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Square foot raised beds with "A" frame. Photo by Jano Nightingale
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Jano’s Garden: It is the time to plant vegetables

It is the time to plant vegetables

Tomatoes, lettuce and zucchini, oh boy! Now is the time to walk down the yellow brick road to your backyard or patio. In the last column of Jano’s Garden, I talked about how to build a raised bed, and now it is time to fill them with nourishing crops.

The best advice for all gardeners, whether you are a small family of two or a larger group, is to take a casual survey. What do you really like to eat and what is your style of cooking? If you have a family whose mainstay is meat and potatoes, then exotic vegetables may not fit their fancy. On the other hand, if you have vegetable lovers, then explore some easy to grow varieties such as zucchini, bok choy, Napa cabbage, peppers, tomatoes or mizuma for example.

Make a diagram

Last summer we planted butternut squash and the vines extended to over 10 feet down the bank of our yard. Luckily, we had the space, but if you want to grow winter squash, cucumber and melons you need to give them plenty of room to sprawl their vines and fruit.

To begin your garden plan, invest in a pad of graph paper, a ruler and good pencil with eraser. Think of this exercise as if you are playing a large game of Tic Tac Toe. If you plan on having a 4-foot-by-8-foot raised bed, you will be dividing your graph paper into 32 squares of one square foot each. Then, when you transpose this grid to the outdoor raised bed, you can use bamboo stakes and twine to help measure the squares. There are also interactive square foot guides available from the “Gardener’s Supply Company” website – “The Kitchen Garden Planner.” The original “Square Foot Gardening Guide,” by Mel Bartholomew is also available online.

As you continue developing your plan, one might start with two tomatoes and two peppers at the center of the grid — each using 1 square foot. For the beginning gardener it is advisable to start with seedlings purchased from a nursery. Following the squares on either side of the tomatoes, you can fit a block of greens or small root crops such as carrots, beets and radishes from seed. Then extending to the outside edge of the grid, you will place all the crops that need room to grow laterally. These include seedlings of pumpkin, winter squash, cucumber and any type of melon.

All of these crops have stems that can grow from 5 to 10 feet when given the chance hence placing them around the edges. If you have room for a second bed, you can start the process again, this time placing root crops and brassica parallel to the tomatoes at the center. The brassica family includes seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and Chinese greens. In your second bed, the last row could also include pole beans and any variety of peas that could climb on a lattice fence, which should be planted from seed. You can also use 3-foot bamboo garden stakes to form a triangle in place of a lattice fence.

Remember your zone and weather

In North County, the spring/summer growing season begins in March and April and continues through September. A complete schedule for planting crops is available from the Master Gardener site at www.cesandiego.ucdavis.edu. Although many nurseries might offer warm-season vegetables now, it is necessary to wait until the weather is warmer in late March and April to buy them or they will not be successful.

The Master Gardener website recommended the cool weather tomato varieties — Oregon spring, Siberian, sungold, and early girl — which are well-suited to North County. Be sure to check crop schedules before visiting the nurseries and ask questions when you are there.

My final advice would be to keep a journal! Those first rough drawings on your graph paper will give you a record to look back on for years to come. After 15 years of planning and planting vegetable gardens, I still make mistakes and I make notes to myself. Last year it was, “Give the butternut squash room to grow!”

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