The lone voice of horticultural reason

Broccoli Revelation

I have made reference to this before, how my line concerning vegetable gardening was always, “I don’t grow what I can buy at the co-op,” until that fateful day in Hinckley.

Some new friends were showing me their exquisite two-acre flower garden when we turned the corner to the south side of the property and entered their large vegetable patch. What a waste of good sunlight, I thought, and then the wife bent down, snapped off a half head of broccoli, handed it to me and said: “Try this.” Being the polite sort, I popped some in my mouth.

And I was eating candy. Sugary sweet, melt-in-your-mouth broccoli candy. It was so remarkably superior to the fresh broccoli I buy at the store, it changed my thinking about vegetable gardeners forever.

I don’t have enough sun in my yard to grow vegetables, but for those who do, here are a few tips I’ve read and heard concerning vegetable patches in general and growing the most popular vegetable in particular.

Vegetables need at least seven hours of direct sunlight to be worth your time. There are some exceptions, and plenty of vegetables that grow and flower and produce in less than seven, but yields, quality and taste usually suffer. Eight hours of direct sunlight is best, and more is even better. Plan your rows so crawlers on trellises (beans, peas) and tall crops such as corn don’t shade lower plants such as lettuces, carrots, etc., later in the season.

Creating good-quality soil is always important in gardening, but crucial for success with vegetables. Plain yard dirt should be amended with copious amounts of organic matter, up to fifty percent, be it compost, peat moss, composted manure or other organic soil additives. Raised beds are great for vegetables, since good drainage is also important. Your good, amended soil should go down at least a foot, with soil that drains well at least another six inches below that.

Wind affects vegetables more than people realize. Don’t put a veggie patch at the top of a hill or in a windy valley; constant wind during the growing season can cut yields by as much as thirty percent.

The tomato is the number-one vegetable grown by home gardeners across America. Minnesotans are notorious for planting their tomatoes too early. If you waited until the Memorial Day weekend each season, you would never suffer any consequences. Tomatoes are a warm-season vegetable (actually a fruit, if you want to get picky) that suffer and struggle in cool soil and cool nights. Planting before soil temperatures get safely to 55 or 60 degrees (and stay there) affects yield, size, and quality of the tomatoes you pick.

Tomatoes need at least one inch of water per week, granular fertilizer at the time of planting, then a second application when the fruits are half-dollar size. Never buy tomato plants at the nursery taller than eight inches. They are too far along in their pots and don’t adjust well to your garden environment. You are actually losing in the tomato production department when you buy tall, gangly nursery plants (especially tomato plants already in flower, which nurseries will gladly sell you)

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener