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Grow Veggies Like a Pro
by Genevieve Rajewski
Getting in the daily servings of vegetables recommended for a healthy diet gets a lot more palatable when local crops come into season, inspiring us with their vivid colors, incredible textures, and fresh flavors. While The Trustees offers plenty of opportunities to partake of the local harvest, eating fresh produce gets even more rewarding when you grow your own. To help you improve your bounty, Andrew Lawson—who runs the produce operation for The Trustees’ largest production farm as the CSA manager at Appleton Farms in Hamilton and Ipswich—shares his five tips for ensuring a bumper crop from your yard or community garden plot.
1. Set Your Site on Success
Choose your location carefully and test the soil. You want a spot that gets full sun and is well-drained. And most importantly, be sure to get your soil tested at the outset and then every several years. Pay a lot of attention to your soil’s pH: New England dirt tends to be very acidic, but thankfully that’s easily remedied by adding lime. A soil test also will reveal your garden’s fertility, which can be improved by adding organic fertilizers (available at gardening centers), compost, or manure.
2. Ground Your Efforts
Most of your success will depend on whether you prepare the earth in a way that allows plants to flourish. In the spring, work the soil at least six inches deep with a rototiller or broad pitchfork. Smooth the soil by raking out any clumps or root balls: You want a finer seedbed, especially if you are direct seeding crops such as carrots, which can get lost in the fray otherwise and upend not germinating. Try not to walk on the garden after you have prepped the soil, as compacted dirt hinders growth.
3. To Everything, a Season
Some crops grow well in the fall and the spring, when the weather is cooler, and struggle once the summer heat hits. Others will die if there’s a frost and require the warmth of the summer to thrive. Try to sow with the seasons, staggering your plantings for varied harvests over the course of the whole growing season. Cool-weather crops that are easier to grow include head lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, radishes, peas, carrots, beets, and broccoli. In May, plant warm-weather crops like summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and basil for harvesting in mid-July through mid-September.
4. Pick Your Battles
Don’t try to grow every vegetable there is. Some crops take up a lot of space, but only produce food for a short period of time (so skip the sweet corn, for example.) Although heirloom varieties can be delicious, they also tend to be tricky to work with. Stick with the reliable old-standbys: They will supply you with more produce and be just as tasty because you’re eating them fresh out of your garden.
5. Practice Good Hygiene
There are lots of simple ways to prevent disease, reduce pests, and exclude weeds. Properly space your plants to ensure good airflow. Stake crops such as tomatoes and peas to keep fruit or foliage from touching the soil. Mulch your garden beds with straw, leaves, or landscape fabric. Employ a floating row cover—a thin, white fabric barrier—over greens. Remove spent crops, and once you’re done with part of your garden for the year, cover it with a tarp to make it easier to prepare next spring.
Bonus tip! As you follow this advice, don’t forget to let yourself enjoy the process, says Elizabeth Green, Vegetable and CSA Program Manager for The Trustees. “Take time to take in all those wonderful smells and the colors.”
Genevieve Rajewski is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers nature, animals, food, and science.