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2016 Vegetable Grower's Handbook

2017 Vegetable Grower's Handbook


Butterfly Gardening Herb Gardening Flower Gardening Shop Seeds

The work in the garden never seems to end, and often doesn’t! In this guide we’ll walk you through a year in the garden* with helpful advice to keep your vegetables growing strong year-round. Select from the Table of Contents below to get growing today!

Have questions or want to share photos of your garden? Visit us on Facebook to share and learn with our online community!

Contents:

Checklist for the Perfect Garden

There is nothing nicer than harvesting your own produce. Healthy fresh vegetables picked straight from your plot retain considerably more of the nutrients that are often lost in transport and storage. Furthermore, a comparatively small investment in seeds and fertilizer added to a little diligent elbow grease can save you hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of dollars off your grocery bill. Starting and maintaining your own garden is easy and fun.

With Southern States, you’ll have everything you need to enjoy fresh produce from your own garden. Start with the check list below to begin planning your garden!

  • Start planning your garden in January
  • Choose a well-drained, sunny location with sandy loam soil
  • Test soil (see store for more information)
  • Apply lime and fertilizer in accordance with soil test results
  • Choose your vegetables
  • Start seeds indoors to maximize growing season
  • Till the garden
  • Mark off rows
  • Plant the seeds
  • Vine-ripened tomatoes
  • Water the seeds
  • Thin your plants and begin weeding
  • Check for disease and pests for immediate control
  • Apply additional fertilizer
  • Support plants like tomatoes as they grow
  • Preservation-canning and freezing

Plan Your Garden

To start planning your garden, you should determine the plant hardiness zone in which your garden is located. In the U.S. there are 11 plant hardiness zones as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which are also known as growing or climate zones. There is no hard and fast rule that says that one species of plant will necessarily flourish or fail outside of its hardiness zone, and it may often be worth an experiment to go a zone either way now and again. However, the plant hardiness zones are considered to be fairly reliable guidelines. Reference your local extension service about planting in your zone. Print out our gardening grid to assist in planning your garden.

Fresh Asparagus

Starting Seeds Indoors

Start a garden early by sowing seeds in containers indoors. Any container that drains well can be used, but many gardeners prefer peat pots or pellets placed in flats or plastic flats with many sections that are sold specifically for the purpose. Either way many valuable advantages will be gained from growing your own plants from seeds. Growing conditions can be controlled, creating plants that are healthier and more robust.

Potting media is important. It can be created by mixing sand, organic compost, fertilizer and sterilized topsoil, or purchasing the commercially prepared varieties. The growing medium should be free of contaminants and drain well, but should have adequate water holding capacity to provide enough water to the roots of plants.

Before planting seeds, fill pots with soil and water well the day before, allowing for overnight drainage. Follow the directions on page 12 for planting depth and distance apart. A good rule of thumb is to plant seeds no closer together than an inch apart. Place a water tight tray under pots and water them from the bottom to avoid damaging new seedlings. Keep about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the tray at all times.

Fresh Vegetables

Place pots near a window facing south or southwest. If it is late winter hang coolwhite fluorescent plant lights 2 inches above the tops of the plants and raise them as the plants grow. If plants do not have to stretch up to get enough light, their stems will be stronger and will be better able to support heavy fruits and leaves later on in the season. Plants require 12 to 14 hours of light per day.

Cooler temperatures at night will make your seedlings more robust, so maintain at 60° F or below once it’s dark. During the day, maintain temperatures between 70° F and 75° F. Most vegetable seeds will germinate in that range, but peppers, cabbages and tomatoes will germinate faster if kept toward the higher end of the range. To increase heat, use a heating pad on its lowest setting under the tray the pots are in, but be sure to turn off at night.

Thin your seedlings when they are about an inch tall and each have 1 pair of leaves. Use tweezers or small scissors to clip them off at the surface of the soil. This will avoid damaging the seedlings you want to keep. Thin them so that there are no more than 3 strong seedlings per 2 inch pot.

Once plants have formed their first true leaf, fertilize them at each watering with a water soluble plant food that has been mixed with double the amount of water normally used.

Fungi and Insects

Sometimes, soil borne fungi can cause a problem called “damping off”. This occurs when the seedlings get dark at the soil line, fall over and die. If this happens, your soil wasn’t sterile. Always use sterile potting soil for starting seeds. Letting the surface of the soil dry out in between waterings can help prevent this problem also.

If insects should happen to infest your seedlings, a pesticide or insecticidal soap may be sprayed on them, but be sure to follow package directions for seedlings, not full grown plants, or you may damage leaves.

Before transplanting seedlings to the garden, prepare them for the harsher environment by a process called “hardening off”. Reduce the light intensity and the temperature. Leave a longer period of time in between waterings. The easiest way to harden seedlings is to set them outside everyday when the weather is mild for the 2 or 3 weeks prior to transplanting. Water them only when the surface of the soil dries out. Bring them in at night if frost is expected. Make sure they are always protected from strong winds. Another way to harden off seedlings is to put them in a cold frame for a week or two.

Sustainable Vegetable Gardening

Summer brings with it ripe red, juicy tomatoes, crispy bell peppers and bright yellow squash - just to name a few of the many fresh fruits and veggies on display at Saturday-morning farmer’s markets. But if you’re a sun (or dirt) lover with a green thumb, all these vegetables can just as easily be had by walking into your own back yard.

For sustainable-minded growers, there are only a few considerations when planting a vegetable garden. Where are you going to plant it, how are you going to keep it fertilized and watered and how will you keep your plants pest-free? If you take a moment in the spring to plan your garden and to answer a few questions about how you want to use it, you’ll reap plentiful benefits later in the summer.

Fresh Sage

Garden Site Selection

Start with picking the perfect spot for your garden and planning the ideal shape. The typical vegetable garden that comes to mind has evenly tilled, perfectly straight rows. But yours can take on a shape and personality of its own. Walk out to your yard, and look for a flat, sunny area with good drainage. Try establishing the shape by laying out a hose before you start to dig. Remember that your vegetables will want sun and water, so you’re looking for a spot where rain water will have time to seep in, rather than running off and stripping the soil of its nutrients.

Once you find your perfect spot for your vegetable garden, it’s time to check your local laws and ordinances. In most areas, it’s the law to have all utility lines for natural gas, water mains and buried electrical cables in the area marked by the utility companies before you dig. Doing so could possibly save your life, and at the least, will help you avoid expensive repairs and fines. Use the state-specific Call Before You Dig resource to find information for digging in your area.

Garden Composting

Before you till your garden, remove all the grass and weeds, and fill the ground with compost-rich dirt. This is important for sustainable gardening. If you don’t have a compost pile now, go ahead and start one - maybe in the back corner of your yard. Start saving kitchen scraps like coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels, table scraps like leftover pasta or uneaten bread, grass clippings and raked leaves. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the reduction in your garbage, and by next year, you’ll have rich, black compost to till into your garden.

Harvesting

Companion Planting With Garden Flowers

When you’re ready to plant your vegetable seed, consider companion planting, a concept that involves placing beneficial plants (the kind that attract helpful insects) in close proximity to your vegetables. Not only will you add color and fragrance to your garden, you’ll help control pesky insects.

One of the most common companion pairs is marigolds with tomatoes, but recent studies at NC State University have discovered there are even more effective pairings. For example, tansy, a vigorous spreading perennial, provides homes for the largest variety of insects. Yarrow is another beneficial variety that attracts lady beetles, parasitic wasps and bees.

Beating Garden Weeds

Now that your vegetable seeds are in the ground, it’s time for a thin layer of finely chopped mulch. Mulch is inexpensive (found at almost all local garden shops) and goes a long way in saving water later in the summer. Rain water soaks gently into the mulch and is slowly distributed, keeping plants from quickly drying out on hot summer days. It also gives your plants a head start against weeds in your garden.

There are other sustainable strategies for keeping your garden weed-free. The first, perhaps geared more toward tidy Type-A gardeners, is to weed to your heart’s content. The second strategy is even easier: For the first few weeks, keep the weeds at bay, giving little seedlings time to pop up and gain some ground. Once your plants have established themselves as healthy growers, regular weeding isn’t as important.

Rain Barrel collecting water for plant watering

Your lawn mower can also help; before you plant your garden, be sure to mow around it and keep mowing regularly to prevent nearby weeds from spreading. Remember: According to specialists at NC State, mowing weedy areas for the first time after the crop emerges may encourage pest migration onto your vegetable plants. So if you’ve let the nearby grass get a little too high, it may be better to just let it grow freely until autumn when you’ve had your fill of garden veggies.

Efficient Garden Watering

Water is a primary issue for sustainable gardeners - one reason why mulching is so important. There are lots of other ways to conserve water in the summer. One is to collect rain water off your rooftop in rain barrels and use it to water your garden. Another source may be gathering water from your dehumidifiers, or even collecting shower water while you’re waiting for the water to heat.

It’s best to water your garden in the morning instead of the heat of the day. And water with the most direct method possible - using a drip hose or by hand. Sprinklers aren’t as effective, as a significant percentage of the water evaporates before it ever makes it to your plants.

Sustainable Gardening: Season After Season

After you’ve harvested all your vegetables, it’s an ideal time to prepare and enhance your bed for next summer’s garden. Many successful sustainable gardeners grow cover crops through the fall and winter to protect and improve the soil. Cover crops decrease soil erosion, control weeds, add organic matter and break disease cycles. Their roots penetrate the soil reducing soil compaction, improving soil tilth and increasing water infiltration.

Garden Blanket Mixture

The Garden Blanket Mixture is an excellent cover crop for gardens or bare areas utilizing a combination of wheat and pre-inoculated crimson clover. Garden Blanket provides all the benefits mentioned above and also fixes nitrogen which will be available for your next garden crop. DO NOT USE for lawns. Maximum benefit is obtained when Garden Blanket is planted in late fall/early winter. A 3 lb. bag will cover 3,000 square feet at a planting rate of 1 lb. per 1,000 square feet. The seed is coated orange for ease of application. Please be sure to till maturing plants under in early spring before excessive growth occurs to allow ample time for decomposition.

Home Canning

Select the freshest fruits and vegetables to achieve the highest quality product. Wash the produce thoroughly in small batches under running water or through several changes of water. Be sure to remove all particles of garden soil to remove any disease-causing bacteria that may be present. Cutting, peeling or coring should be done quickly to minimize the time produce is left sitting.

Inspect each jar for cracks and chips. Wash the jars thoroughly in hot soapy water, and rinse. Place them in a deep pot and pour boiling water over them. Leave them standing in the hot water until the moment you are ready to fill each one.

There are two methods which may be used to fill your jars: raw pack and hot pack. Raw packing is the method of packing raw food into jars and then adding a boiling liquid to the desired depth, usually a pickling syrup, water or fruit juice. Hot packing is the practice of partially cooking the food before placing it into the jars.

Home Canning Jars

Water Bath Canning

This method is recommended for all pickles, relishes, most fruits and vegetables with a high acid content such as tomatoes, pimentos and sauerkraut. Either packing method may be used when filling jars.

Pressure Canning

This canning method is absolutely necessary for foods with a high starch or low acid content. Corn, peas, potatoes, beans, beets, most garden vegetables and greens, and all meats and poultry fall under this method. This is the only method that will destroy botulism in low acid foods. If the canner has a pressure gauge instead of a weight, you may want to contact your county extension agent about having it tested for accuracy. If it is more than 5 pounds off, it should be replaced.

Learn more about home canning.

When to Plant

Knowing when to plant is critical to a successful garden. This chart indicates the optimum month to plant each variety, based on the upper south climate zone. For planting times in other climate zones, contact your local Southern States® dealer.

JANUARY JULY
Soil Test
Beans, Bush Carrots Salsify
Beets Cauliflower Tomatoes
Broccoli Celery Turnips
Brussels Sprouts Collards  
Cabbage Corn  
FEBRUARY AUGUST

Asparagus

Peas

Beans, Bush Radishes
Beets Spinach
Kale Turnips
Lettuce  
Mustard  
MARCH SEPTEMBER
Asparagus Kale Potatoes
Beets Lettuce Radishes
Brussels Sprouts Mustard Rhubarb
Cabbage Onions Spinach
Carrots Parsley Swiss Chard
Collards Parsnips Turnips
Kale (Spring) Peas  
Kale
Winter Onions
Radishes
Spinach
APRIL OCTOBER
Beans, Bush Cabbage Lettuce Radishes
Beans, Pole Cantaloupe Mustard Rhubarb
Blackeye Edible Peas Carrots Onions Spinach
Beets Cauliflower Parsley Squash (Summer)
Broccoli Collards Parsnips Squash (Winter)
Brussels Sprouts Corn Peas Swiss Chard
  Kale (Spring) Potatoes Turnips
Asparagus
Winter Onions
Rutabaga
MAY NOVEMBER
Beans, Bush Corn Peppers Tomatoes
Beans, Bush Lima Cucumbers
Potatoes Turnips
Beans, Pole Lima Eggplant Pumpkins Watermelons
Blackeye Edible Peas Kale (Spring) Radishes
Beets Lettuce
Squash (Summer)
Cantaloupe Okra Squash (Winter)
Carrots Peas
Sweet Potatoes  
Asparagus
Winter Onions
Rutabaga
JUNE DECEMBER
Beans, Bush Cucumbers Sweet Potatoes
Beets Eggplant Tomatoes
Carrots Okra Turnips
Collards Salsify Watermelons
Corn Squash (Summer)  
Soil Test

How to Plant

Use the chart below to determine how much seed to buy for your garden. Also listed are optimum planting dates, based on the upper south climate zone. For planting times in other climate zones, contact your local Southern States dealer.


Vegetable
type
Seed for 100
feet of row
(sufficient for replanting
or multiple plantings.)
Planting
time
Distance in ft. between rows
(garden tractor cultivation)
Distance in ft. between rows
(hand cultivation)
Distance
in inches
between plants
or hills in row
Asparagus 66 plants Feb. and Mar. or Oct. and Nov. 4-5 3-4 18
Beans, Bush 1 to 2 lbs. April to August 3 2 3-6
Beans, Pole 1/2 lb. April to May 4 4 36-48
Beans, Bush Lima 1 lb. May 3-3 1/2 2-2 1/2 12-18
Beans, Pole Lima 1/2 lb. May 4 4 36-48
Blackeye Edible Peas 1 lb. April to May 3 3 3-6
Beets 2 oz. March to August 2 1/2 -3 1-2 4-6
Broccoli 66 plants April and July 2 1/2 -3 2-3 18
Brussels Sprouts 66 plants March and April, July 2 1/2 -3 2-3 15-18
Cabbage 50 to 66 plants Early Mar. & Apr., late July 3 2-2 1/2 18
Cantaloupe 1 oz. April and May 5 3-4 36-48
Carrots 1 oz. March to July 2 1/2 -3 1-2 3-4
Cauliflower 66 plants Set plants in April & July 3 2-2 1/2 18
Celery 120 to 150 plants Set plants in July 3 1 1/2 -2 8-10
Collards 1 oz. March & April; June & July 3 2-3 18-24
Corn 2 oz. April to July 3 2-3 8-9
Cucumbers 1/2 oz. May and June 5 3-4 36-48
Eggplant 50 plants May and June 3 2-3 24
Kale (Spring) 1 to 2 oz. March to May 3 1 1/2 -2 8-10
Kale 1 to 2 oz. March, August & September 3 1 1/2 -2 1/2 12-18
Lettuce 1/4 oz. Early Mar. to May; late Aug. 2-3 1 1/2 8-10
Mustard 1 oz. Early Mar. & Apr.; late Aug. 2-3 1-2 4-6
Okra 1 oz. May and June 3 2-3 18-24
Onions 1 to 2 lbs. March and April 2-3 1-2 3-4
Winter Onions 2 to 3 lbs. Sept., Oct., and Nov. 3 1 1/2 -2 4-6
Parsley 1 oz. March and April 2 1-1 1/2 4-6
Parsnips 1/2 to 1 oz. March and April 2 1/2 -3 1 1/2 -2 4-5
Peas 1 to 2 lbs. February to May 3 2-3 1-3
Peppers 66 plants May 3 2-3 18
Potatoes 1/2 peck March to May 3 2 1/2 -3 12
Pumpkins 1/2 oz. May 6 4 48
Radishes 1 oz. Early Mar. to May; late Aug., Sept. 2-3 1-1 1/2 2-3
Rhubarb 25 to 30 roots Early March & April 4 4 36-48
Rutabaga 1 oz. Late October & November 2 1/2 -3 2-3 4-6
Salsify 2 oz. June and July 2 1/2 -3 1-2 4-5
Spinach 1 to 2 oz. Early Mar. & April; late Aug., Sept. 2-3 1 1/2 -2 4-8
Squash (Summer) 1/2 oz. April to June 5 3-5 36-60
Squash (Winter) 1 oz. April and May 5 3-5 36-60
Sweet Potatoes 66 to 100 plants May and June 3-4 3 12-18
Swiss Chard 2 oz. March and April 3 1 1/2 -2 6-8
Tomatoes 33 to 40 plants Early May & June; late July 3-5 2 1/2 -3 30-36
Turnips 1 oz. March to August 2 1/2 -3 1 1/2 -2 4-6
Watermelons 1/2 oz. May and June 6 4-5 36-72

When to Harvest

To get the best taste, texture and cooking quality, vegetables should be harvested at optimum maturity. This chart indicates the best stage of growth to harvest. Another aid to planning a successful garden is the “Days to Maturity” date printed on each seed package and in this guide. This is based on normal growing conditions and will indicate how many days until the plant reaches optimum maturity.

Vegetable Part Eaten Too Early Optimum Maturity Too Late
Artichoke, Globe Immature bloom Small flower buds When buds are 2" to 4" in diameter Large buds with loose scales or bracts
Asparagus Stem Insufficient length 6" to 8" long; no fiber Excess woody fiber in the stem
Beans, Lima Seed Insufficient bean size Bright green puffy pod; large seed Yellow pods
Beans, Pole Green Pod and seed Insufficient size Bean cavity full; seed ¼ grown Large seed; fibrous pods
Beans, Snap Bush Pod and seed Insufficient size Turgid pods; seeds just visible Fibrous pods; large seed
Beets Root and leaves Insufficient size Roots 2" to 3" in diameter Pithy roots; strong taste
Broccoli Immature bloom Insufficient size Bright green color;
bloom still tightly closed
Loose head;
some blooms beginning to show
Brussels Sprouts Head Insufficient size;
hard to harvest
Bright green; tight head Loose head;
color changes to green-yellow
Cabbage Head Insufficient leaf cover Heads firm; leaf tight Loose leaf; heads cracked open
Cantaloupes Fruit Stem does not want to separate from fruit Stem breaks away easily
and cleanly when pulled
Yellow background color; soft rind
Carrots Root Insufficient size ½" to ¾" at shoulder Strong taste; oversweet
Cauliflower Immature bloom Head not developed Compact head; fairly smooth Curds open; separate
Celery Stems Stem too small Plant stands 12" to 15" tall; medium-thick stem Seed stalk formed; bitterness
Collards Leaf Insufficient leaf size Bright green color; small midrib Large midrib; fibrous
Corn, Sweet Grain Grain watery; small Grain plump; liquid in milk stage Grain starting to dent;
liquid in dough stage
Cucumber Fruit Insufficient size Dark green skin; soft seeds Skin beginning to yellow; hard seeds
Eggplant Fruit Insufficient size High glossy skin;
side springs back when mashed
Brown seeds;
side will not spring back when mashed
Lettuce, Head Leaves Head not fully formed Fairly firm; good size Heads very hard
Okra Pod Insufficient size 2" to 3" long; still tender Fiber development; tough pods
Onions, Dry Bulb Tops all green Tops yellow; ¾ fallen over All tops down; bulb rot started
Peas, English Seed Peas immature and too small to shell Peas small to medium;
sweet bright green
Yellow pods; large peas
Peas, Southern (green) Seed and pod Peas immature and too small to shell Seeds fully developed but still soft;
soft pods
Hard seeds; dry pods
Pepper, Pimiento Pod Insufficient size Bright red and firm Shriveled pod
Pepper, Red Bell Pod Chocolate-colored pods Bright red and firm Shriveled pod
Potato, Irish Tuber Insufficient size When tops begin to die back Damaged by freezing weather
Potato, Sweet Root Small size; immature Most roots 2" to 3" in diameter Early plantings get too large and crack; damaged by soil temperature below 50°F
Rhubarb Stem Small size; immature Stem 8" to 15" long is best Fleshy stem becomes fibrous
Soybeans Seed Seeds not developed Thick pods; bright green Dry pods; seed shatters out
Squash, Summer Fruit Insufficient size Rind can be penetrated with thumbnail Penetrating with thumbnail is difficult;
large seed
Squash, Winter Fruit Soft rind Rind difficult to penetrate
with thumbnail
Damaged by frost
Tomatoes Fruit May be harvested in three stages:

Mature green – tomato is firm and mature, color changes from green to light green, no pink color showing on blossom end. These tomatoes will store one to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Pink – pink color about the size of a dime on the blossom end. At room temperature, these tomatoes will ripen in about three days.

Ripe – tomato is full red but still firm. Should be used immediately.
Watermelon Fruit Green flesh; green stem is difficult to separate Melon surface next to the ground
turns from a light straw color
to a richer yellow
Top surface has a dull look

*Disclaimer: This guide contains recommendations for the mid-atlantic and south eastern regions of the United States. Climate and dates may vary per year. Be sure to verify weather conditions for your area. A climate zone map can typically be found at your local county extension office. You can also contact your local Southern States for advice and information on growing your garden.

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