Growing your own garden gives you access to a variety of food plant types. This can save you money on your groceries and give you a greater choice of fresh, nutrient-rich vegetables. Each type of food plant has its own needs, but most can do well if you follow a few basic gardening techniques.
Read the seed packet for the particular type of food plant to determine its cultural needs. Most vegetables require full sunlight and rich, moist soil to grow well. Improve the soil by adding a 2-inch layer of compost on top then mixing it in with the top 6 inches of existing soil. Add an all purpose vegetable fertilizer to the soil at the rate recommended on the fertilizer package.
Sow the food plant seeds at the time indicated on the seed packet. Most vegetables are sown after all spring frost danger is past, but a few, such as lettuce and broccoli, can tolerate light freezes and may be sown two or three weeks before the last frost. Plant the seeds at the depth and spacing indicated on the packet. For best results, water the bed before you sow so the soil is already moist.
Water the food plant seedlings weekly. Most vegetables require the soil to feel moist throughout the top 6 to 12 inches of the root zone. Providing 1 inch of water via irrigation or rainfall typically keeps the soil at the right moisture level. Soggy or waterlogged soil results in root rot and can also make a food plant more prone to diseases, such as powdery mildew.
Spread mulch over the garden bed once the seedlings are 6 inches high. A 2-inch layer of straw or wood mulch preserves the moisture in the soil by blocking rapid evaporation. Mulch also shades the soil so weed growth is suppressed. If you do find weeds growing in your food plant garden, pull them immediately so the roots don't establish too deeply. Don't place the mulch right up against the vegetable stems, as this can cause them to rot and also makes them a prime target for insect pests.
Side dress the food plant with a vegetable plant fertilizer when the plants are six weeks old or when they begin to set fruit. Place the fertilizer in the rows between the plants, at least 6 inches away from the stems. Water the garden thoroughly after fertilizing to force the nutrients down into the root system. Applying fertilizer directly to the plants can burn the foliage and damage the plants. It needs to become diluted in the soil so the roots can absorb the nutrients.
Food plant harvesting varies. Fruit and seed producing plants, like peppers, squash, tomatoes, and beans, should be harvested as soon as the fruits ripen. These plants can usually produce more vegetables if harvested frequently. Leafy plants, like spinach, can be harvested when the leaves are 6 inches long. Leave the center foliage in place so the plant continues producing.
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