Creating vegetable gardens worth the work

KENNEWICK -- Whew, I know it's a lot of work, but there's just two more steps before you can plant your veggie garden.

Once you're finished working up the soil, your final steps before planting are raking and setting up irrigation. Use a garden rake to make the soil surface level and smooth for planting.

Raking with the tines pointed down helps you remove any rocks or debris that came to the surface with tilling. Use the rake with the tines pointed upwards to assist you in creating an even surface.

As soon as you plant, seeds will need water for germination and plants will need water to grow.

In our dry region, gardeners can't rely on natural precipitation to provide anywhere near enough water. That means irrigation of some sort is required.

While this is the point when you set up your irrigation system, it should be considered much earlier in the planning stages.

There are numerous options, but drip irrigation, drip tape, or soaker hose are three good options. All three help conserve water and minimize weed growth and disease problems.

Of course, sprinkler irrigation also is viable option.

Soaker hoses are hoses with tiny holes from which water trickles out or hoses with porous walls from which water oozes out. These are less expensive than a drip system, pretty simple to set up, and work best in row or bed situations where plants are close together. They're also easier to flush out and clean if you're using irrigation water.

Drip systems are more flexible and work well if you have a complicated garden plan with plants at varying spacings or locations. If managed properly, they're also the best at conserving water.

However, drip systems tend to be more expensive to set up and must be managed very carefully. Drip emitters have a tendency to become plugged, especially when using irrigation water. Careful attention is needed to prevent plant stress that can result when emitters become plugged.

Whatever system you chose, set it up and make sure it works before planting.

We finally are ready to plant. Many novice gardeners make a trip to the garden store for transplants. The convenience of garden store transplants can't be beat. They're definitely an advantage in getting a head start on the season with warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers.

Crops that do well as transplants include certain warm -- season crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers and eggplants. Some cool-season veggies, also do well as transplants, like cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli.

However, there are some crops that perform best when grown directly from seed. Cool season crops that are best from seed include lettuce, peas, spinach, Swiss chard, radishes and carrots.

Warm season crops that do best when directly seeded in soil include corn, beans, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons and watermelon.

Check the seed packet directions for recommended time of planting, depth of planting, and spacing of seedlings. Seed packets and seed catalogs provide you with lots of valuable gardening information.

Be sure to thin young seedlings to the recommended spacing so they'll have plenty of room to grow.

Getting a new garden started is a lot of work, but it's worth it when you see your baby green plants start emerging from the soil.

It's even better when you begin harvesting the veggies that you grew in your own garden.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.