Six to eight hours of full sun a day is ideal for most vegetables; however, a few spring vegetables can tolerate some shade. Consider building raised beds, if you have severely compacted or clay soil, to achieve good drainage necessary for optimal growth.
Many people associate a home vegetable garden with tomatoes, peppers and corn. These are warm-season crops, best grown during the hot summer months. Yet there is a wonderful plethora of vegetables that can be grown now, while the nights are still cool.
Options include asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, chives, cilantro, endive, leeks, onions, parsley, peas, potatoes, radishes and rhubarb. Many of these can be started from transplants.
Carrots, peas and radishes are more successful when sown from seed. When seeding, it is best to plant more seeds than necessary and then thin out after germination. It is exceedingly important to maintain consistent moisture for germination, so water regularly and keep a close eye for any pests seeking the tender young growth. Onions and garlic are best started from onion sets, or bulbs, and potatoes from sections of tubers.
Asparagus is a perennial that can be started from root crowns that can live for 12 to 15 years. Spears should not be harvested the first year, but allowed to grow ferns, which will be cut back in winter. This allows the plant to develop a strong root system for longevity.
Be sure to check the mature size of each variety and space accordingly. To discourage soil-borne pests, avoid planting the same crop, or crops from the same family, in the same place two years in a row.
Once the bed is made and the plants, seeds and bulbs are tucked in, be sure to maintain a cozy and productive environment with adequate nutrients and regular watering. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are ideal for vegetable gardens. Apply mulch to conserve moisture, and provide proper support for plants that need it, such as peas. A well-balanced fertilizer that contains both nitrogen and phosphorus can be lightly applied every three to four weeks through the growing period. Be sure to consult labels for proper application instructions.
If the weather should change drastically, as it can here in the valley, protect cool-season crops from the harsh, hot sun with shade cloth or row covers. If these types of vegetables receive too much heat, they will rapidly develop flowers prematurely, called “bolting,” which signals the plant to concentrate its energy on seed production.
Be sure to harvest regularly, and keep the garden clean by removing detritus and dead leaves. Consider companion planting to attract beneficial insects for pest management, as suggested in last week’s column by Heather Hamilton.
The flavor of your own home-grown produce is truly a prize to enjoy.
• The Green Thumb is a column by Tracy’s master gardeners. University of California-certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 953-6112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Find a broad range of information on vegetable planting on the University of California’s California Garden Web,
http://ucanr.org/sites/gardenweb/Vegetables, and the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management website, www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/GARDEN/veggies.html. Gardeners can also visit the San Joaquin Master Gardeners office for help at 2101 E. Earhart Ave., Ste. 200, in Stockton.