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Planning a productive, fuss-free vegetable garden is a lot easier than you think. In fact, with a little careful planning you can create an easy-care garden that provides you with armloads of delicious homegrown vegetables from spring till fall. To get you started, here are ten tips to keep in mind.
1. Get maximum yields in a minimum amount of space by interplanting quick-growing vegetables such as bunching onions with slower-growing crops such as broccoli and cauliflower.
2. Whenever possible, plant your crops in wide rows or bands instead of single file. Vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, green beans, peas and Swiss chard can all be grown in this manner for bigger harvests.
3. Sunshine is essential for healthy vegetables. Locate your garden where it will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. If you have a partially shady location, you'll probably have more success with leaf crops such as lettuce and spinach than you will with sun worshipers such as tomatoes and melons.
4. Healthy soil is the key to a successful vegetable garden. Improve your soil by adding generous amounts of rotted manure, sphagnum peat moss, compost, leaf mold or other organic matter. If your soil is primarily clay, you may want to add some sand to improve drainage. Till or spade all materials into the soil in the early spring or late fall.
5. Make gardening a joy, not a chore: Mulch your vegetables in the early summer. A thick mulch helps eliminate weeds, maintains important soil moisture and improves soil structure as it rots. Good mulch materials include shredded bark, compost, cocoa bean hulls, straw and spoiled hay. Note: If you decide to use hay as a mulch, be sure there are no weed or grass seed heads mixed in. These seeds can easily germinate in your garden.
6. Grow vertically. Save space and increase yields by growing crops up and over a trellis or arbor. Pole beans, melons, cucumbers and gourds all thrive above ground, leaving more ground space for other crops.
7. Get a jump on the growing season by using cloches, row covers and plant protectors to protect crops from early frosts. Even cold-sensitive vegetables such as tomatoes can be transplanted outdoors weeks before normal planting time.
8. Save water and minimize watering chores with a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation provides water directly to where it does the most good: the root zones of your plants. Plus, if you install a timer on your faucet, your garden will get watered automatically, even when you're on vacation.
9. Get twice the harvests from a piece of ground by second-cropping. In our test gardens, we always plant quick-growing spring vegetables such as lettuce and spinach together in the same bed. That way, when those crops are harvested, we can replace them with a summer crop of green beans or summer squash.
10. Don't overplant. Choose vegetables that you know you and your family will enjoy. That way you won't spend time and effort on growing crops you won't use. Concentrate on your favorites and enjoy yourself.