When planning your vegetable garden to plant this spring, it’s tempting to make a trip to the garden center and simply grab what looks good and tempting at the moment.
But the result may be too many edibles you won’t want and not enough of the things you really care to put the time and effort into.
So before you start the seed orders or hit the nursery, sit down for a moment and ask yourself a few questions.
l Do my family and I like it enough to get out there and care for and harvest it?
l Can I grow it more cheaply than what I can buy?
l Is the quality at the supermarket close to that from the garden? Or would I prefer to purchase it at a farmers market?
l Do I have the space for it?
l Do I have enough sun for it?
l Is it prone to disease in my garden?
l Am I in the right region to grow it? Watermelons and sweet potatoes, for example, need a long hot growing season that’s tough to come by in Iowa.
Others, such as peas, need a sustained, temperate not-too-hot, not-too-cold spring that only sometimes happens in Midwest, where springs are highly variable.
It’s also important to note that some vegetables do best in the cool weather of early spring or fall, while others need to be planted after all danger of frost is gone because they thrive in hot summer weather.
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These so-called cool-season annuals include lettuces, spinach, kales, peas, onions, beets, radishes, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. All these need to be planted in early spring in Iowa.
That’s because if they are exposed too long to temperatures over 80 degrees to 85 degrees, they get bitter or stop producing. Plant seedlings of these cool-weather lovers in mid-April or so. Or plant peas, onion, beets and radishes directly in the garden soil from seed or “sets” the last week or March or first week of April.
On the other hand, warm-season annuals need adequately warm soil and air temperatures to thrive. They include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, squashes, pumpkins and cucumbers. Start seeds for these warmth lovers indoors in late March or early April. Or plant them as seedlings in late May. A few other vegetable seeds need very warm soil. Plant green beans and corn seeds directly in the soil in early June.
In late summer or early autumn, you can plant seeds or seedlings of cool-season annuals for fall harvest. Be sure, however, to keep these well watered and consider covering with shade cloth to prevent them from getting too warm.
If all this sounds a little confusing, just remember that a vegetable garden can have three planting times:
l The first is in early spring — pretty much as soon as the soil thaws in spring.
l The second is in late spring or early summer, after your region’s last average frost date.
l The third and final garden, if you choose to do it, is in very early autumn. Many gardeners skip this planting time since it can be tricky to get the right amount of cool weather before the snow flies.