Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Planning Your Garden State Vegetable Garden

There is nothing like a few warm days in this cold month and the arrival of some seed catalogs to get me thinking about the garden.

Even if you have never planted a vegetable garden, you can consider a few crops for this season to support our Garden State of mind.

Mother Earth News did a story on planning a first garden with ten easy crops that offer great eating possibilities.

I started getting seed and plant catalogs in January and started folding over pages. Now you can even order seeds online through Amazon!

So here are 10 to start out with in NJ.

Radishes do well even in not-so-great garden soil and are ready to harvest in only a few weeks.

Salad greens like lettuce, spinach, arugula and corn salad are available in mixed packets. People plant in spring and fall, and you can pick salads almost year-round.

Green beans are easy to grow and prolific. If you get a big crop, they freeze well, and they’re also delicious when pickled as dilly beans. Start with seeds after all danger of frost has passed.

For onions, you can do seeds and bulbs, but you might try small plants if it's your first time. If they do well, you can harvest onions. If not, you might get small bulb onions and you can always eat the greens.

Fresh-picked ripe strawberries are unbelievably sweet, and the plants are surprisingly hardy. Buy bare-root plants in early spring. Put this perennial in a sunny spot and keep it well weeded.

Both hot peppers and bell peppers are easy to grow. You can try seeds, but plants give you a jump on the season. Let peppers from the same plant ripen for different lengths of time to get a range of colors and flavors. Did you know that the green peppers eventually go red?

Zucchini squash won't take up as much room in your garden as many other types, and it’s very prolific. Start from seeds or plants. You won't need more than a few plants for a bumper crop. Have you ever tried the breaded and fried flowers?

Basil. Many herbs are easy to grow, but basil is a good choice because it’s a nice complement to tomatoes. Basil is easy to grow from seeds or from transplants.

Jersey tomatoes. It's required. There’s just no substitute for a perfectly ripe homegrown tomato. I still have to take those pale things that you get in a salad (even in NJ!) that they call tomatoes. Seeds are great but you need patience and some technique. It's hard to go wrong when you start with strong plants. Do seeds when you want some heirloom or a variety not available in the garden center. Maybe you can support an old Jersey heirloom - the Rutgers tomato. Cherry tomatoes come in several sizes, are easy to grow and produce lots of fruit for those salads. Even the fried green tomatoes are good come fall when it's too late to ripen. Don't even bring up that ripening in a brown bag method...

Let's end with potatoes. You might be surprised that they are an easy-to-grow staple that stores well when kept cool. There are simple and low-maintenance approaches like planting potatoes in straw rather than soil. I planted one year in a large black garbage bag of composted soil and gut great, easy to harvest potatoes. I've seen people use an old garbage can with the bottom cut out.  "Seeds" for potatoes are actually whole or cut sections of potatoes. Don't use ones from the grocery store because they have been treated.You can buy them from catalogs or at good garden centers in early spring.

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