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Starting a Successful Vegetable Garden. Subtitle Jon Traunfeld- Why do people grow vegetables?. Flavor, freshness, pesticide-free Save money; learn new skills Health benefits exercise, nutrition, phytochemicals Connection to nature and family traditions

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Starting a Successful Vegetable Garden


Jon Traunfeld-

Why do people grow vegetables?

  • Flavor, freshness, pesticide-free

  • Save money; learn new skills

  • Health benefits

    exercise, nutrition, phytochemicals

  • Connection to nature and family traditions

  • Introduce youth to gardening


Join the Grow it Eat it Network!

  • A new campaign brought to you by Maryland Master Gardeners and the Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC)

  • Goals:

    • teach people how to grow food

    • increase the number of Maryland food gardeners

    • create a network of food gardeners who will keep learning and sharing through classes, workshops, events, web site, blog

We teach a common-sense, ecological approach

  • Rely on locally available materials and resources- (rocks, leaves, animal manure).

  • Feed the soil (with organic matter) to increase garden productivity.

  • Maximize biological and genetic diversity to strengthen your garden eco-system.

    • Example: Plant an assortment of annual flowers and herbs to attract and feed beneficial insects.

Ingredients for first year success

Good, deep soil; add organic matter.

Give your plants the nutrients, water, and sunlight they need.

Prevent weeds from growing.

Make a plan; give it a little time each day

Observe and take notes


What type of vegetable garden?

  • In-ground- convert turfgrass to vegetables

  • Containers- on back step, deck, or balcony or along driveway

  • Edible landscape- pepper, cabbage, Swiss chard, etc. mixed into ornamental beds

  • Combination of the first three

Vegetable crops

  • 5-10 plant families may be represented in the average garden (almost all of our vegetable crops are non-native- not even from North America!)

  • Most are annuals with a life cycle somewhere between 25 days (radish, baby greens) to 110 days (big pumpkins.)

  • Require good growing conditions to produce high yields.

  • Can be incorporated into ornamental landscape.

Making a plan

  • Good planning will save you time, work, and $

  • Garden size; how big?- consider time, space, mouths to feed, motivation

    • Always best to start small

  • What should I grow

    • Easy crops

    • What your family will eat

7 good crops for starters…

  • Tomato- productive and popular

  • Pepper- slow-growing but worth the wait

  • Cucumber- make them climb to save space

  • Summer squash- feed the neighborhood!

  • Bush bean- plant them twice

  • Lettuce- grow best March-June and Sept.-Nov.

  • Leafy greens- mustard, kale, collards, Asian greens, and Swiss chard (grows during hot weather)

Sample 8 ft. X 8 ft. garden

  • Two raised beds- 8 ft. X 3 ft. with a 2 ft. path in the middle

  • Time: late May

  • Both beds could have been planted in salad greens from April 1 through mid-May

row of bush beans

1 squash plant

3 tomato plants

3 pepper plants

Swiss chard and kale

leaf lettuce

8 ft.

2 cuke plants

3 ft.

Can I really save $?

  • Yes, but have you heard the one about the $100 tomato?

  • Only buy what you really need; be resourceful

  • An 8 ft. X 8 ft. garden with 48 sq. ft. of growing space should produce $175-300 of fresh produce

Picking a site

  • Level ground; close to water source.

  • Southern exposure; tallest plants on North side.

  • Protection from critters.

Digging and aerating tools

Soil prep

Kill sod and control weeds-

  • Cover area with newspaper or cardboard, and cover with leaves, and compost OR

  • Dig up the area by hand or with a tiller

Soil prep

Slicing off sod

Loosening subsoil

Turning soil

Sheet compost your way to a vegetable garden

You need “good soil”

  • Well-drained

  • Friable- deep, crumbly; allows for maximum root growth.

  • Regular additions of organic matter will improve soil structure and create a reservoir of slow-release nutrients.

  • Test your soil; 6.0-6.8 is preferred range for soil pH.

  • Urban/suburban soils are often low quality soils

Ways to add organic matter

  • Farmyard manure

  • Compost

  • Shredded leaves and grass clippings

  • Organic mulches

  • Plant roots

  • Cover crops

  • Large amounts of organic matter may be needed for several years.

  • Thereafter, 1 in. of compost will help maintain high yields.

Cover crops improve and protect soils

  • Increase soil organic matter.

  • Mine the soil for nutrients.

  • Protect soil from erosion.

Raised beds

some advantages…

  • Warm up quickly in spring.

  • Drain well; less compaction and erosion.

  • Increase available rooting area.

  • Can produce greater food production per square foot.

    and some disadvantages…

  • Up-front labor and expense.

  • Dry out quickly if weather is hot and dry.

  • Don’t work on slopes, unless terraced.

2-4 ft. wide; usually 6”-8”

above grade; can be bordered

with wood, stone, brick

Raised bed basics

“Instant” raised bed filled with a purchased soil/compost mix

Good info on most seed packets

Growing healthy transplants

Intensive gardening: getting the most per square foot

  • Close planting

  • Vertical growth

  • Inter-planting

  • Succession/relay planting

How close is too close??

Correct spacing for big onions

Okra plants are too tight

Interplant to maximize production

purslane is edible!

Mustard greens on north side of tomatoes

Keep the harvest coming with succession planting

  • Requires planning

  • Transplants fill the space quickly

  • Special attention to water and nutrient needs

  • Floating row cover for protection from pests and excessive heat

An entire raised bed of Asian leafy greens.

Get the most from every square foot: succession planting examples

  • Garlic (11/1)-cucumbers (7/1)-oats/clover (9/20)

  • Peas/favas (3/1)-squash (6/1)-kale (9/1)

  • Lettuce (3/20)-green beans (5/15)-broccoli (8/1)

  • Radish (3/1)-Asian greens (4/15)-eggplant (6/1)-rye (9/15)

  • Cucumber (4/15)- green bean (7/1)-spinach (9/20)

Most commonly available commercial organic fertilizers

  • Fish emulsion: 6-2-2

  • Seaweed extract: 1-.5-2

  • Bloodmeal: 15-1-0

  • Cottonseed meal: 6-2.5-1.5

  • Guano: 8 to 13-8-2

  • Bone meal: 4-21-0

  • Rock phosphate: 0-22-0

  • Alfalfa meal: 3-1-2

Fertilizing tips

  • Nitrogen is nutrient most often in short supply. Use one of the “meals” (kelp, fish, cottonseed, alfalfa) to supplement N from organic matter.

  • Follow label directions.

  • Organic fertilizers can be over-applied and burn plants or stimulate excessive leaf growth at the expense of fruit.

  • Add 1 inch of compost each year to contribute to long-term nutrient reservoir.

Weed management

  • Weeds are plants that thrive in disturbed soil.

  • Best control methods:

    • crop cover

    • hand-pull

    • sharp hoe

    • mulch

  • Other methods: vinegar, flame weeder, commercial herbicidal soap.

Organic mulches

  • Prevent weed growth.

  • Moderate soil temperatures.

  • Conserve soil moisture.

  • Add to soil organic matter.

  • Should be spread after soil warms up.

  • Can provide habitat for pests along with beneficial critters.

    Examples: grass clippings, newspaper covered with straw, shredded leaves, compost

Synthetic mulches

  • Black plastic mulch warms the soil for earlier, higher yields of warm-season crops.

  • Red plastic mulch may produce higher yields of tomato than black plastic.

  • Landscape fabric warms soil and allows water and air into soil. Can be re-used.

Drip irrigation: saves time and water

Growing up: using vertical space

  • Increase yields per sq. ft.

  • Fewer fruit problems; easier to pick, water, and spray.

  • Adds complex texture to garden; enhances ecosystem (shading, micro-climates.)

Fence out the critters

Container vegetables

8 cu. ft. of growing media

Whiskey barrel- 1-2 plant capacity

EarthBox- “self-watering” container

Univ. of MD Salad Table: Growing salad greens at waist height March-November

Mixed greens cut at 1” above soil line

Univ. of MD Salad Box

Thank You!

Please take a few minutes to complete a short survey for today’s class.

Power point presentation created by:

Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist, UME


  • Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC)

    • 800-342-2507


  • Grow-It-Eat-It website


  • Master Gardener state website


This program was brought to you by

Maryland Master Gardener Program

Howard County

University of Maryland Extension

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