Planning a garden? Ideal conditions aren't all that important

It's easy to understand why vegetable gardening is such a popular pastime. What is hard to understand, however, is the number of would-be gardeners who never quite manage to plant that first seed.

They're the ones who say each year: ''I really intend to get a garden in this spring,'' or ''I'd like to raise vegetables,'' but they never get around to it.

It's nice to garden under ideal conditions, but most gardeners aren't that fortunate.

Yet ideal conditions aren't a necessity for the gardener. Growing vegetables is definitely not a complicated, irksome task. It's easy - and moreover, it's fun.

Most successful gardeners do not have full sun all day on their plots. I have a fig tree in my California garden which not only shades part of the area but also sends out troublesome, shallow roots. Nevertheless, the large head of cabbage we pick for dinner was grown there.

If shade is a problem, forget about tomatoes, corn, and vine crops that require full sun. Instead, concentrate on the leafy greens, beans, peas, root vegetables, and members of the cabbage family. Contrary to belief, peppers will thrive in partial shade.

If your garden is not in full sun, it willm take longer to raise your vegetables to maturity. Bear this in mind when choosing seed varieties and when reading the dates to maturity on seed packets.

Many would-be gardeners have space limitations. To them, I say: There's always container gardening. As a matter of fact, there is scarcely a vegetable that cannot be grown in a suitable container.

Strawberry pyramids, sold at most nurseries, take up very little room but can yield an amazing amount of prime produce.

You may want to make room for some vegetables in your flower beds. I have artichoke plants at the back of mine - and very handsome they are, too. Peppers, eggplants, and rhubarb are equally attractive, and a row of butterhead lettuce makes a charming border for any bed.

Dwarf varieties of vegetables are another solution for the gardener with limited space. There is a host of midget varieties such as Tom Thumb lettuce, Lady Finger carrot, and the Spacemaster cucumber which are dependable, prolific producers. Gold Midget is a delicious midget variety of corn. The plants are only 30 inches high, and you'll be eating sweet corn less than two months after you plant the seed.

Poor soil deters many gardeners. Nobody wants to pay out $50 for manure and plant food before sowing, but there's a free solution to the problem.

Rabbit manure, for example, is excellent for the garden. Nurseries don't sell it, but those who raise rabbits are eager to give it away. Call your local pet store for a list of local rabbit breeders. Or you can check your local newspaper to find a private party who is raising rabbits.

Compost is a big help, also, and is absolutely free. Compost is easy to make and, for some reason, kids get a real kick out of making it. If you have a son or daughter of suitable age, enlist his or her aid. I am continually digging organic material into my soil and it definitely pays off.

Planting peas helps, too, because peas release nitrogen into the soil, a distinct boon. I always arrange to plant my corn when the peas are through, and I am sure this is the reason for my bountiful corn crop each year.

We're all busy these days, and lack of time is a deterrent to many. Yet many people consider gardening to be recreation, not work.

A small garden really requires very little time, actually. I raise all of the vegetables that my family eats every day in the year, and my average time spent in the vegetable garden is three hours a week.

Remember that some vegetables demand daily picking at the height of the harvest season. These include peas, beans, asparagus, and zucchini, but the rest of the vegetables will wait patiently until the weekend.

The pleasures of gardening are many and varied and the pitfalls are few.

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