Whether you like to cook or just to eat, a vegetable garden can be the perfect addition to your yard. Situate it in a sunny place, raise the beds so you can start growing food early in spring, then keep planting all summer long so something fresh is always ready to harvest. The following tips will help you make the best of the seasonal changes that affect your vegetable garden.

  • Spring is a wonderful time for succulent, tender lettuces, spinach, and asparagus. In summer, you can pick juicy tomatoes and fruity ripe peppers. And in fall, salad gardening time returns with great radishes, carrots, and more lettuce.
  • Produce late fall, winter, and early spring lettuce by growing extra-hardy varieties such as Arctic King or North Pole, and creating sheltered planting places for them: Raised beds covered with heavy-duty floating row covers can provide protection from frosts and light freezes in early to mid-spring and mid- to late fall, or even winter in mild climates.
  • Cold frames, heated by the sun, make it possible to grow lettuce early in spring and later in fall or winter. Cold frames are translucent rectangular boxes, about 2 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. The top is hinged to open so you can tend plants inside or cool the cold frame on mild, sunny days. Plant seeds or seedlings of lettuce in the frame and shut the lid to hold in the heat.

Lettuce in hot bed
Cold frames help grow lettuce in colder seasons.
See more pictures of vegetable gardens.

  • A hot bed, which is a souped-up cold frame, is a great place for winter lettuce. Lay a heating cable under the cold frame. Cover with wire mesh to prevent damage to the cable, and top with a layer of sand mixed with compost.
  • Use water-filled tepees around tender vegetables for protection from the cold. You can buy inexpensive plastic sheets of connected tubes that, when filled with water, form self-supporting walls around seedlings. The clear walls allow sun to penetrate to the plant inside while the solar-heated water stays warm into the night.
  • Mulch asparagus every spring with several inches of compost or decayed livestock manure. Asparagus, a greedy feeder, will use all the nutrients it can get its roots on and grow that much better for it. By mulching in the spring, you can fertilize, help keep the soil moist, and reduce weed seed germination all in one effort. The shoots that arise through the mulch will grow especially plump and succulent.
  • For an extended lettuce harvest, pick the largest leaves from the outside of the plant and allow the younger inner leaves to continue growing. But when springtime weather begins to get warm, you need to take the opposite strategy. Cut off the entire plant before it begins to send up a flower stem (a condition called bolting) and turns bitter.
  • Extend the fall harvest season for crops such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli with a warm coat of straw. Although it may never be fashionably chic, straw does trap heat effectively. Put bales or piles of straw around the plants, leaving the south side open to the warm sun. Thus treated, these naturally frost-tolerant plants may stay in good condition deep into fall, or even into winter in warmer climates.

In the next section, we'll give you some great tips for working with seeds and seedlings.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.