Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 31, 2014

Celebrate home vegetable gardening in April

By C. Rae Hozer
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — In Crossville we’re paying homage to April which is National Lawn and Garden Month and to the 70th anniversary of the “Grow More in ‘44” WWII garden campaign with a Victory Garden theme at the Master Gardener 2014 Flower & Garden Show (Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, Cumberland County Fairgrounds, Crossville, $3 adults, children 12 and under free). There are UT Gardens-Crossville classes on Square Foot Gardening (Saturday, April 5, 9-11:30 a.m., no charge), Garden to Table: Exceptional Salads (Tuesday, April 8, 1-3 p.m., $5), Garden to Table: Benefits of Fruits & Vegetables (Thursday, April 23, 9 a.m. to noon, $5) and Growing Tomatoes Successfully (Saturday, May 3, 9-11:30 a.m., no charge) which educate about home-grown fruits and vegetables, as well. Check the Cumberland County Master Gardener website for event details and locator maps (www.ccmga.org). 

Childhood forays into Mother’s vegetable garden searching for ripe tomatoes with a salt shaker in my jeans pocket grew into an evergreen love of gardening in adulthood. There have always been edibles in my landscape in addition to turf, shrubs, trees and flowers. Sometimes fruits, vegetables and herbs have their own plot. In other locations and at other times edibles have shared their place in the sun with ornamentals. And why not? The beauty of garlic’s blooms and the colorful stalks of ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard are impressive enough to rate space in any flower bed.

Finding spots with the 6 to 8 hours of sunlight necessary for veggies has been a challenge at our Tennessee homestead in the woods. Only two small raised-bed areas out by the road get enough sun. With so little space, techniques which maximize yields are necessary. I use devices like trellises and tomato cages to help plants go vertical along with methods for intensive plant placement like ‘Square Foot Gardening’ and double-cropping. Growing in containers where there is sun but not enough room for garden beds is another option I employ.

Warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, corn and cucumbers must wait until the danger of frost is past (May 10 near Crossville) and the soil has warmed enough to nurture them, but there are cool-season vegetables which can be started from seed or transplants outside as early as February in mild winters (probably March is safer this year). The cool-season veggie group includes things like beets, broccoli, carrots, collard greens, onions (bunch and storage types), peas, Irish potatoes, radishes, spinach and turnips (greens and roots). A good, free, 20-page brochure ‘PB901 Growing Vegetables in Home Gardens’ is available online at the University of Tennessee Extension website, UTextension.tennessee.edu/publications/, for download to your computer or it can be picked up at your county UT Extension office.

Wet weather sometimes delays early planting when as is traditional, garden soil is worked to a depth of 6 or 7 inches then smoothed before planting. Ground that is too soggy forms undesirable, hard clumps. I use no-till methods in my raised beds similar to those advocated in Lee Reich’s book ‘Weedless Gardening’ to get around that issue. Potatoes (mostly redskin varieties), salad greens (lettuce varieties and spinach) as well as Chinese peapods are our family’s cool-season favorites. Chinese peapods have flat pods which are eaten whole before the peas inside mature. They are also called snow peas or ‘mangetout’ (French for “eat all”) peas. Pea vines grow and produce despite cool conditions. They stop producing and the vines die back during hot weather. Double-crop by planting peas outside of tomato cages. Pea vines climb the cages without blocking sunlight to tomato plants transplanted inside (at a later date) if peas are on the north and east sides. Pea production normally tapers off soon after it is safe to set out tomato transplants with no frost protection. Next week — growing potatoes in containers.

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Plateau Gardening written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) answers to horticulture questions, free publications and to learn about the Master Gardener program. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae (MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net).