How to start a vegetable garden

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Whether the recent change in weather or concerns over food security amid the COVID-19 quarantine has piqued your interest in gardening, it’s a good time to start planning your vegetable garden if you intend to plant one.

Learn how to choose a location for your garden, determine what to grow and decide when to plant your vegetables.

Finding the perfect garden location

The perfect location for a vegetable garden is dependent on a few different factors: sunlight, soil health and available water sources.

Sunlight. Sunlight is the most important factor to consider when choosing a location for a vegetable garden. The ideal location will offer at least eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight a day.

Soil health. It’s important to choose a location free of slopes and erosion. In areas with severe erosion soil health can’t be maintained by using fertilizers, soil conditioners and organic matter. Soil loss is inevitable if you cultivate your garden in the same place every year; however, it can be minimized and soil health can be improved over time with fertilizers, soil conditioners and other organic matter.

If you find a location with good sunlight that’s free of erosion, but the soil is not ideal for vegetable plants you can improve it over time. The first step is having a soil test done by a local extension office or soil and water conservation district to determine whether or not there are nutrient deficiencies. Once you know the results of your soil test, you’ll have a better understanding of what to add to improve the soil.

Next, consider what type of soil makes up your garden. Vegetables prefer to grow in fertile, well-drained sandy loam soils supplied with organic matter. Coarse, sandy soils dry out quickly, making it difficult to keep fertile. Clay soils are compact and usually remain wet until late spring, making them difficult to cultivate. Both types require soil conditioners such as peat moss, compost, sawdust or other available organic materials.

Water sources. Locating your garden near a water source is ideal because water improves soil moisture. Improved soil moisture means better seed germination, better establishment of transplants and continuous growth during dry periods.

What to grow

Deciding what to grow depends on your climate and the amount of growing space you have available. Over 40 different vegetable crops can be grown in Ohio’s climate. You can find out which plant hardiness zone you live in by visiting the USDA. This information will help you determine which plants are most likely to thrive in your garden.

After you’ve figured out which plants are suited to your climate, you can narrow selections further based on the amount of growing space you have available. When space is limited, planting vegetables that are more productive will result in a greater yield.

When to plant vegetables

You should make a planting schedule based on soil temperature, rather than air temperature. You can find the preferred temperatures of individual seeds on their packaging.

The following is a short list of the lowest germinating temperatures for common crops, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau. Warmer temperatures may yield better results for some.

  • 35 degrees: Lettuce, onions, parsnips and spinach
  • 40-45 degrees: Beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, parsley, peas, radish and turnips
  • 50 degrees: Swiss chard
  • 60 degrees: Beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash (cucumbers, pumpkins and squash yield better results at 75 degrees)
  • 75 degrees: Tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplant and okra grow better when transplanted instead of from a seed.

You can check local soil temperatures at two and four inches deep by visiting the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center or you can check out Ohio State University Extension’s planting guide for suggested dates on specific crops.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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