#1 It’s All About The Soil
There’s an old adage in the organic gardening world that you don’t feed your plants, you feed your soil. If you have a healthy soil, your plants will grow a ton better than if you’ve killed off the microorganisms by using chemicals and/or excessive amounts of chemical fertilizers.
Add organic matter such as compost or peat moss every year to your garden. The alternative is to deep mulch. Both of those things will keep the organic matter content of your soils high. Vegetables thrive on high organic matter soils
This is the number one thing to do.
This is our raised bed vegetable gardening project with overhead support systems for growing plants vertically.
Vegetable Propagation Tips
When to plant your vegetable garden seeds. This chart lists the general timing for both indoor and outdoor seed sowing.
Two tips to ensure your vegetable seeds thrive when you plant them outdoors. Pay attention to these two conditions and you set yourself up for a successful season.
Three critical things to control when you’re starting your seed indoors. Get these three right and you can start almost any vegetable seed.
Handling the vegetable transplants after germination A lot of gardeners miss out on the opportunity to increase their vegetable harvest while growing their tender seedlings. This article outlines the critical temperatures and lighting regimes that will translate to higher yields in the garden.
General Vegetable Gardening Tips
Here’s how far apart to plant vegetables in your garden.
Here’s how to handle store-bought vegetable transplants when you’ve just brought them home
Vegetable gardening in the shade isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do but there are tricks that will allow you to grow some veggies. Not all vegetables to be sure but enough to keep you in some fresh food from your own garden.
How many vegetables can I get from my garden? This chart lists the expected harvest per 100 foot of row and I’ve given you the five questions to ask that will determine how many plants you need for your own family.
How to feed the three kinds of vegetables in your garden. Understanding there are only three kinds of vegetables (and not hundreds) makes things a lot easier when it comes to sorting out how to feed them for maximum production.
Here’s an easy system of crop rotation (video) to explain and give you a workable system.
How to warm up the garden soil and why it may not do much for some crops unless you add one other thing to the garden
Understand these two intensive vegetable gardening concepts before you try to increase your harvests. It will make a difference to your approach
Why use a raised bed vegetable gardening system – here are the advantages and disadvantages for this kind of gardening
How to stop frost from wrecking your garden. Practical tips that worked in my nursery.
Six Thoughts On No-Dig Vegetable Gardens is a must read if you hate digging
If you’re just starting out, here are the five easy vegetables I suggest you start with.
Have you ever noticed in your own garden that you can often get “some” of any vegetable you try but you’re not happy with the end result. Plants don’t seem to really produce the way the magazines say they do!
This section is aimed at those gardeners who want to really obtain those results and don’t mind asking questions to help them get there.
Asparagus is a simple crop (except for weeding) once you get it established. The only problem is getting it established quickly ….. The only serious problem we have to deal with is the Asparagus beetle.
Beans (Bush) I have to say I’m learning to like beans and if they’re cooked right (fresh and only cooked slightly so they still have a snap) then I’m fine. Don’t overcook beans please….
Beans (Pole) my better half loves pole beans and we’re growing more and more of them with this simple system because they’re such a space saving crop. You can grow these gorgeous flowering plants straight up a trellis and get the same (or larger) harvest from far less space than with bush beans.
Beets. In my very first garden, I grew nothing but beets. Well, it was a summer project we had to do for school and those were the only vegetable that survived my 8-year old neglect. But my mom treated them like gold, cooked up some and canned the rest. I’ve loved canned beets ever since.
Broccoli How to make your plants produce all season as well as tips to eliminate the green cabbage butterfly worms from ruining your crop and your…. (dinner with surprises)
Brussels sprouts (and yes, it is Brussels with the “s”) for your fall garden eating right through heavy frosts.
Cabbage: Here’s how to grow huge heads and keep them from splitting
Carrots are easy if you do a few small and simple things (and don’t overfeed them.)
Cauliflower and the techniques to get those heads snow white (hint – it’s all in the timing)
Celeriac treat like celery and don’t rush the season but here are the specifics of growing this wonderful salad plant
Celery – grow some that actually tastes like celery and not cardboard.
Corn (Sweet Corn) is the best tasting thing to come out of the garden when it’s fresh. But growing it does produce some challenges.
Cucumbers are heat-seeking vegetables in your garden. Keep them warm and you’ll do well but let them get chilled…
Eggplant and how to grow it even in cooler climates. It’s all about a few small details folks.
Endive: grow this because you can. Here’s the critical timing instructions to get a crop.
Gourds are simple to grow if you get a few small details right.
Kale is an easy to grow plant – either to eat or for fall decoration (or both). Here’s the growing and important timing instructions for success.
Kohlrabi is one strange looking vegetable- with a few necessary growing tips – but it’s found a regular place in our own garden
Leeks are easy to grow and with a bit of care you can add this plant to your kitchen adventures.
Lettuce: how to grow it successfully every time
Melons. I love a fresh melon (seeds scooped out) that’s been filled with vanilla ice cream. Nothing says “summer” better than that.
Mustard greens add a spring touch to remove the “blah” from your salads.
Onions: how to grow a great crop and avoid the Internet advice problems with this plant
Parsnips aren’t hard if you follow this simple rule (hint: it has to do with how close you stand to them and why)
Peas – get them planted as early as possible for the best harvests and…
Peppers: both sweet and hot have the same rules for effective growing. But if your peppers look like this (Pepper Stip) you’re overfeeding nitrogen
Potatoes: here are four growing systems – from traditional to …
Pumpkins – grow your own for Halloween or Thanksgiving pies.
Radish plants are easy to grow but Doug doesn’t grow them for the roots.
Spinach: An easy crop that grows best in cool temperatures
Squash (Summer) one of the easiest garden plants to grow. And why are there no flowers on my squash plants?
Squash (Winter) you want warm soil for this one.
Swiss Chard: How to grow this hardy plant in your vegetable garden
Tomatoes: See below for articles about this most popular of garden vegetables
Watermelons: tender little plants but if you get the right variety and treat it kindly, you’ll be fine
Vegetable Plant Reviews
is one of the last stages in organic matter decomposition and it’s the lifeblood of any soil.
How much do I need to add?
The simple answer is as much as possible. But let’s say you read a book that says, “Put 1/4 inch of compost onto your garden every year”
In the real world, you put on what you can afford and you apply it using the easy system right below.
How Do I Put Compost Onto The Garden?
I use a very scientific approach. I take a shovel full and toss it around the base of the plant.
See, I told you it was scientific. 🙂
I don’t dig it in. It just gets tossed onto the soil or in our case, on top of the deep mulch that covers every square inch of my gardens. The rain and worms will drag it down.
Here’s a glossary of tomato gardening terms that should clarify what catalog short terms mean. Plus a section on tomato allergies and botanic definitions (is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable and why)
Here’s a simple system to taste test tomatoes in your own garden. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? The best tasting tomato that we like – that performs well in our own gardens.
The quick and dirty guide to growing your own tomatoes. If you read no other article – read this one.
Starting Your Own Seeds
An introduction to starting tomato seeds in particular but the factors in this article are common to almost all seeds and it’s a good place to start understanding the seeds in your garden
What soils to use for starting your own tomato seeds
How to succeed with tomato seed sowing (rules of thumb for handling seed)
Three Water Temperatures For Best Tomato Seedlings Growth Use these simple guidelines to water your seedlings properly
Best lighting practices for best tomato seedling growth. What amount of light and how long to apply it for – along with simple thumb rules (and references to more complicated formula) for deciding how much light to put onto your seedlings.
Ventilation and temperature improvement for tomato seedlings. I use this simple system to keep my tomato seedlings (all seedlings actually) and this video shows you what I do in my own seed starting area
Six problems and the solutions for tomato seed starting. Once you know what’s causing the issue, you know how to fix it and get better seedlings.
Plant labels for tomato seed starting.
The three different strengths of fertilizer to obtain superior tomato seedling growth I find if I modify the strength of the starter food – growth stage by growth stage – I’ll get a stronger tomato seedling. Here’s my recipe.
DIF temperature control This is a pro-level tip for producing the shortest tomato plants and the most productive plants in your neighborhood. I used this technique in the nursery to produce tomatoes that would outproduce any grown by my competitors (I also produced seedlings for local market gardeners and using this technique my plants would produce larger harvests than the competitor’s plants. )
How to transplant tomatoes into pots – if you’ve messed up the growing and have too-tall seedlings, this is the trick to solve that problem right now. It’s not a problem so simply use this technique.
Hardening off tomatoes – before you can plant them – it’s a really good idea to acclimatize them to the outside conditions. Here’s the schedule.
Planting tomatoes outdoors. Here are a few things you’ve probably not considered – from “maybe” a bit of shade to planting for cages or stakes – here’s what you need to know.
Growing Tips In The Garden
Growing temperatures for tomatoes and how to influence early and later crops.
How to have the earliest tomatoes in your neighborhood.
The Internet has jumped all over removing tomato leaves to increase harvests. This is the *only* time and growing system that this is allowed. And as usual, the Net gets it wrong on so many levels.
Here are two simple ways to water tomatoes for high yields. Remember the fruit is 95% water so you can’t let this plant suffer.
Here’s how you feed your tomato plants for a maximum harvest
Training For Maximum Harvests
Understand a simple fact. If you want to get the biggest harvest possible out of a small space, then staking your tomato is the way to grow it. You grow “up” rather than “out.” Some beginning gardeners confuse the difference between maximizing harvest per plant with maximizing harvest per square foot. You’ll get more tomatoes in a small garden by properly staking the tomato vine.
Here’s how to train tomatoes growing in a cage.
Here’s how to train a tomato up a stake for maximum harvests
Here’s how to prune them up a string
Growing tomatoes to maturity. Here’s a summary of the above two points plus a picture of one of my support systems in a small garden.
Here’s how to prune your tomato plants depending on how you want to grow them. Classic methods to increase harvests.
How To Fix Your Tomato Garden Problems
Tomato hornworms will decimate a plant overnight Here’s how to control this pest.
Here’s how to tell if you have a magnesium deficiency in tomatoes Note that adding Epsom Salts is one of the most prevalent and worst bits of Internet advice out there. Do NOT use epsom salts in your garden unless your tomato leaf looks like this one.
Blossom End Rot, here’s how to avoid it. The biggest problem (and one with the most amount of stupid Internet advice) is black spots on the bottom of tomatoes.
Catfacing is an interesting issue. Here’s how to stop this problem.
Tomatoes cracking? Here’s what’s causing it and some possible solutions.
Septoria is a black dot on the tomato leaf that gets larger and larger as the season progresses.
Tomato Late Blight – if your plant rots almost overnight and the fruit is rotting too, it’s likely Late Blight. If it takes longer and the fruit isn’t rotting, it’s not late blight.
Research Notes On Tomatoes
Increasing tomato seedling vigor. I’m passing this research along to those who love to experiment and try new things in the garden. This is the basis for all that Internet advice about soaking your tomatoes in aspirin to get good growth rates (or planting an aspirin next to the tomato) NOTE: this is one more bit of Internet enthusiasm for something they know nothing about. I don’t use this but if you do – get your math right!
Here’s a note about increasing the “meatiness” of tomatoes – hint – mix flowers and vegetables together.
# 3 Put Down A Deep Layer of Mulch
I read about this in an old garden book by Ruth Stout back when I first started gardening seriously. I’ve done it – more or less – ever since. A deep layer of mulch does some very interesting things:
It saves water by reducing evaporation
It reduces weeding. A 4-inch layer of mulch reduces weeding by as much as 90%. This is a very good thing in my world.
It provides food for all manner of insects and soil microorganisms. And all these creatures help keep your plants healthy and growing well.
Yes, you can use straw or hay or leaves or anything you get locally. I personally prefer straw because it has fewer weed seeds than hay and it doesn’t mat as much as hay but I know folks who prefer hay. Use what you can find and afford.
No – you don’t want to use a mulch on your gardens that doesn’t decompose. The objective here is to provide an ongoing supply of decomposing organic matter to feed our soil. Rocks, ground up rubber tires etc just don’t cut it.
Deep mulching is (imho) the single best thing you can do for your garden to reduce work, reduce water use, increase fertility without work, and get bigger harvests.
Companion Planting: Fact or Fiction?
Here’s an easy way of tracking the traditional methods of companion planting. I’ve put together a series of images so you can easily see the traditional relationships.
How to use trap plants in the vegetable garden. A simple technique you can use (commercial growers use it) to protect your plants.
Sequential Planting – a system of what crop to plant first, when to plant it and what comes after…
Combining Vegetables By Top Growth. What can you plant next to something else and not lose production? Here’s the answer.
#4 Save Your Own Seeds
This is one of the easiest of gardening techniques (we save all our own vegetable seeds) and all it takes is a bit of work in the late summer/fall.
Plus you’ll be able to save the plants you like, save money and have seed to share with friends and neighbors.
There’s a lot of “mystery” about this but it’s really, really simple to save your own seed.
Here’s a quick ebook written by my better half Mayo Underwood – a recognized expert on heirloom seeds. She does all our vegetable seed saving and I take care of the flowers.
For the most part, you simply have to take the seed out of the mature plant, dry them (space them well apart on a plate) and then store cool and dry for the winter. Do NOT freeze vegetable seeds.
One of the most misunderstood things is why you ferment tomato seeds. Here’s Mayo’s explanation of how to do this and why.
Next spring – sow in the garden or in pots to start your own. Check the plant propagation page for more details.
We store all our seed in envelopes in a shoe box in the basement. That’s our high tech system.
#5 Get Your Plant Spacing Right
Too many gardeners crowd their plants. The gardens, plants, and gardeners suffer as a result.
For example, tomatoes are best grown on 4-foot spacing. That means 4 feet between plants and 4 feet between rows. But gardeners insist on bringing that spacing down so the vines twine together and the plants compete for food and water. And we’re not even considering how diseases are worse when plants are crowded (no air ventilation drying the leaves out).
Get the correct spacing and everything else follows from that. I have all the spacing info in my ebook on Vegetable Gardening in the North available here on Amazon.
This isn’t quite what we mean by vertical gardening but…
# 6 Garden Vertically
When you have a smallish garden, going vertical is the solution to getting a ton more plants in a small space. For example, staking tomatoes will give you far more fruit in a small space than allowing them to flop on the ground or even growing them in cages.
You’ll get more tomatoes per square foot of garden space by staking than by allowing them to grow on the ground. The yield per plant won’t be as high but the yield in your small backyard garden will be higher if you stake.
This is the same for almost every crop. Try growing cucumbers, trailing squash, pole beans vertically. We now eat almost 100% pole beans instead of space-hogging bush beans) and even grow watermelon and pumpkins vertically.
Do I have to tell you that if you’re growing large fruit you really need to ensure the trellis is strong. 🙂 Heck, my tomatoes have broken strings, bent poles and been blown over in high wind storms.
Overbuild your trellis systems. It will only take one tomato-plant-on-the-ground to make you into a believer of strong systems
#7 Control Weeds
Yeah, every garden article you’ve ever read gives you this bit of advice but if you read the point above about mulch you’re on the right track.
A four-inch deep layer of organic mulch will cut your weeding by 90% (give or take a few percentage points)
Using mulch is a no-brainer in my world – and now you know why every one of my gardens has a deep layer of mulch.
Planting at the correct distances as in the picture below will also help control weeds because there’s no light getting to the soil (and it’s cooler in the shade) so weed seeds are not encouraged to germinate.
#8 Water Properly
The normal recommended amount of water to put on a garden is 1.5 inches a week (3.1 cm) but that’s a generalized recommendation that may or may not work depending on your soil type.
I follow a simple alternative system in my own garden. I pull the mulch back and touch the soil. If my finger comes away “damp” I push the mulch back and don’t water. If it comes away without visible dampness on it, I soak the garden.
To ensure I soak the garden, I put a yogurt container down in the sprinkler pattern so it gets the same amount of water as the plants. And then I measure it. Normally an inch to two inches in the container will be fine to get down through the mulch and into the soil.
But then I test the next day again – and every day in different parts of the garden.
I don’t turn my garden into a swamp by overwatering because of the finger test – and I don’t allow it to dry out either.
This consistent attention to watering – which reduces plant stress – will make a major difference to your garden yields. It will also save you money on water bills and increase your vegetable harvest. It’s a good thing to do.
I note this is another great feature of mulch. It reduces water evaporation and while it costs money up front to buy, it does all these great things.
Want Early and Late Crops To Survive Cold Weather?
Here are two methods I used to use in the nursery to keep plants alive either in early spring or later in the fall when cold weather threatened to send them to the compost bin.
# 9 Use Organic Problem Control Methods
The reality is that too many home gardeners believe that if a little bit of chemical insect stuff is good – then a whole lot is better.
Let me state this very clearly. We use organic insect controls, have for years and our gardens are doing just fine.
We get all the food and flowers we need and we know we and our kids (and now grandkids) can eat anything out of the garden without any concerns about washing it first.
It’s healthy food.
The most common problem in the garden is a gray fuzzy mold that appears on flowers/fruit and black spots on leaves. It’s called Botrytis and here’s how to control it organically.
But like all things, knowing what to do and when to do it (or relax and not do anything) is part of the learning curve.
For example, earwigs are one of the most ferocious of predators who eat other insects and they also consume decaying organic matter. A deep layer of mulch gives them lots of food and a hunting ground for other insects. I have lots of them in my gardens and rarely see them on the flowers as they’re stuffed from eating other insects and resting below the deep mulch.
But too many gardeners blame them for plant damage when they’re simply the ones found (resting usually after a night of slug eating) This is particularly true when a slug digs a hole in your tomato and the earwig goes in there – eats the slug and stays because it’s dark, moist and a good place for rotting food now the slug has exposed the inside of the tomato to air. You don’t see the slug but you do see the earwig. Guess who you blame for the hole in your tomato?
Getting peas out of my garden has been a lifelong challenge. On the farm, my kids would harvest them like snacks, filling their pockets regularly throughout the day. The day I saw one of my daughters with a hat stuffed full and the hat perched precariously on her head was the day I almost gave up hope of ever eating one. The day I did give up hope was the day I saw one of our Old English Sheepdogs stealing them as well (the kids had given them to the dogs and the dogs learned what they looked like and how to get them for themselves).
Now, with my kids grown up I thought my time had come. Only to discover my sneaky partner loves the darn things as much as my kids did…
Seriously, it’s gardening. It’s supposed to be fun.
It’s not rocket science and it’s not (for most of us) life or death.
So when something goes wrong in your vegetable garden (and it will) then take a deep breath, learn something and move on.
Life is far too short to get yourself upset about some critter taking a bite out of your plants.
And that’s the end of that sermon.
Remember. If you’re not having fun in the garden, you’re doing something wrong.
Those nine organic vegetable growing tips – and this one bit of personal advice – should get you started in the right direction.
You’ll never meet an old gardener. You may meet an aged gardener but no real gardener ever gets truly old
My Last Thoughts On Learning Organic Vegetable Gardening
You can do this.
Finally, there’s nothing, and I mean nothing, like eating some vegetable that’s sun-warm, juicy and exploding the taste buds in your mouth.
Welcome to my world.