It is time to start planning your vegetable gardens, if you have not already started. Phil Case, Extension Master Gardener and Planter By The Signs expert, has given us good advice about gardening in his column during the winter months.
Although we have had a warmer winter than normal, with some exceptionally warm days this past week, it is still too early for most crops to go into the ground. The exception would be if you are using hoop houses, greenhouses, cold frames or other protection or gardening techniques. Look for upcoming columns about these methods.
Every aspiring gardener, no matter the method you use, should follow seven steps to have a successful gardening season.
Step one: Plan your garden on paper before you begin. Choose the best varieties for our area and those that will fit your garden situation and tastes.
Step two: Select a good gardening site that is in full sun for at least eight hours each day. The site should be relatively level and be well-drained. It is helpful to be close to a water source, hauling water to the garden in the hot dry days of mid-summer is not a fun task. Also best sites are not shaded.
Step three: Prepare the soil properly and add fertilizer and lime according to soil test recommendations. Too much fertilizer, lime or other additives can make your crops less productive or not grow as well as you would like.
Take a soil sample and have it tested, preferably in October or November, but testing can be done as long as the soil is not too wet nor too dry. Soil testing should be done every two to three years. Use the soil test as a guide as you try to establish a satisfactory fertility level.
Bring your soil samples to the Franklin County Extension office for analysis. The cost of the test is $3 per sample and takes four to six weeks to receive the results.
Step four: Plan only as large a garden as you can easily maintain. Beginning gardeners often overplant, and then they fail because they cannot keep up with the tasks required. Weeds and pests must be controlled, water applied when needed and harvesting done on time. Vegetables harvested at their peak are tasty, but when left on the plants too long, the flavor is simply not there.
Step five: Grow vegetables that will produce the maximum amount of food in the space available. If you have small areas, there are varieties that are bred to have larger yields and may be better suited than traditional varieties. Conversely, if you have plenty of room, choose varieties that can grow larger and handle a heavy crop load.
Step six: Plant during the correct season for the crop. Phil will tell us when certain crops can be planted in his column using the Extension book, “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky.” Planting vegetables out of their season is a recipe for failure as crops do best when temperatures and daylight hours are correct for that specific one. Also choose varieties recommended for our Central Kentucky climate.
Step seven: Harvest vegetables at their proper stage of maturity. Unripe or over-ripe vegetables are not as tasty as you might like and often do not store well. After harvesting, store produce promptly and properly if you do not use them immediately.
Also consider as you continue your vegetable garden from year to year, try to avoid planting the same or closely related crops in exactly the same spot more than once every three years. Rotation helps prevent insect and disease buildups. In addition, root and bulb crops are susceptible to many of the same soil pests so try to rotate these every year.
If you would like to learn more about asparagus specifically and other vegetable crops that have been successful in Kentucky, including some new varieties, be sure to attend Franklin County Winter School this coming Thursday, March 1. Tim Coolong, Extension Vegetable Specialist, will be with us to talk about commercial and home vegetable varieties.
Winter School is from 7-9 p.m., and is free and there is no registration required.
For additional information on home vegetable gardening, log on to: http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf. For commercial or large scale production, http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id36/id36.pd, contact the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Service at 695-9035 by phone or email Kim.Cowherd@uky.edu.