Sweet berries, crisp apples, the most delicious tomatoes you’ll ever taste, and an endless supply of fresh herbs – enjoy the many perks of growing your own food. Know exactly how your produce was grown, stored and transported. There’s nothing more local than 10′ from the kitchen door. But where to start? Read below to learn how to start creating a fantastic vegetable garden.
Most edible plants need plenty of sun to produce a bountiful harvest. Your edible garden should be located in a site that receives full sun. Ideally, your plants should receive at least 6-8 hours of sun a day. Too much shade will result in spindly plants with few fruits or vegetables.
Choose an area with no drainage issues, most edibles need well-drained soils and will not tolerate consistently wet or boggy areas. Raised beds are popular choices for vegetable gardens, especially for the gardener with a bad back or knees.
Water should be readily available for your garden. If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you’ll want to get your hands on a hose often and easily.
Seed or Starts, Bare Root or Container Grown?
Some edibles are single year crops, like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard and beans. These can be started by seed or bought in a small starter size container at Sugar Creek. These starts are ready to be planted immediately. Plants that germinate easily and mature quickly can be directly sown in the garden, they include arugula, spinach, and various types of lettuce. Others like broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards are better started from transplants. These plants can be started from seeds into small containers before trasnplanting or can be purchased from Sugar Creek.
To determine the date you will need to start your seeds, look at the back of your seed packet. It will give you the number of days from the time you sow your seeds until harvest. The historical last frost date in St. Louis is April 15th, but keep an eye on the weather. Summer harvested vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini are frost tender and shouldn’t be planted until frost danger is over. Cold tender herbs include Basil, Lemon Grass, Fennel, Dill, French Tarragon and Stevia.
Some cool weather vegetables are frost tolerant and actually taste better after a frost. Members of the cabbage family grow well in cooler temperatures and are frost-tolerant. This family includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, radishes, kale, chard, and brussels sprouts. Brussel sprouts and kale react to frost by producing sugars, which make these vegetables deliciously sweet. Leeks, beets, rutabaga, carrots, and parsnips also sweeten up after a frost. Many cool weather vegetables can be planted in spring and again in late summer to enjoy two harvests.
Most fruits, berries and and many herbs are perennial and can be enjoyed year and year. Fruits typically are produced on midsized flowering trees. Berries tend to be found on small to mid-sized woody shrubs or vines. Hardy herbs are herbaceous, meaning they die back to the ground in the winter. Examples of hardy herbs are Sage, English Thyme, Lavender, Mint, Chives, Oregano and select Rosemary.
For a great harvest you’ll want to give your plants a healthy, nourishing home. It all starts with the soil. In the St. Louis area most of us are dealing with clay soil. Although loaded with nutrients, it is too dense for roots to easily grow. Adding compost, manure, or other organic matter will loosen the soil, allowing the roots to thrive. Add enough organic matter to get your soil to a chocolate cake-like consistency: your soil should stay together if squeezed, but crumble when disturbed. Ideally, you should be able to dig a hole with your hand, not that you would want to.
Compost should be added every year. We like Cotton Bur Compost, it is lightweight and easy to use. It also can be used as a mulch, enriching your soil as it holds in water and helps keep weeds out.
Many edible plants can also be grown in containers. Plant in a good, well draining potting soil.
Most edible plants are hungry eaters and many benefit from an application of fertilizer. Apply a fertilizer that contains these three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. For a safe, organic fertilizer we recommend Garden-Tone, or Starter Plus Bio-Tone. Carefully formulated for outstanding results, they contain Bio-tone, a blend of beneficial microbes. Bio-tone biologically enhances this natural plant food to ensure superior plant growth. These fertilizers are granular that you will sprinkle in your soil. Always follow package directions.
An additional application of liquid fertilizer when planting will get your baby plants off to a booming start, encouraging early growth. We use Miracle-Gro.
Edible gardens can strip the soil of fertility and should have a maintenance fertilizer applied every year.
Planting and Care
Cool weather vegetables starts can be planted around 1st or 2nd week of March, when the extreme cold of winter has passed. These can tolerate a light frost, but they can always be covered with a blanket or sheet if the weather dips too far, below about 25 degrees. Warm weather veggie and herbs should not be planted until frost danger has passed, usually late April or early May. Trees and shrubs can be planted just about any time so long as the ground isn’t saturated. Mulch around the base of trees and shrubs after planting. Keep much a few inches away from the trunks.
Keep your plants well watered, giving them 1-2″ of water per week. The hotter the weather, the more water the vegetables need. For best results water deeply which encourages the roots to grow deep. Frequent, shallow watering results in roots growing only at the surface of the soil, allowing the plants to dry out easily. Hardy plants will require regular watering through the first 3 years, especially during the hot summer month.