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4 Tips for a Successful Vegetable Garden

One of the most rewarding things I do is raise some of my own vegetables. I know where my food comes from and it gives me a sense of pride to grow something and share it with my friends.

If you are new to vegetable gardening I have some advice that will make your efforts successful.

Vegetable Garden Soil

Whether you’re working with containers, raised beds, or planting directly into the ground, you want to start with the soil. There are two key factors in how well your soil performs - pH level and texture.

The pH level of your soil is a measure of its acidity. You can measure the pH of your soil with a pH test kit sold at most garden centers. Vegetables need a soil pH between 6.2 and 6.8 (herbs prefer a pH near 7.0, which is called neutral). If your soil is too acidic, you can add wood ashes or lime. If it's too alkaline, add aluminum sulfate.

Get kids involved in vegetable gardening

Perfect soil pH is nothing without the right soil texture. Test the texture of your soil by squeezing a handful of it. Good soil will neither stay in a clump nor fall apart completely. It should just crumble. The texture of your soil can be improved by adding organic material such as humus, manure or compost.

What Vegetables to Plant When

Timing and plant selection depend on two things – your hardiness zone and the last/first frost date in your area.

A good place to start is the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map that divides up the United States based on average annual minimum temperatures.

After you find your location on this map, choose plants that are well suited for your area. The small tags found in pots of vegetables and herbs will show which zones are best suited for that specific plant.

No matter where you live, keep in mind the frost dates - the first and last dates when temperatures reach 32 degrees. Plants like broccoli, mustard greens, and parsley are considered cool season vegetables, and can tolerate a hard frost. While others like corn, cucumber and tomatoes are better suited for planting in the Spring after the threat of frost has past.

Start with Young Vegetable Plants

By starting your garden with plants that have already been grown out a little, you won't have to worry about getting seeds started and the care that's involved with that.

These are particularly nice because they come in biodegradable peat pots. Sometimes vegetables and herbs will go into shock when they're first removed from their containers. But these prevent transplant shock by keeping the roots intact from container to soil. The roots of the plant can actually grow through the container!

Vegetable plants in biodegradable pots

And planting with these couldn't be easier. Simply remove the label, and tear off the top rim of the pot. Then remove the bottom of the pot, and plant the whole thing. As the pot breaks down, it becomes part of the soil.

How Many Vegetable Plants and How Far Apart

To determine how many plants you need, first look at the size of your planting beds. Next determine the space requirements of the plants you want to grow.

Spacing is measured by the distance from the center of one plant to the center of the next. The plant tag will give you a measurement based on the specific plant, its size at maturity and its growth pattern. Following this measurement will allow the plant to thrive and cut down on pests and diseases. Once you know far apart to plant your vegetables you can calculate how many you need.