Vegetable gardening was once a household chore, but popularity waned over time.
However, the hobby has experienced a recent resurgence as people have a renewed appetite for a fresh supply of nutritious vegetables.
Vegetable crops can be grown year round in south Louisiana, but the easiest garden to grow is one planted in the spring. If you are new to vegetable gardening or have been struggling with success, there are a few fundamentals that can make your experience more enjoyable and successful.
First of all, don’t get started too early — there is no sense in fighting cold weather when you are still trying to learn the ropes. The old-timers would always plant their gardens on Good Friday, so wait for the temperatures to warm up some. I would go for the last week in March or the first week in April.
Another beginner’s tip is to keep the garden small — you can grow many vegetables in a small area if you take care of them properly. While planting is easy enough, you might find that dealing with weeds, insects, diseases, irrigation, and harvesting are tasks that require more time and should occur as it gets warmer.
If you have options in locating your garden, do not overlook the obvious — you will need as much sunlight as you can get. If you reduce the amount of sun, then you ultimately limit your harvest, and it will take longer for the crops to mature, especially fruiting crops.
So place the garden where it can get full sun if possible. A minimum of eight hours of sun will pay dividends. Also, make sure you are close enough to a water source to irrigate and that the site has good drainage of surface water.
A soil sample to determine the pH level and the nutrient base of the soil may also prove beneficial, and it could go a long way toward making your gardening experience successful. Fertilize and lime according to the soil sample recommendations. You can broadcast the fertilizer once the garden is plowed down so that when you row it up, all the fertilizer will be in the row.
Another way to fertilize is to build your row, bust the middles open and band your fertilizer in that trench in the row’s center at a 4-inch depth. Then fill the trench back in to recover the row.
You will also want to think about the most labor intensive part of gardening while you are in the planning stages, which is weed control. Your choices are to use a hoe, herbicides, organic mulches or plastic mulches.
Organic mulches sound best, but they keep the soil cool in the spring and slow the crop. They also block sunlight, which keeps weed seed from germinating but also keeps the soil from warming up. I prefer black plastic mulch because it helps warm the soil for earlier production, it blocks sunlight to prevent weeds (except coco grass), and it conserves moisture.
Irrigation is a big part of vegetable production, and if you are going to use plastic mulch, you will want to figure out how to get water past the plastic. I like the drip irrigation tape that is buried in the row a few inches deep prior to laying the plastic. Then you attach your water supply to the ends of the row and irrigation becomes just a turn of a knob with no wasted water.
When you actually plant, spacing and depth are important as well as placement. If you put down black plastic mulch with a drip irrigation tube in the middle of the row, you do not want to plant in the middle of the row. You should plant off center to avoid damaging the irrigation tube or plant a double row by planting on both sides of the irrigation tube.
Follow recommended spacing for vegetables. Some common spacing would be 2-3 inches for bush snap beans, 8-12 inches for sweet corn, 12 inches for cucumbers and okra, and 18 inches for tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Seeds are planted at a depth that is twice the diameter of the seed.
For a detailed list of recommended vegetable varieties, dates to plant, seed spacing, seed depth requirements and days to harvest, get a copy of LSU AgCenter Publication 1980, “Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide,” from our website at www.lsuagcenter.com or call (225) 686-3020.