The Garden Patch: Getting into the zone

With April 15 the average last frost date in Osage County, it’s time for gardeners to be taking inventory of seeds and getting cool crop seedlings ready.

I thought that this week I’d present some basics of gardening for not only the beginners, but also you “old hands” that may be leaving something out. Personally, I got a lot of good out of this the first time I read it, and it convinced me to change some of my gardening habits (for the better). So here goes …

We are in Zone 6a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for and that means our AVERAGE last spring frost date is April 13-15 and our AVERAGE first fall frost is Oct. 17-21. Remember, those dates are not cast in stone, they are more like they say, AVERAGE! Different years may vary a little. Our average number of frost-free days is 188. See? You can grow a lot in that amount of time. We have more frost-free days than any other part of Kansas!

This and most of the following information comes from K-State via the Master Gardener training program and is taken directly from one of my textbooks.

Planning a garden

Locate the garden in an area that will not interfere with the home landscape. A sunny, level area away from large trees is preferable because tree roots compete for soil nutrients and water. A source of water should be accessible for periods when irrigation is necessary.

In many (most) Kansas locations, protection from wind is desirable. Take advantage of fences, small shrubs or buildings that provide a windbreak.

Soil

Vegetables grow best in well-drained, fertile soil. Sandy loam soils are ideal for vegetables. Most home gardens, however, do not have this soil composition. Compost or manure spread over the garden and worked in will improve not only fertility but also soil tilth (composition). Adding organic material such as manure or compost is an important practice in successful gardening.

Selecting what to grow

A wide variety of different vegetables can be grown in Kansas. Space available and individual preferences play an important part in deciding what to grow. Beans, beets, summer squash, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, radishes and turnips are well adapted for growth when space is limited.

Sweet corn, vine squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and melons require more space for growth, and should be considered only if adequate space is available. Don’t be afraid to experiment with unfamiliar vegetables, but plan to be able to use most of the vegetables you produce.

Most home gardeners have too much produce maturing at the same time. This is desirable if you plan to can or freeze the vegetables. For table use, it is best to stagger the plantings. Plant a few radishes every four or five days instead of all at once. This will provide a steady supply of radishes of ideal maturity over a longer period of time. Also, stagger plantings of lettuce, beans, sweet corn and peas.

Optimizing garden space

Spinach, lettuce, radishes, peas and green onions can be harvested early in the season. The same space is then available for late-season crops of beans, eggplant, tomatoes or potatoes. Plant lettuce, radishes or spinach between potatoes, cabbage, or other cole crops. Before the potatoes or cole drops get very large, the other vegetables will have been harvested.

Select a space along one side of the garden for crops such as rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries or bush fruits. These perennials will continue to grow next year without replanting. If planted in the garden, they will be in the way during tilling operations.

Make a sketch

Draw a scale model of your garden space (I do this every fall for the next season) using the above information. Allow everyone involved to participate by suggesting their favorite vegetables. Make notes on the plan and save it as a reference for next year’s garden. You can (and I do) use this plan when ordering or buying seeds and plants.

Obtaining seeds and plants

In choosing varieties for the home garden, consider factors such as disease resistance, yield, maturity date, size, shape, color and flavor. Seed companies and state agricultural research stations are constantly developing and testing improved vegetable varieties and procedures. The following sources of information are useful when choosing varieties:

  • Ask your local Extension agent or K-State Research and Extension for the publication Recommended Varieties for Kansas.
  • Use varieties that have performed well in past years for you and other gardeners you know.
  • If you plan a special use for a particular vegetable, such as freezing, exhibiting or canning, check with your local Extension agent or study your seed catalog for recommendations
  • Check with your local seed store or garden center for advice on what to plant.

If you do not have a hotbed or cold frame, you may want to buy vegetable transplants for crops that require transplanting to the garden. These can be obtained from local greenhouses or seed and garden centers. Again, make sure the varieties are what you want to produce.

Plan, then purchase the seeds and plants you want so that you will have them when you need them for your garden.

Soil improvement

All garden plants depend on the soil for nutrition. Soil condition and fertility are primary considerations in achieving a successful home garden.

Well, that’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed this rather basic information this week, I know that I enjoyed researching it and I always am reminded of something basic when I go into the garden in the spring! My desk and computer that I’m using to write this is in front of a window – and guess what’s on the other side of the window? My gardens! Thanks for reading. Till next time!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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