Larry Stebbins: Plan your vegetable garden now

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At the turn of every new year, people make resolutions. It was no different in 2009. And this year, as every year, a lot of folks made resolutions to start eating healthy.

What better way than to grow your own vegetables? Over the season the folks at Pikes Peak Urban Gardens will take the novice and more experienced gardener through the steps needed to grow great vegetables in this high- altitude climate.
Some will say that February is way too early to think about gardening. Actually it is getting to be a bit late.

If you were following what the experts were saying, you would have prepared your garden area last October so you would be ready to plant come early spring. Don't worry there is still time!

In February there is much to do. If you have never had a vegetable garden before, we are here to help. First choose a sunny, level site near a water source, like an outdoor faucet. In Colorado Springs it is necessary for your garden to get full sun for ten hours a day. Eight hours is the absolute minimum but the more the better.

If you have trees that shade your site, it will be a struggle to grow most vegetables. Even a little bit of shade can slow things down considerably. The morning sun should shine on your garden. This early sunshine will warm up your garden soil and get your plants off to a good start. It is like a good breakfast for us non-vegetable life forms.

A family of four could easily use all the vegetables grown in a 20-by-20-foot plot. If your space is smaller, don't worry, there is still much that can be planted.
In a 4-by-8-foot planting bed a family could easily grow all the salad greens it will need. If you have a long, narrow area by a fence you could build a trellis for pole beans, cucumbers or even some climbing squash.

Once you have determined a spot and size for your garden, it is time to plan what you want to grow.

The two biggest mistakes that beginning gardeners make is planting their vegetable seeds or plants too close and planting things they will never eat.
Sit down with a piece of graph paper and mark out a scaled-down size of your garden. On another piece of paper write down the vegetables that you want to grow.

Now the fun starts. Draw in the vegetables that you want. Place the taller growing vegetables on the north side of your garden plot. Remember to give them plenty of room to grow.

This is the time to do a little research at your local garden center or online. You will find out that tomato plants need to be planted at least three feet apart, peppers need 18 inches, lettuce needs six inches between plants to grow large and carrots need to be spaced between one-and two-inches apart. We like to check the back of the seed packets to see what they recommend.

Now that you have planned out what you want to plant, it is time to decide the varieties that will grow best in this area. You will need to have your early spring vegetable seeds purchased no later than the third week in April.

Try your local garden shops first. They usually carry the varieties that grow best here. If you can't find what you want there then go online and check out some of the vegetable garden seed companies.

Most of the early spring vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, kale, radish and peas will be directly seeded into the ground. We recommend buying plants if you intend to grow crops such as broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage and onions.

Some of our favorite varieties are: spinach (Melody, Bloomsdale Long Standing, Space), lettuce (Buttercrunch, Romaine, most all leaf lettuces), radish (Cherry Belle), peas (Sugar Snap, Super Sugar Snap, Sugar Ann, Oregon Pod), broccoli (Premium Crop, Pacman, Early Dividend), onions (Candy, Super Star White, Red Candy, Copra, Red Zepplin).

Now, you're off to a pretty good start. All that's left is to learn how to prepare your soil, when to plant your spring veggies and when to plant those warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash.

For more information about Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, check out ppugardens.org.

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