Henry Homeyer: Inch by inch, row by row, let’s make these veggies grow

By Henry Homeyer
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In uncertain times, one thing is certain: you can always depend on yourself. If you’re worried about having enough food, grow some vegetables that are nearly foolproof. Gardening is not rocket science. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. All vegetables do best in full sun. The minimum amount of sun is 6 hours, though you can grow herbs and greens in 4 hours.
  2. Good soil is very important. Yes, heavy clay or sandy soil will produce some veggies, but improving it with compost will improve your results. Buy some, work it in.
  3. You shouldn’t use any chemicals. Not insecticides, not herbicides, not chemical fertilizers. The fertilizers can be replaced with compost and organic bagged fertilizers that are made with all natural ingredients and minerals. Your plants will do fine without chemicals, and will be healthier for you to eat.
  4. Adequate moisture is also key. Newly planted seeds or seedlings cannot dry out completely and survive. Later on, when mature tomatoes or beans have roots deep in your soil, they can endure a period of drought. But if they start to wilt, they are in trouble and need a soaking. Visit your garden every day to see how your plants are doing. Buy a hose long enough to reach the garden.
  5. Weeds are not your friends. They compete for water and soil nutrients, and if big enough, sunshine. For most small gardens, you can keep weeds under control in 10 minutes of weeding – if you do so every day. Mulching will help with both moisture levels and weed control.

Fresh potatoes from one plant.

When it comes to what you should grow, you could start by thinking about what you need. If you’re worried about having enough food, grow potatoes. So long as you don’t have a swarm of potato beetles eating the leaves, or a blight (like the one that did in the Irish) potatoes are sure winners. They will provide calories better than anything else you can grow, and they store well. I’m still eating mine from 2019.

Next on my list of veggies to grow is kale. It produces a lot of greenery that can be added to any soup, stew or stir fry, adding vitamins A to Z. (Yes, I know, there is no vitamin Z). Unlike lettuce or spinach, kale freezes well. You can pack a lot of kale into a quart zipper bag and put it away for days you can’t to go the store. It’s great in a smoothie, too. I’ve never had a pest or disease on my kale.

Then there are the winter squash: Blue Hubbard and Waltham butternut will store well for many months – all winter, and into the next season. They can be stored on a shelf in the pantry, or cooked and frozen. Either way, they are nutritious, tasty, and very easy to grow. But they have long vines, and need space. Zucchini for summer eating are great, very productive, and take less space than winter squash.

Tomatoes are more problematic. Yes, every soup or stew I make uses tomatoes. I freeze them whole in zipper bags, I cook them into sauce and paste. But tomatoes get the blight sometimes. Assuming they will surely produce some tomatoes, but in terms of a guaranteed crop would be rolling the dice. So my suggestion is to grow some cherry or cocktail-sized tomatoes.

Kale is fully of vitamins and is easy to grow.

The little tomatoes get ripe earlier, and many are quite disease resistant. My favorite is one called ‘Sun Gold’. Defiant is a red medium sized hybrid with good flavor, and high resistance to late blight – but not early blight. I will always plant some heirlooms for flavor – Brandywine and Oxheart are two of my favorites.

Lastly, I recommend planting onions. They are easy to grow, tasty, and keep away scurvy on long ocean voyages, as we learned in grade school. Now of course they are inexpensive, and you can buy a 25 or 50 pound sack of them from a farmer, but I like having my own. Buy onion plants if you can get them, or sets (little bulbs) if you cannot. Plant 3 inches apart.

There’s several ways to prepare your garden for planting. Start by picking a spot in the middle of the lawn. Get rid of the grass in the plot: use a shovel or a garden fork to dig it out. Shake the roots to save the soil from the roots. This is hard work. Plan on spending half an hour every day digging out sod until the job is done.

Even a small garden like this produces nice veggies.

You should not just rent a rototiller and chew up the lawn. Tilling won’t kill the grass, just aggravate it. The roots will produce new plants all summer long. So start early: today, or this weekend. Don’t put it off, unless the soil is soggy.

Now when it comes to the size of your garden, don’t bite off more than you can chew. A good starter size is a bed is 10 feet by 12 feet. Mound up soil to build two wide beds – 30 to 36 inches wide, with a walkway down the middle and a bare strip along the outside edge of the plot. You will need to improve the soil with composted cow manure as lawns are notoriously devoid of minerals and organic matter.

Here’s what I planted in 10 by 12 bed in the lawn a few years ago: 2 tomato plants with some early lettuce around them. Two peppers, 2 broccoli, 5 potato plants, a tripod of green beans, some carrots and cukes, and one zucchini. But that was a supplement, not subsistence. I’d say you would need 6 beds to produce enough food to make a serious contribution towards feeding a family of two. Let’s hope our farmers and grocers will stay in business!

Henry’s website is www.Gardening-Guy.com and he is the author of four gardening books.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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