Can You Grow Better Vegetables With Less Work?

Now the time is here to grow vegetables for fun and ease the family pocketbook’s strain.

For most of us, the years of apprenticeship are over, for we learned to grow vegetables under the pressure of wartime necessity if we had not done so before.

Growing Vegetables with Less WorkPin

Some of us found it hard work. However, raising vegetables for fun means gardening more leisurely.

We can select seeds that give a long season of production without re-sowing. And we can use shortcuts to get better results with less work.

Tomatoes

One way to save work is by growing tomatoes. Perhaps you are convinced that transplanting is necessary.

I’ve run tests between direct-seeded tomatoes and those set out as transplants, and the difference between the first fruits is usually a matter of only 2 to 8 days.

By that, I mean the ordinary commercial seedlings you find in the average corner grocery.

You can get tomatoes 3 to 4 weeks earlier by growing them in 4-inch pots and setting them out with green fruit already set or in bloom.

Even these plants will often drop their buds or fruits if air temperatures fall below 59° degrees Fahrenheit.

Try sowing at least the main crop for canning about when the apple blossoms in your neighborhood begin to show pink.

This is much earlier than you can set out plants, but tomato seed is moderately frost resistant.

I have had self-sown tomatoes spring up from the previous year’s crop after a year of heavy snow.

This direct-sown seed will produce quick-growing healthy plants that actually bear better than transplants.

Sweet Potatoes

Speaking of direct sowing reminds me of another shortcut by completely substituting one vegetable for another.

For years, I’ve struggled with sweet potatoes, which meant setting out slips (usually in poor condition because they had to be shipped in) and generally going to a lot of work.

That work didn’t end with the harvest, either, since the roots would have to be cured and stored under special conditions.

Squash Varieties

Today, I get away from that mess entirely. I plant Butternut squash and use this great vegetable instead.

Like the Shmoo of Dogpatch fame, this squash can be used for many things.

Draw a moustache on a Butternut squash and you do have a perfect Shmoo. If baked, it is a better sweet potato than most sweet potatoes.

With a little touch of sugar or syrup, it’s a yam. Pick it young, and you have summer squash.

Let it mature, and you have an easy-keeping winter squash that makes better pumpkin pie than pumpkin.

To make it perfect, Butternut is one squash that I am almost ready to swear is borer-proof.

I have never seen a borer in Butternut, nor have I ever heard of anyone who has.

Growing Heavier-Producing Vegetable Varieties

Rival Beans

Another shortcut in gardening is growing heavier-producing varieties and cutting down the length of the row.

Never again will I plant a 50-foot row of bush beans. Last summer, 5 families regularly ate from pickings of a 50-foot row of Rival beans, and alongside them, a row of Logan went completely to waste.

Not because Logan was so much poorer. It was only a matter of walking 18″ inches farther to pick them up!

From now on, except where I want to cheek varieties and production. I’ll never plant more than a 20-foot row of any bean.

Rival, by the way, turned out to be the only bean I’ve ever put in my mouth that could be said to be 100% percent free of rag or fiber.

Until now, every bean had a trace of rag or fiber when ready for picking, no matter how stringless. Rival melts in your mouth, and it’s that tender.

Melons

We can cultivate shorter rows and feed more heavily, and we can start plants indoors to get a longer bearing from crops that ordinarily take too much work for their short productive season.

Melons are a good example. Unfortunately, most of us fuss with this touchy crop and are lucky to get a few watery fruits just before frost kills the vines.

While we more than make back the price of our seed and fertilizer at present-day fruit prices, we can do so much better than we ought to try.

Old-timers tell us melons are easy. Yet most of them can’t tell you why you failed.

In the old days, every home garden lay under a thick coating of manure all winter long, and that overcoat was turned under in spring to stuff the soil with organic matter.

Melons love organic matter. Perhaps they need some minor elements released by decaying manure, the aeration supplied, or the high water holding capacity of organic matter is the big factor.

I suspect that the real reason is that the vine crop roots need loose, friable soil to grow.

You can still grow melons easily by using the material from your compost heap. 

Hollow out a space the size of a bushel basket, fill it with good rich soil and plant your seeds.

Your vines will grow like Jack’s beanstalk and produce in proportion. What’s more, the fruits will be sweet and full of flavor.

Why Poor Melon Flavor?

Poor melon flavor, by the way, is usually the result of poor growth and low temperatures. Cucumbers love the same conditions as melons.

Some of us haven’t had a long enough growing season to mature melons out of doors.

Or we want to flummox our neighbors and show them the first melon in the neighborhood.

Too, the earlier we pick melons, the more money we save on the grocery bill.

Remember those fragile roots, though. We can’t pluck a melon or cucumber seedling from a flat and stick it outdoors.

We must start them in some container that can be planted without disturbing the roots.

The ideal container is the type of pot made from compressed cow manure.

The roots grow right into the pot and need not be transplanted in the usual sense—merely plunged into the garden.

The next best is plant bands treated with fertilizer. Since vine seedlings grow rapidly, use big ones 3″- 4″ inch ones that are not too big.

Strawberry boxes are good if you use a little nitrogen fertilizer to help offset nitrogen loss in untreated wood containers.

Don’t start too soon: you can’t expect to carry them under average house conditions for more than 4 weeks from seeding to transplanting.

5 to 6 weeks in a small greenhouse is about all the headstart you can expect.

All of the containers I’ve mentioned are set out without knocking out the plant. The container finally rots and is no bar to growth.

Corn

My father would have been horrified to think of a home gardener who would only plant corn once during the year.

Summer to him was a continuous procession of sweet corn sowing. Two things have changed that.

The corn borer usually hits the early sowings, so seriously, we don’t attempt to plant much before all the petals have fallen off the apple trees.

And with the coming of hybrid varieties that would silk out exactly on schedule, we can now time our crops without overplanting at least 100% percent to allow for variations in maturity.

Instead of spending time planting all summer long, I sow 5 or 6 varieties simultaneously.

From the time I pick Surprise or Early Spancross (about 65 days after planting) to my last ear of Country Gentleman hybrid (about 100 days), I have as long a season as Dad had—with better corn.

Speaking of corn reminds me that even better quality is in the making.

In visiting the experiment stations and big breeding centers, I have heard about a new “sweetness” factor that the breeders got from Central America. 

This type of corn is so sweet as to be almost unpleasant. Bred to existing hybrids, however, it has produced corn high in sugar and of superb flavor.

One of these high-sugar hybrids, called Golden Rocket, was introduced briefly last year.

Despite its sweetness, it was the earliest corn I had last year—64 days from seeding to eating.

Normally, early corns are not considered good, but Golden Rocket is tops for quality.

And speaking of quality in corn reminds me of another pet of mine, sweet corn, which is practically hullers.

The kernels have such a thin hull that they can’t be felt in eating. Here’s corn that even grandpa can enjoy despite his dentures! It’s called Golden Label.

While it’s about the best corn, I know for freezing or canning, neither the canners nor freezers will have anything to do with it because the kernels are not in straight rows but crooked, something like Country Gentleman.

Home gardeners of taste will, I am sure, pooh pooh the canners and grow Golden Label for its superb quality.

Lima Beans

Another vegetable being altered to get away from bad faults is the lima bean.

Last year, Fordhook 242 gave us a lima that would produce in hot weather, when the buds on old-time varieties would drop off without setting fruit.

Fordhook 242 was not quite up to the small-seeded varieties as a producer in late summer. However, at the U. S. D. A., Dr. Magruder crossed a big bean and a small one to produce the new Triumph variety.

Triumph combines all the good qualities we want in a lima—medium large seed, high quality, heat resistance, and heavy yield.

Now we can cut down the length of the lima bean row, too—fewer feet of row to cultivate.

Cucumbers

Last summer, the cucumber needs of our household were met by only two hills of cukes.

These were of the new hybrid variety Sensation, a true hybrid, bred from two pure line strains like hybrid corn.

Ordinarily, we expect cucumbers to pass by the end of August or mid-September at the latest. Still, we had fruits of Sensation in the refrigerator in mid-October, practically as good as when first picked.

Quality is just a shade under that of Mandarin at its best, but Mandarin is really at its best for only a day or two.

Personally, I’m just as happy to have Sensation and cultivate one-fourth as many hills.

Leaf Lettuce

One trick that is older than gardening in this country (used centuries ago in Europe) is making only single sowing of leaf lettuce.

Gather your lettuce by cutting off the top, leaving a stump an inch or so long, give the row a feeding with some good high-analysis liquid fertilizer, and in a few weeks, the stumps will produce a full new crop of leaves.

By cutting alternately from two rows, you only need about 25′ feet of row to keep a family in salads all summer long.

My favorite lettuce is Bronze Beauty, and if you insist on head lettuce, it will accommodate you by forming a loose head if allowed to stand long enough.

The quality is superb, and only Bibb is as good at its brief best. In addition, it will tolerate heat, so don’t worry about your row going to seed or developing a bitter flavor in midsummer.

The mention of feeding lettuce with high analysis liquid fertilizer brings up the matter of general feeding of the vegetable garden.

I know of no crop that isn’t helped by watering with a solution of one of these high-analysis chemical fertilizers.

Many gardeners do not understand that plants can only absorb nutrient elements in liquid form.

When these elements are put into water and fed in this form, we know there is enough moisture to take them up into the plant.

We cannot be sure when we depend on natural fertility or chemicals in dry form.

I know of one gardener who went to the trouble of installing a sprinkler system in his vegetable garden, with a liquid fertilizer applicator in the line, to feed his vegetables regularly with plant nutrient solutions.

He claims a 30% percent increase in production of all crops for the entire growing season.

But the significant increase is during the summer months when production jumped 75% percent to 100% percent over that without liquid feeding.

In the dry months of summer, liquid fertilizers do the most good.

Parsnips

Want to grow some super parsnips?

Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of the wonderful specimens in English shows: 30″ to 36″ inches long and as smooth as a politician’s promises.

Here’s how you can do it, easier than the Englishmen can. 

Here are the following steps you need to do:

  • Prepare your soil at least 2 feet deep.
  • Then punch holes 6″ inches apart and 12″ inches deep in the row and fill these with vermiculite.
  • Transplant seedlings of parsnips into these holes and water well with a solution of liquid fertilizer.

Enough soil will wash into the vermiculite without actually mixing soil with it.

The loose friable soil in the hole will allow the parsnips to make rapid early growth, and once they get a start, they’re off for exhibition size.

Be prepared to dig these super-parsnips with a spade: you’ll never pull them by hand regardless of how loose they may be.

Spinach


I’ve practically quit fooling with spinach. Not that we are anti-Popeye at our house.

We’re still fond of spinach, but we don’t like its miffy habits in hot weather. So instead, we’ve found the perfect substitute for spinach in a mixture of two other greens that none of us will touch when cooked alone.

For some reason I can’t quite explain, a mixture of half Swiss chard and half New Zealand spinach tastes exactly like old-fashioned green garden spinach.

The earthy flavor of chard which many objects to (including myself), seems to combine with the equally obnoxious flat sour taste of the New Zealand spinach to produce as nice a dish as I’ve eaten in many a year.

Incidentally, don’t fall for that Cut-and-Come-Again name in the catalogs.

All varieties of Swiss chard will grow new leaves if the old ones are picked off. The so-called Cut-and-Come-Again or Lucullus variety has heavily savoyed or crinkled leaves.

These serve no useful purpose but to gather dust and make chard hard to wash.

I plant a Large White Rib, which has a smooth leaf and is easier to wash.

Here’s another tip on planting New Zealand spinach:

Because this will tolerate heat, most growers make the mistake of planting it after the weather is warm and settled.

Actually, the seed is cold resistant and will sometimes volunteer after going through a hard winter.

Plant it much earlier than ordinarily recommended, along with the first planting of beets.

You don’t need much of either crop to keep you in greens: three plants of New Zealand spinach and 10′ feet of Swiss chard will provide enough greens for 10 people.

Radishes

For years I’ve been beating the problem of sowing radishes by planting a long-season mixture of several kinds.

This gives me at least 2 months of good radishes from a single sowing. A planting about August 1 continues that almost to frost.

Maybe the early sorts won’t be topnotch from this last sowing, but they are much better than average.

If you can’t locate such a mixture, you can do almost as well by sowing Cherry Belle, the new All-America winner, as an early crop, White Strasshurg for hot weather, and Cherry Belle again in fall.

Cherry Belle seems to have a fair amount of heat resistance for an early radish, and two sowings in spring might be possible in your section.

Heat-resistant Garden Peas Varieties

Another trick worth knowing is the sowing of a heat-resistant variety of garden peas. Even more important, look for a variety with cold resistance.

When I visited the great U.S.D.A. Regional Laboratory at Charleston, South Carolina, last year, I saw new strains, as good as Little Marvel in quality, that had gone through temperatures 18° degrees Fahrenheit above zero (the plants were frozen stiff) yet came through and produced a crop.

These same varieties had produced good crops (they were heavy with pods at the time) despite steady 90° to 95° degrees Fahrenheit heat.

The smart gardener will appreciate how many varieties will extend his growing season.

Not only can he plant earlier, but he can seed a midsummer crop and another for late fall peas.

For instance, in the Middle West, peas are all but worthless as a fall crop because an early freeze invariably nips them, even though we may not get another freeze for a month or more.

While these new varieties won’t be on the market until some time, 3 types have about the same cold and heat resistance, with slightly better quality than Alaska.

One of these is Green Bayou, produced in Louisiana to resist their high heat. Even though no better than Alaska in actual quality, the peas I picked fresh during August were infinitely better than the fresh peas available on the market at that time, and even better than commercial frozen peas.

Two other varieties are Wundo and Willett’s Wonder, and both were produced at Charleston.

If you can find seeds of Creole, Wands, and Willett’s Wonder, by all means, try an off-season planting, either early, midseason, or late.

Starter Solutions In Transplanting

One of the tricks of the commercial man that has not been picked up to any extent by the home gardener is the use of starter solutions in transplanting.

Instead of watering with plain water when setting out tomatoes, peppers, etc.—progressive truck gardeners now use starter solutions —liquid fertilizers which contain plant food to give the newly set seedlings a boost when they need it most.

In addition, I find that using a transplanting hormone solution will improve results if added to the starter solution.

This is particularly true when the soil is cold and wet and normal bacterial action is slowed up.

I don’t find that hormones help if the soil is warm, if it contains plenty of organic matter, and if water supplies are adequate.

But they cost so little they are worth using as a safeguard in case natural hormones in the soil should be low.