Practical vegetable farming advice from award-winning New Terra Farm

Vegetable farming on a commercial scale is knowledge-intensive i.e. it's all about knowing how. Here are some market farming tips for growing 10 popular vegetables, based on our experience at New Terra Farm. You can also refer to vegetable farming for profit for more tips.

Beets
We plant the first beets about 4 weeks before the last spring frost. When we are preparing the garden, we will spread a little wood ash from our stove over the beds where we plan to plant beets. Old-time farming books recommend this practice to help beets globe up.

Each beet seed is actually a seed cluster, and will produce more than one seedling. Absolutely critical vegetable farming advice: beets must be thinned early and often to form a good size root. If you ignore this vegetable farming advice, you will end up with greens but few roots. Allow about 150 plants or about 30 feet of row per family of 4.

Bush beans
Bush beans should not be started before last frost. The dark-seeded types tolerate cool soil better than the light-seeded. While many seed companies recommend planting bush beans 3 inches apart, we plant the seeds about 6” apart in in all directions in our wide beds. When the seedlings are well up, we give them a little boost with ½ strength fish emulsion. Beans don’t like sprinklers, so use drip hose to give them about an inch of water a week, if there is no rain.

Depending on the type of bean, successive plantings about three weeks apart will keep the harvest coming all season. Figure that each plant will produce about ¼ lb of beans over its life.

Broccoli
The optimum age for broccoli transplants is 5-6 weeks, and can go in the garden 3 or 4 weeks before last frost (under row cover) so we start our first broccoli transplants about 8-9 weeks before our last frost date . Broccoli transplants work well in 50-plug tray inserts. Important vegetable farming tip: Broccoli and the other brassicas absolutely should be covered by row cover to keep the bugs off. The row cover can stay on until harvest. Most varieties will produce side shoots for a second harvest after the main head is taken. Plan on about 2 dozen broccoli for a family of 4.

Carrots
Two vegetable farming secrets to growing lots of carrots with less work: first, use pelleted seed. This is seed that is covered in a clay compound to form little BB-sized pellets. The pellets are much easier to handle and can be spaced very precisely to reduce thinning.

Second, plant your carrots into a stale seed bed. To do this, prepare your planting bed and rake it smooth. Then water it well, and wait about 10 days. The first crop of weeds seeds will germinate, and can be destroyed with a hoe or a flame weeder. Then plant your carrots without further disturbing the soil. This will reduce subsequent weeding by about 80%.

We make the first planting about 4-5 weeks before last frost, if the ground is dry enough to work. Carrots are another crop where we sprinkle some wood ashes in the bed, to provide extra potassium. Allow about 150 carrots per family of 4.

Cabbage
We plant several kinds of cabbage – an early green cabbage, an early red cabbage, a Savoy type, and a long-season storage type. We make a couple plantings for both spring and fall.

Here's a vegetable farming tip to get more cabbage from a smaller space. We plant early cabbages 12” apart in the row. This is a little close for cabbage, but when they reach about 2-3 lbs in size, we thin some out and deliver them as baby cabbage. We leave the rest to mature a little more. The earliest crops, 3-4 weeks before last frost, we plant into black plastic mulch and cover with row cover. Plant about 2 dozen for a family of 4.

Cucumber
We start cucumber transplants about 2 weeks before last frost, and put them out about 1 week after last frost. Do a second planting mid-season, or about 12 weeks before your first fall frost date. We seed them individually in 3” peat pots. Keep cukes covered with row cover until they are well established and starting to flower. You can squish cucumber beetles by hand in the early morning, they be mostly hiding out in the blossoms. Plant 3 plants per family of 4.

Lettuce
People love fresh lettuce; we like to provide 2-3 heads a week to our full share customers. We grow about 6 kinds of lettuce, including bibb, romaine, and red and green leaf types.

We grow all our lettuces from transplant, in 50-plug inserts. We start the first plants about 9-10 weeks before last frost. Feed the lettuces every week with liquid fish emulsion, and plant them out up to 4 weeks before last frost.

We plant lettuces 6 inches apart in our wide beds. The earliest crops, 3-4 weeks before last frost, are covered with row cover.

Onions
We grow sweet slicing onions only, not the storage types. We start slicing onions 12 weeks or so before last frost. We start them in flats, and plan for about 200-250 seeds per flat. We plant our sweet slicing onions 6 inches apart in the row. Big Spanish-type onions need this much space to reach full size.

Grass is the big enemy of onions; don't fall behind in weeding. Onions can be planted through plastic film mulch to help keep the weeds down. Plant about 60 onions per family of 4.

Peppers
A red pepper is just a green pepper gone ripe, so we plant a variety that can be picked early as green, or allowed to mature to red. Grow hot peppers and sweet peppers the same way. We start peppers around the same time as tomatoes, about 8 weeks before last frost. We start them in 50-plug inserts; the peppers will need to be re-potted at least once before transplant. Feed the peppers every 7-10 days with fish emulsion. Adding a mineral mix containing calcium and magnesium to the soil is beneficial to peppers and tomatoes. Plant 5 or 6 sweet peppers per family of 4.

Tomatoes
We start tomatoes about 8 weeks before last frost, in a 72-plug insert. These little plants need to be re-potted within a week or so of germination, to keep them growing steadily. We re-pot tomatoes twice into bigger pots before transplant, each time burying them as deep as possible in the pot.

Key vegetable farming advice for tomatoes; they need support, and they shouldn’t be crowded in the row. We use big homemade tomato cages 2 feet in diameter and 4 feet high made out of fencing wire. We wire the cages to stakes in the ground to help keep them upright.

We plant our big indeterminate tomatoes 4’ apart in the row. We always plant our tomatoes in trenches; that is, we strip off all but the top cluster of leaves, and bury the entire stem of the plant horizontally in a trench. This consistently produces a strong, prolific plant. We regularly get 10 lbs+ of tomatoes from a single plant. Grow 8 or 10 plants of different types for a family of 4.

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