The Q&A Archives: First Time Vegetable Garden Advice

Question: My husband and I have decided to try our hands in a vegetable garden. We want to grow tomatoes, serrano and jalapeno peppers, cilantro, cucumbers and whatever else sounds good. The area will get 6-7 hours of sun. Please advise on seeds or transplants, watering, fertilizing, etc.

Answer: Your spot should be great for vegetable gardening. Tomatoes and peppers are usually set out as transplants. Cucumbers and many other veggies are usually direct seeded. Cilantro can be done either way, but if you can find transplants (or grow your own) you may have better results.

Make sure the soil has plenty of organic matter. I suspect the person who landscaped did some soil and bed preparation which is good. Mid-May is too late to plant most of the veggies you mentioned in Austin. They just don't fruit well in the heat of summer! Actually, the two peppers and small fruited tomatoes like 'Super Sweet 100' (cherry type) or 'Viva Italia' (paste type) might do o.k. with plenty of water. Burpee carries all of these.

Remember that here in the south we do not have a long growing season...we have two short growing seasons separated by the inferno called summer! You can begin planting the veggies you mentioned again in mid-July for a fall garden.

You can however plant okra, southern peas, pumpkin, sweet potato and watermelon now if you wish. They either laugh at the summer heat or will produce their harvest in the cooling days of fall.

Let your imagination run on ways to incorporate edibles into the landscape. A privacy fence can be turned into a bean, pea or cucumber trellis with some mesh wire tacked to it. Many leaf lettuces and swiss chard (especially 'Bright Lights' and 'Rhubarb') make excellent border plants as do a number of the herbs. Bush types of cucumber, squash, pepper, eggplant and tomatoes will grace a walk or deck when grown in a large planter (5 gallons is a minimum size). I've even seen some beautiful framed lattice panels (with "legs" to keep them a free-standing chalk board) set on a patio to block western sun. These make great trellises for vining plants, and they are portable too!

Enjoy your new garden, and count on learning a lot every season!

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