By Jenny Peterson

I confess, I’m somewhat of a new veggie gardener. I had a big vegetable garden when I was a young mother, and for whatever reason since then, I have not grown a lot of food. Until I moved in with my fiancé two years ago, that is — he has a full acre with lots of sun, so we’ve had a good time building raised beds and experimenting with different vegetables and herbs.

If you are new to vegetable gardening, there are a few things to keep in mind as you get going — and since we are moving into the warmer months of the year, let’s focus on warm weather veggie gardens.

Before you plant anything, be sure you check with your local county’s Cooperative Extension Office. You’ll find here valuable information, such as average freeze dates, when to plant and what varieties are recommended for your area.

I live in central Texas, so what I plant and when I plant will be very different than someone who lives in Ohio. Your extension office will likely have a print-out of recommendations of what to plant each month, so if you want to have a warm weather vegetable garden, be sure you follow the suggestions of what to plant this spring in your area.

Now that you’re armed with your specific local guidelines, let’s talk about general advice for warm weather veggie gardens.

Clean It Up!

If you gardened over the cooler months, now’s the time to do a quick clean up before replanting. Remove any vegetable plant that is dead, diseased or done producing. In my garden, that means removing my broccoli, cauliflower and winter greens. Unless they are diseased, throw these veggies into the compost pile.

Amend Your Soil

Now is the perfect time to add some soil amendments if your soil seems to be lacking. You can get a soil test from your Cooperative Extension Office if you think you may have soil issues. Otherwise, simply add well-rotted compost or bagged amendments, like Sanctuary Soil’s Buckaroo Brand Natural & Organic Worm Castings.

 Practice Crop Rotation

Recently, our colleague Chris McLaughlin wrote about the importance of crop rotation. This is a valuable practice to keep your vegetable plants and soil healthy, as different plants extract specific nutrients from the soil. If you continually plant the same vegetable in the same location, you’ll quickly deplete your soil of valuable nutrients, leading to weak crops and poor production.

Choose Your Plants

You don’t have to grow everything on your list just because you can — and if you’re a new vegetable gardener, I’d recommend starting with a few plants of your favorite veggies. Easy ones to try are cherry tomatoes, summer squashes, peppers, eggplants, okra and artichokes.

 Eggplants squash and other foods from warm weather veggie gardensStagger Your Plantings

The first year my fiancé, Brett, planted a vegetable garden, he made a big mistake. He planted everything all at once.

What’s wrong with this, you might ask? If you plant everything all at once, it will be ready to be harvested all at once.

Now, I can only speak for myself, but I’m not in a big need of 50 pounds of zucchini. So I’ll plan to start one zucchini plant this weekend in our warm weather veggie gardens, and two weeks from now, I’ll plant another one. That way, I’ll be sure to have my crop last longer into the growing season and I won’t be overrun with more zucchini than I can eat or give away.

What are you planning to grow in your warm weather veggie gardens?