he number of home gardeners jumped by almost 40 percent last season, but nearly half of them won't be back this year. Most probably found vegetable gardening too much work. Or, because it was a pretty poor gardening season, they didn't have much success.
So, in a series of columns, I'm trying to get rookie vegetable gardeners off to a solid start.
Last week, we talked about siting the garden, and my advice was to consider constructing a raised bed and filling it with bags of compost.
A raised bed will confine your gardening ambitions and keep you from digging up more than you can manage. And fresh compost means you don't have to worry about amending poor soil or generating the right pH levels.
Today, let's talk about what to plant in your vegetable garden.
"Start with what you actually eat," says Carrie Engel of Valley View Farms. "I'd love to grow everything out there, but what the average family needs is probably four to six tomato plants, a hot pepper and a couple of sweet peppers."
I would add to that list an early season crop of spinach and lettuce, which you can sow in the ground in early March. John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds has wonderful collections of both. These salad greens will bolt just in time for warm weather crops to take their place in the garden.
Add a trellis or two to your bed, and consider growing peas, beans or cucumbers on them. The trellises make an attractive vertical feature in the garden and save room. Peas and beans are prolific and easy to grow. Check out the varieties at Landreth Seed Co.
They say that it isn't a vegetable garden unless it has a tomato plant in it, and if you are growing only tomatoes, you can still call it a vegetable garden.
If Engel is right, and four to six plants are plenty, mix up the varieties with a selection from Tomato Growers Supply Co.: early, mid- and late-season producers; cherry tomatoes, beefsteaks, romas or perhaps some of the heirlooms that come in golds, purples and greens.
Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds also has a great selection. But remember, a single tomato plant can produce 30 to 40 pounds of fruit.
Add a handful of pepper plants, hot, sweet and mild, from Seed Savers Exchange. And perhaps an eggplant or a squash if you cook often with those vegetables. Plant some onion sets for harvesting in the fall, too.
And don't forget herbs: basil, rosemary, oregano, chives or flat-leaf parsley. Again, choose the herbs you most often use in cooking. Consider planting your herbs in pots outside your kitchen door. It is more likely that you will use them if they are close at hand.
So, make your list of vegetables for your garden and check it twice.
Then cut it in half.
Remember, the plan is to start small so you aren't one of the new gardeners who doesn't come back for a second season.
Seeds or seedlings? Next week we will talk about growing vegetables from seed.