An article on gardening – in January? It’s the middle of the winter, and the temperature this week has dipped into the teens, but we diehard gardeners are nevertheless always thinking about our gardens and spring thaw, which is not too far down the road. In fact, now in the dead of winter is really the perfect time to start thinking and planning for this year’s vegetable garden.
A lot of us really do think about making a vegetable garden: Who doesn’t want to adorn their table with homegrown and fresh-picked produce from the garden? You just can’t compare the taste and quality of a homegrown tomato (or pepper, cucumber, lettuce, or squash, etc.) with that of tomatoes that come from the store. And shouldn’t your kids (or grandkids) know that vegetables really don’t come from the store as a primary source but that seeds planted and vegetables grown in the good earth is the ultimate source of the blessings Hashem has bestowed upon us? Every year, the child in me still wonders at the miracle of a seed sprouting from fresh soil…
But thinking about a vegetable garden is not enough. A successful garden requires a bit of planning.
So, let’s start to think in concrete terms about planting a vegetable garden this year. What do I have to do? What is there to think about?
A Place for Your Garden
First and foremost, take a look around your home and think about the best place for your garden. All vegetable plants (and most flowers) require direct sunlight – and the more sun they get, the better. Your plants will need at least eight hours of sunlight each day; 12 hours a day is really good; anything above that is excellent. If there’s no sun, there’s no growth. There is no getting around this fact.
It’s the southern exposure that usually gets the most sunlight. So, if you’ve got a nice open area in your backyard and it’s a southern exposure, it sounds like you’ve got a good spot. However, if the area you’re thinking of is open to the sky but is always in shade due to surrounding trees, then it is not a good spot. If it’s the front of your house that faces the south and is the sunniest, don’t automatically discount the area. Many successful vegetable gardens have been planted in front yards!
The second most important factor for a good gardening place is good drainage. If water after a rain just sits on the ground surface and doesn’t drain away, your plants will get sick and eventually die. Yes, plants must have water to grow, but they can drown from too much of it! Well aerated soil (lots of earthworms can do this for you) that retains moisture but is not waterlogged makes for the happiest plants. If your drainage is less than perfect, consider building a raised garden bed; I have something like this, and the plants grow well.
Many vegetable plants are vines and like to climb. You can greatly increase the potential growth area of your garden by adding vertical space. So, if you have a fence or lattice-work in a sunny spot, consider having your garden plot bump up against this vertical support for your vines.
What about soil type and soil composition? We will discuss this in a later article. Suffice it to say that you can grow a garden just about anywhere in your yard. Making your soil fit for healthy vegetable growth can be accomplished in practically every case.
Space and Time for Your Garden
How big should I make my garden? And how much time is this going to take, anyway?
Well, these are two very good questions, and you don’t have to be a scientist to understand that the answers to both questions are inextricably linked: The bigger the size of your garden, the more time and energy it’s going to take to maintain it. Of course, the bigger your garden plot, the more vegetables you can plant and the bigger crop you will have. But don’t think that those vegetables are going to take care of themselves. Successful gardens produce in abundance only when there is a dedicated gardener taking care of business.
So, ask yourself some questions before you embark into the wonderful and rewarding world of vegetable gardening: Do you have time to plant, work the soil, push back the weeds, and fight the fight against garden enemies (insects, animals, disease, and dry spells)? Also, gardening is a dirty business. Does it bother you to get soil and mud on your shoes and clothes and body after you’ve put in a serious gardening session? If you think that all it takes to grow vegetables is to drop a seed in the ground and give it a shpritz now and then – well, maybe it’s time to find a different hobby. Because here, as in everything else, lefum tzaara agra – according to the effort is the reward.
By all means, do make a vegetable garden! But don’t make it bigger than you have the time and resources to handle. For beginners, I would recommend nothing bigger than and 8’x 8’ plot; you can get quite a few vegetables from this amount of space. But if you think you’ve got what it takes, and the energy and time to do it, don’t be afraid to plan on a larger scale.
Vegetable Seed Catalogues
In the next article, I will talk about vegetable seeds and plants and how to get your garden started. Meanwhile, now is a good time to order some seed catalogues and look at what’s available. For the gardener in us, it’s so much fun to look through these catalogues in the cold of winter and live vicariously! Don’t order anything yet: There is a chochma to ordering what’s best for you.
Here are three companies that I regularly order seeds from. You can go online and request that they send you this year’s vegetable seed catalogue: Henry Fields (www.henryfields.com); Gurneys (www.gurneys.com); and Jung (www.jungseed.com). If you Google “vegetable seed catalogues,” you will find more websites than you know what to do with!
Kol tuv and hatzlacha rabba.◆