing season in a “side-dress” application, placed near the plants and scratched lightly into the soil surface.

Weed control. If the perennial weeds were not completely killed prior to planting, they will try to re-grow and compete with the crops in your new vegetable garden. The first growing season is the most critical time to get these perennial weeds under control. They can be managed by repeated hoeing or cultivation (either by hand or with equipment), or by using mulches.

The best mulching materials are ones that you have on-hand in large quantities. Lawn clippings, straw, leaves, pine needles, and wood chips all make excellent mulches. A layer of organic mulch needs to be relatively thick (at least 4 inches) to prevent light from accessing the ground below. If carbon-rich mulches (straw, wood chips, sawdust) are mixed into the garden soil, the soil microbes will start to break them down, temporarily stealing nitrogen during the process, resulting in nitrogen-starved crops. This is not usually a problem if you continually add mulch to the top of the layer, and avoid mixing the mulch materials into the soil below.

If the garden is in the middle of a lawn or field, a good strategy to keep the surrounding grasses from creeping into the garden is to maintain a narrow tilled strip around the garden, just the width of a tiller. Tilling this strip every 3 weeks or so makes a barrier that defines the garden space and prevents weeds from creeping in and taking over.

Irrigation. As a general rule, most vegetable crops grow best if they receive about an inch of rainfall per week through the growing season. In a season with regular rainfall, supplemental irrigation may not be necessary except when first transplanting young plants into the garden. However, in a dry year, access to irrigation may be needed. Most home gardeners irrigate overhead (with a hose and breaker attachment or with a sprinkler) or using drip irrigation (using soaker hoses or drip tapes or emitters). Access to a source of water is critical in either case. The following resources are excellent sources of more detailed information on home garden irrigation strategies:

Ready to plant. With all of your prep work done, you’re ready to plant your vegetable garden. You may find the following resources helpful, as you think about when and what to plant.

Information On Which Vegetable Seeds To Sow Indoors Or Outdoors

Vegetables can be planted indoors or outdoors. Normally, when you plant seeds indoors, you’ll need to harden the seedlings off and transplant them into your garden later. So which vegetables are best started inside and which are best to direct sow in the garden? Read on for information on where to sow vegetable seeds.

Starting Seeds Indoors vs. Direct Sowing Outside

Depending on the particular crop planted, gardeners can go about sowing seeds directly in the ground or starting them inside. Typically, plants that transplant well are the best candidates for vegetable seed starting indoors. These normally include the more tender varieties and heat-loving plants too.

Sowing seeds indoors allows you to get a jump on the growing season. If you start your vegetable seed planting at the right time for your area, you’ll have strong, vigorous seedlings ready to go into the ground once the regular growing season begins. In areas with short

growing seasons, this method is ideal.

Most of your root crops and cold hardy plants respond well to vegetable seed planting directly outdoors.

No matter how careful one is when transplanting a young plant, there is bound to be some minor root damage. Many plants that do well directly sown do not respond well to being transplanted because of the potential root damage.

Where to Sow Vegetable Seeds and Herbs

To help get you started with where to sow vegetable seeds and common herb plants, the following list should help:

Vegetable Start Indoors Direct Sow Outdoors
Artichoke X
Arugula X X
Asparagus X
Bean (Pole/Bush) X X
Beet* X
Bok Choy X
Broccoli X X
Brussels sprout X X
Cabbage X X
Carrot X X
Cauliflower X X
Celeriac X
Celery X
Collard greens X
Cress X
Cucumber X X
Eggplant X
Endive X X
Gourds X X
Kale* X
Kohlrabi X
Leek X
Lettuce X X
Mache greens X
Mesclun greens X X
Melon X X
Mustard greens X
Okra X X
Onion X X
Parsnip X
Peas X
Pepper X
Pepper, chili X
Pumpkin X X
Radicchio X X
Radish X
Rhubarb X
Rutabaga X
Shallot X
Spinach X
Squash (summer/winter) X X
Sweet corn X
Swiss chard X
Tomatillo X
Tomato X
Turnip* X
Zucchini X X
*Note: These include growing for greens.
Herb Start Indoors Direct Sow Outdoors
Basil X X
Borage X
Chervil X
Chicory X
Chives X
Comfrey X
Coriander/Cilantro X X
Dill X X
Garlic chives X X
Lemon balm X
Lovage X
Marjoram X
Mint X X
Oregano X
Parsley X X
Rosemary X
Sage X
Savory (Summer & Winter) X X
Sorrel X
Tarragon X X
Thyme X

Sprouting Seeds

Fresh food for the kitchen, in the kitchen! With a great range of varieties, these tasty treats are becoming a kitchen trend which is set to last. Packed full of vitamins, they’re a brilliant addition to a healthy diet, flavours vary from nutty to spicy and they can be used in a myriad of dishes, from salads to stir fries.

If no garden space is available and you’re keen to eat good, organic foot – then growing sprouting seeds is the answer. All you need is a container, a splash of water and, of course, the seeds themselves. When placed on a windowsill, these seeds germinate quickly and once they have, they can be added to a sandwich, fresh salad or whatever you have cooking. The container can be recycled from food packaging and lined with tissue, upon which the seeds are placed and kept moist until germination. A kitchen windowsill, just avoiding direct sunlight, is the perfect place. Alternatively, if you are going to grow sprouting seeds regularly, then invest a few quid in pre-made sprouting seed kits.

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If you have a tap, and know how to open it, you’re well on the way to sprouting your own mung beans or alfalfa seeds. The only other equipment you’ll need is a large (1-2 litre) jar with a lid that’s pierced to provide ventilation and drainage.
You can buy purpose-made containers in health food shops or sites like, but otherwise your best option is to adapt a Mason jar – one of those wide-mouthed glass containers whose two-part tops consist of a metal disc and a ring that screws on to secure it. Replace that disk with fine plastic or stainless-steel mesh and you’re good to go. If that’s too much trouble, you can simply stretch muslin across the jar’s mouth and secure it with a rubber band. This will create more work in the long term, however, as you’ll need to wash the cloth between uses.

Speaking of cleanliness, if you remember the poisonings linked to bean sprouts, here’s the NHS’s dull but helpful advice: “You need to use seeds suitable for home sprouting… Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Equipment used for sprouting seeds should be cleaned thoroughly using hot soapy water; always wash your hands before and after handling seeds.”

“Seeds suitable for home sprouting”, by the way, means seeds (or grains, or nuts or beans) labelled as such. Don’t use seeds that are sold for planting, as these will have been treated with pesticides and other evil substances. We don’t have room to list everything sproutable here, but popular choices include chickpeas, peas, radish, red clover, adzuki, quinoa…

Details vary from seed to seed, but in broad terms you need to place the seeds in your jar (leaving it no more than one-third full), screw on the top, then rinse them well with cold water, before adding enough lukewarm water to almost fill the jar. Leave the seeds to soak overnight, then rinse and thoroughly drain them (just turn the jar upside down). Lay the jar on its side, somewhere dark or at least gloomy. After that, all you have to do is keep it at room temperature, rinsing and draining the contents two to four times a day. Once the seeds are fully sprouted – probably three to five days – make sure they’re well drained and put them in the fridge. Use within two or three days.

The planting date for each vegetable depends upon the weather that the vegetable can best tolerate.

Planting vegetables in their right season will greatly enhance your harvest. Most vegetables belong to one of two seasonal groups: cool-season crops and warm-season crops.

The planting date for each vegetable depends upon the weather that the vegetable can best tolerate. Cool-season vegetables grow best in early spring or in late summer and autumn when the weather is cooler. Warm-season vegetables grow best during the late spring, summer, and early autumn when the weather is warm.

Cool-season crops must mature while the weather is cool otherwise they will go to seed. That means they are usually planted at the end of the warm season or the start of the cool season. Warm-season crops must be planted and begin to grow after the last frost or freeze of winter, and they must mature soon enough that they can be harvested before the first frost of the next cool season.

Of course, if the weather in your region is cool year-round, cool-weather crops will be well suited most of the year. And, if you live in tropical or subtropical region where the weather is seldom if ever cool, warm-weather crops are your best year-round choice.

Cool-season crops

Cool-season vegetables should be planted so that they mature either in the spring or early summer before the heat of summer or later in autumn as the weather begins to cool. Cool-weather vegetables require a minimum planting temperature of 40-50°F (5-10°C), and they grow best when the temperature highs are in the range of 70-75°F (21-24°C).Cool weather crops usually stop producing when daytime temperatures reach 80ºF (26°C). or higher.

Cool-season vegetables that can tolerate frost and or short freezes are classified as hardy and half-hardy according to their tolerance. Hardy vegetables can be planted two to four weeks before the last frost in spring. Their seeds will germinate in cold soil and their seedlings can endure short freezes

Hardy vegetables include:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Collards
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

Half-hardy cool-weather vegetables are able to tolerate light freezes, just a few hours of freezing weather or frost. Half-hardy crops should be planted about the date of the last spring frost. If they are planted too soon, they will not survive extended freezing weather.

Half-hardy vegetables include:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Chicory
  • Globe artichokes
  • Endive
  • Lettuce
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Salsify

Warm-season crops

Warm-season vegetables require a minimum soil planting temperature of 50°F (10°C). The optimal soil planting temperature for warm-season crops is 60°F (16°C). Warm-season crops do best when the air and soil temperatures reach 65-86° (18-30°C). Most warm-season vegetables require at least 75°F (24°C) for minimum growth.

Warm-season crops can be classified as tender and very tender. Tender vegetables are best planted one to two weeks after the last frost. Very tender vegetables are best planted at least three weeks after the last frost.

Tender vegetables include:

  • New Zealand spinach
  • Snap beans
  • Sweet corn
  • Tomatoes

Very tender vegetables include:

  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Lima beans
  • Muskmelons
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelons

Many warm-season vegetables can be grown out of their season if they are protected from temperatures below 50ºF (10ºC). You can use cold frames, row covers, cloches or other season-extending devices to grow warm-season vegetables out of season.

More tips at Seed Planting Times.

Which time is best to plant?

The best time to plant vegetable gardens is dependent upon where you live. The hardiness zone determines whether you can plant directly into the soil or if you’ll have to start your vegetable plants indoors.

Your Best Time to Plant Vegetable Gardens

If you don’t already know what your hardiness zone is, the best way to find out is to use a hardiness zone calculator (available here on the LoveToKnow Garden website). Once you know what your hardiness zone is, you can begin planning on when to put those seeds directly into the ground or when to start your seedlings indoors.

Cool Crops

Cool crops are those that can be planted earliest in the spring. These include vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions and Brussels sprouts. Some lettuce plants also fall into this category. These types of plants can tolerate a late frost better than other less vigorous plants with tender leaves.

As soon as the ground can be tilled, these crops can be planted. Depending upon the hardiness zone, this could be anywhere from early to late April.

Warm Crops

Warm crops are those that will not survive a late frost without protection. These plants include peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and some lettuce varieties. If you suspect a late frost, and these plants are already in the ground, cover them overnight and then promptly remove the covers once the sun is out in the morning.

Tender Crops

Tender crops may be planted early, but they require hot caps to help them grow and avoid frost damage. Crops that fall into this category include cucumbers, melons and squash.

Hot caps are essentially mini hot houses used to cover the plant while it is germinating and sprouting. These can be purchased commercially, or they may be made from common household items, like gallon jugs. (Simply cut off the bottom of the jug and push the container into the ground about an inch deep around where the seeds are planted. Once the plant is growing well above ground, remove the jugs).

Starting Plants Indoors

If you live in a cool climate and need to start your plants indoors, start them about a month before you will be able to plant them. These seedlings can be planted in many different types of containers, depending on what is available. Some gardeners prefer peat pots, while others insist on using fortified potting soil. The plants can be started in pots or simple paper cups. What is important to remember is to keep the plants warm and moist while they are germinating and growing.

Seedlings may benefit from heat mats placed beneath the pots, but caution must be used to ensure that the mats aren’t too hot. Having a grate placed between the heating mat and the pots may help prevent the soil from drying out too quickly before they are watered again.

As soon as the weather allows, the plants should be transplanted outdoors into prepared soil.

Seed Packet Information

When purchasing seeds from a retail store, the back of each seed packet provides valuable information for the gardener. The back of the seed packet identifies the best time to plant a vegetable garden in your area. If you live in an area that is between two zones, choose the cooler zone to make the determination on when to plant the seeds.

While no one can predict the weather for certain each year, hardiness zones will certainly help in determining the best time to plant vegetable gardens. Following local weather reports can also help gardeners avoid disaster by notifying them of frost alerts. Covering these plants overnight will save plants from frost damage. Finally, use seed packet information to help determine when is the right time to plant a particular vegetable. If you can’t plant the seeds early outdoors, start them indoors for a bountiful crop each year.

Right now is the time to sow broccoli, endive, winter radishes, cabbage, carrots, beets and parsley, all of which need a relatively long season to mature. Sow these seeds directly in the garden where early crops of peas or lettuce are no longer worth eating and can be pulled up.

No space yet anywhere? Then sow them in seed flats or a separate, small nursery bed, then transplant them to their permanent homes in three weeks. Do not attempt this with carrots or radishes, though, because they do not transplant well. Daikon radishes, incidentally, can grow very large, and one way to limit their size is to wait a few weeks more before planting them.

Follow the first wave of planting in a couple of weeks with sowings of lettuce, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collards. Be sure to check the days to maturity for Chinese cabbage; there are many varieties, and quicker maturing ones will bolt to seed if sown too early.

This sowing of lettuce should be the first of many. Every two weeks, through the end of August, sow small amounts, and there will be a continuous supply of tender leaves for the salad bowl. Be sure to include some extra-cold-hardy varieties, like Winter Density, Rouge d’Hiver and Arctic King, for later picking.

Whole rows of vegetables in this second planting might follow early plantings of bush beans or sweet corn, or you can sow in seed flats for transplanting three weeks later. The nice thing about using transplants is that there is no need to plant a whole row at once — plants can be tucked here and there as space becomes available.

Late August is the time for a third wave of fall planting, perhaps where you have gathered up mature onion and garlic bulbs, or dug out cucumber vines that have finally succumbed to the inevitable bacterial wilt. Sow seeds of spinach, mustard, arugula and turnips directly in the ground. Also plant small radishes, the kind normally sown in spring. Consider trying some offbeat fall greens, like cold-hardy mache, miner’s lettuce or the exotic-flavored shungiku (an edible chrysanthemum).

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