By The Old House Web

Home Vegetable Gardens: An enjoyable (and edible) way to use the growing season

One of the most popular of home gardens is the home vegetable garden. Growing vegetables at home is an enjoyable way to take advantage of the warm weather of the growing season, while providing very satisfactory (and edible!!) results.

The home garden can also be seen from an economic viewpoint - many home gardeners are able to market their produce at roadside stands, farmers markets and other retail outlets. The estimation of a home garden's economic value is often difficult to ascertain.

Because each garden's value varies considerably, it is often difficult to estimate on a general basis. When attempting to assess the economic value of the home garden, several variables must be kept in mind. Costs figuring in estimation usually include such items as: seeds, plants, fertilizer, insecticides and machinery depreciation. Costs usually do NOT include labor, and often do not include the cost and depreciation of machines.

Recent surveys show the average size of a garden to be between 500 and 1000 square feet, and the average value of garden produce to be between $300 and $600. These values are estimated by using a fixed rate of 50 to 60 cents per pound for the value of all produce.

Therefore, as a recreational activity, gardening costs no more than most other hobbies such as photography, golf, skiing, and fishing. Most individuals do not garden to save money, but for the enjoyment of it.

An example of garden value estimation follows:

* Production of seven vegetables, each with one 20-foot row. (incorporating the costs of production as listed in I. C.) Vegetable Yield Retail Value Cost to Net (lbs) price/lb ($) produce value -------------------------------------------------------- Bean 7.3 .45 3.28 4.00 - .72 Broccoli 7.1 .60 4.26 4.59 - .33 Cabbage 29.8 .30 8.94 5.04 3.90 Carrot 14.5 .30 4.35 3.26 1.09 Pea 9.0 1.75 15.75 3.44 12.31 Pepper 3.7 .35 1.30 2.62 - 1.32 Tomato 51.9 .20 10.38 2.69 7.69 ----- ----- ---- ----- TOTALS 123.3 $48.26 $25.64 $22.62 ----------------------------------------------------------- * Retail price is the price at the time of harvest.**

Intensive Gardening

Intensive Gardening involves the attempt to extract more produce from a given area by planting crops closer together, incorporating fencing, growing crops in succession, or similar techniques. Intensive gardening provides the potential for greater productivity from a given area, which aids those gardeners restricted by limited space.

However, intensive gardening is very labor-intensive, often requiring extra time than traditional set-ups. This method is recommended for smaller gardens, for as garden size increases, some of the intensive gardening techniques tend to become impractical.

There are several techniques used in the intensive gardening method. New variations on row planting width promote a closer spacing of plants than commonly recommended in extension bulletins and seed catalogues. When employing this technique, the grower must attempt to make the spacing between the rows equal the spacing between the plants in each row, thus ending up with a solid block of plants in a row that is anywhere from 18 inches to five feet wide.

Maintenance is vital, as there are many problems which occur with closer spacing. Drought problems may be aggravated by the closer spacing, and fertilizer recommendations may be too low, so it may be necessary to increase the rate of application. In addition, weed problems increase, because of the difficulty of removing them with garden tools.

Other techniques include the use of trellises, and companion planting or intercropping, allowing the grower to place two or more crops in the same space during growing season. The use of early gardens involves pregerminate seeds, row covers, etc.. Raised beds are an excellent idea for those who have trouble bending or reaching down.

Before attempting intensive gardening techniques, it is wise to visit other gardens to view and compare the different techniques. Light, sandy soils make good bedding material if extensive organic matter (compost, peat moss) is added. The addition of compost serves to improve the soil - large quantities of composted hay, leaves, grass clippings, manure, kitchen scraps, and other organic material may be added to the soil.

Mulching material often decomposes sufficiently if it is incorporated into the soil while the soil is being worked. Weeds should be under control before forming the rows. Water should be available and nearby; the use of trickle irrigation is a very efficient means of providing water to the garden. The grower should also be able to provide adequate nutrients.

Employing intensive growing techniques on a vegetable garden is an excellent way to grow vegetables that are highly productive in small areas. These techniques allow the grower to grow those vegetables that tend to be quite perishable and are best when harvested fresh directly from a garden. Intensive gardening also allows the gardener to incorporate the ornamental vegetables into flower beds or other planting areas, allowing space for other vegetables in the intensive plot.

Examples of vegetables best grown in an intensive plot include: Swiss chard cabbage lettuce asparagus bean beet cauliflower tomato carrot kale

Some of these vegetables can also be effectively grown in containers (1 to 5 gal). Peat/vermiculite mixtures are usually used in these. By placing the containers in a movable cart, the gardener can move them around according to weather and preference.

Standard practices should be followed, such as: the growing of recommended varieties, planting occuring at the right time, the fertilization of transplants the use of fresh seed and the keeping of records. The gardener should beware of rabbits - it is advised to construct a fence to prevent their sampling of the vegetables.

Although spring is traditionally thought of as the time to start a vegetable garden, many vegetables can be planted to late June, July and August for harvest in September and October. Among the vegetables which can be grown for fall harvest are peas, cabbage, lettuce and other crops which do best in cooler temperatures. Many are frost tolerant and their flavor actually improves after a light frost. This type of gardening maximizes use of garden space, since new crops may be put in after early spring crops such as peas, leaf lettuce and radishes are harvested.

Vegetables to be grown for fall harvest can be seeded directly or transplanted in the garden. When buying seed for use in a fall vegetable garden, it is best to pick varieties which are well suited for growing in Michigan and which are quick-maturing, so the vegetables will be ready for harvest before the severe cold weather begins in November. Directions given on the seed packet will provide the depth at which to plant the seed and the spacing between plants and rows. Water-in the seed to speed up germination. Fertilizer may not be necessary if the garden was fertilized well in the spring. However, if natural soil fertility is low, a commercial fertilizer such as 5-10-10 or similar analysis may be applied after the seedlings are rapidly growing at the rate of one cup per 25' of row length.

The garden season can be extended several weeks by starting new plantings of several vegetables in June. Producing a fall crop is easier and cheaper than starting plants indoors in spring or buying plants, and provides the grower with a greater variety. For example, the purple varieties of cauliflower are easy to grow and of excellent quality and have much more flavor than white varieties. Heads vary in size and color but are especially popular for freezing.

Such crops as kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage can be started outdoors in June and transplanted later to produce a crop during the cool fall weather. All of these vegetables will tolerate some frost, and brussels sprouts should be good into November.

When planting from seed, the gardener should plant 25 to 50 seeds in a large, wide hill or in a short, wide row. The seedlings should be transplanted to their permanent location when they are large enough to handle. It is necessary in this instance also to keep watch for insects and rabbits.

Some common crops for fall vegetable gardens include:

beets carrots kale radish broccoli cauliflower kohlrabi rutabaga Brussels sprouts Chinese cabbage lettuce spinach cabbage collards mustard Swiss chard

The following chart will enable you to plan which vegetables you would like to raise in your fall vegetable garden. Planting dates for seed are based on Michigan and should be modified as necessary to suit your location.

APPROXIMATE TIME VEGETABLE SEEDING DATE OF HARVEST Snap beans June 30 to July 15 August 20 to Sept. 15 Suggested varieties: Provider Spartan Arrow Beets July 1 to 15 Sept. 20 to Oct.1 Suggested Varieties: Ruby queen Detroit Dark Red Broccoli June 20 to 30 Sept. 20 to Oct 20 Suggested Varieties: Green Comet Spartan Early Brussels June 20 to 30 Oct. 15 to Nov. 1 sprout Suggested Varieties: Jade Cross Long Island Improved Cabbage June 20 to 30 Oct. 1 to 30 Suggested Varieties: Stonehead Ruby ball (red) C_C cross Cauliflower June 20 to 30 Oct. 1 to 30 Suggested Varieties: Self-blanche Snowball Imperial Chinese June 20 to July 30 August 20 to Oct. 20 cabbage Suggested Varieties: Early hybrid G Springtime Kale June 20 to July 30 Aug. 15 to Sept. 30 Suggested Varieties: Dwarf Blue Curled Vates Kohlrabi June 20 to 30 Oct. 1-15 Suggested Varieties: Early White Vienna Lettuce July 1 to Aug. 15 Aug. 15 to Oct. 10 (butterhead) Suggested Varieties: Buttercrunch Lettuce July 1 to Aug. 15 Aug. 15 to Oct. 10 (leaf) Suggested Varieties: Salad Bowl Grand Rapids Peas July 15 to July 30 Sept. 15 to Oct. 10 Suggested Varieties: Freezonian Greater progress Dwarf gray sugar (edible pod) Radishes Aug. 1 to Sept. 1 Sept. 1 to Oct. 1 Suggested Varieties: Cherry Belle Champion Spinach July 20 to 30 Sept. 1 to 20 Suggested Varieties: American Viking Turnips July 1 to Aug. 1 Sept. 1 to 20 Suggested Varieties: Tokyo Cross

Choosing Seeds

The choice of seed is one which the home gardener debates before planting. There are many choices involved in the decision of which seeds to buy, and where to buy them. Home gardeners often vacillate between hybrid and open- pollinated varieties.

Hybrids often give more vigorous growth, greater production, more uniform plants and greater disease resistance, however hybrid seed is usually more expensive. A good open-pollinated variety can produce as well as a hybrid under certain conditions. Most of new hybrids and open-pollinated varieties are resistant to many diseases. Whenever possible, the home gardener should choose varieties with multiple disease resistance.

Early maturing varieties should be used for the first plantings of each crop, as medium or long-season varieties of warm season crops may not mature before fall frosts in Northern areas. Only enough early-maturing varieties should be planted to hold until later maturing varieties are ready, as early-maturing don't have the eating or storing quality of those which mature later.

Other quality characteristics to consider include: plant size, freezing or canning quality, eating quality, color, adaptability to soil type, and resistance to weather extremes. Most of this information is available in seed catalogues. Home gardeners should buy seeds early to assure desired varieties.

The varieties selected for planting are usually dependent upon available space and the preference and experience of the gardener. The actual size of a vegetable garden could vary from less than 20 sq. feet to one spreading over one thousand. Inexperienced gardeners or gardeners with limited space usually grow salad-type vegetables, expanding to encompass the more popular vegetables as they gain experience or room.

Planting times vary with the crops selected. Cool season crops grow best during the cooler temperatures of Spring and Fall and can withstand some frost or freezing temperatures, particularly when they are young. Some cool season varieties are so hardy that they can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the Spring. Warm season crops are sensitive to cool temperatures and will be killed by frost; consequently they cannot be safely planted outdoors until the danger of frost is past, unless they are planted under hot caps, tents or covers. Warm season varieties may rot in wet soil if they are planted too early. If, as a gardener, you are unable to determine the planting time, it is wise to follow the directions found on the seed packets.

It is usually desirable to transplant seedlings of some vegetables to the garden; as the use of transplants will result in an earlier harvest, allow for a longer harvesting period and will not tie up garden space as long as would propagating from seed. Warm season vegetables are commonly transplanted after the danger of frost is past. Warm season varieties usually transplanted include: tomato, pepper, and eggplant. Melons and cucumbers are also transplanted, but not as easily. Cool season vegetables are popular transplants, due to their ability to withstand some frost and freezing temperatures. Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, and Head Lettuce all transplant very well.

A higher quality of transplant can usually be bought, as opposed to those grown in the gardener's own garden. However, home growth of transplants allows the grower to obtain the varieties he/she desires to grow. If transplants are determined early, there often will be no need to purchase seeds of those varieties.

The location of a vegetable garden should be near the gardener, to allow for enjoyment in the growth of the plants. The garden does not have to be in one place, and can even be combined with or used in place of flowers in beds or borders. The garden should be close to water, in full sunlight and have good, well-drained soil. The site should be satisfactory if a good crop of grass or weeds grows on it.

The determination of the amount of each vegetable to plant depends upon the number of individuals that the garden is to feed, and upon whether or not the vegetables will be eaten fresh, stored, canned, frozen or dried. The size of the garden is also influenced by such factors as: Family preference, space available, vacation schedules, and planting and tillage methods. A beginning gardener is advised to start small and enlarge the garden as more is learned about techniques and time.

A garden can be harvested over a longer period of time if successive plantings are made. With this technique, it is important to use early, mid-season and late maturing varieties in conjunction with successive plantings to ensure a continual harvest.

When propagating from seed, the amount of seed necessary should be considered before purchase. While a small packet of seeds will produce enough for a family of four, more than one packet may be needed for large-seeded crops such as beans, peas, and sweet corn. Slightly more seeds than required should be purchased to ensure that 100% germination will be obtained. Because a significant number of seedlings also are lost to insects and disease, most gardeners plant an excess of seeds and then thin.

Seeds are relatively inexpensive, and can even be obtained "on sale" following the growing season. These seeds can be a good buy if they are used in one year or before they lose their viability. The determination of what seeds on hand are still viable is part of the inventory process.

It is possible to use seeds that have been leftover one or more years if they have been stored properly: Exceptions to this rule are: onions, parsley, parsnip, and salsify. Vegetable seeds store best under conditions that provide relatively cool temperatures (32-40 degrees F.), a relative humidity of 40 to 50% or lower, and a low moisture content in the seeds; about 7 to 10%. Seeds held in moisture proof and vapor proof containers store better than seeds exposed to the atmosphere, if packed at their optimum moisture content.

Seeds may also be collected and saved from non-hybrid varieties. Dry seeded types may stay on the plant as long as possible, and collected just before they are shed. Whole plants can be dried and the seeds threshed by flailing or beating. Seeds are most commonly saved from self-pollinated crops, as opposed to hybrid varieties, including snap and lima beans, endive, lettuce, pea, and tomato. Seeds contained in fleshy fruits can be separated by hand. The longevity of a seed depends on the kind of plant and its storage conditions. Seeds rarely remain viable for over 20 years, and older seeds require a thicker sowing to achieve a satisfactory stand.

Leftover seeds can be tested using a paper towel. They should be rolled up in a towel, dampened and placed in a covered container. Keeping the towel damp, the container should be placed in a warm location (70-90 F). If over half of the seeds germinate, the lot is probably satisfactory and fresh.

"Intercropping" is the planting of quick, early-maturing plants between rows of long-season crops. This technique is most useful when garden space is limited.

Following are some common field planting times:

Vegetable: Field Planting Times: Asparagus April Beans, Lima May 20-June 30 Beets April 1-July 15 Broccoli April 20-July 15 Brussels Sprouts April 20-May 15 Carrots April 1-July 1 Cauliflower June 20-30 Celeriac April 1-20 Celery April 1-May 30 Chinese Cabbage June 20-July 30 Collards April 1-Aug. 1 Eggplant May 20-June 1 Endive April 1-20 Garlic April 1-20 Kale June 20-July 20 Kohlrabi April 1-June 30 Leeks April 20 Lettuce (head) April 1-July 15 Lettuce (leaf) April 1-July 15 Muskmelon May 20-June 1 Mustard April 1-Aug. 15 Okra May 20-June 1 Onion (sets) April 1-May 1 Onion (transplants) April 1-May 1 Onion (seeds) April 1-May 1 Parsley April-July Parsnips April 1-20 Peas April 1-30 Peppers May 20-June 1 Popcorn May 20-June 1 Potatoes April 20-June 1 Potatoes, Sweet May 20-June 1 Pumpkins May 20-June 15 SOURCES: Vegetable Tips Extension Bulletin E-1769 June 1985, Cooperative Extension Service; MSU "Planning a Vegetable Garden" by J. Lee Taylor, Dept. of Horticulture

"Examining the Economics of Home Vegetable Gardening" Fact sheet from the University of Illinois (VC-38-85). edited by Lee Taylor, Hortopics, October 1985, MSU Department of Horticulture.

"Hortopics" newsletter Michigan State University March 1984 J.Lee Taylor Department of Horticulture Michigan State University

Hortopics: 6/81; J. Lee Taylor Department of Horticulture Michigan State University

Hortopics, August 1983, J. Lee Taylor Department of Horticulture Michigan State University

Home Vegetable Garden Variety Recommendations C.L. William and R.C. Herner, Department of Horticulture

Home Vegetable Garden Variety Recommendations Extension Bulletin, April 1983 (Revised 1987) Bernard H. Zandstra and J. Lee Taylor

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