Now you have selected your vegetable plot, and prepared the soil, you’re eager to start planting.
What do you plant first?
There are a couple of golden rules:
1. You generally plant fruit and nut trees, soft fruit shrubs and perennial vegetables (like asparagus and rhubarb), when they are dormant – so that would be winter. In this case you will often receive your trees bare-rooted, so make sure you either plant them as soon as you get them, or heel them in to dirt or compost to keep the roots moist until you are ready to plant out.
In climates where there is a severe winter and the ground is frozen, you may need to wait until spring, in which case you’ll be likely to get the trees/shrubs already potted up.
2. For almost all vegetables, you plant seedlings (or seeds direct into the soil) in the garden once the danger of frost is past. If you are planting seed direct into the ground, each vegetable will vary a little as to what soil temperature they need to germinate – check your seed packet as that should tell you.
Now, what you plant is going to be up to you, your personal tastes, and the range of plants suitable for your climate, but I always hold back tender fruits and vegetables (like tomatoes) until I am sure all danger of frost and of very cold nights is past, then I will plant them out. Tougher vegetables can go out earlier.
Examples of some frost-and-cold-tender vegetables are:
Beans, bush and climbing, sweet corn, tomatoes, pumpkins and squash, sweet potatoes (also ordinary potatoes), melons, cucumbers, eggplants, okra and peppers (or capsicums).
Examples of frost-hardy vegetables are:
Asparagus, collards, mustard, kale, kohl rabi, onions (whether raised from sets or seeds), peas, spinach, rhubarb, turnips.
Most other vegetables fall into a frost tolerant category – that is, they can tolerate one or two light frosts, but don’t expect them to thrive in a deep cold snap.
Learn when the last date for frosts generally is in your area, and that date is really the date around when you will plant out your vegetables – frost hardy veggies will be in much earlier, frost tender ones will wait until that last frost date. It is also a good idea to plant frost-tender plants in a frost-sheltered spot if you can, too, just as an extra precaution against a sudden late frost.
I always keep a few of each frost tender vegetable back (tomatoes, melons, pumpkins and squash etc.). That way I have a ‘spare’ for the ‘heirs’ in the ground.
Although I will go into this in more depth in the article on Garden Cheating, the best way to get your kitchen garden going as soon as possible in spring after that last frost date is to start seedlings inside or in a greenhouse some 6 weeks earlier. That way they will be already growing on strongly when you are ready to plant them out.
If you are new to food growing then in your first year try for some ‘easy’ growers: I find potatoes, pumpkins, squash, peas, kale, cabbage and spinach very easy to grow, so you might like to start with those. Herbs are also generally easy to grow.
How much of each vegetable do you plant? Learning to plant just enough for what you want to eat plus what you want to preserve is always a delicate balancing act – and can be quite difficult to judge because it will depend on how well each vegetable does for you. What you will likely find is that you will have an over-abundance of one thing, but a dearth of another – but that is kitchen gardening for you.