The weather in the mid-Atlantic provides a long growing season; fresh vegetables can be plucked from the garden or containers almost year-round. Smithsonian Gardens’ Education and Collections Manager Cindy Brown discusses planting schedules, cultivar selection, maintenance tips, and suggestions on how to make your vegetable garden productive and beautiful.
- University of Maryland Extension
- University of Maryland Extension, “Grow It, Eat It”
- Cornell University Extension, “Vegetable Varieties”
- Choosing a Growing Structure Best for You
- Cold Frame Construction
- Virginia Cooperative Extension
Q & A
Q– What vegetables I can start now for fall?
Fall Planting Guide, will share file
Q– What do you use to fertilize your plants and when?
My favorite fertilizers are fish emulsion and liquid kelp, but I have also used both liquid and granulated name brand fertilizers. I usually reduce the recommend amounts a bit; never use more than what is recommended. I also use compost to amend the soil before I plant and as a top dressing after I plant. It is essential to fertilize edibles grown in containers and highly recommended for those grown in soil. Fertilize containers every other week. Veggies in the garden should be fertilized about two weeks after they are planted. The amount and frequency after the initial fertilization depends on your soil type, weather conditions and the edible you are growing. Check your local extension service’s website for specific recommendations. I never fertilize trees, vines or shrubs, preferring instead to condition the soil with compost.
Q–Why did you say your tomatoes were ‘done’?
Growing tomatoes can break a gardener’s heart. Every year the level of success is a bit different. This year I grew a lot of heirlooms, which are not always as disease–resistant as many hybrids. It was also a wet summer in Northern Virginia, resulting in perfect conditions for fungal diseases. My tomatoes succumbed to early blight this year. Which means I will be diligent about cleaning up the beds, switching the areas I grow the tomatoes next year and maybe even growing them all in containers. The tomatoes I grew in containers and in really well-drained areas are still producing. Those growing in the wetter areas are done for the season.
Q–What is the cultivar name of the head lettuce?
My favorite heading lettuce is Pablo Batavian, a loose-headed lettuce that is slow to bolt when spring temperatures increase.
Q–What perennial edibles are native to the DC / Maryland area?
Native edible plants could be another presentation on their own! There are quite a few edible native plants and lots of information is available online. I highly recommend buying plants from a reputable nursery or foraging with a knowledgeable person before consuming any native edible plants. See the link in the sidebar for a short list of Mid-Atlantic native edibles.
Q–What is a leek pup? I have leek pups now. What should I do with them and when? The leeks have gone to seed, which I’ve collected. When should I plant these seeds?
Leeks are easy to grow from seed. Plant seeds indoors, under grow lights in mid-January. Eight or ten weeks later plant the small seedlings in trenches. As the seedlings grow, cover with soil, but always keep a bit of the leaf uncovered. Stop this process around mid-April and let them grow until they measure between ½ inch or 1 ½ inches in diameter. Eat before the leeks start to flower. A leek pup is a small bulblet attached to the main leek. Gently pry from the “mother” leek and replant.
Q– For deer, what is your opinion about a double fence with both fences 4′ high and 3′ apart?
Deer do not like to jump into enclosed spaces where they feel trapped. Because of this, a double fence can be an effective tool to prevent deer damage in the garden. However, a double fence takes up a lot of space and can be expensive to install.
Q–What garden mulch do you recommend?
Personally, I prefer leaf mulch, but have had success using many types of mulch that are commercially available. The only mulch that presented a problem for me was a thick layer of grass clippings. The grass created a mat that was almost impervious to water penetration. Thin layers of grass clippings are a better option.
Q—When it comes to constructing a covered bed, what do you think about using heavy gauge wire rather than hoops? Do you use the hoop tubing for irrigation as well as structure for the protective cloth?
Heavy gauge wire would be fine. Other suggestions: premade wire hoops available in garden centers, ½ inch black poly tubing (the method I chose), I/2 inch white PVC tubing, or metal conduit (used to run electrical wiring in home construction). Using PVC tubing and metal conduit allows you to make taller tunnels. Black poly tubing, PVC tubing and metal conduit should be anchored to the raised beds using tube straps or slid over rebar pounded into the garden beds.
I do not use the tubing for irrigation. I highly recommend using drip systems for raised garden beds.
Q–Please spell the name of the cloth you mentioned?
Reemay cloth is a non-woven polypropylene or polyester clothlike material. It comes in different grades (or thicknesses) to transmit light, keep heat in and bugs out, and is an excellent windbreak for young transplants. It allows rain and overhead irrigation to reach plants and soil.
Q– Can we get more details about the vents in the covered bed?
I used crawl space vents, those metal foundation vents that open and close with the action of temperature-sensitive springs. No need for electricity, although there are vents that use electricity for more control. Suggestions on how to construct and use them are available online. Make sure you search “using crawl space vents in garden cold frames.”
Q– What are good options for container planting? Your thoughts on fall planting in containers for those of us who only have decks?
Most edibles can be grown in containers, just match the length of the overall mature root system to the depth of the container. Shallow rooted edibles like lettuce, garlic, radishes and arugula can be planted in shallow containers. Edibles with long root systems or edible tubers like tomatoes and blueberries or potatoes and sweet potatoes should be planted in deeper containers. Peppers, eggplants, leeks, and beans fall somewhere in between. One edible I don’t recommend planting in a container is corn. Because corn is wind-pollinated, you should plant it in blocks of four to six short rows, so it produces a good crop. Most of us don’t have containers big enough to plant corn.
Q–You mentioned your kitchen garden was in your townhouse. You discussed a lot of plants including small trees and vines—how much space do you have?
I am lucky enough to live in an end unit and have intensively planted my townhouse garden and ‘borrowed’ space in the common area. I use containers placed in the garden and on my deck to plant edibles that like a bit of breathing room. I also gardened for years at a local public garden; I maintained the kitchen garden, orchard and herb garden there. Some of the edibles I shared in the presentation were grown at that public garden. Most people would be surprised at how much can be grown in a small space.
Q–Why did the advertised title of your presentation differ from the actual content?
I was looking expressly for fall garden info. When I was constructing the presentation, I was going to concentrate on fall gardens, but I rapidly realized it was a bigger topic. I made it more inclusive to explain the principles of seasonal plantings. Please see the “Fall Planting Guide” attached for a specific fall guide.
Q—Any tips on soil testing?
I highly recommend getting your garden soil tested before planting. Check with your local extension office for locations. I also suggest monitoring the area considered for growing edibles. Do puddles form after it rains? Is the soil heavy clay or sandy? Does the area contain a high percentage of perennial weeds? Your answers will help determine how to condition the soil before planting and may even determine the type of edibles you grow.
Q–When is the best time and method to plant fig trees?
I had the most success planting fig trees in early spring after the last frost. The University of Maryland Extension Office recommends spring or early fall. See their website above.
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