Need a gardening tutorial? Head to your local farmers' market
Timely advice from a farmers market vendor can yield you carrots like these. (Stock imageTMS / July 5, 2013)
For those of us with backyard gardens, there are lessons to be learned from these farmers and from trips to farmers markets. On a recent visit to my local farmers' market, I not only became more aware of what is in season, but I also got new ideas about what I could grow in my own garden and the best time of year to plant it.
While most of us don't have the space to grow the same variety of produce offered in farmers' markets, making note of the market's seasonal offerings, such as broccoli or spinach, can provide useful information for our own gardens.
Broccoli and spinach can be found in markets very early in the season when temperatures are still cool. The lesson here: Don't try growing these plants in your own garden during the heat of summer. The opposite is true of tomatoes and peppers; they love the heat so don't plant them too early in the season.
Paying attention to local fresh produce in market stalls can help you sharpen your gardening skills. Subtract several weeks from the date that certain produce becomes available in the market, and you will get an idea of the best time to plant it in your own garden next year.
I have found that most farmers and their employees at markets will readily offer growing tips such as when to plant, how far apart to space plants, and what types of fertilizers to use for individual crops.
One such tip greatly improved my carrot crop. When I inquired about the beautiful carrots at one vendor's stand, I learned that heavy clay soil like mine inhibits carrots roots from growing straight down. Lighter, looser soil allows the plant's roots to grow with ease producing longer more uniform carrots. Adding copious amounts of sand to the soil of my carrot plot, I was told, would yield much better carrots. And it did!
Another important tip I picked up from talking with growers at our farmers' market is the practice of succession planting. This simply means planting seeds or plants at intervals to stagger the harvest. For instance, instead of planting a whole packet of lettuce seed at one time, which will produce a bumper crop of lettuce several weeks later, I plant part of the packet, wait about five days, plant more, and wait five more days and plant the rest.
When it comes time to harvest I am not inundated with lettuce all at once. This practice holds true for most fast-growing crops.
For those of you who have ever been the recipient of doorstop-sized zucchini -- or the giver -- will appreciate the concept of succession planting.
If you want to grow better vegetables in your own garden, take a trip to your local farmers' market. You'll get fresh fruit, vegetables and a little friendly counsel in one stop.
(Sean Conway's book "Sean Conway's Cultivating Life" (Artisan Books, 2009) describes 125 projects for backyard living. http://www.cultivatinglife.com.)