Asparagus is a vegetable that requires more than the usual patience to grow, as it will not start producing for 2-3 years after planting. Thereafter however you can have Asparagus shoots for up to 20 years or more – so it is worth the wait in the long term!
It thrives best in areas that have long cold winters as it is a cool-season early crop.
Asparagus is grown from ‘crowns’ that are planted in the early spring. These are 1 year old plants that can be purchased from your local garden centre or other commercial supplier.
Asparagus requires good nutrition and drainage to prosper well which makes any king of SFG or Raised Bed ideal for them.
To plant your Asparagus first dig a round hole in your soil about 6 inches deep and the area of your square – 1 plant per square. Spread out the roots of your young plant and lay into the hole, covering to the top of the plant with the soil; water thoroughly.
As the plant begins to grow then slowly form a mound around the stem leaving it protruding a couple of inches above the soil.
Do not harvest in the first year but instead at the end of the season cut away the dead foliage and re-cover with fresh mulch.
The second year keep the bed thickly mulched and prevent weeds from running amok!
By the third year you may start to harvest your crop.
The season for harvesting Asparagus is very short – only about 3 weeks – so you must stay alert. Cut the stems that are about 6 inches in length and the thickness of a pencil. When the harvesting is over then allow the ferns to grow and die on the heap to replenish your crop for next season.
Surplus asparagus can be frozen and used throughout the rest of the summer.
Beets are a good choice for gardeners in the Northern climate as they grow well in the cooler conditions. An excellent long-season crop as they are even able to survive frosty temperatures. Will prosper well in high phosphorous levels, but high nitrogen may result in excessive leafiness and small bulbs.
Seeds can be planted 1-2 inches apart and 1⁄2 inch deep, but wait until soil reaches 50 degrees before sowing.
If temperature allows, planting can begin late March/April and continue until late in the season. Plantings can be spaced around 20 days apart to allow for Beets throughout the season.
A good crop for late – even winter crops in zone 9 or above.
Thin out the plants when they reach about 2 inches high by pinching them off at the base, or snip with shears so not to disturb the ground. Leave a gap of around 3-4 inches between plants.
Beets are usually ready for harvesting in 50-70 days, though they can be harvested any time after the bulb appears. They can be left longer but will become tougher as they grow, and slightly woody.
The leaves are also delicious and make a good addition to salad dishes.
Apart from storing in a cool dry place; Beets can be pickled, frozen or canned to
This is a cool-season crop which can germinate in temperatures as low as 40 degrees F, making it an ideal early starter for your veggie plot.
For early spring planning, plant seeds or seedlings 2-3 weeks before the last frosts of spring. For Autumn plants then plant about 80-100 days before the first winter frosts.
In your SFG plant 3 seeds 1⁄2 inch deep, close together in the centre of the square then choose the stronger of the bunch when they are about 3-4 inches high, and remove the other two.
Although this is a moisture-loving plant, be careful not to get the heads wet when watering.
This is a shallow rooted plant so care must be taken when weeding around the stem that you do not disturb the roots.
Broccoli should be cut about 6 inches from the head of the plant at the stem when the heads are still tight and firm. More will grow from the side-shoots of the plant, meaning that one plant will usually produce several heads of Broccoli over the growing season.
Can be stored in a refrigerator for several days, and can be kept for up to one year if blanched and frozen.
4. Green Beans:
Bush beans and Pole beans (usually referred to as green beans) are a great addition to any kitchen table, and if picked while still young can be a tasty snack straight from the plant.
Not a good plant to transplant as a seedling; green beans are best sown directly into the soil soon after the last frost of spring when soil temperature is around 50 degrees F.
Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart. Make sure that you have a trellis or canes in place to support your plants as they grow –
4 – 8 plants per square can be grown in your SFG. Plant 2-3 weeks apart if you want a regular crop over the season.
Beans are a great starter crop as they are fairly easy to care for. The usual ground care with regard to weeding etc (not a big problem with a SFG) is required, and watering should be done on a sunny day if possible to prevent over-soaking of the foliage.
Carefully snap or cut off the beans from the stem before they are fully developed, this will assure best flavour and beans that are not to tough.
Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for best results. For longer storage blanch and freeze; they can also be pickled or canned.
5. Brussels Sprouts:
This is the kind of vegetable that you either love or hate! Some folks find them quite sweet, while others (like myself) find them as bitter as heck! All down to an enzyme in the taste buds apparently. They also are believed to possess potent anti-cancer properties – for which reason alone I would recommend including them in your growing plans.
Plant seeds indoors about 1⁄2 inch deep and 2-3 inches apart, about 6 weeks before the last frost of spring. Thin out the weakest and transplant into your SFG, 1 plant per square.
This vegetable is very undemanding regarding on-going care, and as long as it has sufficient nutrients and water, there is little else to do except wait for the harvest!
Sprouts are ready to harvest from the stalk when they reach 1 inch in diameter. Store in the fridge or a cool place for a few days before use, and do not wash until ready for consumption.
Sprouts can last around 3-5 weeks if kept just above freezing temperature.
Cabbage is a popular vegetable with many varieties offering opportunities for many different growing conditions and taste preferences. Rich in iron, it likes cool temperatures and so is best planted early spring and fall.
Planting pattern is similar to that for the Brussels Sprouts, by planting seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Transplant 1 plant into each square of your SFG about two weeks before the last frost.
Keep soil moist and watch out for the cabbage butterfly! Cabbage seems particularly prone to caterpillars so check out the companion planting section for pest control methods.
When the cabbage has formed a suitably firm head then it is ready for harvesting – usually in about 65 days or so. Remove by cutting at the base of the head, but leave the stem planted along with the outer leaves. The plant will then send up fresh shoots to form new heads.
Leave just 3 or 4 of these heads to develop and they will form miniature cabbages.
Make sure your cabbage is not wet, before wrapping in cling-film and storing in a cool place for no more than two weeks.
One of the most popular of vegetables, carrots prefer a light sandy soil, and although resistant to most diseases, they will suffer badly if the dreaded carrot fly is around.
Protect by planting them surrounded by chives or onions to disguise the carrot smell from the fly.
Make sure that the soil is free of stones or obstructions as this will cause the carrot to ‘fork’ or split out. Plant seeds 1⁄2 inch or so deep a few weeks before the last spring frost.
Thin out by snipping the plants with scissors rather than pulling, when the carrot foliage is about two inches high. Create a space 2-3 inches apart.
Keep free of weeds but be careful not to disturb the soil around the carrot, and make things easy for the dreaded carrot fly!
Flavour is enhanced after the first frost, so better leave harvesting them until after that. Cover with mulch and leave in the soil if you plan harvesting them later.
After around 10 weeks carrots are ready for consumption. They can be left in the ground if protected from frost, or they can be lifted, the tops twisted off and the tuber cleaned. Thereafter the carrots can be kept in a sealed plastic bag and stored in the fridge; or they can be buried in some moist sand until ready for use.
This is one of the more difficult crops to grow, especially if you live in a warm climate as Cauliflower prefers constant temperatures in the 60’s.
This makes it a more specialized crop, usually grown commercially in climates that suit it well.
Cauliflowers should be planted where they can get at least 6 hours full sun per day. Seeds can be planted under cover about 6 weeks before the last frost – about the same time as cabbage. Plant seeds 1⁄2 inch into the soil and transplant when they are about 4 inches high.
Alternatively plant your young plants about 2-3 weeks before the frost is finished.
One cauliflower per square is all you need for your SFG.
Cauliflower needs to be watered regularly in order to grow well – not overwatered! Just keep the soil around the bas moist. As the white head begins to grow to 3-4 inches, take the outer leaves and tie them over the head to protect from the elements – a light rubber band will do nicely – this is known as ‘Blanching’ and it will keep the head a nice white colour.
Plants are usually ready to harvest 7-15 days after blanching, usually at about 6 inches in diameter.
Cut the head from the stem with a sharp knife, retaining some of the leaves to protect it. Can be stored in a cool place for around a week; to keep for longer blanch before freezing or pickle the heads.
Sweet corn is a delicious crop well loved by many. Roasted over hot coals or boiled in water, it is traditionally served piping hot covered with melted butter.. mmmm.
It is a warm-weather vegetable and as such requires a long frost-free growing season to reach its full potential.
This is a crop best planted from seed directly into your SFG. Plant 3 seeds per square about 1 inch deep and 2-3 weeks after the last frost when the soil temperature is 60 degrees or over to be sure of germination. Cover with gardeners fleece to protect from cold if any late cold-snap should arise.
As Corn is wind-pollinated, planting in clumps of 3 plants at a time helps in this respect.
Corn has very shallow roots so be sure to keep well watered especially as they start to grow the corn heads. Well drained yet moisture retentive soil (as you should already have in your SFG) make ideal conditions for growing Sweetcorn. Care must be taken not to damage the shallow roots when weeding around your Corn plants.
Corn is ready to harvest when the tassels turn brown and the cob is full. Remove by simply pulling the cob down and twisting from the plant.
Sweetcorn will lose its flavour quickly after picking and so is best consumed
immediately, or frozen for later.
A popular salad vegetable, the cucumber is a fast growing climbing plant that definitely prefers the heat. Each plant will provide a number of fresh cucumbers throughout the growing season.
Make sure that the plant is exposed to full sun, and decide before hand if you would like to allow the plant to climb up a trellis or grow on the ground. This is especially important in your SFG layout, as a trellis grown plant would be best placed at the back of the SFG so that it does not ‘shade-out’ the other crops. Plant 1 or 2 seeds or seedlings to the square.
If planting from seed then grow inside in a warm place (65 degrees is needed for germination) and do not plant outside until at least two weeks after the last frost. Cucumber is very susceptible to the frost so I would keep a fleece covering at hand to cover for the first week or so after planting.
If your cucumbers are going to be lying on the ground, then lay them on a
covering or straw to protect from the wet soil. Hanging Cucumbers may have to be supported on the vine.
Cucumbers need constant watering as inconsistent watering can result in a small, bitter plant. To avoid over watering, a quick tip is to stick your finger into the soil and if it is dry beyond the first joint then water is needed.
Harvest your cucumbers regularly to maintain a healthy crop when they reach 6 inches and over; or if pickling them around 2 inches.
Keep picking them as they grow on the vine as the vine will stop producing if they are not picked, and those that remain will become tough and slightly bitter. As they are 90% water, cucumbers are better stored wrapped tightly in plastic film. They will last at least 7-10 days in this condition if stored in a cool place.
This is a most popular vegetable, ideal for stews and casseroles. The leek is a member of the onion family, but without the bulb and has a gentler, sweeter taste.
Nutritional demands are the same as for onions. Seeds should be planted in a shallow trench indoors, a full 12 weeks before the last frost, and the seedlings thinned out and planted 9 to the square in your SFG.
Plant by making a hole in your soil about 2-3 inches deep and place your seedling down into the hole. Fill and press the soil lightly around it. As it grows earth-up the soil as this will produce a longer white stem for consumption. Alternatively allow the leek to grow up through a cardboard tube 4 inches tall specially placed over it for the occasion – this will have the same effect as earthing-up the soil.
Leeks are a very hardy crop not so prone to insect or disease attack and take little care once planted. Apart from gentle weeding and keeping sufficiently watered, there is little to be done but watch them grow!
Once mature after about 100 days or so, the leeks can be lifted for consumption or left in the ground for later, as long as they are protected from severe frost by covering with fleece.
Leeks soon dry out and so are best consumed a few days after lifting, otherwise leave them in the ground or blanch them prior to freezing.
Onions the delight of every chef, in fact I wonder how we could survive without them! A cold-season crop, the onion is a hardy vegetable that is relatively easy to grow and undemanding regarding care and protection from disease or insects.
Onions require nitrogen rich, loose soil in which to prosper – conditions that suit SF gardeners just fine!
The recommended way to plant onions is to buy onion sets rather than seeds, but if seeds are preferred then start indoors about 4-5 weeks before transplanting. Young plants or sets should be planted 4 to a square, making sure that they are not under the shade of larger plants.
Sink 1/3 of the bulb into the soil, then press lightly to firm them in.
Onions need little care, however as they grow you may find that they will rise out of the soil and so occasionally need to be lightly pressed down again until the root system gets fully established.
Watch out also for blackbirds and crows that will occasionally pull the unestablished plants out of the ground, leaving them on the surface to wither and die.
If the onion sends up flower stalks then this means that it has ‘bolted’ and is no use. Remove from the bed and discard.
Onions are ready to harvest when the tops start to become yellow and brown. At this stage you can encourage the process by folding over the stems. After a few
days carefully lift the onions and lay on the surface of the ground to dry out. Do this before the really cool weather arrives as the mature onion may spoil in bad weather.
Allow to dry for 2-3 weeks before considering storing them. This can be done by leaving them on the dry ground, or in bad weather lay them out on a table-top indoors.
When the plants stems have dried out they are best braided together and hung up in a cool dry place, for use throughout the winter months.
Two of the most popular peas for growing are the Snow Peas and the Snap peas. Both have edible pods as well as peas, and when harvested promptly are sweet and delicious either cooked or straight from the vine.
This is a great vegetable to start the kids on as it is easy to grow and fast growing – a great boon to impatient children!
Peas are easily grown from seeds planted outdoors about 4 weeks before the last spring frost. Seeds will germinate at 45 degrees F. Plant up to 8 seeds 1 inch deep, into a square that has been prepared with canes, trellis, cage or other support for the peas to climb up.
Naturally these are best planted to the back of the SFG to allow the sunlight to get to your other, shorter plants.
Care is fairly straight-forward with peas; simply water and remove any weeds, check for insect predations (Aphids and Bean Beatles tend to like peas). Harvesting itself is part of the plant care for this vegetable as it will produce more pods when harvested regularly.
Pluck the vine regularly using both hands to prevent damaging the stem. This is best done early morning after the dew had dried off as this is when they are most crisp and flavoursome.
Peas are best kept wrapped in a paper bag before placing in the fridge or another cool place. They will remain ‘fresh’ for up to 7 days like this.
Peas freeze well and can be dried by removing peas from the pods and drying out for winter soups and stews.
14. Sweet Bell Peppers:
Peppers come in many shapes, colours and sizes, hot or sweet – and modern-day chefs would be lost without them! A simple plant to grow if you have warm enough conditions (average 70 degrees F.) Bell Peppers are a great addition to your vegetable garden.
Peppers will not survive in ground temperatures below 65 degrees F. So if you want to grow them outdoors this is the minimum requirement; in cooler climates it is best to grow in a greenhouse environment,
Plant 1 or 2 plants close together per square in your SFG, along with sufficient support in the form of wire cage or canes; as the plants will tend to droop with the weight of the peppers as they grow.
Seeds should be grown about 3-4 to a pot and the weakest discarded, before transplanting the healthy plants to your SFG after the spring frosts are well clear.
This is a thirsty plant so be sure to water regularly especially if you live an exceptional hot dry climate.
Make sure the fruits are properly supported and that the plant is not struggling under the weight.
Be careful when weeding around the base of the plants as this can damage the shallow roots.
Watch out for Aphids and Flea beetles and blossom-end rot – which occurs when calcium is low – usually because of irregular insufficient watering practices.
Peppers grow in sweetness and flavour the longer you leave them on the plant, and increase in their vitamin C content.
To remove peppers, snip the stems with a pair of scissors to avoid tearing the plant stem.
Peppers will store in a fridge for 7-10 days in a plastic bag.
This is the staple vegetable for millions worldwide and comes in many different varieties. A vegetable for the cooler climate, potatoes come as early, mid or late planting varieties and is the World’s 4 largest food crop.
Home-grown potatoes are renowned for being much tastier than store-bought, and picked fresh from the ground they cannot be beaten!
Potatoes are planted from seed potatoes that are specially grown to be disease- free and to provide consistent healthy plants.
Although you can easily grow potatoes from potato peelings that have at least 1 eye on them, it is best to plant the whole seed tuber as peelings are likely to rot before they start to germinate.
After choosing the variety that best suits your region or culinary tastes, place your potatoes in a cool dark place until the first shoots start to appear (4-6 weeks).
After the last frost has left, place one potato per square into your SFG, into a hole 6 inches deep, being careful not to break off the early shoots, then cover with the soil. As the potato grows and breaks the surface, pile compost around the shoot to encourage further upward growth. If a late frost is forecast be ready to cover the young plant with gardeners fleece or other protection.
Potatoes will grow from the stem so it is good practice to encourage this upward growth. This is the reason that growing potatoes in a wire cage, bin or other receptacle can yield great results!
As the plant reaches the flowering stage and the young tubers are growing, it is important to begin ‘hilling’ your spuds. This is a process where you pile up extra compost or humus around the base of your plant, and make sure that none of the tubers are exposed to the daylight – this will cause them to go green and inedible.
You will need to repeat this process regularly during the growing season.
Although they can be dug up earlier if you desire small tender spuds; harvesting begins when the leaves have turned yellow and begin to die. Choose a fine dry day and carefully dig up your harvest, being careful not to damage the tubers. Potatoes should be stored in a cool dark place, away from apples which will cause them to rot owing to the ethylene gas apples produce.
Do not wash the potatoes prior to storing as this reduces their storage life, just clean away any remaining dirt and store together in wooden boxes when the potatoes are dry – do not store if the surface of the tubers are wet otherwise they are liable to rot.
Watch out for signs of early or late blight, usually brought on by a bout of hot humid weather. This causes dark brown/yellow spots to appear, well before flowering has finished, quickly resulting in the destruction of the stems and introducing rot into the tubers. If caught in time then the crop should be harvested, tubers checked and the foliage taken away and preferably burned to prevent further infection – do not use in the compost bin!
If the tubers themselves are infected you will see a dark brown stain running through them when cut in half with a knife. Check a few of the spuds and if the potato flesh is clear then you may at least have salvaged some of the harvest.
Although botanically a fruit, the tomato is widely known as a vegetable by cooks and as such is probably the most loved vegetable in the garden, and varieties are numerous to say the least – over 7,500!
Tomatoes are a warm-weather plant that need at least 6-8 hours sunshine per day at temperatures between 70-85 degrees F.
Once you have chosen your variety, whether an Heirloom vine tomato or Hybrid bush tomato it is time to get planting. Tomatoes are usually transplanted from seedlings bought at the garden center, but can be grown from seed planted indoors at least 6 weeks before the last frosts.
When transplanting into your SFG; harden off the young plants first by covering with fleece to protect from late chill, and transplant only when soil has begun to warm in the spring sunshine.
Plant just one tomato plant into a square with a support cane or cage to support your plant, and water well.
Related post: how to grow tomatoes in pots
As the plant grows, nip off the side shoots that appear and tie your plant to the support. When the first fruit start to appear after the blooms have gone, feed one ladle of organic tea every second day and increase to once daily as more fruits appear.
Water well especially as more fruit starts to grow, but do not over-water as this can rot the base of the stems.
Heritage vine plants can grow to around 6 feet or more, and produce an abundance of nutrient-sucking leaves; I tend to snip away the leaves on the bottom 3 feet of the plant and leave only the upper half of the plant with foliage other than the fruit bunches. This increases the nutrients that are used to produce fruit instead of leaves.
Tomatoes are prone to attack from both insect and fungus so it is wise to include companion planting practices to help reduce the risk of either.
Aphids, white-fly and Tomato Hornworm can be a particular threat.
Over humidity or soaking the leaves of the plant in particular can lead to fungal disease and tomato blight.
Tomatoes are best eaten within days of plucking in order to get the best flavour possible; however if storing simply place in a paper bag and keep stem-up in a cool dark place.
Contrary to popular belief green tomatoes do not ripen well on a window sill – they are more prone to rotting.
Best time to pick is when the tomato is firm and bright red (or yellow?) in color – depending on the variety of course.
They can be kept in the fridge for a few days, but in doing so you will lose much of the natural tomato flavour.
17. Zucchini (Courgette)
Also known as the Summer Squash, the Zucchini is a most versatile vegetable, ideal for stews or casseroles as it absorbs flavours fantastically. Just to confuse the issue it is also referred to as a Courgette in some areas.
A warm weather vegetable it is prone to excesses of heat or frost, but if properly cared for will produce an abundant crop of delicious fruits.
Seeds should be planted indoors 2-3 weeks before the last of the spring frosts, and should not be transplanted outdoors until the frosts have gone – protect young plants with garden fleece for the first 2 weeks or so.
Soil temperature must be 60 degrees F for the Zucchini to grow, so be sure to plant in full sunshine.
As the fruits start to grow, water well and any fruit laying on the surface protect with a layer of straw or dry mulch to prevent rotting.
Apply some organic tea as the first fruits begin to swell.
Be sure that the flowers are pollinated properly either by bees or manually using a fine brush or Q-tip. Lack of fruit when the plant has produced flowers is a sure sign of bad pollination.
Watch out for pests such as Aphids, Cucumber Beetle and Squash Bugs.
Although it may be tempting to grow huge zucchini, especially as they do grow quickly, it is best to harvest them when they get to about 6 inches or so if you
want to get the best flavour and tender fruits from them.
Zucchini can be frozen if blanched in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Alternatively they can be stored for around ten days in the refrigerator.