In the garden
Planting times for vegetables vary depending upon the type of vegetable and the date of the average last killing frost in an area. In Henrico County, the average last killing frost is approximately April 15 so vegetable gardeners can use mid-April as the starting point for deciding when to plant their gardens.
Hardy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and onions can be planted as early as four weeks before the last killing frost, which means these plants can be put into the garden any time now.
“They can take a nip of frost,” said Karen Carter, Henrico Extension Agent. Other hardy or “cool season” vegetables include lettuce, peas, spinach, radish, and turnips.
Semi-hardy vegetables that are a little less resistant to the cold include beets, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, and Swiss chard. They can be planted around April 1.
Warm-season vegetables can be either tender or very tender. Tender crops such as beans, corn, cucumbers, and summer squash can be planted in mid-April, but very tender crops such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, and pumpkins shouldn’t be planted until the first of May.
A guide to planting dates is available from the Extension Service at http://www.ext.vt.edu Addi.tional information on using soil temperatures as a guide to planting is available at http://www.ext.colostate.edu in publication #720.
Carter advises vegetable gardeners to take the time to make a plan before they start planting. “It can be like playing dominoes or chess,” said Carter, “particularly if you want to garden more intensively. You need a strategy.”
One strategy for getting more vegetables out of your garden is called succession gardening and involves planting early maturing vegetables that are replaced with other vegetables after the first are harvested.
Intercropping can also increase vegetable yields. “The classic example comes from Native Americans,” said Carter, “who planted the Three Sisters together – beans, corn, and squash”.
The plants benefit each other by being grown together. Beans fix nitrogen in the soil, the corn supports the beans, and the squash shades the roots of the corn and the beans.
Before you plant, Carter advises testing the soil in your garden to find out whether you need to add lime or other nutrients to your garden plot.
“And whether you have sandy soil or clay, any time you can work organic matter such as compost into your soil, you’ll be improving it,” said Carter.
Organic matter improves moisture retention while promoting proper drainage and improves the nutrient-holding capacity of the soil, which makes any fertilizer that is added more effective.
Carter reminds gardeners not to work in the garden when the soil is too wet because that can destroy soil structure and create clods. “Squeeze the soil to test for moisture,” said Carter. “The clump should crumble when you open your hand. Then your garden is ready to be tilled.”
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