This article is a belated reply to an Almadale Farm neighbor who called me approximately
one year ago regarding vegetable gardens for children and specifically what vegetables would be the easiest to grow. This
is a subject that is very close to my heart.
When I was a young boy growing up in the 40's.....during the WWII era...almost
everything seemed to be in short supply. As part of the war effort, the government rationed foods like sugar, butter, milk,
cheese, eggs, coffee, meat and canned goods and especially gasoline. Labor and transportation shortages made it very difficult
to harvest and transport fruits and vegetables to market. In order to minimize these problems, our government encouraged Americans
to plant "Victory Gardens."
My family and I were very fortunate-we lived in a small town in Gibson County
and gardening was not a novel idea. While most Victory Gardens were relatively small, my dad had a 1/2 acre garden and we
always ate well. In order to encourage and promote my sister's and my interest in gardening, he gave each of a full row in
which we could plant and grow our own vegetables. We were also expected to care for them. I remember well that my first interest
was in strawberries. As a result of my dad's early encouragement, I developed a life long passion for all forms of gardening.
I'm beginning to see a renewed interest in gardening by parents and children. Almadale Farms is no exception.
Where do junior gardeners and their parents start with their gardening
activities? First, pick a sunny location with good soil-six hours of sunlight is minimum. Do not place your garden
in a low spot. At night cold air settles in low areas so they will be colder than high spots. The ground shouldn't be too
hard (clay) or too sandy. Make sure you can reach your spot with a hose and sprinkler. Watering your garden in the morning
is the best time since watering in the late evening will encourage fungus. Your garden should be located away from the shade
cast by buildings and trees-especially the root systems of trees, which will steal essential nutrients and water. Tree roots
will reach out at least as far as the trees' outermost branches-the so-called drip line.
Soil Preparation. Along with lots of sunlight, a successful vegetable
garden requires well-prepared soil. Bad soil can make gardening difficult but any soil can be improved. The soil in Almadale
Farms has a heavy concentration of clay which feels slick and does not allow easy growth. However, clay soil can be improved
by adding generous amounts of organic matter such as leaves, compost, kitchen wastes, alfalfa pellets, cotton seed meal, soy
meal, grass and other organic matter. I've written numerous articles on the subject of improving soil and will be happy
to share this information with you. Since most of you will be starting "from scratch" you may wish to use some of the commercial
"top soil" which is widely available. While I rarely use commercial fertilizer, you may want to mix some 5-10-10 fertilizer
and lime when you spade up or till your garden plot for the first time. However, soil improvement is a year around affair.
What are the easiest vegetables to grow? I think I've grown just
about everything during my long gardening career but I have found the following vegetables to be the easiest to grow. Earliest
planting dates are in parenthesis.
Tomatoes. There are multiple varieties of tomatoes but the emphasis
for a first time gardener should be on ease of planting, maintenance and heavy bearing. Get a variety of cherry
tomatoes such as Tiny Tim. Cherry tomatoes are very hardy and prolific. A
stake or wire support should be used. If planted properly, you should have a new crop of tomatoes every two days. Regular
tomatoes are not recommended as starters for children. Use transplants. I buy my plants at Russell's in Collierville. (May
Arugula. This is a form of lettuce and is very hardy. Broadcast
seed and cover lightly with 1/2 " of soil. In the absence of rain spray lightly daily. (April 15)
Radishes. Radishes are root vegetables and exist in shades
of red, purple and white. Plant seeds 1/2' below the soil's surface with 1" between each. (April 1)
Potatoes. Get regular seed potatoes or even use those bought
in the grocery store. Be sure the potatoes have eyes which look like warts. Cut the potatoes in half-or plant whole-plant
approximately 2' deep with the eyes facing upward. A late frost will not hurt potatoes. (April 1)
Spinach. Plant 1" deep for specimen plants or sow for thick growth.
Lettuce. Lettuce is very easy to grow. Get the garden variety
and sow, then cover with 1/2" of soil. (April 1)
Onions. Use sets. Plant approximately 1" deep. (March 15)
Cucumbers and squash. They are also easy to grow but runners
can become intrusive. Use plants that produce the smaller varieties. (May 1)
Remember: Our weather can be very unpredictable and re-plantings are occasionally
necessary. There are many other vegetables but those above are among the easiest.
Teaching your child to garden now may just be the beginning of a lifelong interest in a wonderful and restful avocation.