Vegetable Gardening Tips

Try these vegetable gardening tips to help ensure your success as you apply your furgal living plans to reduce your grocery bill by growing much of your own food. These tips for vegetable gardening address a wide range of issues that you will encounter.

The areas I address are: Soil; Planting; Transplanting; Watering; Weeds; Growing; Harvesting; Winter Season; Greehouses; and, Pests. Also check with your local gardening club for vegetable gardening tips and suggestions.

All the tips for vegetable gardening discussed below are ones that I have tried and believe will result in success. Pick ones that seem best suited to your endeavors, and good luck growing your own food.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Soil

  • Use ready-made compost in bulk until your compost pile gets under way. Your local community may have a facility where you can get bulk compost made of materials that are recycled from local sources like homeowners and lawn and garden care businesses.

    If bulk compost isn’t available, then pick up leaves and grass clippings throughout the year as people discard them. You can get friends and neighbors to save leaves and grass clippings for you.

  • Expect roots to go deeper than you imagine, and they probably will. This means your soil should be good down deep as well as at the level you plant. You can aerate with a potato fork or a broad fork, but you’ll have to rely on Mother Nature’s workers to get the soil in good shape well below the surface.

  • Ants, worms and deep rooted plants in your garden all help work the soil well below the surface and keep it aerated. They also provide organic matter to the soil at a level that your rototiller can’t.

  • Minimize ground up wood in your garden. It adds nice organic matter and helps break up the soil, but it robs the soil of nitrogen that so many plants need.

Look for more vegetable gardening tips about soil as this is one of the most important elements in a vegetable garden.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Planting

  • Raised beds with generous walkways between them help isolate plant root systems, so this cuts down on the negative influence that one plant might have on another. Feel free to plant adversarial plants in adjacent beds since the plants and roots won’t really be adjacent at all.

    This is one of the triple duty vegetable gardening tips – raised beds make it easier to plant and harvest, and they warm up the soil quicker.

    Planting is at kneeling level and harvesting is at squatting level. Both are easier than working right from the ground.

    While springtime soil temperatures are in the 50s, your raised beds could be 10 or more degrees warmer and much more conducive to seed germination.

  • Succession planting allows you to get steady and high yields over a longer season. This is especially true of quick growing plants like radishes and beets. You can have smaller quantities and continuous harvest of crops if you plant a short row of radishes or carrots every couple of weeks.

    This is one of the double duty vegetable gardening tips - succession planting things like broccoli and squash allow you to have multiple production peaks as both of these vegetables tend to produce well early on and then produce less later in the season.

  • Use trellises to help you garden up instead of out. This makes good use of room above the soil instead of using more square footage of the garden. Vegetables like cucumbers, pole beans, snap peas and many melons will gladly climb if given a trellis to call home.

    This is another of the triple duty vegetable gardening tips - a trellis helps fruits and vegetables grow to a more pleasing shape, and it keeps them off of the soil as well.

    Reaching through the trellis for a pea.

  • Build trellises that you can get your hand through so you can harvest on both sides when standing on one side. If you can’t easily get your hand through the trellis, it will be less convenient to harvest.

  • Don’t build a trellis any higher than what you are willing to reach to harvest. Peas aren’t going to care how high they grow on your trellis when they pop out a blossom that will soon become a pea. Unless you want to use a ladder for peas, you’ll want to limit the height of the trellis to something that is comfortable for harvesting.

    Also, be certain you know what the mature height of your plants are. For example, some peas grow to about 6 feet, and some grow to over 10 feet. A shorter trellis for taller peas won't stop them from growing as high as they would like.

  • Plant tomatoes with plenty of space between each plant, at least two feet all the way around. This allows the plant plenty of room to grow and you won't have a jungle of tomato vines and leaves to content with. If you crowd tomatoes, they will shade out their lower branches and slow the ripening of fruit.

    Also, when it comes time to harvest, you'll miss some of the fruit hidden in the foilage, and you might have to fight your way through the vines and leaves to get to the fruit. It can be frustrating to follow vegetable gardening tips to get good yields, only to find that you can't easily reach in to get what you're growing.

    Give your tomatoes ample room. The size of plants when they first set flowers is often only a small fraction of the size the plant will reach when mature and starting to bear fruit.

  • When planting, alway put shorter plants on the south ends and taller plants on the north end. This will help prevent shading of your shorter vegetable crops. If you don't follow this vegetable gardening tip, you'll have reduced growth and reduced yields.

    The height of a cultivar is only one measure of how it might shade out your other plants - keep in mind foilage density as well. Tall beans won't offer near the amount of shade that a tall tomato plant will, especially if you have a potato leaf variety.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Transplanting

  • Moiste the soil before you transplant seedlings. Doing this will provide a nice moist environment for the seedlings to take root in.

  • Transplants need to be watered well right from the start. Get them plenty soggy so they don’t get shocked from transplanting. Better too much water than not enough.

  • Some plants don’t transplant well, while others do. It is best to plan your transplanting so by the time roots reach out of the pots, you are ready to plant the seedlings into their permanent home. Roots from squash and corn are aggressive and will reach the bottom of a 4 inch deep pot in less than two weeks, so be prepared to get them a home with deep soil before they get root bound in the small pots.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Watering

  • Use drippers for plants and you won’t be wasting water. Less water does the job just fine if it is focused where you need it. No dirt is splashed onto your plants or fruit, and you can water the whole garden by simply turning on the faucet.

    Dripper watering a squash plant.

  • Soaker hoses or laser slit hoses on your dripper system should be placed on a separate circuit because they have different pressure and flow requirements. Soaker hoses need a little higher pressure to drip well. Laser slit lines need a little less pressure or they will shoot a thin stream and flood the bed.

  • If you are having trouble getting drippers to emit water at the same rate, you’ll need to feed your dripper lines from both directions. Drippers at the end of the line will suffer from low pressure and low flow if you have long lines or many drippers on each line.

    Feeding from both ends of the dripper main line makes a bid loop of your dripper lines and tends to equal out the pressure over the whole system and provides more flow. This should keep you from having drippers that drip and drippers that stream.

  • If you can, water your plants with natural rainwater. Tap water works okay, but a quarter inch of rainwater does more good than one inch of tap water. Nature knows what it is doing. Rainwater is rich in nutrients and will benefit your plants like no amount of tap water can.

    A roll of fabric mulch 4 feet wide by 225 feet long.

  • Fabric mulch saves water by reducing the amount that is evaporated by the sun and wind. With much less soil directly exposed to the air, the amount of moisture that evaporates is reduced substantially, making your watering efforts more effective.

    This is one of the double duty vegetable gardening tips – fabric mulch saves water and also prevents weeds, another robber of moisture from your plants.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Weeds

Think about these vegetable gardening tips as being "preventive" in nature. You're growing vegetables, so target the weeds with zeal.

  • Use fabric mulch to save time on weeding. Fabric mulch is easy to install and it cuts down on weeds like nothing else. Weeds are a hassle, so snuff them out before they get a foothold. Put fabric mulch on portions of the beds that you don’t want to weed.

    Tiny weeds are easy to stay on top of.  Pull them as soon as they appear.

  • Yank those weeds when they first appear, and weed management will be a breeze. Check every day for new sprouting invaders, and then pull them out. If you fail to weed for a week or two, weeds will get a foothold and it will seem like the hoards are overtaking your garden. And, that will be the case.

  • Weed when your soil is moist. The little invaders will be easy to pull if the soil is moist.

  • Weed proof your walkways to make life more enjoyable. Layers of newspaper or fabric mulch covered with sand, soil or straw will help keep weeds at bay.

Vegetable Gardening Tips for Growing

  • Snip off suckers on tomatoes as they rob energy from the plant that would otherwise be directed toward production of fruit. Suckers are the growth of another tomato vine that occurs between a leafy branch off the main vine and the main vine. If you accidentally snip off the main vine, just allow the sucker highest on the plant to grow as the main vine to replace it. This is a sucker on a tomato plant.

    To the left is a sucker growing between the main vine heading upwards, and a leafy branch that heads off to the left. Suckers grow in the crotch between the main vine and the leafy branches.

    Suckers tend to look like true branches, but don't be fooled.

    Get that sucker!

    Snap off suckers by bending them over until they break at their base.

    If you bend over the sucker at a sharp angle, it will break away from the crotch. If you have trouble, just pinch it a bit. I learned in Texas that sometimes "you gotta pinch 'em up."

    Small suckers tear away very easily. Large suckers snap off easily. The moderate sized ones can be a bit tenacious, so just learn how to do it by practicing.

    This is a sucker after it is snapped off.

    Here is what it looks like after the sucker is snapped off. Don't worry about having a clean break. Whether it is snapped or pinched, it should be sufficiently discouraged.

    Just be careful not to pull down on the sucker causing the side of the vine to peel.

    In the photo below, try to identify the sucker on the tomato vine. Remember, they grow in the crotch between the main vine and the leafy branches.

    Can you identify the sucker?  There isn't one.  What appears to be the sucker is the lead of the plant.

    If you are having a hard time identifying where the sucker is, then I should give you a hint: there is no sucker in that picture.

    What you are looking at is a fruit cluster on the right, a true leafy branch on the left, and the main vine growing up the middle.

    To avoid snapping off the main vine, thinking that it is a sucker, just let the plant get a little bit larger. When the vines are larger, the suckers are much easier to identify.

    Okay, enough about tomato suckers, let's get back to the vegetable gardening tips associated with growing.

  • Snip off the lead shoots on tomatoes later in the season to get them to focus on making fruit instead of growing more vine. You can also pick blossoms off to help the plant focus on finishing the tomatoes that it has started, but snipping off the main shoot stops the plant from growing taller.

  • Set up some raised beds with PVC arches to accommodate plastic covers to extend the growing season on both ends. After summer arrives, put the PVC pipes away. Get them back out again to extend the season a few more weeks by protecting against frost.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Harvesting

  • Can, freeze, pickle and dry as you harvest to avoid a big pile of work all at once. If you succession plant, you can preserve your harvest as you go along. I like to slice and dry summer squash when our bushes give us an abundance, and then freeze the dried rounds for use in the winter. I also make a batch of pickled summer squash at times when we have more than we can eat.

    Cutting the outside leaves of romaine lettuce allows more to grow back and provides much more lettuce to harvest.

  • Harvest romaine type lettuces like leaf lettuce. Cut away from the outside edges of the core as it grows to make a tall dense head. Use a paring knife, slice the rib of 3 or 4 large leaves near the base of one plant, and then move onto the next plant.

    This is one of the vegetable gardening tips that will provide you with an abundance of food - about 5 times more lettuce than you will see if you simply let the plant grow until it's mature enough to harvest the entire plant.

  • Cut the main head on broccoli, and then watch for “side shoots” to form. They won’t be as big, but they will be prolific. This is one way to keep the broccoli coming.

  • Summer squash like zucchini and butterstick are wonderful when they are about 6 to 8 inches long. The seeds haven’t developed by then, and they are tender and delicious. If you want a slightly larger diameter fruit for slicing, then let them grow a few days more. That will provide more food without any degradation of taste or texture.

  • Don’t let summer squash grow to the size of your forearm unless you intend to slice them lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and use them as “boats” for a filling such as ground beef. At that size, you will likely have seeds and a rougher texture fruit to deal with.

Vegetable Gardening Tips for the Winter Season

  • Plant cool weather crops early in the spring or late in the summer. It sounds strange, but they don’t like warm weather and won’t produce well. If you plant in the late summer, cool weather crops like peas, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts will take off and grow like crazy once the cooler weather sets in.

    Some of these crops grow with little additional care in the winter, and they will grow reliably if given some protection like a hoop house or cold frame.

  • If your seasons change abruptly, and you don’t have much of a spring or fall, you might try growing the cool weather crops in the spring to get them established. Then, when the summer weather starts to cool down, they will have renewed growth and food production in the days of fall before winter sets in.

  • Use cold frames and basic enclosures to allow you to garden into the winter. Some crops will survive the winter if you have an enclosure that will let in light and keep out the harshest of elements. Kale, lettuces, Swiss chard and peas are some crops that like cooler weather and can tolerate below freezing temperatures overnight.

  • Use a cold frame or simple hoop house or high tunnel to get an early start on cool weather vegetables. These enclosures are simple and inexpensive to make. They don’t have to be pretty, just effective in retaining solar gain and keeping in the warmth of the earth so temperatures within don’t go to extremes.

  • Use inverted mason jars over seedlings to create a more protected environment within the cold frame for really cold nights that dip into the teens and twenties.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Greenhouses

  • If you are serious about vegetable gardening, consider building your own greenhouse. I have constructed two with common materials from the home improvement store. A greenhouse allows you to get a jump on the season, extend your season, and protects your plants from weather extremes.

  • For the hardcore gardeners, a greenhouse allows you to harvest a limited set of vegetables throughout the winter, even if you add no heat to the building other than what is naturally gathered by the sun.

  • A simple PVC greenhouse can be built in a weekend with a friend to help. It costs between $2 and $5 a square foot to construct, depending on how robust you need to make the unit.

  • Convert an old shed or shop into a greenhouse to save effort constructing a new one from scratch. My first greenhouse was build from an old shop the size of a one car garage.

  • Thermal storage systems like barrels of water can retain heat from the day to make nighttime temperatures less extreme.

    Raised beds help catch more energy during the day and release that energy at night to keep the greenhouse environment above outdoor temperatures.

  • Fill the walkways of the greenhouse with sand. It will make a comfortable surface to walk on, it is easy to clean up with a leaf rake and it covers the dirt and mud below. Dirt filled barrels with no bottoms act as a raised bed.  The sand filled floor helps create moisture in the greenhouse and is a comfortable surface that is easy to clean with a rake.

    When made wet, sand slowly releases moisture back into the air as it warms up, so your warm greenhouse stays moist as well.

    This is a double duty vegetable gardening tip; get a nice floor and elevated humidity with sand.

    The picture to the left shows half barrels used as raised beds. The barrels have no bottom so they allow drainage, and roots are free to seek out deep soil.

    Place cut edges of barrels into the ground, leaving a round smooth edge for the plants and gardener.

Vegetable Gardening Tips about Pests

  • Use non-toxic sprays to knock out bugs. Onion and garlic juice mixed with some hot pepper powder, water and baby shampoo can whack a bunch of bugs in no time, but doesn’t harm the plant. The baby shampoo makes the stuff stick to the insects, and you can imagine what onion, garlic and hot pepper juice does to their sense of well-being.

    I use a vegetable juicer to create the liquid, but a blender works just fine as well. Funnels for straining paint help get out the larger solids that will get caught up in your sprayer.

    Jerry Baker has a book called Terrific Garden Tonics. Here you will find the onion, garlic and hot pepper concoction as well as other potions to solve pesty garden problems. The book is published by American Master Products.

    You might not find Jerry's methods to be organic exactly, but they certainly aren't toxic, and they're fun to experiment with. I think vegetable gardening tips that are fun and adventurous are just what we need.

  • You can plant sacrificial plants on the outside edges of your garden to satisfy some of your garden pests. Let them have a few, and work on protecting the rest.

    I have found that aphids love arugula and radicchio, and those aren’t favorite salad components in this house, so I let the aphids munch away on a few plants while I knock them out with the onion and pepper spray. They think I am defending something dear to me, and so they try all the harder to succeed, while I enjoy a lack of aphids on everything else.

  • If you see ants coming up in the middle of your garden or greenhouse, expect an aphid invasion soon thereafter. Aphids are kept by ants because they produce a food source for the ant colony. The aphids, also known as "ant cows", emit a substance known as honeydew. The ants feed off of this.

    So, ants keep aphids in or near their nests in the off season, just like livestock, and they introduce them to your garden in the spring so their "cows" can produce honeydew for the colony.

    This is one of the odd vegetable gardening tips. It shows that humans aren't the only ones that raise animals for the food they provide.

    One way to get rid of aphids is to dust portions of your plants with flour. When the aphids eat this, they get a terminal case of constipation. Easy does it, you don't want to block light by over dusting the leaves.

  • You can get rid of mice inside a greenhouse with conventional mousetraps or build one of your own that resets itself and doesn’t need to be regularly baited.

    Mousetraps come in numerous styles. There are the standard wooden ones that promise to snap your fingers. There are chamber type mousetraps that allow a mouse or two in and don’t let them out. Glue traps are also used with success.

    I found that an unconventional continuously operating mousetrap works all night long to round up the vermin, and it almost never needs to be baited or reset. I'll show you how to build it too.

If you have a vegetable gardening tip you would like to add, or would like to see other tips on vegetable gardening addressed, please let me know. will be adding more vegetable gardening tips as they surface during my frugal living focus on growing my own food.

Done with Vegetable Gardening Tips, take me back to Growing Vegetables

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