15 tips for vegetable gardens in Western New York

tomato on vine
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just beginning to grow vegetables, you’ll find great tips here from Jen Weber, vice president and manager of Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Rd., West Seneca. 

She covers the basics– vegetables need sun– to more random tricks– always plant very hot peppers in containers.

Browse through these tips to see how you can improve your vegetable garden this year.

Find a sunny space

Most vegetables need six straight hours of sun.

“That’s the bare minium to get vegetables from your plants,” Weber said. “More sun is better. And it’s six straight hours; it can’t be broken up.”

Getting sun from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. would be good.

Grow what you like to eat

Don’t be swayed by the description of the plant.

“So many people get excited about planting something, like Swiss chard because it comes in a rainbow variety,” Weber said. “Then they realize they don’t like Swiss chard.”

If, for whatever reason, you end up having extra vegetables, you can always share with neighbors, family, friends, soup kitchens and food pantries. FeedMore WNY and their partner agencies welcome donations of all varieties of fresh produce. They distribute food to hungry people throughout Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties.

Plan what plants you’ll grow

“You really want to plan ahead and know what you want,” she said, “because vegetable plants get a lot bigger than they look when you buy them.”

Make sure you have enough room.

“Rein yourself in,” she said.

How big to make a vegetable garden

Weber suggests starting with a garden that’s 10 feet by 5 feet, or 50 square feet. That will give you enough room for one or two plants of roughly 5 kinds of vegetables.

“It’s small, but it’s a start, and you can expand from there,” she said.

vegetables herbs flowers in container
You can plant vegetables in containers, and you can mix in herbs and flowers, too. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

You can plant vegetables in containers, too

There are a bazillion reasons to plant vegetables in containers. (I do most of my vegetable gardening in containers now.) See more in this previous article.

Always plant very hot peppers in containers

You can grow very hot peppers, such as ‘Carolina Reaper’ and ghost peppers, in Western New York. The trick is to plant them in containers.

They take a long time to mature; 110 to 160 days. They usually mature in October or even November, Weber said. That’s after the first frost, and peppers don’t like frost. In order to harvest the fruit, extend the peppers’ growing season by bringing the plants inside to a garage or basement. If they’re planted in containers, it’s easy to move them to a protected environment.

Place your vegetable garden near a water source

You will need to water your plants, so make sure your garden is close enough to a water source, whether it’s an irrigation system or a hose (or drip hose) hooked up to a spigot or to a water barrel.

hose slowly watering plant
Water your vegetables at the base of the plant. If you use a sprinkler, you are inviting mildew, which can kill squash, zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Don’t use a sprinkler unless you’re trying to get mildew

Wet leaves encourage mildew, and mildew will kill cucumbers, squash, zucchini and pumpkins, Weber said.

Water only at the base of the plant.

What to do if you have a wet yard

Don’t locate your vegetable garden in the wettest part of your yard. If your whole yard stays wet for a long time, use containers instead, she said.

Start with good soil

The steps for turning a lawn into a vegetable garden are the same as the steps for a perennial garden. See this previous article how to turn a lawn into a garden.

Keep critters out

“Plan to put up a fence of some sort to keep animals out,” Weber said. “They’ll get in otherwise.”

I always wondered why people placed their vegetable garden in a separate spot and fenced it in. Now I understand. It’s bad enough when rabbits and deer chomp on your flowers, but it’s horrible when they ruin your food plants before you even get a taste.

In this previous article, see how Lindsay and Timothy Dzielski of the City of Tonawanda keep deer and other critters out of their vegetable gardens.

raised garden beds keep out deer
Lindsay and Timothy Dzielski of the City of Tonawanda used several different ways to keep deer out of their vegetable beds. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Place plants strategically within your vegetable garden

You don’t want to step on your plants, so use these guidelines from Weber to figure out which plants go in the front of the garden and which go in back.

Vegetables that are first to harvest go in front

The vegetables you harvest first should go in front. For example, plant these vegetables in this order, from front to back: lettuce, beans, peppers, tomatoes and corn.

Seeds in front, transplants in back

Plant transplants in back and seeds in front because, in general, you need to get into the garden more when you plant seeds. Many vegetable seeds, such as carrot seeds, are tiny. You just sprinkle the seeds on the soil and pull out the extra plants later. So plant seeds that need thinning later in front.

Some seeds, such as radish seeds, are larger. You don’t have to thin them out, so they don’t have to be in the front.

Tall plants create shade

Since vegetables need full sun, you don’t want to place your tall vegetables, such as corn, in a spot that will create shade for your other smaller vegetables, she said. Place your tall plants on the north or west side of the garden.

You can also pound a dowel or stick in your garden and note where its shadow is throughout the day. That will give you an accurate idea of where shadows will fall in your garden.

When to fertilize and when to stop

When you fertilize vegetables, fertilize only until the plant flowers, then stop, Weber said. Otherwise you will get great big plants with lots of leaves but no fruit.

She also said you should use a vegetable fertilizer that is 10-10-10 (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). A fertilizer for flowers might be 10-30-20 or 20-20-20, which has too much phosphorus and potassium for vegetables.

If you’re not sure if you need to fertilize, test your soil. Find out more about testing your soil here.

Jim Tammaro with heirloom tomatoes on trellis in Williamsville NY
Jim Tammaro of Williamsville built a trellis to support his heirloom tomatoes. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Stake as needed

Some tomatoes need to be staked and others don’t. Weber remembers the difference this way: Determinate varieties are determined to grow up straight and don’t need to be staked while indeterminate varieties get floppy and need to be staked.

Get tips on staking heirloom tomatoes, which get large fruit, here.

Weed barriers between rows

Place newspaper or straw as weed barriers between rows in your vegetable garden. If you don’t, you’ll be weeding constantly, Weber said, especially if you have a large garden.

Be sure to use straw and not hay– hay has too many seeds.

6 Comments on “15 tips for vegetable gardens in Western New York

  1. I have another easy way to keep bugs away from tomato plants and other plants. Every morning I take a half of cup black oil sunflower seeds and drop them next to my tomato plants in a pile . The birds eat them of course and they see bugs on my tomato plants and eat those bugs on my tomato plants too. Believe it or not the birds hang out around my tomato plants all day and eat the bugs. Doing this for the past three years and have noticed very little bug damage to my tomato plants. THIS WORKS!

  2. Hi Patricia, I’m so sorry to hear about your seedlings! I hope your direct sowing works. I have my fingers crossed for you!

  3. Hi Jackie, I like getting a bunch of tips. Even if some are familiar, it’s nice to have reminders. And I didn’t know that really hot peppers have such a long time to maturity. And yes, Mike Weber’s is great. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Love all of this info.

    This year, however, my seedlings were plain pitiful. I’ve never had such trouble with starting my seeds indoors. I had them in the same spot as last year, used good seeds. Maybe it was the soil I got? I had to direct sow a lot this year and I’m just going to hope for the best. Thank goodness for farmers markets, I guess, if this growing year turns out rough, I’ll be frequenting the markets.

  5. Thanks❣️I’m happy, most I knew, but you can ALWAYS learn more. I come to Weber’s for many of my perennials over the years but never thought about Veggies. I only grow one Inter. tomato every year & it’s always Better Boy & this year I ordered a green heirloom plant from Etsy – “Aunt Ruby’s”. Well see. Then a green sweet bell & a red sweet bell. To me it’s SUN, sun, sun & Water, water, water but @ the base only. I do stake & only grow in huge containers tho we have lots of property — just prefer.
    I’m awaiting Jupiter’s Beard to be sent. Got one several years ago from Mike & it’s one of my faves, along w my Siberian Iris, Cesars Brother also from Mike. Look forward in seeing the nursery — the older lady ALWAYS gives me very valid info & I send people there as well.

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