The weather is warming up and it’s time to start thinking about what to plant the summer vegetable garden. Pioneer Dad’s best site is the front patio where it gets 6-7 hours of direct sunlight. There is only a small vegetable planting space. With just over 60 sq. ft. available, it requires some careful planning to maximize the garden area. I use a modified French intensive planting technique where I mix vegetables with flowers for color and to confuse garden pests.
1. Urban garden soil
Garden soil needs to be in good condition. Plants rely on the soil for supplying water, air and nutrients to the roots. Soil needs to drain well and be easy to work without becoming sticky when wet or crusted when dry.
If the garden soil needs work, incorporate a 2- to 4- inch layer of compost and manure to a depth of at least 10 inches. If using manure, incorporate that into the garden at least 2 to 4 weeks before planting begins to allow an adequate time for decomposition.
Top the garden soil off with a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch or organic matter. Popular materials are compost, wood chips, grass clippings, rice hulls, bark, sawdust, leaves or other similar materials. Mulch will decrease the evaporation from the soil by 70% allowing less water to be consumed in the garden.
2. Transplanting Vegetables
Starting from seeds will reduce the cost of a summer garden. But, I got a late start this year so I plan to buy pony packs or 4-inch pots of vegetables and transplant them to the garden.
Most vegetables will transplant well. The exceptions are plants with long taproots such as carrots, parsley, potatoes, corn and cilantro. These should be sown directly into the garden.
To transplant vegetables except tomatoes: Handle seedlings by their leaves, not their delicate stems. Transplant seedlings at the same depth as in their containers.
For tomatoes: Pinch off all but the top several leaves of the plant. Dig a hole deep enough to plant the tomato up to its top leaves. Plants will develop roots all along their stems.
For all vegetables including tomatoes: Dig a hole at least 2-inches wider and deeper than the root ball. Gently loosen the outer soil and roots on the root ball to stimulate new growth. Firm the soil gently around the plant.
Water 3 times to fully saturate the root ball and surrounding soil. Provide shade against late afternoon sun for the first a week. Water every other day for the first week. Then water plants once or twice a week as needed.
Fertilize with a mild, water-soluble fertilizer such as fish emulsion every two weeks.
3. What to plant for a small summer garden
Urban gardeners with smaller spaces will want to plant mostly vertical growing vegetables (avoid watermelons and pumpkins).
Plan you garden space with taller plants in back (or to the North) so they don’t block the sunlight for other shorter plants. My vegetable garden will include: Beans, Beets, Cucumber, Garlic, Eggplant, Onions, Shallots, Summer Squash and Tomatoes.
If room permits here are several other summer plants to consider: carrots, celery, chard, corn, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces (except iceberg), green onions, parsley, peanuts, potatoes, radishes, spinach, strawberries and turnips.
Herbs to start from seeds: anise, basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, oregano, parsley and savory.
4. Watering the garden
The best time to water is before mid-morning. This will avoid water waste through evaporation. The plant foliage will dry before sunset and help avoid disease development.
Deep and infrequent watering is important. Water until just to the point of runoff. Creating wide watering basins will help guide water to plant roots. Established plants should be watered once or twice a week as needed.