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Read This and Reap : A Vegetable-Garden Planning Guide

May 18, 1986|BILL SIDNAM | Bill Sidnam raises fruit trees and tends an extensive vegetable plot in an ordinary backyard in Orange County. and Susan Ragsdale is an illustrator and avid gardener, and, being a vegetarian, has a special interest in edible plants

Now is the time to plant your summer vegetable garden--corn and cantaloupes, cucumbers for salads and for pickling, squash and pumpkins, and, of course, tomatoes. But where does the home gardener find the room? People tend to think that vegetable gardening requires lots of space. But this isn't necessarily the case. For instance, it's not always mandatory that you plant in rows, leaving wide spaces in between. More often than not, vegetables can be grown much closer together than the seed packets recommend. Rows and wide spacing are for farmers and their equipment; in a backyard, or a front yard, there are more innovative ways to plant.

Beginning below is a rundown of the summer's favorite vegetables, along with space-saving ideas for planting them. To help you find a place in your garden for each one, we've put together this vegetable planner, pictured at left and on Pages 34 and 36. It's similar to the planners used to design compact and efficient kitchens: Here you cut out the vegetables, put them on their stands and then move them about a plan of your garden until everything fits. Drawn to scale, the cutouts show accurately how much space each vegetable takes up. Some of the illustrations have several plants of a single vegetable grouped together (the corn for instance); it's pointless to grow any less than what's illustrated. If you need more cutouts than are provided, simply have these pages copied.

To start your planner, paste these pages to thin cardboard. Cut out the vegetables; then fold on the solid lines. Attach each one to its proper base, or assemble so each can stand on its own, as shown below.

Draw a plan of your yard (a bird's-eye view) using a scale in which 1/2-inch equals one foot in your garden. All these vegetables require planting sites that receive full sun, so lightly darken areas that are shady during the day; vegetables won't grow here.

Now position the cutouts on your garden plan. Move them about until the perfect spot for each appears. There is no reason to put vegetables all in one place. After reading the information that follows, you may find that the cucumbers might do best against the fence, while a melon plant could be squeezed into the back of a flower bed. Put tall plants, such as caged tomatoes, corn and trellised beans, on the north side of the garden, where they won't shade shorter plants.

If you lack garden space but still want to grow summer vegetables, say on a patio or balcony, keep in mind that many thrive in roomy containers such as half whiskey barrels. A number of dwarf vegetable varieties have been bred specifically for container culture and are listed here. On Page 36 you'll find a cutout for a half barrel.

There are a few basic rules to follow for container gardening. First, the larger the container, the better the vegetable. So, forget the six-inch pots, milk cartons, one-gallon cans and such. You have to buy good containers; the results will be worth the money you spend. Half whiskey barrels are spacious, attractive and relatively inexpensive. Make certain there are at least six one-inch drainage holes in the bottoms.

Fill your containers with a commercial potting soil, and add a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote. Because most potting soils lack trace elements, feed your plants every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer that contains secondary trace elements such as iron and zinc.

Container plants require far more frequent watering than plants grown in the garden. Apply water until it seeps from the drainage holes for several minutes. In hot weather, water maybe once a day.

Seeds for the vegetable varieties mentioned here are available in local seed racks, or you can order them from Park Seed Co., Highway 254 N., Greenwood, S.C. 29647 or W. Atlee Burpee Co., Warminster, Pa. 18974. Both companies offer free catalogues. Tomatoes

The large, sprawling types of tomatoes are best grown in tall, sturdy, circular tomato cages made out of concrete reinforcing wire. This wire comes in rolls of seven-foot widths and has a six-inch mesh, which makes it easy to pick tomatoes within the cage.

Each cage requires a 77-inch length of wire. Round the wire and crimp it together to form a frame seven feet high. Remove the bottom cross-wires and push the vertical wires into the ground. Anchor each cage with two 2-by-2 redwood stakes. The plants can be spaced three feet apart, and the cages set over them.

Although it sounds as though seven-foot cages are a little high, and indeed you may need a stool to harvest the topmost fruit, they are space-efficient because the plants are growing vertically rather than horizontally. With these cages, you never have to prune the vines.

If you are new to gardening, the following tomato varieties are well suited to Southland growing conditions and will give you huge yields in cages: 'Better Boy,' 'Super Steak,' 'Big Girl,' 'Early Girl,' 'Celebrity' and 'Champion.' You'll get between 40 and 120 tomatoes per plant, depending on the variety.

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