In plot size and zucchini, less is more

April 04, 1993|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,Knight-Ridder News Service

In April, gardeners are full of hope. They're out there digging up the whole back yard, putting in row after row of vegetables they hope will feed the family all winter.

With a near-religious zeal, these gung-ho gardeners stock up on plants and seeds and fertilizer and new gloves and lovely spades because this summer, they swear, is going to produce a garden good enough to make a magazine cover.

But when July comes and the mountains and beach beckon, heat and humidity settle in and it doesn't rain, even the most enthusiastic gardener may wonder if it was too much.

I'll tell you now, in early April, it is.

If you've never gardened, start small. If you know a little or even a lot about gardening, start small. If you have no intention whatsoever of going to the mountains or beach, start small.

You will have a better garden.

SG The weeds will never get out of control because it will take just 5

minutes or so to get them out. The produce will be good and tasty because you kept it watered. And you won't go into squash and tomato overload.

I suggest your garden be no larger than about 150 square feet, a rectangle about 10 feet by 15 feet. Or create three small beds, each 4 feet by 12 feet, narrow enough to be tended without walking on your carefully prepared soil.

The soil must be well-dug and improved with compost, topsoil or peat moss. Be liberal about this.

Before you plant, consider some things that will make the most of your small space.

* Choose carefully. Crops such as tomatoes and peppers, which produce a lot of food from a few plants, are ideal for the small garden. So are bush-style squash, leaf lettuce and radishes, which produce a lot out of a little space.

Look for space-saving varieties such as Bush Whopper cucumbers, Sun Drops Hybrid bush squash or Sweet Bush hybrid cantaloupe. Tom Thumb is an aptly named little lettuce.

* Go vertical. Use a fence, tepee or trellis to train cucumbers, pole beans, peas and even squash to grow up. Grow tomatoes in cages or tie them to stakes.

* Use every inch. If your garden is narrow enough to tend without walking on it, use the space below tall crops for smaller ones rTC such as lettuce, onions, radishes and carrots that can stand a bit of shade.

* Plant in succession. Choose one variety that produces early in the season and then another variety for later on. This is especially useful with tomatoes.

For example, plant one or two Early Girl or First Lady tomatoes for early summer, followed in mid-to-late summer by Better Boy, Celebrity or Beefmaster.

* Use containers. Large pots can supplement the garden, particularly if your sunny areas are limited. Most vegetables, including lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, can be grown in containers, but the soil must be in top condition and the plants fertilized regularly.

Containers must be tended carefully, and it is likely they will need watering every other day or so in hot weather.

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