For the Humble Vegetable Gardener:
Some Thoughts for 2005

Frank Williams
Adams County Master Gardener

When receiving training to become a Master Gardener, I remember one Q & A session during which the presenter blurted out the following: "You are asking many in-depth and sophisticated questions. I thought I would be talking to a bunch of vegetable gardeners." As an inveterate vegetable gardener, I slouched down in my seat, hoping, (as in elementary school), that no such deep and penetrating questions would be directed toward me. Thankfully, none were.

The point of the above is that we vegetable gardeners may indeed have many other horticultural interests, but for some of us surviving winter entails making plans for the 2005 vegetable garden. What follows are a few thoughts in this regard.

Planning: Did you have a written plan for your 2004 vegetable garden? If so, take a look at it again; if not, try to resurrect what was planted where and how each crop performed. Careful review may help you make some crop or crop placement changes. Did those vegetables that need full sun like tomatoes produce well? Were there problems like late blight which caused early demise of your tomatoes? Did you plant some things so close together that they interfered with one another? Thinking through last yearís experience can assist in having greater success in 2005.

Soil Testing and Amendments: The old adage, "If it ainít broke, donít fix it" applies here. There is little sense incorporating all purpose fertilizer into the soil when it is not what your garden needs. A soil test costs just a few dollars and is a wise investment every two or three years. The results provide a good idea of what might really help in your vegetable garden. Kits are available at the Agricultural and Natural Resources Building Gettysburg. Instructions will assist in knowing what soil amendments will work best for your 2005 garden.

Crop Rotation: Where possible, it is always wise to rotate your crops as do many commercial vegetable farmers. If, for example, your tomatoes did develop the late blight so prevalent last summer, consider planting them as far away as possible from last yearís plot. The same disease can "overwinter" in the soil and reappear this year. Another example of crop rotation is that of moving crops rich in nitrogen, so good for vegetable growth and production, from one area to another. Beans actually build nitrogen in the soil and can easily be planted in different vegetable garden spaces each year.

Perennials Vegetables: A perennial plant is one that comes back year after year. Perennials die back during the cold of winter and emerge the following spring. Asparagus is a favorite treat of springtime as is rhubarb. The advantage is that, once established, perennial vegetables return for many years if carefully planted. The downside is that they are fairly permanent features in the garden, limiting the diversity of garden plants.

Succession Planting: In small vegetable gardens, one often tries to maximize yield by planting crops one after another in spring, summer and fall. A good example of this is spring peas followed by summer beans. Early yield onions may be followed by a variety of other crops, and so it goes. Some gardeners plant fall flowers and perennial vegetables after the summer edible crops are spent. Barren soil only produces "wicked weeds."

Cover Crops: Once the vegetables have finished producing, consider planting "winter" or "cover" crops to reduce the tedium of the winter months. Winter rye is an example; we have planted and then admired the delightful green outside the kitchen window. Winter rye should be dug into the soil as early as possible in the spring. Trust me, the roots will continue to sink, making late spring tilling more difficult.

A Vegetable Romance: Roger Swain, author of Field Days, writes the following: "People who donít fish grow tomatoes. It gives them something to brag about. Tomatoes are better than trout in this regard, for in addition to size and number, there is the matter of earliness. In our town, people try to have ripe tomatoes by the Fourth of July, scarcely a month after the last frost. The first one, usually rather diminutive and still somewhat orange, may be picked June 30 and is cause for public proclamation. Preseason trout, on the other hand, are illegal and not much discussed."

Final thoughts: So, I humbly conclude, we "vegetable growers" arenít so bad after all. Come the next drought, our gutter rain barrels, rich compost piles, and green vegetables may look pretty good. No, I do not believe in the adage, "If you canít eat it, donít grow it." Just a little respect is all we request.

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other gardening articles by Frank Williams