Young tomato plants

Edibles 2: Gardening Basics

In Container gardens, Edibles, Feature, Gardening, Spring, Vegetables by Megan Nichols

Ready to start a veggie garden, or need to brush up on the basics? It’s fun, pretty easy, and very rewarding. Here’s what you need to know to get growing.

Sun

Most fruits and veggies want full sun, so 8 hours or more is best. If you only have 3-4 hours it’s possible to grow lettuce, kale, spinach, etc. With 5-6 hours of sun try radish, carrots, parsnip, and swiss chard.

Water

Consistent watering is important to plants. Water deeply 1-2 inches per week, and water in the morning to allow the plant time to dry off. Lawn sprinklers don’t water deeply enough, so it’s best to use a hose or drip irrigation.

Soil

Healthy soil is important. The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory has an easy to use service for a small fee of $17. There are detailed (but easy) instructions on how to collect soil samples and submit them for analysis. In a nutshell, for lawn or garden analysis gardeners should collect samples from several different areas of the lawn or garden to be analyzed. Test results will specify what kind of nutrients to add and how much.

Compost can’t replace soil but is a fabulous soil amendment. It helps sandy soils retain water and clay soils drain water. Try Purple Cow Activated Compost, which is full of microbes that convert nutrients to a form easily taken up by plants. Or, make your own compost with kitchen scraps! Just be sure not to use animal products when composting at home.

For container gardening, use a high-quality potting mix such as Tonkaterra.

Nutrients

Plants need nutrients to grow. There are several great fertilizers, some specific to the type of veggie or fruit it’s being applied to. For an overall good fertilizer try compost tea. Just add one compost tea bag to one gallon of water, let sit overnight, and water plants the next day. A couple times a season is great. No, humans can’t have this tea. Plants are fine with poultry litter (that’s what’s in these tea bags), but I bet we wouldn’t find it as pleasant as they do!

Location, Location

Where and how will you grow your edibles? There are quite a few options, and you can choose one or mix and match. Containers, raised beds, and it the ground are all possibilities. Get creative and plant herbs and lettuce in hanging baskets and window boxes, too.

Container edibles need:
Peppers, chard and dwarf tomatoes need 1-2 gallons per plant
Full-sized tomato plants, cucumbers need 4-5 gallons per plant
Lettuce, radish, onions, and beets like 6″-10″ diameter pots
Most herbs grow fine in 4″-6″ diameter pots

A container holds:
8” pot = 1.5 gallons soil
10” pot = 2.5 gallons soil
12”pot = 3.5 gallons soil
14” pot = 4.5 gallons soil
16” pot = 5.5 gallons soil

Raised Beds

These are typically 4×4 or 4×8. Pros include better control over quality of soil and fertilizer. Be sure not to use green treated wood as it contains chemicals that shouldn’t be allowed to leech into food.

In-Ground

The traditional method of gardening is still popular and practical. Pros include the ability to expand or change the shape at any time, as well as being able to plant edibles next to perennials.

Other Tips

  • Plant cool weather plants behind tall plants – lettuce in between corn or tomatoes
  • Plant tall crops on North side
  • Plant herbs close to the kitchen door
  • Mulch – straw, newspaper, grass clippings (herbicide free!)

When to Plant

Cool Season Crops: Around April 15th (Soil must be workable)

Potatoes – Blue, great fries
Onion
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Carrots
Peas
Kale
Lettuce
Spinach
Radish

Warm Season Crops: Around May 15th

Beans
Okra
Cucumbers
Melons
Squash

Heat Loving Plants: June 1st

Tomatoes
Peppers
Eggplant

#Extra

Want to go beyond basic garden veggies? Here’s a few you should consider:

Mad Hatter Pepper – Citrus, floral, hot, this one is bred for North American conditions. Best grown in ground.

Candy Cane Pepper – Striped fruit and variegated foliage. This sweet snacker is container friendly.

Helios – This one ripens quickly for a hot pepper (just 87 days). Higher yield and bigger fruits that other habaneros.

Violet Sparkle Sweet Pepper – Grown green to purple to red. Sweet, crisp, and thick-walled.

Chef’s Choice Green Tomato – Tangy, sweet, and stunning color.

Midnight Snack Tomato – The dark coloring comes from anthocyanin pigment, the same antioxidant coloring that make blueberries so healthy.

Hillbilly Potato Leaf – Gorgeous, bi-colored heirloom that is deliciously sweet.

Honeynut Squash – Cute littler butternut with better flavor, with plants just 2×2 feet it’s perfect for small gardens.

Sugaretti Spaghetti Squash – High yield, good shelf life, great pasta replacement.

Flying Saucer Pattypan Squash – Dense, nutty fruit that tastes good with everything and is also great for decorating.

Cinnamon Basil – Basil-y, cinnamon-y, totally delicious.

Pesto Party Basil – Late to bolt, mildew resistant, and perfect for container combos.

Whatever you plant, home-grown veggies can’t be beat!