Vegetables for Health =========================
Care for Vegetables
Most vegetables like a steady supply of moisture, but not so much that they are standing in water. About an inch of water per week is usually sufficient, provided by you if Mother Nature fails to come through. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. For in-ground crops, that may mean watering once or twice a week; raised beds drain faster and may require watering every other day.
Weeds compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients, so it's important to keep them to a minimum. Use a hoe or hand fork to lightly stir the top inch of soil (cultivate) regularly to discourage weed seedlings. A mulch of clean straw, compost, or plastic can keep weeds at bay around larger plants like tomatoes.
Fertilizing your crops is critical to maximizing yields. Organic gardeners often find that digging in high quality compost at planting time is all their vegetables need. Most gardeners, however, should consider applying a packaged vegetable fertilizer, following the directions on the box or bag. Don't apply more than recommended as this can actually decrease yield.
Pests and Diseases
Pests and disease are ongoing problems for most vegetable gardeners. Although specific problems may require special solutions, there are some general principles you can follow.
Use fences to deter rabbits. Make sure the bottom of the fence is firmly attached to the ground, or even buried a few inches into the soil. Row covers -- lightweight sheets of translucent plastic -- can protect young crops against some insects. Row covers are also helpful to prevent damage from light frosts. To reduce fungal diseases, water the soil, not the leaves of plants. If you must use a sprinkler, do it early in the day so the leave will dry by nightfall. If a plant does fall prey to a disease, remove it promptly and throw it in the trash; don't add sick plants to your compost pile. Grow varieties that are listed as disease resistant. Garden catalogs and Web sites should tell you which varieties offer the most protection. Pick larger insects and caterpillars by hand. Once you get over the "yuck!" factor, this is a safe and effective way to deal with limited infestations. Use insecticidal soap sprays to provide safe control of listed pests. Most garden centers carry these products. Whatever pest control chemicals you use, read the label carefully and follow the directions to the letter. Finally, make it a habit to change the location of crops each year. In other words, if you grew tomatoes in the northwest corner of your garden this year, put them in the northeast corner next year. This practice, called crop rotation, reduces the changes that pests will gain a permanent foothold in your garden.
This is what it's all about, so don't be shy about picking your produce! Many vegetables can be harvested at several stages. Leaf lettuce, for example, can be picked as young as you like; snip some leaves and it will continue to grow and produce. Summer squash (zucchini) and cucumbers can be harvested when the fruit is just a few inches long, or allowed to grow to full size. The general rule: if it looks good enough to eat, it probably is. Give it a try. With many vegetables, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce.