There is one issue on which both experts and non-experts agree: growing or raising vegetables is a worthwhile endeavor. The garden enthusiast’s greatest reward is fresh vegetables that go straight to the table.
Successful vegetable gardening depends on raising healthy, strong plants. Plants must not be allowed to go to seed, and they must have well-developed root systems. There are several ways to raise vegetables. You can start seeds in a cold frame first or sow them directly outdoors, or you can propagate vegetatively - that is, take cuttings or divide the plants.
The usual way of propagating vegetables is by sowing seeds. Seed quality is very important. Use only select seeds and suitable varieties. Be sure that the seeds you buy are not moldy or dried out. Be sure, too, that seeds are fresh enough to be viable; old seeds will germinate spottily or not at all. Seeds need warmth, moisture, and air to germinate. Germination temperature averages 70° F.
Starting Seeds Indoors
If you start your seeds early indoors—before nature itself would bring on germination - then your seedlings can be set outdoors early in the season and you will have an early harvest. Scatter seeds uniformly over the flats in which they will be started. Sprinkle some sand over the surface if you wish; it helps prevent mold from forming. If your seeds are very small, mix them with a little sand before sowing. Put the seed flats in a warm place, and keep them moist. Press the soil gently but firmly with the palm of your hand. Vegetable seeds generally don't need light to germinate.
When seedlings have developed a second set of leaves, or when the plants can be easily grasped, the time has arrived to transplant them or thin them out. Transplant them to larger containers, space them farther apart, and let them continue growing until they are big enough to plant in the garden. But before being planted, they have to be hardened off - that is, slowly introduced, a few hours each day, to the colder conditions of the outdoors.
Vegetables that you will not want to harvest until late summer or fall and vegetables that are not too vulnerable to frost can be sown directly outdoors. There are many ways of doing this. Seeds can be broadcast, that is scattered randomly. This generally results in high yields, but only fine seeds are suitable for broadcasting. Spinach and lamb's lettuce are typically sown this way.
With row planting, the rows are laid out in an east-west direction to make optimum use of available sunlight. If you have sown several rows with slow-germinating seeds, then you should place markers at the ends of each row. With row planting, seeds are sown in furrows and gently patted down into the soil.
Multiple sowing of seeds together in the same planting hole or place is yet another way of starting vegetables from seed. This method is often used for planting beans. Several beans or seed pellets are planted next to each other, to compensate for any seeds that fail to germinate. A rule of thumb for all types of seeds is that they should be planted 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Beans are an exception; they should be planted 2 inches deep.
Other Methods of Propagating
One easy and sure method of propagation is division. Full-sized or overgrown plants like rhubarb are simply split down the middle in the fall or in spring with a sharp knife or a spade. Each division must have a few healthy growth buds to regenerate.
Horseradish is propagated from cuttings, which are placed in the soil in spring. At the bottom of the cutting, new roots emerge and take hold, and at the top of the cutting a new plant develops.
Only rarely are vegetables propagated by grafting. It is a complicated process that is really best left to professionals.
Very few seedlings will remain exactly where they were originally sown from seed. When transplanting young plants, keep the root systems as intact as possible. Healthy roots will help plants adjust to their new locations.
To transplant, first water the seedlings so that the roots absorb water; this will help keep them from breaking. Then carefully lift the seedlings from the bottom with your fingers.
Soil that is to receive seedlings must be properly prepared. It must be loose and fresh in texture. Transplant seedlings in the early morning or late afternoon; direct sun will harm them because their metabolic processes are not yet fully functioning.
Not Too Close, Not Too Far Apart
When transplanting, gardeners often start out spacing plants far apart. Later, when it turns out that many seedlings still remain to be transplanted, and space is less and less available, they end up crowding them together. To avoid this, use a small stick as a ruler to space plants evenly. To make sure that your rows turn out straight, stretch some string between stakes inserted at both ends of the planting rows. When the plants have been set in at the proper depth and the soil has been gently firmed about them, give them a good watering so that their roots will quickly come into contact with the soil.
TIPS: GOOD VARIETIES
If you want to know which are the recommended varieties of various types of vegetables, you can consult seed catalogues; they have useful information on specific types of vegetables, how long they take till harvest, and which ones are resistant to plant diseases. And, of course, nursery or garden centers will sometimes help you choose the varieties.