Who doesn’t love summer vegetables? Whether they’re sun-warmed tomatoes, fresh corn right off the cob, or crisp cucumbers, they are completely worth the amount of work that goes into setting up and maintaining a vegetable garden. It’s getting close to summer, and that means most Long Island gardeners are getting ready to harvest. If you’d like to create your own vegetable garden, here’s what you need to know:
Starts or seeds?
If you choose to grow from starts (young plants), half of the work is done for you. Unfortunately, using starts instead of seed tends to be more expensive, and doesn’t give you any control over how the plant was grown early in its life. Seeds are more work and a bit riskier, but they’re far less expensive, and you get complete control over everything from the growth medium to pest control.
Timing is everything.
Before you head out to your garden store for seeds or starts, you need to know how long it’s going to take for your chosen plants to get from seed to harvest. If you choose tomatoes, for example, you’ll want to have started the seeds indoors last April — but starts will be fine until early June. Long Island has warm summers and cold winters, and chilly weather is the death of many summer crops. Start them too late, and you won’t have time to harvest much before they’re on their way out.
Know your zone.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is virtually indispensable for gardeners of any type. It breaks up areas of the US into zones based on their average minimum temperature, to give gardeners an idea of what plants will be able to survive through the winter. For example, a crop that claims to be hardy to zone 5 would not survive the winter in zone 3. Long Island falls in zone 7, so, if you’re choosing a perennial plant, choose one that will be hardy to at least zone 7.
Learn your soil type.
Do you have alkaline soil? How fast does it drain? These questions and many others need answering. Many areas of Long Island have sandy, fairly acidic soil, due to how the island itself was formed. This means you can do one of two things: choose plants that thrive in these soils, or figure out what you need to do to bring your soil into an acceptable range for the things you want to grow. As a rule, root vegetables like sandy soil because it gives them room to grow larger compared to heavier clay soil. Plenty of crops prefer moderately to slightly acidic soil, so you’ll have lots of options.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Chances are, even if you choose crops that do well in your native soil, you’ll have to use a soil additive at some point. Before you do that, be sure to get your soil tested — not only do additives cost money, they can potentially end up making things worse down the road. As an example, some plant diseases frequently attributed to nutrient deficiencies (like tomato blossom end rot) may not be due to a deficiency at all, but due to an imbalance in the soil that prevents proper nutrient uptake. In these cases, correcting the imbalance is a better long-term solution than simply adding more of the “deficient” nutrient.
Choose the right spots.
Some plants thrive best in full sun, others will burn. Some plants are perfectly happy in boggy soils, others will rot. Before choosing a spot for your garden, examine the conditions in various areas to pick the optimal place for your beds. It’ll save you a lot of work and money down the road.
Vegetable gardens are a lot of effort, but a well-planned garden is completely worth it. Not only are fresh, ripe vegetables delicious, good soil and careful tending mean that they’ll be absolutely packed with nutrients. Before you set up your garden, learn your soil type, how much sun your yard gets, how quickly your soil drains, and what kinds of vegetables are likely to do well in your area. Don’t forget to add some plants to invite native pollinators — they’ll help make sure you get a fruitful harvest year after year.