CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Growing your own vegetables is a great way to eat healthy and have fun. Getting started can be both daunting and exciting if you are new to gardening.
The Penn State Master Gardeners in Franklin County are here to help. They are planning a series of informal in-person workshops on vegetable gardening tips and techniques at their Victory Garden vegetable demonstration garden, located across the road from the Extension office at 181 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg, PA 17202. The first workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, May 17, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm; for more information and to register, visit the website at: https://extension.psu.edu/victory-garden-planning-and-preparing. Details about future Victory Garden workshops will be coming soon.
Here are some suggestions to help you on your way to a bountiful harvest of homegrown produce.
- Grow only what you and your family like and will eat. There is no point in spending time, money, and effort on growing something no one in your family will eat. Stick to those fruits and vegetables that you will enjoy harvesting and using.
- Start small and keep it simple. If you are turning over ground for a first-time vegetable garden, make it no more than about 10 by 10 feet, or 2 raised beds of 4 by 10 feet. Anything larger may become overwhelming the first year; and as your gardening skills grow in the future, so too can the size and scope of your garden.
- If you do not have the space or a place to grow vegetables in the ground, you can still grow many vegetables successfully in containers or raised beds.
- Learn the right time to plant different vegetables. Franklin County is in hardiness Zone 6b. The average date for the last spring freeze is April 11, and the average date for the first fall freeze is October 21, but these dates will vary from year to year. Vegetables are grouped according to their temperature requirements for growing.
- Cool season vegetables are hardy and tolerant of frost, so can be planted early in the season (March-April); these include cabbage, cauliflower, beet, carrot, turnip, lettuce, onion, peas, potatoes, radish, and spinach. Traditionally, peas are planted on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17; but for any early season crop, the soil needs to be workable and not too wet or cold.
- Warm season vegetables are sensitive to cold temperatures and can be damaged or killed by late frosts, so are best planted after the soil has warmed up (May-June); these include beans, corn, cucumber, squash, cantaloupe, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers.
- Start with easy vegetables that you like. Some plants are much easier to grow with less maintenance requirements than others. Examples are radishes, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash, leaf lettuce and greens, snap peas, Swiss chard, and kale. Easy-to-grow herbs include basil and dill. Celery is an example of a vegetable that is difficult to grow well in this area.
- Attract pollinating and beneficial insects to your vegetable garden by including plantings of herbs and other flowering plants in or near your garden. Beneficial insects, such as ladybeetles, can be a great help by managing pest insects, such as aphids, for you. Minimal use of pesticides in your garden will also support healthy populations of bees and other beneficial insects.
- For new gardeners, it is easiest to start with vegetable transplants or direct-seeded crops. Some vegetables are best started directly from seed sown in the garden, and others are easier to grow from small plants purchased at your local garden center. Use transplants for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, onion (sets), pepper, sweet potato, and tomatoes. Sow seeds directly in the garden for peas, sugar peas, radishes, leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach, chard, kale, turnips, beans, and corn. Potatoes should be started from certified seed tuber pieces. Crops for which you can either sow seeds directly or purchase transplants include squash, cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelon, and pumpkins.
- Site your garden carefully. Remember the adage “out of sight, out of mind” and put the garden in a spot where you will see and pay attention to it often. Most vegetables grow best in full sun (at least 8 hours a day) and away from competing trees. Do not locate your garden near a black walnut tree; the roots contain a chemical that can kill tomato plants. It’s easier to garden if the ground is level, the soil well-drained, and there is easy access to water for irrigation.
- Measure your garden and make a plan. Pay attention to plant spacing indicated in seed catalogs, on seed packets, and on plant labels. Proper spacing is important for good air circulation around plants, for pest management, and for easy harvesting. A plan will help you to decide how much to plant and how to use your garden space most efficiently. Some crops, such as radishes, produce quickly, so you can then use that space for another later crop after the radishes are finished. A plan will also help you to figure out crop rotation for future years.
- Take care of your soil. Plants will be only as good as the soil in which they are growing. Penn State Extension has soil test kits available for $9.00. Instructions are included on how to take a soil sample, which you then mail to the Penn State Lab for analysis. They send back a written report with fertilizer recommendations for what you plan to grow in your garden. Adding organic matter to the soil in the form of compost or aged manure is also helpful to improving the quality of your soil.
–Annette MaCoy, Franklin County Penn State Extension