This is the year of the vegetable garden—from the White House to local front lawns—everyone is planting crops. However, even seasoned gardeners can have disappointments with veggies. So I asked my friend, Rose Marie Nichols McGee, owner/ president of Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Oregon, what to do about the most common edible errors. Rose Marie, who blogs at nicholsgardennursery.wordpress.com, has almost forty years of vegetable growing experience. She named the top three mistakes:
#1 – Sowing seeds too deeply. The rule here is that the soil should not cover the seed deeper than the width of the seed itself. Large seeds like corn or peas can be gently pressed into the soil to the depth of their size. Small seeds like carrots or beets should be dusted with a fine sprinkling of soil. To retain water for germination, Rose Marie creates trenches with her fingers—bigger rills for corn, or small depressions a half-inch deep for carrots. When the first green shoots appear, you can backfill the depressions, tucking soil up around the burgeoning plants.
#2 – Putting warm-season vegetables in cold soil. While peas, broccoli, cauliflower or greens are happy in cooler conditions, the traditional summer plants—beans, corn, squash, peppers and tomatoes—sulk with cold feet. In some cases, they will not even germinate until the soil warms up. My favorite tool for knowing the exact moment to plant the heat lovers—a soil thermometer. And then watch out—all the neighbors will want to borrow it.
#3 –Not thinning plantings. Pulling up hopeful plants can feel like murder—or just plain tedious. However, whether it’s trees or beets, no plant grows well fighting for nutrients, light and air. Trust the spacing suggestions on the seed packet or plant encyclopedia. According to Rose Marie, even cut-and-come-again greens should be at least an inch apart. I’ve inadvertently experimented with this—I thinned some rows and forgot others. I can tell you that ruthless thinning adds to garden bounty.
Failure in the garden is inevitable, Rose Marie assures me, so we shouldn’t take our mistakes to heart. “That’s why there are so many seeds in the pack,” she says. “You can always go back and sow again.” More importantly, follow nature’s lead and add diversity to your plantings. If the corn crop doesn’t produce, you’ve always got the squash.
RECIPE FROM ROSE MARIE:
When bok choy, broccoli, kale and mustard produce flowers, pick the blooms, wash and chop them, and pop into a hot skillet with olive oil and garlic—a yummy stir fry in a few minutes.
MK’S TIP: To keep roots undisturbed when thinning crowded plantings, gently press the soil down with one hand while pulling with the other. Or use scissors to trim off the excess plants.
Mary-Kate Mackey writes and gardens in Eugene, Oregon.