As promised, vegetables. Part 1
I’ve been putting off this post just a little bit because if any of you are living somewhere other than Zone 8 or higher (average last day of frost April 20) you still have a chance of frost (Zone 5, Chicagoland, has May 6 as average last day of frost). While it’s easy to get overexcited when the days are sunny and warm(er), nights are still cool to downright cold and in some places you might even have a chance of snow.
Some of the earliest crops you can put in the ground pretty much anywhere are potatoes, peas and some leafy greens. I have had my spuds, peas and kale in the ground since mid-March (again it’s a Zonal thing). It is probably safe* in most places to put these in the ground now. I find these are some of the easiest crops to grow and you don’t need to buy plants. Really. Peas are especially easy as are potatoes.
First prepare your soil. If this is your first time gardening, raised beds are great as they instantly improve your soil. If you are just planning to stick your plants in your existing dirt…… good luck. Unless you’ve successfully grown flowers in that spot, and even if you have, you’ll need to do some amending. That means adding or replacing good stuff to your exhausted ground: compost, potting soil, rotted leaves, etc. This is more of a topic than I can take on here, check out https://www.chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/dirt_soil or your local extension service*. You can grow many things in a container. I’ll be covering that in another post.
With peas, you just stick the seeds in the ground. In about 10-14 days, depending on variety, you should see small plants beginning to rear their little seeded heads. Plant ‘successive sowings’ for a longer extended group. This means, plant a row one week, and then another row a week later, and so on for about a month or so. Be sure to set up a system of trellising if you do not buy bush peas. You can certainly buy pea plants but it is way more economical to buy seed. There are quite a number of varieties of peas: shelling peas (you eat only the pea inside) and edible pod peas including snow peas, sugar snap peas, Chinese pea pods, snap peas, etc. These are my favorite and all I grow as I don’t think you get enough of a crop from shelling peas.
To Harvest: pick em off the plant and eat!
Potatoes are a little more complicated. But only a little. It took me years to grow potatoes and I was astounded at how easy they were to grow.
First, prepare your soil (see above) or fill your containers with good soil
Then, prepare your potatoes (I’m borrowing from Chicago Botanic Gardens post)
Potatoes are grown from “seed” potatoes—small tubers with “eyes” that sprout leaves. (If you’ve ever had an old potato in your kitchen that’s sprouted, the sprout comes from the eye.) Small tubers can be planted whole, while larger tubers are cut into small pieces. Each piece should have at least one or two eyes. Let the cut seed potatoes dry for a few days before you plant them. This allows the potato to form a callus and reduces the chance of rotting once it’s in the soil. Seed potatoes are available at local garden centers and online.
You might have some success with store bought potatoes – organic only otherwise they are treated with chemicals – especially if they have begun to sprout.
I grow my potatoes in round planting holes. I dig each hole about 6 inches deep and about the size of a large serving platter or 14”-16” across. Then I put in my seed potato piece (2-4 pieces) and cover with 2-3 inches of soil. I put a tomato cage around each one because I use straw to ‘hill’ my potatoes. Hilling is the process of backfilling the planting area with additional soil or material to keep your potatoes from turning green (which is poisonous). You start doing this when shoots emerge at about 6-8” tall. As soon as you see green tops at about 6”, you add more soil and continue to do this. I use straw instead to make it easier to dig the potatoes at harvest but if you don’t have straw, use dirt.
You can use a container that would hold 15 gallons of soil. I’m pretty sure anything could work as a container including cardboard boxes (deep is better than wide) and pillowcases! Use what you’ve got and try it. Don’t fill the soil to the top to egin with. Fill the soil about 20” and plant the spuds about 6” deep. Then follow the ‘hilling’ instructions
Tips about bugs and other things.
Don’t grow potatoes in the same place twice, or where you’ve planted tomatoes, peppers or eggplant. These are the same family prone to the same diseases.
Don’t plant them too early. Check what your zone requirements are.
Do mulch or use row covers to protect from pests. Row covers are lightweight fabric to keeps pests off. I use it for my kale but you can use it for other crops.
To Harvest: Harvest the potatoes after the vines have died. Just dig or fork (carefully) through your dirt or straw and pick out the spuds you want. I have had success with leaving my plants/spuds in the ground (mulched with straw) through the winter and harvesting as needed.
There are many potatoes varieties dozens if not hundreds.
Both peas and potatoes need a good amount of sun, 6-8 hours.
Kale and chard are also pretty easy and pretty hardy but with these, I start with plants rather than starts. You can of course grow these from seed, I just haven’t done it so your on your own if your reading this post for directions. Kale can be susceptible to white flies and cabbage borers so when my plants reach a certain size, I use row covers. In Oregon and other mild zones you can grow chard and kale through the winter, harvesting the tender leaves and leaving the plants in the ground.
You can begin planting seed indoors for some of the yummy, more tender vegetables. But that’s another post.
*Check with your local extension service. For instance, Oregon Extension at OSU Extension All 50 states have an extension service housed at a university. Originally funded by the USDA, not all are still affiliated with the USDA. These are some of the BEST sources of gardening information, scientifically backed and tested. Some extensions are a little to free w/ pesticides and herbicides in my opinion but they in general have good information about your local growing season, and what to grow. Oh and if you have kids (and are homeschooling!) , check into 4H.
And another great resource: Chicago Botanic Garden
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