With spring in full swing, it’s time to start thinking about gardens. Specifically, vegetable gardens. Whether you’ve got an experienced green thumb or are looking for a new hobby, growing your own vegetables can be both rewarding and tasty. There are a few techniques to remember when starting, though, and there are plenty of options depending on what your family wants.
“If you can get a family hooked on gardening, your kids will eat vegetables you never thought they’d eat,” said Georgia Storms, Carver-Scott Master Gardener.
Minnesota, while known for being a bit chilly, has a decent growing season. According to Storms, the season lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day, though planting can begin as soon as the ground is flexible enough and last until November if the weather holds out. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t start getting ready right now. There are a few options for anyone looking to grow some vegetables.
If you’re planning to start from seeds, for example, they can start being planted now, though not outside. Place a receptacle with soil (i.e, a small pot, recycled egg carton) in a sunny spot inside. Plant the seeds gently in the soil and water them when the soil becomes dry to the touch. By the time it’s warm enough to plant them outside, you should have several healthy vegetable plants that are ready for transfer.
However, if you don’t want to put in the extra work of cultivating from seed to veggies, that’s just fine. Nurseries around Minnesota sell plants perfect for just placing in the garden. In fact, Storms recommends doing a bit of both, especially if you’re new to gardening.
It’s important to note that you don’t need to start with dozens of plants, either. Vegetables have high yields, so if you’ve only got room for one or two plants, that’s more than enough to get exactly what you want. For example, squash. One squash plant can produce several, which can be canned and frozen to prevent them from going bad. Many squash are also very hardy, so in a cool environment they can last a while.
As for planting, Storms offered a few tips for anyone trying their hand at a vegetable garden. A few pots can go a long way in growing vegetables. Tomatoes, basil, and a pepper plant or two, and you’ve got the makings of a pizza or tomato sauce garden. A few herbs can also go a long way. They can be used fresh, dried, or even frozen for later use (better yet, make them into pesto and freeze it).
“The big thing that’s working right now is a raised garden,” said Storms. “There’s actually something called a teaching garden that is free to the public to go and learn how to garden and take a look.”
A raised garden has several benefits, the biggest one being the lack of weeds. Weeds still happen, of course, but that’s nothing compared to a garden on ground level with the roots already in the soil. There’s also the benefit that pests have a bit more difficult time getting to a raised garden. We’re not talking bugs, but rabbits, deer, and all manner of small critters can be a gardener’s worst nightmare. Thankfully, a bit of fencing and a raised box are fairly effective at keeping them out, giving you more vegetables.
Speaking of the veggies, there are plenty to grow, but what are the best for your efforts? According to Storms, right now radishes, lettuce, spinach, and kale are good for early growing. These plants can take lower temperatures and less sun than, say, tomatoes. Once the ground is loose, potatoes can be planted as well. Just remember to know your soil. Pots and raised gardens should be using potting soil. If you’re going to plant direct into the ground, be sure to fertilize, and definitely make sure you have good, loose soil. Carver County as a lot of clay, so it’s best to use a more controlled environment like a pot.
As for what should be inside until Memorial weekend, that can be plants like tomatoes, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and melon. It’s also important to note that the ideal time for these plants is fairly short, so some veggies like bell peppers have a hard time fully maturing in Minnesota’s short summer. You’re better off using other varieties, like banana peppers, jalapenos, and smaller ones.
Once the sun is out and warm, it’s time to start planting. Whatever you’re using, make sure it’s in a place that gets plenty of sunlight and arrange your plants. Be sure to water every few days, especially if it doesn’t rain, pull out any stray weeds, and keep a look out for any pests. Before you know it, you’ll have plenty of fresh veggies to eat.
And of course the Carver-Scott Master Gardeners are willing to help you through your gardening challenges. They give free classes through the Carver County Library, the Carver County Fairgrounds, and Scott County Fairgrounds as well as maintain the teaching gardens. Learn more at extension.umn.edu/local/carver.