The first decision is what to plant, a choice that should be based on what you and your family like to eat. If only one person in your family of five likes okra, you may be better off buying it occasionally at the farmers' market. If everyone enjoys tomatoes, chiles, bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, snap beans, cucumbers, sweet corn and cantaloupes, then these are the fruits and vegetables to focus on.
Next you must decide where to plant. Maybe in years past, your vegetable garden started out in full sun, but by Labor Day, the sun's path had moved behind the trees. If so, your tomatoes were probably still green at Halloween. Did gophers and voles enjoy too much of last year's crop? Consider building a few raised beds with hardware cloth on the bottom. You will need a sunny spot away from trees, preferably with a hose bib nearby.
Let's imagine that you have three new 4- by 8-foot raised beds to work with. Now you need to decide how much to plant. A raised bed of that size can accommodate four to six tomato plants, so there goes one bed. In a second bed, you can fit 10 to 12 plants of chiles, bell peppers, eggplants, or snap beans. Now you have one bed left.
If you planted two zucchini plants last year, you probably discovered that the yield was more than your family could eat. Maybe you took the excess to the Napa Crop Swap but found that everyone else also had zucchini to swap. So one zucchini plant should suffice this year.
If you want snap beans throughout the summer, leave space for succession planting. You'll want to set out two or three plants every three weeks. One or two cucumber plants satisfy most households, so you've now used up half to two-thirds of your last raised bed. Still left to plant are cantaloupe and corn, and you don't have enough room for both. Corn grows more thaneight feet tall andmay cast shadeon yourother sun-loving crops. Better to plant cantaloupe in the remaining space and buy your sweet corn at the farmers' market.
If you want to start plants from seed, you need to get started right away. It takes six to eight weeks for the seeds to germinate and the seedlingsto grow large enough to transplant. If you prefer to plant nursery seedlings, you can relax as you don't need to purchase those until you are ready to plant. Wait to plant summer vegetables until the danger of frost has passed, which is usually around mid-April. To be safe, plant no earlier than the last week of April.
Although we have had rain recently, we are still in a drought. Consider this when you make your vegetable selections. It may be wiser to plant a ‘Stupice' tomato that matures in 62 days rather than a ‘Cherokee Purple' that needs 85 days to reach maturity. (Seed packets indicate days to maturity.) Faster maturation means fewer days of irrigation.
To help your soil retain moisture, work in several inches of compost. Don't feed plants too much nitrogen as this will encourage leafy growth that requires water to sustain. Once your garden is planted, add a layer of mulch several inches thick. Mulch will keep the soil cool, conserve water and inhibit weeds.
Tomato Plant Sale: Napa County Master Gardeners will hold their second annual “Tomato Plant Sale and Education Day” on Saturday, April 19, in the South Oxbow parking lot on First Street in Napa. The sale will be held from 9:00 a.m. until sold out. All the seedlings have been started from seed and grown by Napa County Master Gardeners. More than 50 varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomato plants will be available. Master Gardeners will staff information tables on tomato support structures, common tomato pests and diseases, composting, good bug/bad bug displays and a mobile help desk. For a list of available tomato varieties, visit http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa or call the Help Desk (hours below).
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will conduct a workshop on “The Small Home Vineyard” on Saturday, March 29, from 9:30 am to 11:30 am, and from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm. at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. The morning session will focus on bud break to harvest. Learn the basics of managing a small vineyard including grape physiology, canopy management, vine nutrition, fertilization, irrigation and cover crop. The afternoon session will focus on identifying and managing the most common vineyard pests, especially powdery mildew. To register,call the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712 or visit its web site.
Napa County Master Gardeners welcome the public to visit their demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch on Thursdays, from 10:00 a.m. until noon, except the last Thursday of the month. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road at Thompson Avenue in Napa. Enter on Thompson Avenue.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.