Now, right after your New Year’s resolutions, is the time for you to plan and prepare for a vegetable garden.

Last fall was actually the optimal time to set aside a plot, turn it over, add compost and wait for winter freezing and thawing and a snow cover to help ready the soil for spring planting. But it’s not too late — you could cover the area you set aside with layers of newspaper and spread mulch on top of the newspaper. By spring, the newspaper and some of the grass will have decomposed and you will be able to dig a plot much easier than if you wait until spring to start the project.

There are many reasons to grow your own fruits and vegetables: They taste better than store-bought, you have fewer worries about contamination from large-scale farming operations where there may not be much oversight of pesticide use, you will be saving fuel costs by walking to your backyard for your food as opposed to getting it delivered from hundreds or thousands of miles away and you will be getting exercise in an enjoyable and useful way. If you can’t have your own veggie garden, buying food that is grown locally helps the local economy.

If you garden at all, you have probably already gotten some gardening and seed catalogs in the mail right along with the Christmas cards. I always stack mine on a pile and after the holidays I go through them to decide what seeds to buy. I also go through my seeds that are left over from last year. Seeds generally are viable for several years after the date on the package, although the germination rate may not be as good. If you are deciding what veggie seeds to buy, be sure that you and your family like the vegetables that will be harvested.

It doesn’t help to plant a dozen plants of broccoli if no one in your family likes broccoli. And even if you like broccoli, a dozen plants may be too much, although you can always share with friends and neighbors (unless you have planted too much zucchini).

If this is your first time gardening, start small. Don’t try to plant veggies that take a lot of room such as corn. Consider the size of your plot — you get one or two ears of corn per stalk, but if you plant green beans you will get continual harvest of beans as long as you pick them regularly so they keep producing. This rule also applies to squash and vine crops such as cucumbers — pick them when they’re relatively small and the plants will continue to produce new fruits. Of course you will plant tomatoes. Even people who don’t garden plant a few tomato plants.

Planting berry bushes is something to strive for. Strawberries and raspberries are delicious eaten fresh in your berry patch on a sunny day. And fresh berries are also delicious on your morning cereal. You may be able to find an out-of-the-way sunny spot for raspberries and strawberries. These are perennial crops, meaning they will return year after year. Other perennial crops include rhubarb and asparagus. Again these fruits should be planted where they won’t need to be disturbed by annual crops. All fruit and vegetable plants need sun for most of the day. Make sure your space gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sun. And for these perennial crops you still have to weed to have a good harvest and healthy plants.

Asparagus and peas are my favorite spring veggies. I always plant plenty of peas and hope for success. The birds and rabbits can be quite hungry in the spring and the first green stuff to stick its head out of the soil can be very tempting to these creatures. Being present in your garden can deter the animals to some extent. So get out there and weed, cultivate between the rows, put up stakes for the peas, and try a fence.

This much information may be overwhelming to a first-time gardener, so start small. Try some lettuce, spinach and radishes for early spring (these veggies grow best in cool weather). Then as spring warms up, vine crops such as cucumbers and squash can be added, along with green beans, carrots and beets. These veggies may last most of the summer. If you have removed the early spring crops, you can plant broccoli and cauliflower starter plants that will mature in the fall and still may be producing into November and December.

Spend these cold winter days planning what to plant in the spring.

For additional information or questions about the Master Gardener program, contact Nebraska Extension, West Central Research and Extension Center at 308-532-2683.

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