How to Grow Veggie admin
How to Grow Veggie
The best performing plants for small spaces are generally compact or have easily controlled growth but also offer lots of bang for your buck. To get you started, these are my favorites. My veggie all-stars list covers some of the most commonly grown vegetables. Grains (corn, rice, oats, wheat) are large space crops, so they were omitted. There are many other tasty veggies (asparagus, eggplant, leeks, pumpkin, beet, sunchoke, spinach, chard) that we didn’t literally or figuratively have room for in this page.
These descriptions are designed to help the gardener have success. These include general growing rules, but you know there are exceptions to every rule. Certain varieties may have different characteristics or habits. The list is not all encompassing, but these are some of the healthiest, easiest to grow veggies, and they perform well in small spaces.
Beans (Bush, Pole, String)
Culture: well-drained, deep soil; medium moisture; provide supports
Yield: 2 pounds per planting; ½ to 2 pounds per square foot
Mature Plant Size: 2 to 10 feet tall
Where: large containers, trellises, fences, railings, poles
Ripens: 8 to 12 weeks after planting
Beans are a protein-packed warm-weather veggie on an annual vine or weak-stemmed plant. They are one of the most productive crops you can grow in a home garden.
Beans are often used in crop rotation plans because they nourish the soil by transferring nitrogen from the air to the soil, thereby improving fertility for the next crop. Because they grow well vertically, beans are easy to work into most gardens.
How to Select
Beans come in two main types—pole and bush. Both types have scores of varieties in different colors, sizes, and shapes. Bush types have a determinate growth pattern and develop their beans in flushes.
The taller types take a little longer to develop, but they produce beans steadily throughout their season. Pole beans require a lot of height and considerable staking to poles or trellises. Between the two types, pole beans generally produce a larger crop over a longer period. But if they’re well watered and maintained, bush types are nearly as productive.
How to Plant & Maintain
Bean seeds sprout fairly quickly and are one of the best crops for children to learn about germination. Plant in mid- to late spring when the soil is warming. Space and thin according to seed packet instructions.
Use a balanced fertilizer when planting. Add an organic topdressing or other slow-release fertilizer before planting and four weeks after planting. Beans need regular watering, especially during hot, dry weather.
Consistent moisture when they begin flowering greatly increases the yield. Mulch with compost in early summer to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Beans need support. Even bush types can benefit from staking or caging.
Pole beans can grow over 10 feet, so gardeners often tie long bamboo canes together to form bean teepees. The teepees are more decorative and sturdier than a single row of poles. Pinch the tips of the growing stems when pole bean vines are 5 feet long to keep the pods within reach.
Beans provide a couple options for harvesting, depending on how you want to use them. Bean pods are only edible when they’re harvested before the seeds fully form. The entire pod can be eaten raw.
Check to make sure the pods are smooth with no protruding bumps. For most varieties, that’s when the pods are between 3 to 6 inches long or a few days after the flower opens. Some wax bean pods remain tender even at 8 to 10 inches long.
The best way to know if the pods are still edible and tender is to pick one that represents the average and take a bite. If it’s crisp and sweet, you got there in time. Once the beans inside begin to swell, pods become tough and inedible.
They can be picked, shelled, and cooked at this point. Some gardeners leave them on the plant for the next stage of ripeness.
When they’re fully ripe, the pods become leathery and dry. The seeds are completely developed, hard, and sometimes colorful. These dried beans can be cooked or stored indefinitely in a cool, dark, dry place.
Carrots & Parsnips
Culture: loose, deep soil (amend with sand); medium moisture
Yield: 2 to 4 pounds per square foot
Mature Plant Size: 18 inches tall x 18 inches wide
Where: raised beds, and in large, deep containers
Ripens: carrots, 8 to 12 weeks after sowing; parsnips, 14 to 18 weeks after sowing
Carrots are a favorite of bugs bunny and that’s really the only recommendation needed. Besides that, both these hardy crops have health benefits. Carrots are loaded with Vitamin A, and parsnips have Vitamin e. With their ferny foliage, both are attractive in the garden and resemble their cousin, the wildflower Queen Anne’s lace. In fact, if not harvested, they flower profusely in late spring with beautiful white blooms that attract crowds of beneficial pollinators.
Carrots come in white, yellow, purple, and the familiar orange. They also vary in size, which can determine their best growing conditions. Carrots are classified as long, medium, short, finger, or ball-shaped. Long carrots are the standard market variety and store the longest.
The shorter types are a better choice for shallow or rough soils. Select carrots fewer than 6 inches long, like ball-shaped and finger types, for container gardens. Common parsnip varieties have large roots, often over 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. They need deep soil and are not suited for most containers.
How to Plant & Maintain
Prepare a loose, deep, fertile soil in an open space for carrots and parsnips. Amend with organic matter, slow-release fertilizer, and sand A loose textured soil yields straight, smooth taproots. Rocks, roots, and other obstacles cause carrots to grow misshapen and twisted.
Plant carrot and parsnip seeds when the soil temps begin to warm in mid-spring. Their seed does not store well, so the packet you purchase should be marked with the current year’s packed-for date.
The seeds are very tiny. Sow sparingly to avoid lots of thinning. Before thinning the seedlings, water them so they’re easier to pull out. Water again after thinning to help disturbed roots heal. Eat thinnings in salads or as use as a garnish. Succession planting works well for carrots.
Sow some seeds every three weeks from mid-spring through early summer. This will provide carrots from midsummer through winter. With the right varieties, you can have garden-fresh carrots six or more months of the year.
Keep the soil moist. Dry soil can lead to carrots splitting. Spread organic topdressing over the area when plants are 6 inches tall. Mulch with compost to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Interplant with onions to discourage pests.
Harvest carrots when they are small; a 2-inch diameter ensures that they are sweet and tender. Pull or dig them carefully to avoid breaking or damaging the taproot. Cut the tops and tiny roots before bringing inside. Carrots will store about two weeks in the refrigerator. Parsnips need winter cold to become sweet and nutty flavored.
Leave them in the ground through cold weather. In late autumn, mulch heavily or place hay bales on top of them to make winter harvesting easier. Carrots that ripen in autumn can also remain in the ground until they’re harvested.
The advantage is easy storage in perfect conditions, especially in warmer areas. But in cold areas the disadvantages of frozen ground and freezing temps make it a tough call.
The other storage option for cold climate gardeners is to dig carrots in late autumn and remove the tops along with any small roots. Then place them in boxes of sand in an unheated garage or shed.
If you over winter carrots and parsnips, dig them all out as soon as you can in very early spring. Otherwise, they’ll quickly become tough and woody as they prepare to flower.
Culture: fertile soil; above average water especially during hot, dry weather
Yield: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, 1 to 2 pounds per plant; cabbage, collards, 1 to 4 pounds per plant
Mature Plant Size: broccoli and Brussels sprouts, 36 inches tall x 24 inches wide; cabbage and cauliflower, 12 inches tall x 18 inches wide; collards and kale, 24 inches tall x 36 inches wide; kohlrabi, 12 inches tall x 12 inches wide
Where: raised beds, and in large, deep containers
Ripens: kale and kohlrabi, 8 weeks; broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, 12 to 20 weeks; Brussels sprouts, 26 to 30 weeks
This plant family contains many superfoods. The vitamins, minerals, cancer-fighting phytochemicals, and antioxidants are why i started eating broccoli as an adult. Once i grew these vegetables in my garden and ate them fresh, i realized they were not only healthy but tasty too. Now, “taking your vitamins” is rather tasty.
The broccoli clan is composed mostly of cool-weather crops. Selection will depend upon your tastes, climate, and space. For instance, brussels sprouts are a good crop, but they take up space for a long time before they produce.
In the time and space it takes to grow one brussels sprout plant, you can grow a spring crop of six kohlrabis, a summer crop of ‘roma’ tomatoes, and a fall crop of kale. Nothing against brussels sprouts, but intensive, small space gardeners may not want to allot the space to one plant for that long.
Climate also is a consideration. Collards are the best at taking hot, long summers. Brussels sprouts are the hardiest in cold. Cauliflower is the most cold sensitive. Climate won’t preclude you from growing any of them (unless you live in tropical areas), but you’ll have better success if you plan the best matches.
All varieties of all types in the broccoli family are available as seeds. Garden centers will occasionally have a few varieties for sale as transplants, which will save you a week or two on harvest time.
How to Plant & Maintain
Broccoli and its siblings require welldrained, fertile soil, but do not till or dig the soil before planting. They prefer firm ground. Direct sow seeds into the garden or plant transplants. Thin and space according to the seed packet’s instructions.
Start in mid-spring for summer and autumn crops or late summer for winter and spring crops. Protect seedlings and young plants from frost.
Add slow-release fertilizer to the soil before planting. Use a balanced fertilizer at planting and again six weeks later. Two weeks after planting, add an organic topdressing, then mulch with compost. The mulch keeps the soil temperatures cooler during hot weather.
Water regularly, especially during dry periods, even in winter. Overwintered collards, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts may need water if rain has been below average.
In windy areas broccoli and brussels sprouts will need staking to prevent damage. Wind stunts the growth of most cole crops, so shelter them as best you can. On rooftop and balcony gardens, place containers against a wall or railing for extra protection.
Cut broccoli when the buds are still tight. If the buds are loose and flowers are beginning to open, you’ve waited too long. Harvesting the top broccoli head will promote side shoots that you can cut for several more weeks. (The side shoots will not be as large as the first head.)
Harvest regularly to promote production of more side shoots or broccoli will stop producing.
Cauliflower, like broccoli, should be harvested while the buds are still tight. Unlike broccoli, cauliflower rarely forms side shoots and can be composted after harvesting.
Kale and collards have the longest harvest seasons. If you need a lot, cut the whole plant; otherwise, harvest individual leaves from the bottom up. Both kale and collards taste sweeter if they have gone through a frost.
During warm weather put the leaves in the refrigerator for a few days to help “sweeten” them. Remove the tough veins and midribs before cooking. For cabbage and kohlrabi, take the whole plant.
Cabbages can resprout from the cut stem and develop several smaller heads. Remove the outer leaves from a cabbage head and the swollen stem of kohlrabi. In the refrigerator cabbage will store for at least six weeks. Kohlrabi only lasts about a week.
Brussels sprouts develop from the bottom up. Harvest the lower sprouts when they are still tight. If the leaves begin to open, the flavor is reduced. Once it begins to bud, harvest frequently and the plant will continue to produce sprouts for about eight weeks.
Without frequent harvesting, the plant will stop sprout production. A touch of frost sweetens the sprouts.
Cucumbers & Summer Squashes
Culture: deep, rich soil; space for air circulation; above average water
Yield: 12 to 20 fruits or 3 to 5 pounds per plant
Mature Plant Size: bush types, 3 feet x 3 feet; vine types, 6 feet x 2 feet
Where: raised beds, large deep containers, trellises, fences, railings, poles
Ripens: 10 to 12 weeks from sowing seed
Cucumbers, squash, and zucchini are closely related warm-season crops. All love the summer heat and produce prolifically. Their fruits contain Vitamin C and lots of moisture. The high water content is what makes cucumbers cool and crisp. Squash and zucchini fruits have creamy, mild flesh—especially if they’re harvested while still small and tender.
Cucumbers and summer squash have several growth habits. Large bushy plants require large gardens. Trailing plants cover a lot of ground but will grow vertically and can be trained to a trellis. Compact bush varieties are best for containers or small spaces.
Pickling and slicing are the two types of cucumbers. They have different tastes and are harvested differently. Decide how you want to use cucumbers before selecting a variety. Summer squashes are available in many types, including yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, scallop, and zucchini.
The differences are mainly in size, with scallops growing on the smallest plants with the smallest, sweetest fruit. Zucchinis or marrows are at the other end with large plants and big fruit. All varieties of all types are available as seeds. Garden centers will occasionally have a few varieties for sale in pots. Potted plants transplanted to the garden (bought or homegrown) give you that first cucumber a week or two sooner than seed directly sown into the garden.
How to Plant & Maintain
Cucumbers and summer squash require well-drained, deep soil amended with lots of organic matter. Direct sow seeds into the garden or start with transplants. Thin and space according to seed packet’s instructions; five to six plants are usually plenty for a family. Give them plenty of space for sunlight and air circulation. Add slow-release fertilizer to the soil before planting.
Use a balanced fertilizer when planting and again when flowering starts. In midsummer, once the weather is hot, add an organic topdressing, then mulch with compost. This helps keep the soil moist and well fed, which is necessary for top yield and best taste. Water regularly, especially during dry periods. These tropical plants need a lot of moisture. Avoid watering the leaves as this can promote powdery mildew.
The first flowers are typically male and won’t set fruit. Don’t worry; the female flowers appear about a week or so later. Female flowers have swollen bases behind the flower and a three-part style inside the flower. One you’ve seen both, the differences are obvious. After pollination, this becomes the fruit.
Without pollinators, cucumbers and squashes will not produce fruit. To help bees and butterflies find them, interplant with annual flowers. Marigolds and nasturtiums attract pollinators and repel insect pests. These colorful annuals also are reported to improve the taste of cucumber and squash fruits. As an added bonus, marigold and nasturtium flowers are edible just like squash flowers.
There are lots of recipes for squash flowers. Use the male flowers instead of the female flowers so the plant can grow fruit. Place developing fruits on blocks of wood or burlap pieces to keep them clean. Of course, plants grown vertically on a trellis will have cleaner fruit too. But you may need to support them with string to keep large fruit from falling.
Harvesting often increases yield. Pickling cucumbers are cut when they are 3 inches long. Slicing cucumbers are best at 6 inches. Large yellowing cucumbers, squashes, and zucchinis are tough and inedible. Although large zucchinis are still edible, they’ll have the best flavor when they’re smaller. Keep plants picked clean. At the height of the season, you may need to harvest every two days.
Field Greens (Lettuce, Arugula & Mustards)
Culture: deep, rich soil; rake soil smooth and level before sowing seed; medium moisture
Yield: ½ to 1 pound per square foot
Mature Plant Size: 12 inches tall x 12 inches wide
Field greens are one of the first crops of the season. And in fall we get another crop. Their lush, decorative foliage in spring hints at the promise of the coming year. Field green seed mixes usually contain a blend of several colorful lettuces, spicy mustards, and savory arugula. Besides being ornamental and tasty, field greens provide nutrition early in the year with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
After sampling, you will know which field greens you like or don’t like so much. If something really grabs you, then you can get that specific seed. For me, arugula was the one. Mustards are another of my flavorful favorites. Mizuna has a highly dissected leaf with a sharp, spicy taste. Purple leaf mustard has beautiful foliage and tastes mildly hot.
How to Plant & Maintain
Field greens are perhaps the easiest veggie to grow. They literally grow in fields, so they don’t need much. If you prepare the soil well and have a normal wet spring, then all you do is sow the seeds. Follow the instructions on the packet for spacing and thinning. All thinnings can go directly to the salad bowl.
When the weather gets warm, field greens start to bolt, meaning they begin to sprout a flower stalk and cease new leaf production. The old leaves become bitter and their value as a salad decreases rapidly. By the time they flower, all the leaves will be too tough and bitter to eat. The flowers, though, are fragrant, decorative, and edible.
Use them as garnish or in a spring flower arrangement with daffodils and alliums. Unless you want to collect seed, it’s best to dig up and compost field greens during or soon after flowering. If not, you will have field greens volunteering throughout the garden all season. That’s not necessarily the worst thing, but it’s maybe not what you want.
In late summer, when the peak of the heat has passed, you can sow field greens again for a fall crop. This is a good time to try intercropping. Since field greens will grow in partial shade, they can be sown beneath peppers, okra, and beans. When the taller crops are harvested, you’ll still have the field greens to harvest until a hard frost (28 degrees f).
Field greens do not form heads, so you can harvest leaves anytime. Unless you are removing the whole plant, do not cut all the leaves. Take the older, outer leaves and allow the younger ones to develop. If you take the younger leaves first, the older leaves will become bitter.
With the arrival of hot weather, field greens can bolt quickly. When you see them start to bolt, you can cut the entire plant and keep it in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a week. Brush off any soil, debris, or insects. Remove any damaged or faded leaves. Do not wash the greens until you are about to eat them.
Okra (Mallow Family)
Culture: deep, rich soil; medium moisture (especially during flowering); sow as soon as the soil warms to 75°F
Yield: 12 to 20 pods per plants, about 2 pounds per plant
Mature Plant Size: 3 to 10 feet tall x 4 to 6 feet wide
Where: raised beds, large containers, and ornamental gardens
Ripens: 12 to 14 weeks from planting
Okra was my favorite fried vegetable as a kid, even beating out french fries. Now it’s my favorite veggie to grow. The queen of ornamental edibles, okra is productive plant with beautiful flowers. It is closely related to flowering hibiscus as its big, bright blossoms attest. They only open early in the morning for one day. By noon, most have been pollinated and are beginning to form pods. But if you miss it one day, don’t worry. The plants bloom all summer long. They are a great plant for raised beds.
There are a wide variety of pod colors, sizes, and shapes, but i have not found much difference in taste. ‘burgundy’ is truly burgundy colored all over and is one of the most beautiful plants you’ll ever grow. ‘burgundy’ does not produce the highest yields, but it has less mucilage than most types. For northern gardeners, ‘emerald green Velvet’ and ‘White Velvet’ will produce into the cooler autumn days better than others.
How to Plant & Maintain
Okra needs open space that is free of all weeds or any other plant competition. Do not sow okra where other crops or plants will shade the seedlings. They need as much sunlight and air circulation as possible. Okra seeds will not germinate until the soil is warm. Sow in late spring or early summer. Soak seeds for a couple hours before planting to speed germination.
Space and thin according to the seed packet instructions. Okra plants grow big and tall, so even at a 3-foot spacing, the lower branches will grow together. Twelve well-spaced plants will keep a family in okra through late summer and into autumn. As a tropical plant, okra is heat loving and it’s also drought tolerant.
But to increase yield and keep pods tender, water consistently when plants begin to flower. Wait until hot weather to mulch the plants with compost; if soils are too cool, okra will not produce heavily.
Harvest okra often to keep it producing. Otherwise, plants will put energy into ripening a few pods, which become inedible after about a week on the plant. Even if a pod has grown too big and tough to eat, cut it off to spur production of new pods. At peak production okra needs to be harvested nearly every other day.
Onion (Onion Family)
Culture: deep, rich soil; medium moisture; sow as soon as soil can be worked
Yield: one onion averages 8 ounces, or about 1 to 2 pounds per square foot
Mature Plant Size: 18 inches tall
Where: raised beds, containers, and window boxes
Ripens: 6 to 8 months from seeds, 4 months from sets
Wild onions have been gathered since prehistory for their flavors and medicinal qualities. Ancient cultures like the egyptians farmed and revered garden onions. Unlike many crops, the bulbs are versatile, easy to store, and easy to transport. It’s no surprise the garden onion soon spread throughout the world. Onions are a good crop for small spaces.
Onions are available as seeds or sets (small onion bulbs). As always, many more varieties are available as seed. Onion seed does not store well, so the seed packet should be marked with the current year’s packed-for date. Sets should be firm and free of disease or rot; reject soft, brittle, or moldy bulbs.
How to Plant & Maintain
Seeds should take about three weeks to germinate. Sow in rows or blocks in early spring and keep them well watered. Thin to 1 inch apart after they sprout. In a couple weeks, thin again to a 3-inch spacing for smaller bulbs, or an 8-inch spacing for larger bulbs. Thinnings can be eaten as spring onions.
Place sets two-thirds into the ground and water deeply. Space them at 1 inch apart for an early harvest of spring onions. After a couple of weeks, thin as with seeds according to the desired bulb size. Onions need regular watering during hot, dry weather to keep actively growing and enlarging their bulbs. Remove and discard any bulbs that show disease or begin to flower. In areas with mild winters, a fall crop can be planted. Although onions are hardy perennials, in cold climates large bulbs are prone to split.
Onions will “show” you when they are ready to harvest. When the bulbs look swollen and about three-fourths of the leaves have fallen over, the onions are ready. Carefully dig them up. Cut the roots off 1 inch below the bulb. Cut the neck 2 inches above the bulb. Keep the outer skin (tunic) intact while harvesting.
The tunic protects the bulb’s flesh from damage, disease, and desiccation. Let bulbs dry for an hour or so outside. Gently brush any excess soil from the bulb. Place the bulbs a warm, dry area indoors to further dry for a couple of days. Again, remove any remaining dirt or debris. Store in a cool, dark, dry place.
Peas (Bean Family)
Culture: deep, rich soil; medium moisture; provide vertical support, harvest often
Yield: ½ pound per planting, ½ to 2 pounds per square foot
Mature Plant Size: 1 to 6 feet tall x 2 feet wide
Where: large containers, trellises, fences, railings, poles
Ripens: 8 weeks for sugar and snow peas; 10 weeks for English peas
Freshly picked garden peas are often the first fruiting veggie of the season. Sometimes peas don’t even make it to the kitchen because they make a quick, tasty, nutritious snack in the garden. If you can hold out, have the table set and water boiling before you go to the garden to pick them. Peas have two good traits for small spaces: they grow vertically and can be harvested early. They will neatly grow up a trellis, and be done in time to plant cucumbers or beans.
There are several types and varieties of peas. Plant early and late types together to extend the season, or make successive plantings of one variety from week to week. Smooth, round peas are more cold tolerant but less sweet than ones with wrinkled skin. Snow peas, sugar peas, and others have tender, edible pods. They are typically used in stir-fry dishes.
How to Plant & Maintain
Peas are cool-weather crops, but they can’t take frosty temperatures. Pea seeds will rot in cold, soggy conditions. Sow them once the soil begins to warm in spring. Peas sometimes germinate sporadically, so sow thickly or plant a few extra in pots to fill in any gaps in the row later.
Space and thin according to the seed packet instructions. Peas are deep rooted and drought tolerant. They really only need regular watering as they sprout and when they begin to flower. Consistent watering when they flower increases the number of pea pods. Peas are vines and need support to grow, but any trellis or staking system will do. Or make your own supports.
Put 5-foot-tall posts or sticks down the pea rows every 2 feet. Attach sturdy string or wire across the posts at every 12 inches of height to make a gridlike support system for the vines. If your growing season is not too short, you can also plant a fall crop of peas. Count back 12 weeks from the first frost date for fall, and sow then. This gives the peas enough time to ripen before a killing frost.
Harvest sugar and snow pea pods as soon as the pods stop lengthening. Harvest english peas when the pods stop lengthening and the seeds are swollen inside. Like most fruiting veggies, you have to harvest regularly to keep the plant in production. Sugar compounds in peas begin to break down rapidly after picking, so plan to eat them within hours of picking to get the best flavor.
Knowing this will help you avoid embarrassing situations. A few years ago i was bragging to my mom and sister about our tasty, super sweet peas. I told them they were the best ever and i’d bring them some. After the 12-hour drive and six hours of sleep, my spectacular peas were like cardboard. The lesson: pick ’em right before you eat ’em. Blanched or cooked peas will keep their flavor much longer.
Peppers, Sweet & Chili (Nightshade Family)
Culture: rich, fertile soil; medium moisture; provide support when fruits form
Yield: depends on the variety, generally 5 to 30 peppers or about 2 to 5 pounds per plant
Mature Plant Size: 2 to 4 feet tall x 2 to 4 feet wide
Where: raised beds, containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets
Ripens: 6 to 8 weeks after transplanting for chili peppers and green peppers; 10 to 12 weeks for colorful sweet peppers
Sweet peppers decorate the garden and the plate. They are tasty, nutritious, ornamental, and economical. Organic sweet peppers are often the most expensive veggies in the market. Chili peppers are addictive. Once you start eating them, you want more.
Fortunately, they are easy to grow. Gardeners can satisfy their craving for heat with only a few plants. Unless you are hosting a chili cook-off, five chili pepper plants will give you more than enough chilies for your family and heat-loving friends.
Peppers are available as seeds and transplants. Growing from seed is simple and the least expensive way to grow peppers. Many heirlooms and hybrids are offered only as seed. Unlike tomatoes, though, there is little taste difference between pepper heirlooms and hybrids. While it’s always exciting to grow an heirloom, beginners may want to start with hybrids for their extra disease resistance.
Sweet peppers as used here are less than 2,500 units on the scoville scale, a measurement of chili pepper heat. Some sweet peppers have no heat, including ‘bell’ (0), ‘gypsy’ (0), ‘banana supreme’ (0), ‘Carmen’ (0). Other sweet peppers, like pimiento (pimento) (200) and ancho (2500), are mildly spicy.
Chili peppers bring on the heat and sizzle. They are on the high end of the heat scale with jalapeños (8,000), cayennes (30,000), habañeros (300,000), and finally the ‘naga Jolokia’ ghost chili (1,000,000!). If you are new to hot chilies, start with ‘hungarian hot Wax’ and ‘Jalapeño’ before you move to the big boys.
How to Plant & Maintain
Before planting, prepare the soil with amendments to improve fertility and drainage. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows or blocks. Water the transplants regularly as they are establishing. Once plants begin to set fruit, stake or cage them.
Heavy fruit can drag the branches down or even break them. At the arrival of hot weather (usually around the same time they need staking), mulch pepper plants with compost or leaf mold to conserve water and build the soil. Peppers are the perfect veggie for container gardening; use 16-inch pots to give them best chance for success.
Container peppers require more fertilizing than in-ground peppers. Every two weeks feed them with foliar fertilizer at one-fourth strength. Add an organic topdressing or other slow-release fertilizer to the pot in late spring and again in midsummer. Peppers don’t require a lot of fertilizer to live, but they produce more fruits when adequately fertilized.
Active pollinators also increase fruit production. Combine peppers with low-growing herbs and flowers, such as oregano, lemon thyme, and alyssum. The open branching structure of pepper plants allows light to reach ground-level plants. Oregano and alyssum bloom all growing season and will attract pollinators to the pepper flowers.
Sweet peppers are edible as soon as they form, but many green peppers are somewhat bitter. If you allow them to fully ripen, sweet peppers actually taste sweet. But to fully ripen a sweet pepper can take an additional two to four weeks after the fruit has reached full size.
Although they’re not completely ripe, green peppers are still nutritious and better tasting than most from your neighborhood store. And that causes a conundrum that i face every year: quantity versus quality. Harvesting peppers promotes more peppers. Not harvesting peppers causes production to cease.
You can get a lot more immature, green, not-as-sweet peppers than you can fully ripened, colorful sweet peppers. The last couple of years my solution has been simple: grow more pepper plants! With at least two plants of each type, i can let one plant ripen a few fruits to maturity and harvest loads of green peppers from the other.
Fully ripe fruits can’t remain on the plant indefinitely without losing quality. Harvest peppers when they turn their ultimate color and are still plump and firm. If the pepper skin starts to wrinkle, decay is beginning, so harvest and use immediately. Cut the pepper with some stalk still attached.
Chili peppers are certainly edible when they’re not ripe, but they have a lower nutritional content and will not store. Ripe chili peppers are perfect for drying. Because gardeners throughout time have harvested more chili peppers than they could use, there are several methods for drying.
The easiest way to dry chilies is to pull or cut the entire plant before frost. Hang the plant in a dry, frost-free area until the skins are leathery. Another option is to tie individual peppers on a string and make a colorful ristra. Ristras are those decorative garlands of peppers that you often see hanging in restaurants. Once their skin becomes leathery, store chilies in a jar or plastic bag in a cool, dark, dry place. If they are left hanging out, chilies can gather dust and lose their color.
Potatoes (Nightshade Family)
Culture: deep, loose, rich soil; medium moisture; cover the bases of stems with straw as they grow taller
Yield: 1 to 3 pounds per plant
Mature Plant Size: 2 to 3 feet tall x 2 to 3 feet wide
Where: raised beds and large containers
Ripens: 12 to 16 weeks after transplanting outside
Potatoes are one of the most popular veggies in the world. Even kids love potatoes, which is a good reason to let children grow them. They are an easy way to introduce kids to gardening. Plus, potatoes come in a wide range of fun colors and shapes. Growing blue fingerling potatoes is a fabulously fun and tasty project for a kid.
The types of potato are early, midseason, and late. Early and midseason potatoes do not store well and should be eaten fresh. Late potatoes are typically stored for winter use. All types can be planted in spring as soon as soils begin to warm. The planting season extends to early summer for midseason and late types. This lends potatoes to successive plantings to extend the harvest season over several months. There are hundreds of potato varieties within the different types.
Many heirlooms were specifically developed for certain regions. Check with your local extension service or botanic garden to learn about varieties suited for your area. Potatoes are susceptible to a lot of diseases in the commercial fields, but these diseases are rarely a problem for home gardens. Just to be safe, buy from sources with certified disease-free sets.
How to Plant & Maintain
Before planting, prepare the soil with amendments to improve fertility, texture, and drainage. Potatoes require a deep, loose soil for large smooth taters. If you don’t have sandy soil, incorporate some sand in your garden soil along with compost, potash, and slow-release fertilizer.
Use a lownitrogen fertilizer (1-2-2 or 5-10-10, for example) at planting and again in early summer. Add organic topdressing or a slow-release fertilizer before planting and in midsummer. Mulch plants one week after they sprout and keep a thick layer of mulch on them throughout the season.
The mulch layer keeps the soil cooler, which helps tuber development (tubers stop forming when soil reaches 80 degrees f). Mulch also keeps developing potatoes in the dark; if sunlight hits the potatoes, they will turn green and become inedible. Add soil or straw every week to keep developing tubers covered. Straw is the better choice because it makes harvesting easier.
The mulch layer should keep weeds at bay. If you have to weed, work carefully so you don’t damage the tubers potatoes are drought tolerant, but consistent watering increases yields. Water regularly during their active growth, but do not allow them to become waterlogged. Potatoes grow well in deep containers, especially if you use the straw method.
Put 6 inches of compost on the bottom and lay the sets on top. Cover with a couple inches of straw, then water. As the plants grow, continue to add straw. Occasionally add a layer of grass clippings or dark compost to make sure sunlight cannot reach the developing tubers. This method makes harvesting easy and gives you clean potatoes.
Potatoes, especially early and midseason varieties, can be harvested throughout summer and autumn. Check their size before harvesting by gently scraping back the soil to expose some tubers. If the tubers are full sized, use a garden fork to lift the entire plant out of the ground. Late potatoes can be left in the ground until the tops die back.
Let the skins harden for a week or two in ground. Then, gently lift them. Let potatoes dry in the sun for a few hours. Once they’re dry, brush off the dirt without damaging the skin. Store undamaged potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place.
Sweet Potatoes (Morning Glory Family)
Culture: deep, loose, rich soil; medium moisture, especially during the hottest part of summer
Yield: depends on the climate, generally 4 to 8 sweet potatoes or about 3 to 5 pounds per plant
Mature Plant Size: 6 feet or more spreading groundcover, vines root as they sprawl across the ground
Where: raised beds and large, deep containers
Ripens: 15 to 18 weeks after transplanting outside
Heat-loving sweet potatoes may be my favorite vegetable. They are a super food loaded with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin e, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and more.
Sweet potato slips should be healthy, flexible, and undamaged. Reject those that are dry and brittle. Garden centers probably won’t have much selection, but lots of types are available online and at seed-and-feed stores in the country. Gardeners in northern climates should choose early maturing varieties. The easiest way to get sweet potato slips is to grow your own from a batch you liked.
Sweet potatoes that sprout in the cupboard make it easy. Just break off the sprouts and place in small pot of moist soil mix. The vines will lengthen and become slips. Once a root system and true leaves appear, they are ready for the garden. Or you can pot them up in separate containers and treat them like houseplants until warm weather arrives.
Starting slips as houseplants is a good trick for short season gardeners. It lets you begin with more established plants, which yield more sweet potatoes.
How to Plant & Maintain
Before planting, prepare the soil with amendments to improve fertility, texture, and drainage. Sweet potatoes require a deep, loose soil for large smooth taters. If you don’t have sandy soil, incorporate some sand in your garden soil along with compost, potash, and slow-release fertilizer. Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer (1-2-2 or 5-10-10, for example) when planting and again in midsummer.
Add organic topdressing or a slow-release fertilizer in midsummer. Don’t think about planting sweet potatoes until warm weather arrives. The hotter it is, the better they’ll grow. Mound soil into hills or raised rows. When planting slips, remove all lower leaves so that only two or three sets remain near the tip.
Place the slip two-thirds into the ground. Space hills or rows 3 feet apart and individual slips 6 to 12 inches apart. Edible sweet potatoes grow in containers just like ornamental sweet potatoes. Choose a well-drained soil mix and a big pot. A 20-inch pot will hold three slips.
Amend the soil mix with compost and potash, but you don’t need sand in a container; the soil mix is loose enough. Sweet potatoes are drought tolerant, but consistent moisture will increase yields. Water regularly the first two weeks after transplanting and again during weeks 8 through 12. Those are the critical times of root establishment and tuberous root production. Consistent watering at the right time produces the best results.
Temperatures below 40 degrees f can damage vines and the tubers. Harvest well before the first frost. Stop watering two weeks before harvesting. Cut vines back to the ground one week before harvesting. This will help toughen a sweet potato’s fragile skin. Carefully dig them up.
The garden fork lifts taters without as much damage. I’ve cut through too many to ever use a shovel again. Dig a little wider and deeper than you expect. Sweet potatoes have a way of rambling. Collect the small tubers with attached stems to grow indoors for next year’s slip production. Prune the roots and stems off large ones.
Spread uncleaned sweet potatoes out to dry for a couple hours. Bring them indoors and continue to let them dry for another day. Then, gently clean off excess dirt with a soft bristle brush or rag. After they are clean, begin the curing process to increase the sugar content.
Place the harvest in a warm (85 degrees f) and humid (90 percent) spot for a week. You don’t have to be as exact as professional growers. I put my taters in a clear plastic storage box and place the box in the warmest area of the house. After they’ve cured, store sweet potatoes in dark, dry, cool place. Properly dried and cured, they last up to 10 months.
Tomatoes (Nightshade Family)
Culture: fertile soil; above average moisture; provide support while plants are still small
Yield: 5 to 8 pounds per plant
Mature Plant Size: 3 to 6 feet tall x 2 to 4 feet wide
Where: raised beds, containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets
Ripens: 8 to 12 weeks after transplanting, 16 to 20 weeks from seed
Every neighborhood in the world has someone growing tomatoes. They are the most popular homegrown veggie for good reasons. The plants produce a big harvest. Tomatoes contain lots of vitamins and minerals. Most important, you can grow tomatoes anywhere you have bright sun, 60 warm days, and at least 6 inches of soil.
How to Plant & Maintain
Space tomatoes 18 to 24 inches apart in rows or blocks. Stake or cage them once they are 18 inches tall and actively growing. There are lots of options for staking tomatoes. Tomatoes grow rampantly in mid- and late summer. Select a cage that’s big enough to hold the tomato all season.
If you don’t want to start with a big cage right away, modular cages can be adjusted as the tomato grows. In midsummer, mulch tomato plants with compost or leaf mold to suppress weeds, build the soil, and conserve moisture.
Tomatoes are drought tolerant and do not need regular watering to survive. But following a watering schedule that keeps the soil moist (not wet) improves production and limits skin cracking. Tomatoes grow well in containers. Large pots, 16 inches diameter or greater, give them the best chance for success.
But even hanging pots can produce a big crop of tomatoes. When grown in containers, feed every two weeks with one-fourth-strength foliar fertilizer. Add organic topdressing or a slow-release fertilizer in late spring and midsummer.
Tomatoes come off the vines into your hand when they’re ripe. A gentle tug is all that’s needed. Check your plants regularly to avoid missing any. Many tomatoes will become overripe and rotten if left on the plant too long, so search all through the foliage.
At the end of the season, before frost, many indeterminate tomatoes are still loaded with unripe fruits. Most of them will ripen, although the flavor is diminished compared to vine-ripened ones from summer. The other option is to use them green.