Our mission is to share the wonders of the natural world by publishing books from experts in the fields of gardening, horticulture, and natural history. Grow with us.

Your vegetable garden checklist

by Timber Press on February 10, 2011

in Gardening

It’s time to get started on the vegetable garden for the coming season so you can grow your own healthy, organic food again this year. Many of us have already started seedlings indoors to transplant out to the garden or the cold frames as soon as weather permits. Kathryn and I have come up with a checklist of ten things to consider before you plant. Each item on the list helps to prevent pests and diseases in your vegetable garden. All ten of them acting in concert really gives you a leg up for a successful and productive year.

1. Sanitize. If you didn’t get around to cleaning up old left-over garden debris last autumn, do it now. Pay special attention to any dead plant material from diseased or infested plants and get it out of your garden. Fungal spores, insect eggs, and bacteria lurking on old infected dead leaves lying on the ground can quickly infect your new plants and ruin your produce all summer long.

2. Right plant, right place. Be sure and read the instructions on the seed pack or the vegetable start plant label and put your plants in the best location to meet those requirements. If your plants have the right amount of light and water, the correct temperature, and the proper soil they won’t be under stress. And stress, as we all know, predisposes our plants (as well as ourselves) to attack by pests and diseases.

3. Light and air flow. Most vegetable and fruit plants want full sun and free air movement. Plants that do not get enough sunlight will be weak and spindly, and won’t be able to produce very much food for you. Free air movement helps foliage dry quickly and helps to avoid diseases and pests so don’t crowd your plants, give them space.

4. Genetic resistance. If you have a choice, choose cultivars that are genetically resistant to diseases and pests. Less disease and fewer pests means less work for you and more produce. Sounds like a win-win to me! Most all of these disease resistant cultivars have been developed through traditional plant breeding techniques.

5. Manage water. Set up your garden so that your watering practices deliver water to the root system, not to the leaves. Keeping the leaves dry goes a long way to avoiding diseases. In general, keep your plants evenly moist for best results. Allowing your plants to get extremely dry and then flooding them to get them extremely wet results in uneven growth, deformed foliage, and reduced yields. Also try to group plants according to their watering needs.

6. Proper temperature. Some vegetables like tomatoes and sweet corn, and fruits like melons are warm season crops. These are plants that flourish in hot humid weather. Other plants like cabbage, lettuce, and spinach are cool season plants that flourish in cool temperatures. If you put warm season plants in the ground in early spring while soil and air temperatures are still quite cool, they will not grow well and may be stunted. Conversely, cool season plants planted in mid-summer may simply flower and set seed while still very tiny.

7. Build soil. Creating healthy, biologically active soil is the best way to build healthy plants. Incorporating dead plant material (not diseased!) into the soil feeds micro-organisms that break it down into simple nutrients that will ultimately feed your plants. Feeding the soil results in a complex ecosystem filled with fungi, bacteria, insects, worms, and other critters that help to out-compete the ones that want to damage your plants. Compost and organic fertilizers incorporated into the soil are excellent sources of dead plant material with which to feed your soil. Mulch placed on top of the soil around your plants will also eventually break down and feed the soil.

8. Polycultures. A polyculture is where you put lots of different plants into the same location. Corn, beans, and squash, for example, is a traditional polyculture developed by the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest centuries ago. The corn, beans, and squash are all planted together in the same bed. You can mix vegetables and fruits into your flower beds and vice versa. The important benefit you get is that it makes your plants harder for pestiferous insects to find. It also makes it difficult for fungal and bacterial disease to jump from plant to plant.

9. Rotation. Don’t put a plant in the same location where you grew it last year. Move your plants around from year to year to make them moving targets. It helps to avoid the build-up of soil-borne pests and diseases. There are lots of crop rotation systems and schemes, you can choose one of these or just create your own system, one that works for you. Many people find that a three-year rotation system works well.

10. Beneficial organisms. There are lots and lots of insects and other critters that are willing and able to eat the insect pests that want to eat your produce before you do. Many are predators, like lady bugs and lacewings, and some are parasites that lay their eggs inside other insects. And then there are beneficial nematodes that attack and kill insects that live in the soil. Many birds are also insectivorous and can help to get rid of insect pests for you, and so can frogs, toads, and spiders. If you manage your garden to protect these beneficial critters, they will help you manage the pests.

deardorff_dDavid Deardorff, botanist and expert plant pathologist, loves to write and lecture about how to grow healthier plants. As a research biologist David has lived and gardened in many environments, from the desert southwest to the maritime northwest to the tropics. David earned his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Washington. He coordinated plant pathology research at the University of Hawaii and served as faculty advisor to the Master Gardener Program at Washington State University. He has served as Research Director at Island Biotropix, an orchid nursery and tissue culture laboratory which he co-owned with partner and co-author Kathryn Wadsworth.

wadsworth_kKathryn Wadsworth, writer, photographer, and naturalist, enjoys sharing the wonders of the natural world with others. While leading eco-tours around the world she has studied plant life and explored natural history from Australia to Alaska. In graduate school Kathryn studied film-making and communications at the University of New Mexico, where she made documentary films on a wide variety of topics ranging from the California Gray Whale to the impact of mining on the Navajo Nation. She has owned and operated a film production company, an orchid nursery, and a tissue culture laboratory.


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matti February 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Excellent checklist. It is amazing how many critters live in the soil. I still remember when I thought all dirt was just dirt…no difference from one to the next. Matti

2 Liza February 23, 2010 at 8:26 am

I agree with Matti – excellent! I also checked out your blog – it’s so smart, I think it’s great!

3 Theresa N February 10, 2011 at 5:15 am

Thanks for the information.

4 Ln February 10, 2011 at 5:28 am

Look like a terrific book!

5 Donna February 10, 2011 at 5:32 am

great advice…looks like a very interesting and helpful book to add to the growing list…

6 Tracy February 10, 2011 at 7:55 am

This checklist is going to be pinned in the garden shed – as reminders! Their book looks like it should be a “required reading” book for all gardeners.

7 Jane / MulchMaid February 10, 2011 at 8:01 am

I still struggle with “Right Plant, Right Place”, but I’m slowly learning. Having this book might result in fewer deaths in my garden since I would figure out sooner what to do right!

8 James Haywood February 10, 2011 at 8:11 am

Looks like a great book, thanks for the check list

9 Elaine February 10, 2011 at 8:28 am

For all the times neighbors and friends ask me, or for when I myself, can’t figure out what’s wrong with a plant, What’s Wrong with My Plant? would make a great addition to my bookshelf. Thanks, Ej

10 Tim Lee February 10, 2011 at 9:29 am

Great book HAVE TO HAVE IT! Soooo useful!

11 Colette February 10, 2011 at 9:45 am

Boy do I need this book!

12 Eva February 10, 2011 at 9:48 am

I keep checking this book out of the library… I would love to own it!

13 meemsnyc February 10, 2011 at 9:53 am

This is a book I need!! Great tips!

14 Carol Jendritza February 10, 2011 at 10:06 am

Switched to 100% organic garden last year with success and some challenges. This book will definately guide me in the direction I need to go for a fruitful harvest this year. Now if you could do something about the lack of summer (this last year) here in Oregon and the green tomatoe recipes I was searching for, I’d be a happy woman.

15 Ganesha February 10, 2011 at 10:15 am

I sure would love to win the book so I can have these great tips at hand!

16 Jeri February 10, 2011 at 10:23 am

Must have this. I am planting in a new environment (moved from Montana to Oklahoma) and things are very different here!

17 Linda Gardner February 10, 2011 at 10:59 am

I keep killing my miniature roses, boston ferns, fuschias and I have beautiful tomato plants but only a couple blighted (or none) tomatoes. Help me please.
~A Serial Plant Killer and Wannabe Gardener

18 Karen Perrine February 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

Great info for getting started, also a wonderful book.

19 Gardeing Jones February 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Hmmm…I see a wee bit of space left on my shelf- just enough I’m thinking.

20 Charles Wood February 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Looks like a very interesting book, even for a trained Master Gardener, love the pic of the tomato horn worm with eggs from the parasitic wasp, it stops them dead in their tracks!!

21 sharon sparks February 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm

would love to have this book. need all the help i can get

22 Susan Spaulding February 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm

The advice regarding proper planting time for warm season vegetables is especially valuable. In the beginning of May the weather can be so delightful, stimulating everyone’s eagerness to fill their vegetable bed with peppers, tomatoes, squash, eggplants. But when the night temperatures are still getting into the 40’s, these warm season plants will suffer and might never produce a high quality plant or product. I also loved that picture of the tomato hornworm with parasitic wasp eggs!

23 Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate February 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Thanks for playing! Our winner today is Eileen Beaudine. Congrats to her, and everyone else should try again tomorrow, when we’re giving away a copy of Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s handbook.

24 Ruth February 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Great checklist. And when choosing veggie varieties for genetic disease resistance, it’s best to buy from small seed companies that offer organically-grown seed or seed from sources that do not include the big seed conglomerates like Monsanto. Hybridisers have done amazing things with plants. No need to support GMO seeds.

25 Virginia Waller February 11, 2011 at 7:27 am

Needed book! Thanks Timber for publishing!

26 Stephanie Suesan Smith February 11, 2011 at 9:03 am

I always enjoy seeing the beneficial insects stick it to the harmful ones. Your book looks nice. I hope I win.

27 Catie February 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Looks like a great book, and one that I could really use.

28 Christine Powell February 13, 2011 at 8:18 am

Just been out in the garden with some early “bugs” – I sure need to know what they were!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: