Tips for the Vegetable Garden

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Vegetable Garden Tips:

Gardening Tips that I've learned from trial / error and from other gardeners. 

Breaking up new ground ..... Before breaking up new ground for your garden, cut the grass as short as possible.  After it starts to regrow (a few days) spray the entire area with Round-Up which not only kills the top portion of the grass but also the roots.  This will make it much easier to break up and you'll also have fewer weeds and grass coming up in your garden.  A mix of full strength round-up is 1 oz. to the gallon of water.  It will usually take about 2 weeks to get a good kill then you can start tilling. This would also apply to an old garden spot as well if you're having weed problems.

How deep should I till ......  I strongly believe in tilling as deep as possible, breaking up the soil beyond the root zone.  I attach my middle buster behind my tractor and sink it as far as it will go.  I do this at least once per year over the entire garden before tilling.  If you're using a walk behind tiller, allow it to do it's job and go as deep as possible.

Fertilization ...... From what I've read and through experience I've found that most vegetables require from 500 - 750 lbs. of fertilizer per acre.  (An acre is approx. 43,000 sq. feet)  I use 13-13-13 or 17-17-17.  A good, strong, starting point would be approx 6-8 lbs. of 8-8-8 per 300 sq. feet or 100 feet of row.  If starting out with poor soil, you may need a little more.  If you're going to grow both a spring and fall garden, you'll have to make two applications of fertilizer.  Each year your garden space will get better and better.  Apply your fertilizer before the last tilling.

Fall Fertilizer ...  If you haven't already now is a good time to apply your fall fertilizer for the spring garden.  LSU AgCenter recommends applying fertilizer at a rate of approximately 8 lbs. of 8-8-8 for every 300 sq. ft.  Before planting in the spring apply the same amount again.

Weed Control ...... I've found that the more you cultivate your garden the easier it is to control grasses and weeds.  The areas that can not be tilled (right next to the plants) use a good old fashion garden hoe.  Get the weeds and grasses when they are still small and it'll only take a few minutes.  If you wait till they get big and thick, you'll not only have a job on your hands but your chances of damaging your vegetable plants will be much greater.  Make it easy on yourself.

Insect Control ......  Sevin Dust has been around for many years because it's effective.  I'll use it when the plants are young and up to the point of flowering.  I'm not too crazy about using it after the vegetables start forming unless absolutely necessary.  If you get a rain after applying Sevin Dust, apply it again as it washes off real easy and is no longer effective.  You can get it at any Garden Center.

When should I plant ......  Go online or contact you county agent's office and get a "planting guide" for your state / planting zone.  They'll also have info on what varieties are best for your area.  Planting guides are recommended dates and doesn't necessarily mean you can't plant before or after those dates.  Experimenting is part of the fun of gardening.

Watering ...... Everything I've read indicates that a vegetable garden requires approx 1" of rain or watering per week.  Maintaining a garden calendar to record rainfall helps manage your watering schedule.

What not to plant ...... If you can keep from doing so, don't plant your Tomatoes where peppers, eggplants, or Tomatoes were planted the previous year. These veggies all belong to the same plant family and therefore have similar nutritional needs and are susceptible to similar diseases. Their presence one year can deplete soil of important nutrients and possibly leave remnants of diseases in leaf litter.  From Park Seed Company


Starting your seeds indoors

Gardening Tip:  A decent starter mix, seeds, pots or garden planters are the easy items to get.  One of the biggest problem is giving those seedlings enough light.  Grow lights are good but I consider natural sunlight the best.  A small greenhouse works real well, so does a south facing window in the house.  If the little plants start getting leggy they’re not getting enough.

Gardening Tip:  When should I start my seedlings indoors?  A good rule of thumb is 6-8 weeks before your average last frost date.  Here in Zone 8 March 15th is our last average frost date so I would start my tomatoes, peppers and eggplant around February 1st give or take of course.

Gardening Tip:  What vegetable plants do I need to start indoors?  I’ll answer that by saying any seed that can be planted directly into the garden does not have to be started early.  Of the vegetables I plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are the ones I would start indoors the rest would be seeded in the garden when the time comes.    



Tomato Tips:

When to plant:  Start your seeds 6-8 weeks before your last frost date in the early spring.  To really be safe I advise waiting approximately 2 weeks after the last frost date before planting in the garden.  This applies to plants purchased at your local garden center as well.

Tomato seeds don’t like to be planted too deep so no more than ¼ inch deep.  One method I’ve found that really works well is to use a 4 inch peat pot.  Fill the pot approximately half way with your starter mix and plant your seeds (approx 2-3 seeds per pot).  Water the mix in well and keep it moist, not wet.  The plants should come up in about 5-7 days.  When the seedlings reach about 2 inches tall, thin them out leaving the healthiest looking plant.  Make sure they get plenty light (sunlight or grow lights) or they will get leggy.

Once they have grown a few inches out and above the top of the peat pot, finish filling the pet pot to the top with your starter mix pulling the seedling to the center of the pot as you fill.  Keep the mix moist and let that tomato plant grow until you’re ready to set it out in the garden.

Indoors:  If using grow lights or sunlight through a window facing the south you’ll have to harden them off before planting in the garden.  Starting about a week before planting in the garden, bring the seedlings out into indirect sunlight the first day for a couple of hours.  The next day give them full sun for a couple of hours.  Continue this for 5-7 days increasing the amount of time spent outside and in the sun.  You’re now ready to plant them in the garden.

Fertilize your garden space at a rate of 8 lbs. of 8-8-8 or 4 lbs. of 17-17-17 per 300 sq. feet or 100 feet of row.  Till (incorporate) the fertilizer in after applying.  For maximum effect fertilize both in the spring and in the fall of the year.

When planting your tomato plants dig a hole deep enough to cover the entire pot and approximately 75% of the tomato plant.  Planting deep does a couple of things.  1) puts the roots down where the moisture is  2) allows roots to grow along the stem that is now covered with soil.

Tomatoes like fertilizer but at the right time.  Once the plants show signs of growth side dress by mixing 1 TBS of Miracle Grow into 2 gals. of water and applying this to the base of the plant.  This 2 gal. mix is enough for about 4 plants.  Unless you want some huge plants with very few tomatoes do not fertilize again until you notice the first small tomatoes forming.  I would then apply more fertilizer (same as above) at about 3-4 week intervals.  Keep in mind that your soil fertility may vary so you may need to apply more or less fertilize than I described.

I’ve found that the largest and best tomatoes are harvested the first 3-4 weeks.  Although they will continue to make tomatoes they will become smaller and fewer in number.  To have a supply all season long I would suggest planting in intervals of approximately 4 weeks until about 90 days before your first frost date.  Example (Zone 8) Average Last frost date March 15th – Average First frost date November 15th.    


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