OK, so you want to save some money and reap the tasty benefits of a vegetable garden. What should you be planting now, in late spring/early summer?
It’s too late to start your own tomatoes and peppers, although you still have time to put out transplants. If you can, get your transplants from someone who actually grew the transplants – a local greenhouse or farm stand would be a good choice. Sure, you can get transplants at one of the big-box stores, but those plants have been hopped up on fertilizer and subjected to very stressful conditions. You’ll almost certainly get healthier, stronger plants from a local grower.
For seeds sown straight in the garden, you can’t beat three old standbys: beans, squash, and cukes. You’ve got two choices for each of these: vining types or bush types. Vines require sturdy supports and usually a good deal of space, although if you’re inventive you can actually save some space by growing these guys vertically. For bush types, stay away from sowing in rows, which wastes a lot of space and which will require more work from you later in the season. Instead, try sowing your beans in blocks and your squash and cukes in hills.
A block of beans can be anywhere from about a foot square to maybe as large as a yard square; I’d recommend keeping to 2-feet square or smaller, though, so you can easily reach your arm into the middle of the block. Plant the seeds about 2 inches apart in each direction. When the bean plants reach full-size, their leaves will shade the soil below, discouraging weed growth and helping to keep the soil evenly moist.
A “hill” of squash or cukes is just a 3-foot square area in which you grow two or three plants. In the middle of the square, sow a few seeds about three inches apart in a ring. If more than two or three plants sprout, thin to two or three plants. When the plants mature, the leaves of the plants shade the ground, once again discouraging weeds and keeping the soil evenly moist.
A couple other veggies to start now include heat-tolerant varieties of lettuce and radish. For lettuce, the easiest kinds to grow are leaf and bibb types, which I recommend sowing in blocks. As for radish, in addition to the little salad radishes everyone’s already familiar with, you might also want to try “summer” radishes such as Chinese radish and Japanese daikon. Both are great for adding to stir-fries and even soup (or for making your own kimchi). If you just want to stick with the little salad radishes, try sowing them in a ring in your squash and cucumber hills. The radishes mature before the squash and cuke plants get big, and some folks think the radishes repel pests that can plague squash and cukes.
There are several other veggies that are good for sowing right now, but this is good for a start. More later!