First in a series about growing vegetables by Lisa Winters.

If you’re like me, you’ve been salivating over the seed packets that are starting to cover the walls of the garden center. I’ve gotten at least a dozen seed catalogs in the mail and I diligently circled everything that looks interesting. Then I stopped and took a deep breath and realized that if I purchased everything I'd circled, I'd have to take out a loan and buy a lot more property. So, how do you decide what to buy?

Start with what you like to eat. Then decide how much space you're willing to dedicate to vegetables. If you have an established, in- the-ground vegetable garden, that’s easy. If not, are you going to make raised beds this year? Do you only have room for a few  pots? If you just want to grow one tomato in a container, then that’s your plan!

I have something going on in my vegetable garden all year, even in the winter. As you might guess, that takes some planning.  The Home and Garden Information Center has an online publication for planting times in Maryland that I use every year.

I take four different colored highlighters and decide what I want to grow and when. In the example shown here, you can see that I used pink for spring, yellow for summer, orange for fall and blue for winter. That can also help me decide where I want to plant each crop.

But how to do that? Let’s say I plant cabbage in the spring. The chart tells me I'll probably have my spring cabbage harvested by the end of April. I know that I can pull the cabbage out and plant one of the summer crops in its place, such as eggplant.  If you're a beginner, you may want to stick with just growing some tomatoes and peppers in the summer. That’s okay!

How do you narrow down the varieties? For my containers, I look for varieties that specifically say they're suitable for containers or indicate that they're small, and I'll experiment with them in containers. Since I have a constant rotation of vegetables, sometimes I look for varieties that mature quicker than others. I choose some varieties based on flavor. Your criteria will be different than mine, so narrow them down to suit your individual needs.

If you want to grow vegetables in the fall, make sure you get your seeds in the spring. Many garden centers don't have as many varieties to choose from in the fall, and the catalogs may sell out of a variety that you really wanted. Keep your fall seeds in an airtight container and in a cool location until you’re ready to use them.

Find out More this Weekend

For more information, join us this weekend (February 16 and 17) at either Homestead’s Davidsonville or Severna Park locations for our workshops about Square Foot Gardening and Seed Starting.  Click here to find out more.

Container photo by Layanee DeMerchant.

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