The Island Garden
Last week, we looked at starting a vegetable garden in a 4- by 12- foot area and got as far as planting the first crops. At the back of the bed, we have peas, spinach, and lettuce growing. If you pick these vegetables carefully, by mid to late May you will have eliminated the spinach and lettuce in the bed, leaving open space directly in front of the peas. By this time, the weather is warm enough to plant out your tomato, pepper, and eggplants. You have enough space for two plants of each kind in a 12- foot row. They won’t set fruit until nighttime temperatures are over 55 degrees, but you need to get them growing early. Do not fertilize the tomato, eggplant, and pepper area with high nitrogen fertilizer. All it does is make the plants grow large and green. You need high potash fertilizer for these plants. When the tomatoes grow larger, the peas will be gone, so you’ll have lots more space to trellis the tomatoes. In front of the tomatoes set a row of basil or rows of carrots, bush beans, scallions, regular onion sets, and other vegetables that you like. Plant the rows about 6 to 12 inches apart for the entire length of the bed. Of course, you won’t have enough space for everything you want, so you’ll start another bed, and so it goes with gardening.
All you need do now is to keep the bed weeded or put an organic mulch on it of chopped leaves, untreated lawn clippings or even shredded paper. Keep your tomatoes watered reasonably well. Tomatoes that get an inconsistent water supply often develop blossom end rot and are inedible.
Of course, if you want to grow squash, or vegetables such as asparagus, you’ll have to develop a little more space. Herbs are always nice to grow and given the cost of the tiny packets of dried and wellaged herbs in stores, you may want to grow your own. I routinely dry a half-pound or more of oregano, sage, dill, thyme, and other herbs from one season of growing and they taste so much better and fresher than store bought.
Squash is divided into two categories; winter and summer squash. Summer squash are zucchini, yellow crookneck, and other soft squashes. Winter squash are pumpkins, butternut, acorn, and are generally hard-skinned. After it has ripened, winter squash can be stored in a cool dark place, and you can enjoy it well after the gardening season has ended.
To grow summer squash, simply plant seeds in a well-fertilized area and keep them watered. In a few days, the seeds will germinate, and you’ll be on your way to have a plethora of summer squash. A single zucchini plant will give you enough squash to last all summer, so you really don’t need to plant a six-pack of plants.
Winter squash is a slightly different matter. Winter squash love fertilizer. In fact, the best squash beds are often mounds of wellrotted horse manure. But unlike summer squash, the winter varieties spread everywhere on long stems. I have found pumpkins 35 feet away from where the seed was planted. If you want to grow large pumpkins, plant in well-rotted manure and when your pumpkin appears and starts to develop cut the remainder of the stem from the pumpkin and feed with a water/ fertilizer mix every night. One hundred- to 200-pound pumpkins are not difficult to grow, but then you have to figure out what to do with them.
Growing asparagus is a longterm job. You’ll first need to prepare the beds. Dig them out to a depth of about 2 feet and lay in about a foot of well- rotted manure mixed with about 50 percent soil. Purchase one-year-old crowns and set them about 2 feet apart. Cover with a manure/soil mixture, mulch the area, and water well. To let the plants get established, do not harvest any asparagus for the first year. The second year harvest about one-third of the spears that come up. The third year you can harvest about 60 percent, and the fourth year harvest all you want until about July, when the plant should be left to grow asparagus ferns to store nutrients for the following year. A good asparagus bed should last about 15 to 20 years and reward you with fresh spears every year if you harvest only until early July.
Next week we’ll look at growing a few herbs.