Know Before You Grow

Those of you who have taken one or more of my classes have probably heard me make this little speech. But for those of you who haven’t yet, I’m going to write about this for all to hear. Gardening is a fun and enjoyable hobby. However, if you also want it to be a successful hobby, you’re going to have to do a little homework. By that I mean that before you plant anything in your garden, you have to do some research on it. In other words, know before you grow.

“What? Homework? Research? I didn’t sign up for that! All I want to do is plant some vegetables. Homework is for schoolkids, not me.” And you are entitled to that opinion. But I will tell you, based on personal experience, that if you want to boost your chances of a bumper crop of veggies, it’s going to take some pre-work on your part.

On several occasions, people have asked me why the tomatoes (or any other fruit or vegetable they planted) grew poorly or not at all, despite having given it plenty of tender loving care. The first question I always ask them is, what cultivar did you plant? And almost without fail, I’ll get an answer something like, “Oh, I don’t know. We just purchased whatever was on sale Wal-Mart.” And that, my friends, was their first mistake. Planting any old tomato will get you any old results. Were you lucky enough to choose a cultivar that is right for your soil conditions, environment, etc.? Well, then you want to be sure to plant it again. Oh, wait; you can’t. You never paid attention to what cultivar you purchased, so now you won’t know what to look for. Were you unfortunate enough to choose a poorly performing cultivar? Well, then you want to remember what it was so you don’t make the mistake of planting it again. What was it called again? Oops! You didn’t pay attention to what you bought. You now run the risk of accidentally planting it again.

And if the above two scenarios aren’t enough to convince you, then allow me to relate a personal experience. Years ago, I planted Jerusalem artichokes in my parents’ vegetable garden. At the time, all I knew about them was that I liked the taste of the knobby tubers (similar to potatoes) that the plant produced. After they started growing, I happened to read a little about them in one of my books. The description read as follows: “The Jerusalem artichoke, or sunchoke, in the sunflower family…” Wait a minute. Sunflower? Uh-oh. And sure enough those plants grew to a height of well over six feet, and with stems as thick as my wrist. I darn near gave myself a hernia trying to pull those plants out of the ground. And oh boy, were they prolific! I had shopping bags filled with tubers. And then, come the following spring, I got another surprise. The tubers I had failed to dig out began to sprout. They were now weeds. It took me two years to completely clear those plants from the garden. But if I had read about them in the first place, I might have thought twice before planting them.

Consider the current state of your garden – soil quality, amount of sun it receives, etc. Then decide what vegetables you wish to grow, and do some research to find out which cultivars of those vegetables will perform the best in your garden in terms of heartiness, yield, disease resistance, flavor, and many other criteria. Ultimately, you want to plant vegetable crops that are going to grow strong, hearty, and with and high yield of fruits and vegetables. Heirloom tomatoes are wonderful, but if last year’s crop of heirloom tomatoes was felled by a disease, then maybe this year, you want to plant a disease-resistant hybrid instead. Is your garden soil rather hard and blocky? Then instead of a long-rooted carrot cultivar, you’re better off planting one of the shorter rooted cultivars like Oxheart or Thumbelina.

So before you plant that seed, or put the seedling in the ground, consider well what you are about to plant. Make sure it’s the right plant for your garden. You’ll thank me at harvest time.


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