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Preparing for cool, warm season vegetables

By Kathryn Wimberley McCracken County Agent for Horticulture

The growing season is upon us. Cool-season vegetable crops may be started outdoors in March-April.

Spinach, green peas, lettuce, onions, radishes, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard and potatoes all typically prefer cooler temperatures. These crops may be started outdoors directly in garden soil, in raised beds or in suitable containers. Use fertile, well-drained soil. The site needs six hours or more of direct sun daily.

Check soil moisture before planting. Soil is identified as tillable, friable or workable by a simple task. Gather a handful of garden soil and lightly squeeze into a ball. This ball of soil should crumble apart when poked with force similar to pressing an elevator button. (This soil texture can be described as resembling chocolate cake that crumbles when pierced with a fork.)

Warm-season vegetables may be started outdoors when the danger of frost has passed.

This date varies in western Kentucky. Recently, timing of last frost date has frequently been during the last week of April to the first week of May.

Generally speaking, warm-season crops, such as squashes, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, field peas, green beans and watermelon, prefer the warm days of June-August.

Dr. Rick Durham, a UK specialist in the area of horticulture, had the following to say about warm-season vegetables:

"Soon you'll be receiving seed catalogs for the 2017 vegetable-growing season. While listening to the cold wind blow outside, what a comfort it is to think about spring and summer and planning your garden."

To make the most of your garden, every aspiring gardener should follow seven steps to have a successful gardening season.

1. Plan your garden on paper before you begin.

2. Select a good gardening site that has full of sun for at least eight hours each day, relatively level, well-drained, close to a water source and not shaded.

3. Prepare the soil properly and add fertilizer and lime according to soil-test recommendations.

4. Plan only as large a garden as you can easily maintain. Beginning gardeners often overplant, and then they fail because they cannot keep up with the tasks required. You'll have to control weeds and pests, apply water when needed and harvest on time. Vegetables harvested at their peak are tasty.

5. Grow vegetables that will produce the maximum amount of food in the space available.

6. Plant during the correct season for the crop. Choose varieties recommended for your area.

7. Harvest vegetables at their proper stage of maturity. Store them promptly and properly if you do not use them immediately.

A well-planned and properly-kept garden should produce 600 to 700 pounds of produce per 1,000 square feet and may include many different crops.

Finally, the closer the vegetable garden is to your back door, the more you will use it. You can see when your crops are at their peaks and can take maximum advantage of their freshness. Also, keeping up with the planting, weeding, watering and pest control will be easier."

For more guidance on planning your 2017 vegetable garden, contact McCracken County Cooperative Extension or download the publication, "Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf) from the web.

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