Growing vegetables

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Our son Cory Nikkila made our day one spring with the text message, "How deep do I plant peas?" What a delight to know he's gardening. Here, passing the green thumb to his daughter Elizabeth, two. 

Green thumbs up

to plucking peas and snipping salad.

Green thumbs down...


Grow something edible! Everyone should have the pleasure of picking peas from a vine and eating them right there, or stepping out to snip greens for a salad and coming back in with a basketful before the spaghetti noodles even finish cooking. The produce can come from a conventional vegetable bed but the thrill's the same when it's harvested from plants spotted here and there in the landscape or growing in large pots on the patio.

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If you haven't grown vegetables, please do pick up a plant or two at the garden center and give it a whirl this summer. No special directions are necessary except to plant all vegetables in full sun -- that's a minimum of six hours cast-a-shadow-light per day -- and keep the plant's roots moist but never soggy.

When you want to grow beyond the occasional nibble, or to experience the wonder of starting from seed, our vegetable garden planning chart will be very handy (below, right), as will these articles:

• In Growing Concerns 756: Starting tomatoes from saved seed

• Group the seeds you sow indoors can make the growing much easier. Check our system on pages 6 & 7 of What's Coming Up 29.

• When you choose corn varieties to grow,
don't mix super-sweet and other types.
Read more in Growing Concerns 42.VegBasicsPg9s.jpg

• On page 9 of What's Coming Up 38: While you divide perennials in early spring, you can plant some fast-growing, cool-season edibles such as peas or lettuce in annual beds that are ready-to-grow but won't be planted with flowers until late May or early June.


Right: Excerpt from our vegetable garden planning chart. Click the image to download it, or download it and other information from Starting a Vegetable Garden.

Below: If you want to keep costs down, improvise to get some of the effects of the premium seed-sowing tray Cory and Elizabeth are using at the top of this article. Paper cups with holes punched in their bottoms fit into a plastic storage container and take-out containers from a grocery store's delicatessen make great little terrariums.

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On-line seed catalogs are a gold mine

There is also a wealth of information in seed catalogs. Three examples:

Check the online catalog from Johnny's Select Seeds. Along with pages that list seeds for hundreds of types of beans, peas, potatoes and other edibles, there are free growing guides to download and a video library that includes very helpful directions for pruning tomatoes for maximum production, pruning cucumbers, planting sweet potatoes, identifying problems, and controlling various pests. These things are not hidden behind annoying ads or tied to purchases but free and ready to be browsed right from the home page

Throughout the Seed Savers Exchange catalog are growing guides for each of the plant categories from arugula to turnip, such as, "Green Thumb Tip for Beans. Sow seeds after danger of frost has passed and soil and air temperatures have warmed. Plant seeds 2" apart and 1" deep in rows 36-48" apart... Harvest snap beans frequently for increased yields... For dry beans, leave pods on the vine and harvest when completely mature and dry."

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds also lists helpful resources right on the home page, such as their Planting Guide, a primer for vegetable growing that helps you through every step of growing. Here's an excerpt: "most seeds should be buried to a depth of one or two times the diameter of the seed. For instance, this means that small seeds like tomatoes should barely be a quarter of an inch below the surface of the soil."

Starting seed is fun for everyone. Below: McKenzie and Cody help us, using pieced-bottom paper cups as planters. (More of our young helpers in the Kids' Views department articles.)

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Green thumbs down...

to starting seeds indoors unless you also plan to light them. Any warm spot is great for sprouting seeds but once the first seed sprouts that pot or tray should be moved under fluorescent lights, or set outdoors every day into a sunny, wind-protected spot then gathered in at night until frosts end and the ground is warm. Without lights seedlings grow tall and spindly and your time tending them is wasted. You'll be coaxing them to survive rather than reveling in their vigorous growth.

Any fluorescent lamp can be a grow light. Move the plants up to the light or lower the fixture so leaf and bulb are only a few inches apart. Keep the lights on for 12-16 hours a day. More on this on our Forum, Lights like hats on seedlings.

Below: You can create a big seed starting area with several shop-table fluorescent light fixtures hung on adjustable cables so you can move the lights up as the plants grow. Yet you can also work on a smaller scale, and also move the plants rather than the lights.

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Nancy Crawford

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