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GARDENING

Small Vegetable Patch Doesn't Have to Be a Time Hog

April 18, 1998|From Associated Press

Even if you do not consider yourself much of a food gardener, consider growing a small plot of vegetables. A plot of a few square feet might just win you over to the enjoyment of biting into home-grown, juicy tomatoes, crisp lettuce or super-sweet corn. Here's a simple plan for a small garden that requires almost no time:

The garden needs sun, the more the better. And the closer the garden is to the back door, the more you will be drawn to it, whether to dash out to pick a few leaves of lettuce or to pull a wayward weed. Make the garden small, say 10 feet by 10 feet.

Soil preparation takes only a few minutes. First give the ground a light sprinkling of fertilizer and lime. Next, blanket the area with a five-sheet thickness of newspaper (black and white pages only) to smother weeds before rotting away. Finally, spread a 4-inch layer of leaves, wood chips, or compost to hide and keep the newspaper in place. That is it, you are finished with soil preparation.

Plant directly in the layer above the newspaper. If you need some soil--for small seeds, for example--make a bed of potting soil where you plant, then cover the seeds. Besides planting and harvest, your only other job will be to water once a week for an hour.

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The planting plan is very simple: Divide the garden into four quadrants. Start the season in early spring with dwarf peas and lettuce in one of the southern quadrants. Plant peas and lettuce early because both enjoy cool weather. Sow the peas in rows 4 inches wide, scattering the seeds about an inch apart down and across the row.

The next wave of planting takes place after warm weather has settled. Buy tomato transplants and set them in one of the northern quadrants, with plants 2 and 3 feet apart, depending on whether you stake them or allow them to sprawl.

Plant corn and cucumber seeds at the same time as tomato transplants. Corn grows tall, so give it the other northern quadrant. Plant groups of three seeds together, with groups spaced 1 foot apart each way. Cucumbers, preferably bushy varieties like Spacemaster and Bush Champion, get the final, southern quadrant. Group six seeds in the center of the section. Once corn and cucumber seedlings are up and growing vigorously, carefully thin excess plants so each corn group has only one plant and each cucumber group has three plants.

Make your final planting in midsummer. Where? Pull out the peas and lettuce, and plant bush beans in their place.

Although this garden will produce a small amount of vegetables with a minimum amount of work, success may tempt you to expand next year.

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