Text by Michelle Le Strange, UCCE Master Gardener Advisor Emeritus
pring fever is springing and valley gardeners should take advantage of the spring vegetable planting season. Our climate is perfect for raising great-tasting summer vegetables, and now is the time to plant them.
Size and Scale: If spare time is scarce or if this is your first vegetable garden, start small. The easiest way is to intersperse a few vegetables and herbs in your flower garden. A 3′ x 6′ space or a few raised beds next to the house can accommodate a small kitchen garden of herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, marjoram, oregano, parsley and thyme that the cook can snip for each meal.
A soup and salad garden can be as small as 4′ x 12′ divided in three sections with a stepping-stone footpath between each. Plant pole beans, bush beans, carrots, beets, radishes, mixed herbs, leaf lettuces and spinach. Don’t forget the tomato, pepper, eggplant and cucumber plants.
Rows and Spacing: The conventional garden is laid out in rows, with different kinds of plants growing single-file. Vining vegetables like squash, melons, pumpkins and cucumbers can be trained to grow up poles and trellises. Perennial vegetables like artichoke, asparagus, horseradish and rhubarb are planted at the garden’s edge or in a separate bed so they won’t be dug up when the garden is tilled.
For short season crops like radishes and scallions, use narrowly spaced rows 8 to 10 inches apart. Brace tomato and eggplant up on stakes or in cages in rows that are 4 feet apart, with plants spaced 2 feet apart within the row. Pepper rows can be 2 feet apart and plants spaced 1 foot apart within the row. If you want to try your hand at corn, be sure to plant in a block of 6-8 rows to allow for proper germination.
Location and Layout: The ideal site for a vegetable garden receives day-long sun. If on sloping ground, then try to slope to the south. It doesn’t really matter which way the rows run, just be sure that the taller vegetables are placed so they don’t shade the smaller vegetables. If rows run east-west, plant tallest vegetables in the northern-most rows. If rows run north-south, plant tall vegetables on the west side.
Prior to Planting: Double digging (or rototilling) when laying out the garden plot is hard work, but worth the trouble. Add some composted steer manure, composted yard waste and humus, and mix with native soil. The end result should be a soil that is light and fluffy. Water should drain well rather than puddle for long hours after it is applied. Plant roots grow best when soil is not compacted and contains plenty of porosity for air and water.
Store shelves are loaded with fertilizers. Pick one and follow label directions. Broadcast fertilizer and mix it into the soil before forming planting beds. Plan to fertilize again at about four and seven weeks.
You can water your vegetable garden with drip tubing, sprinkler or hose, but be sure to keep seeds and small plants moist for the first few weeks, then lengthen the time between watering and increase the amount of water applied.
Keep It Fun: A vegetable garden shouldn’t be boring and can be integrated with the landscape. Use your imagination to make your vegetable garden a fun place.
Add a whimsical touch with a scarecrow or two. Intersperse meandering rows of vegetables with rows or clumps of sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias or cosmos. Build trellises or arbors for pole beans, gourds or cherry tomatoes. They grow so fast, you can put an easy chair underneath and create your own summer clubhouse!
For more efficient vegetable gardening, investigate a Square Foot Garden. ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners/Local_Gardening_Articles_-_Info/Vegetable_Gardening/
The Master Gardeners will be available to answer your questions at a few select locations in the next few months!
Ace Hardware, Visalia — 1st Saturday/every month
Luis Nursery, Visalia — 2nd Saturday/every month
At this time, we are not in the office to answer phone calls, but if you send us an email or leave a message on our phone lines, someone will call you back!
Master Gardeners in Tulare County: (559) 684-3325; Kings County at (559) 852-2736. Visit our website to search past articles, find links to UC gardening information, or to email us with your questions: ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners/