New Year’s Resolutions for Vegetable Gardeners
The New Year will soon be here, and its arrival will inspire many of us to make personal resolutions — an age-old custom intended to improve our lives throughout the coming year. But we gardeners sometimes find our resolutions hard to follow. What starts as a good intention, too often turns into a “just get it done” attitude by planting time. In fact, sticking to our resolutions can actually save us time, energy, money, and frustration.
The National Gardening Association estimates that 19 percent more people grew vegetables in 2009 than in 2008. While experienced gardeners may adhere easily their annual gardening resolutions, new gardeners will see real results by following through on the following eight suggestions. (Oh yes, and you experienced gardeners may learn a thing or two as well!)
8 Resolutions to a Great Garden
- Have a plan. I know. It’s easy to head out on a sunny spring day, buy a bunch of seeds and transplants, and pop them in the garden. But having a garden plan in mind before you plant will help you grow more, grow better, and save time and money. Good planning helps you to arrange your beds and plant the right number of each vegetable to maximize your space.
- Build the soil. If your vegetable garden looked a little anemic last summer and the plants didn’t grow as well as you hoped, improve your soil. Start with a soil test. In early spring, add organic fertilizers, lime, sulfur, and compost as indicated by the test results. Adding these amendments early allows them to break down before the plants really start to grow.
- Use raised beds. Unless your soil is sandy, gardening in raised beds leads to better plant growth. Raised beds warm up faster and dry out more quickly in spring, and they also use less space. You can build permanent beds from rot-resistant wood, cinder blocks, bricks, or stone, or mound the garden soil into temporary beds that you reshape each spring. In a raised bed, you can concentrate your weeding, watering, and fertilizing efforts, which leads to a more productive garden.
- Grow in containers. If you only have a small deck or balcony, you can grow vegetables in containers. Self-watering containers are productive and easy to use. Even if you have space to grow vegetables in garden soil, containers are a great solution for raising specialty crops that may not do well in cool soils, such as eggplant.
- Mulch, mulch, and mulch some more. Did I say you should mulch? Organic mulches, such as hay, straw, chopped leaves, and untreated grass clippings, suppress weed growth, conserve soil moisture, and add nutrients to the soil. Wait until your seedlings are up and growing well, then place a 2-inch- to 3-inch-thick layer of organic mulch around them. In cold climates, preheat the soil with plastic mulches to give your garden a jump on the growing season.
- Visit the garden regularly. The best sign of a healthy garden is the gardener’s footprint. A garden that’s visited every day, even for just 5 to 10 minutes, means the plants are well tended and any problems are noticed quickly and dealt with. Make it a habit to visit the garden right after work, first thing in the morning, or at lunchtime to pull errant weeds, pick mature vegetables, water thirsty plants, and scout for pests.
- Pick early and often. For many fruiting vegetables — e.g., tomatoes, peppers, beans, summer squash, and cucumbers — the more often you pick, the more the plants will produce. (And small summer squashes and cucumbers also taste delicious!) So even if your refrigerator is full of cucumbers, keep picking! You can always give extra produce away to a neighbor or donate it to a local food shelf.
- Keep planting. Once a crop is finished, don’t just leave the ground fallow. Instead, plant something else! Succession planting allows you to keep the vegetables coming right into fall. For example, plan to follow a crop of bush beans with lettuce. When spinach plants go to seed, sow another bed of carrots. If a squash plant dies from disease or insects, yank it out and sow some greens.
If this list seems a little daunting, try picking just one or two resolutions for this year. Once you’ve appreciated the results and these gardening tasks have become habit, it will be easier to add a few more resolutions to your annual list!
Charlie Nardozzi is National Gardening Association’s senior horticulturist and editor. Find more gardening tips at www.garden.org.