In a nod to the ubiquitous cell phone and the trend of sharing one’s life in pictures, The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013 was ‘selfie’. But there’s another word that has crept into our vocabulary that may have more relevance to gardeners: Blandscaping. What image does that one word bring to mind? A cookie cutter landscape? A rectangle of grass? Uniformly trimmed hedges lined up in a single row? I bet it doesn’t make you think of a vegetable garden! A vegetable garden is vibrant, dynamic and engaging. It is full of sights, sounds and creatures and best of all an edible harvest.
If your landscaping has become a little too bland try incorporating a few edibles or a small vegetable garden this year. Be sure to include crops that grow well in your region and start with vegetables your family likes to eat. Mid-January through February is the perfect time for planting broccoli, sugar snap peas, radishes, turnips, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce and spinach here in Central Texas. Check with the local AgriLife Extension office or Master Gardener organization in your county for the best planting dates in your area.
Get some exercise while tending your edible landscape, savor the nutritious results and you have the start to a healthy new year! If you are new to the diverse vegetable kingdom or if the thought of eating turnips, Swiss chard or radishes leaves you feeling underwhelmed, check back here for some tasty ideas for bringing these health-promoting veggies to the table. I’ll be posting some occasional suggestions for preparing the bounty from your garden – you may be surprised how delicious it can be!
There are numerous ways to include vegetables in a landscape, as you’ll see from the accompanying photographs, but there are also universal pitfalls to avoid in the process. It’s easy to get caught up in the garden frenzy of a new season but do try to start with a manageable plan. Believe me when I tell you that vegetables will respond much better when you don’t torture them with the following approach:
STARTING TOO BIG
Vegetables are living things; they may not need as much time as a pet but they do require regular attention. A garden that is too big means plants will not receive the care that is required to bring them to fruition.
PLANTING IN SHADE
Vegetables growing in the Texas heat may appreciate a little dappled shade at the height of summer but vegetables growing in the cool season need lots of sunlight to counter the cloudy and chilly days in early spring. Farms don’t grow in the shade.
PLANTING AT THE WRONG TIME
Consult a planting calendar for your area or ask an experienced gardener about planting dates. When planting in the cool season months use a soil thermometer to monitor temperature before planting. Different vegetables thrive at different temperatures and most cool season plants will do best when the soil temperature is in the 40-50° degree range.
PLANTING TOO CLOSE
Give your plants plenty of growing room so they don’t have to compete for nutrients and water. Follow spacing recommendations for transplants and if sowing from seed be sure to thin to the proper spacing after seed has germinated.
Create a checklist or purchase a gardening to-do guide and stick to it. Allow time for weeding, watering, fertilizing, inspecting and grooming plants. Remove diseased leaves and keep an eye out for harmful insects and hand-pick or spray to keep populations in check.
Remember, for most gardeners growing vegetables is an enjoyable and productive hobby…but when all else fails visit your local farmers market for a healthy dose of locally grown produce. Here’s to a happy and successful gardening year!