One of the best things you can do for your brand-new garden before you plant a single seed is to double till your patch. We don’t mean till it twice along the surface, we mean till it twice as deep. About 2 feet deep. Urban and suburban soil has been covered with lawn, compacted and neglected below the surface. If you want a bountiful harvest from fertile soil, you have to peel off the lawn and dig deep to bring your soil back to life.
Whether you intend to start seeds indoors and then transplant outside, or purchase young plants to transplant as soon as you get them home, or you plan to sow seeds directly in the soil, these are the basics you will need to plant and tend your vegetable garden.
Why so many different plants in one post? Well, they’re all members of the same family (asteraceae) and genus (cichorium) and have remarkably similar planting requirements and growing conditions. Chicory belongs to the species intybus, and radicchio is a chicory variety. Endive belongs to the species endivia, and escarole and frisee are endive varieties. All of them are cool weather vegetables that tend to bolt during the heat of summer. They make it possible to enjoy salad all year long.
Corn is an impressive crop to grow, particularly in an urban or suburban environment, as it’s such an unexpected sight to see outside of rural farm country. You can grow corn for eating, or the multicolored varieties for Fall decorating, or popcorn varieties that are harvested after they have dried on the stalk. Not all at once, however, as different varieties need at least 100 yards between them to avoid cross-pollination.
The Sweet Bay or Bay Laurel tree is…well, a tree. Not your typical herb, it is an evergreen whose leaves are used as an herb in cooking, often added two at a time to sauces, soups, and stews for a slightly bitter edge. The Latin name for the Sweet Bay/Bay Laurel tree is laurus nobilis, not to be confused with any other entirely different species commonly referred to as “bay.”
You either love beets or you hate them. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. If those purple pickled things don’t appeal to you, the good news is that’s only one way to eat beets. And for that we are grateful, indeed.
Cress is a catch-all term for three very different delicate yet spicy little salad greens. Despite the name, all three are entirely different species. Watercress (nasturtium officianale) is probably the one you’re most familiar with. It requires an aquatic environment to properly grow (such as the banks of a stream or pond), therefore is not recommended for the urban organic garden. Winter Cress (barbarea verna) – also called Upland Cress – will grow in regular soil and is a cool-season plant that can be harvested clear through the winter.
Also called Lamb’s Lettuce, Mache or Rapunzel, this cold-hardy green helps make it possible to enjoy salad year-round. The flavor is quite mild.
Carrots come in a number of shapes, sizes, and colors – those long, orange, somewhat bland carrots you see at the supermarket are but the tip of the iceberg. Carrots are divided into several groups comprised of many varieties.
First of all, “bargain bin” seeds are no bargain. If you see packets of vegetable seed marked down to a ridiculously low price, ask yourself why they’re marked down. It might be that the retailer is trying to get rid of seeds that didn’t sell well (maybe rutabagas aren’t all that popular in your area and the retailer bought too many wholesale, for instance)…but chances are, they’re old seeds that may or may not germinate when planted. Look at the date on the seed packet, and if it’s last year, don’t buy them. Only buy seeds that are meant to be planted this year.