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SPRING TIPS IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
by Leonard Perry
by Leonard Perry

email: lpperry@uvm.edu

In extension I serve as an advisor and consultant to the greenhouse and nursery industry, primarily in Vermont but throughout the region and beyond as well.

I give presentations on my research to the industry, and to home groups. In Research, my focus is "herbaceous perennial production systems".

His website is at http://www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/index.html  Leonards zone of gardening: home with my trials, generally USDA 4a. Campus in Burlington is 5.


April 14, 2019

Planning the garden layout, starting seeds indoors, and making coldframes are some of the spring activities for this year’s vegetable garden.

In planning your veggie garden layout, avoid planting members of the same plant family in the same spot that they were in last year, or even the year before. This is called “crop rotation.” Members of the same family are susceptible to the same diseases and insect infestations, and utilize the same nutrients. Planting crops from the same family in the same bed, year after year, can deplete soil nutrients, even with proper fertilizing.

For example, avoid planting members of the tomato family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant) in the same place year after year. Likewise, the cucumber family contains this and melons and squash; the onion family has, in addition, leeks and garlic; the cabbage family has this crop and many others such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radishes, and turnips.

There are various other crop rotations you may read or hear about, but a simple one revolves around nutrient use. Leafy crops (lettuce, spinach, cabbage for instance) need lots of nitrogen, so start them out in beds that are new or enriched well with compost and manure. The next year, in this same bed, planting fruiting crops such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers. They don’t want much nitrogen, but lots of phosphorus. The third year, in that same bed, plant root crops such as onions and carrots. These mainly need potassium, and grow fine if there is less nitrogen and phosphorus from the previous years. Finally, in year four, plant legume crops such as beans and peas that actually put nitrogen back into the soil. Add lots of compost and manure the fall of that fourth year, with other nutrients, and you’ll be ready to restart your rotation the following spring.

I garden in several raised beds, and simply rotate crops among them from year to year—perhaps the simplest form of crop rotation and the minimum you should work toward. With this, I can usually manage a couple years between having the same crop in the same bed. Keep a simple layout map of your beds and plantings from year to year to help in your planning.

If you start seeds under grow lights or fluorescent shop lights indoors, check the tubes for signs of age. Tubes that have been used for two to three seasons probably have lost much of their intensity even though they look fine. Dark rings on the ends of the tubes are a sign they need to be replaced.

To get an early harvest of lettuce and other greens, dig out a large shallow container and sow some seeds. Grow them indoors until the weather warms enough to put them outside during the day. Keep cutting leaves from the outside of the plants to prolong the harvest. Or, you can sow seeds for a mesclun mix and cut off the leaves when still young. They will regrow for another harvest in a few weeks.

Long-season alliums, such as leeks and onions, should be started from seeds now. Sprinkle the seeds on top of seed-starting mix, keep it moist, and as soon as the seedlings emerge place the flats under grow lights. Snip the ends periodically to keep them about three to four inches tall and help them to grow strong.

Check seed packets and catalogs for recommendations, then plot out planting times for seeds you'll be starting indoors. You can find online sowing tables too, such as one I compiled (pss.uvm.edu/ppp/pubs/oh90sowv.pdf). Don't try to get a jump on the season by planting earlier; larger plants are more easily stunted than smaller ones and won't necessarily grow faster once they're transplanted outdoors. This is especially true for melons and squash that only grow when it is warm. Unless you give them protection, wait until at least late May to plant them outside.

Cold frames are handy for hardening off seedlings. You can make a simple cold frame by placing hay bales along the perimeter of a rectangle, and placing old windows or a glass storm door over the top. Purchased cold frames are convenient -- some have thermostatically controlled tops that open automatically when the temperature inside hits a designated point. Since the midday sun can heat things up quickly, this feature is especially handy if you're away for long stretches during the day. When your garden soil is dry enough to work in, sow peas, spinach and greens. Transplant cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage into the garden. You’ll need to buy cole crops as small plants if you didn’t sow their seeds indoors back in March. Set up the pea trellis before you plant so you don't disturb emerging seedlings in the process.

Other spring tips for vegetables include planting a patch of asparagus which, being perennial, should last in that location for many years—it is a crop you do not rotate. Look into buying, or ordering, “seed potatoes” (not seeds, but rather small potatoes) of varieties you don’t find in stores. I like to grow potatoes above ground in 15-gallon fabric-mesh bags, which you can buy just for this purpose.

Whether you’re new to vegetable gardening, or with many years of experience, and have a mostly sunny site, grow tomatoes. There are so many tasty varieties, and heirlooms, that you just won’t find in markets. There are newer varieties, too, that are compact for small spaces. In surveys of vegetable gardeners in Vermont, I’ve found that virtually all grow tomatoes. The other most-grown vegetables include salad greens, herbs, beans, cucumbers, and peppers.

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