Gardening with Mother Evelyn: 15 tips for a happy, healthy garden

March is the big month to plant your vegetables and herbs.

Today, it is practically unpatriotic to not have your own vegetable garden. I agree! It makes sense to use our garden space for something more than succulents.

Hint No. 1: Don’t try to grow more than you will eat or share with your family. If you enjoy zucchini squash, that’s wonderful. But zucchinis grow fast, and they are monsters! Winter squashes like butternut are different. They will keep in a cool place for months. Healthy and delicious, whether summer or winter.

No. 2: Take advantage of special speakers. Garden centers have workshops all spring. For instance, at Weidner’s Gardens on March 21-22, there will be a whole weekend with cooking demos, tomatoes, herbs, spring vegetables and very good speakers (full schedule at weidners.com). Take advantage of all the chances you can to soak up knowledge and ask the experts.

No. 3: Plant the right plant at the right time. Hubbard squash and those other hard winter squashes don’t need to be planted right now. The same with pumpkins. Pumpkin seeds planted now will give you ripe pumpkins way before Halloween.

No. 4: Plant what you like to eat. If your family loves tomatoes, then plant lots. If you are the only tomato eater, then one or two plants is plenty! If Mexican salsa is always on your table, then it makes sense to plant lots of different tomatoes and peppers. You can freeze the extras. You can easily grow enough to make all the salsa you want, fresh or frozen.

No. 5: If you have a choice, plant veggies that cost the most at the market. Snow peas are just as easy to grow as regular peas. Snow peas cost $3 or more a pound and you don’t have to shell them. Green beans are different. You will get lots of fresh small batches just right for dinner. Keep picking, and green beans will keep producing.

No. 6: If you have the space, go for some perennial vegetables, like asparagus and artichokes. Berries like blueberries pay off and are full of antioxidants.

No. 7: Leave the melons for the inland gardeners. Melons need heat to get sweet. No heat, no sweet! You can grow a pretty melon on the coast, but it won’t taste great. And melon vines take lots of space.

No. 8: Herbs are an absolute must! Yes to all of them. They are ridiculously easy to grow and expensive to buy. Three large herb pots near your door will bring you fresh herbs year- round.

No. 9: Ethnic vegetables make sense only if you can use them in your cooking.

No. 10: Make an art project of your vegetable garden space by including some gourds. Let them dry and then cruise Pinterest for easy dried gourd projects.

No. 11: Expect that all of your peas, squashes and cucumbers will get mildew. Live with it. They will often continue to produce, even when covered in mildew. When it gets too bad, pull the plants out and plant new ones.

No. 12: Expect some failures. It’s not the end of the world, and chances are it isn’t even your fault. Some of your tomatoes will get tomato wilt, a virus or become food for your friendly gopher. If your tomatoes had a problem last year, choose a different spot. Tomatoes don’t want too much nitrogen or too much water. They will have more flavor if they are kept just a bit on the dry side. That doesn’t mean no water, but lots of water will not give you a better tomato.

No. 13: Know your space. Most of today’s gardens don’t have a lot of space. In a small garden, sweet corn is not a very good return on your investment of space.

No. 14: Good soil with lots of organic matter is your foundation to success. Bad soil, bad growth: i.e., not many vegetables. Do add mycorrhiza to your planting mix. Weidners has one that is called Mycos. It sounds a bit weird, but a teaspoon per plant will help your plant better use the nutrients and fertilizer. You will have lots more yield and a happy, healthy vegetable garden.

Success or failures, what matters is enjoying your garden, eating what you grow and not worrying about the failures. Just having a garden will make you a winner.

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