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Once the garden was built, it was time for planting. The soil and compost were already dumped in the raised beds, so planting was easy. In this section, we will delve into soil maintenance, what to grow in your garden (based on region and climate), and the different types of jobs that must be done in your garden.



Soil Maintenance

The soil is the most important part of the garden and must be maintained regularly. We learned from farmers that healthy soil will produce healthy plants and healthy plants naturally keep pests away. Pests like to attack sickly plants, so maintaining healthy soil is vital.

The key to healthy soil is making sure to add nutrients. Plants, especially vegetable plants, use soil nutrients to make strong plants and big vegetables, so there are a couple of steps to take to keep your soil healthy. Here is some specific information on soil maintenance [4.1]. Following are general tips:

  • Soil Layering. Always layer your beds - never turn the soil. The biology of the soil is such that the bacteria and “good” bugs that live one foot under the surface cannot survive on the surface and vice versa. Always layer new soil on top as rain and watering will allow the nutrients to seep into the lower soil layers.

  • Compost. In the spring, add a thick layer of rich compost on the top of the beds to kick start the season. Compost can be purchased in bags at local nurseries or home improvement stores or from farms in bulk (possibly by truckload), depending on how much is needed.

  • Organic Supplements. Any organic supplement with nitrogen will add needed nutrients to your garden. A thin layer should be spread monthly during the growing season.

    • Green Sand [4.2]

    • Kelp Mix [4.3]

    • Lobster Compost [4.4]

  • End of Growing Season. At the end of the season, when harvesting is complete, clip the dead plants (leave the roots in the ground to decompose) and fill the beds with dead plant matter, leaves, or hay. Water this new top layer and throw additional dirt on top to hold everything in place. This new top layer will decompose during the winter and leave nutrient-rich soil for the next spring.

  • Cover Crops. You can also plant cover crops at the end of the growing season. Cover crops are winter plants that replenish the soil with nutrients. Here is information on choosing cover crops [4.5] and how to best plant them.

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What To Plant

We worked with a local farmer and several local gardeners who gave us great advice when choosing which plants to grow in our garden. We usually plant tomato plants in two of our big beds and then yellow and zucchini squash in the other two big beds. Peas and cucumbers (with beans and lettuce interspersed) were planted on the outer beds of the garden because these plants like to climb and grow up the fence that surrounds our garden. We plant an herb and flower bed outside of the fence with basil, parsley, zinnias, and rosemary. These plants are natural pest repellants, so they help to keep the garden safe from critters.

General Tips for Choosing What to Grow in Your Garden:

1. Grow simple food. If you are planning to donate food to people in need, you should plant basic, familiar vegetables and fruits. Lettuce, squash, tomatoes, beans, and peas are easy to grow, and most people know how to use them. Your volunteers will also have an easier time distinguishing simple vegetable and fruit plants from other plants and will have a better idea of when to harvest their produce.

2. Do not try to do too much. Limit the number of types of vegetables and fruits you are growing and do not grow many different varieties. Starting out, you will need to learn what works best in your garden and for your volunteers. Too many varieties can become complicated and overwhelming. As you gain confidence and knowledge, you can add new vegetables. Here is our PCG planting chart [4.6] with times to plant and harvest.

3. Know your growing climate. It is important to do in-depth research on which types of plants will grow best in your garden based on your location and climate. This website provides vegetable planting schedules by zone [4.7]. In addition, here is a list of suggested vegetable varieties to grow in Westchester [4.8] and a fall growing guide for Westchester [4.9], with information on what to grow and how to keep the plants healthy.

4. Start certain plants indoors and others directly as seeds. Some plants are easy to grow from seeds directly in your garden while others need to be started early indoors.

  • Plants to Start Indoors: Tomatoes and peppers and two vegetables that are generally recommended to start as seeds indoors and then plant in your garden as small plants. You can start plants indoors a few months before you intend to plant them outdoors, or you can purchase small plants at nurseries. Small started plants should not be transplanted outside until the threat of frost is past.  Some plants - such as tomatoes - are more delicate and should not be planted outside until the ground temperature has reached 60 F degrees. Here is information on starting plants indoors [4.10], a simple seed starting pamphlet [4.11] we sent to volunteers starting seeds for us, and a guide for planting cycles and native plants [4.12] with a focus mainly on New York.

  • Seeds to Plant Directly: Most other plants are best to plant directly as seeds in the garden. Snow peas, sugar snap peas, squashes, cucumbers, and lettuce all grow best when planted directly in the ground. Peas can be planted as soon as the ground thaws and other vegetables can be planted according to the growing zone. We find that these plants grow better from seed as transplanting shocks these plants and can result in stunted growth.

    • Here is a great vegetable planting calendar for Westchester [4.13] with information about which crops can be planted directly as seeds or started indoors and then transplanted.

    • We suggest buying seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds ( ) or Rare Seeds ( ) or Hudson Valley Seed ( ). You can also buy seeds and plants from a local plant nursery or home improvement store.


5. Change your growing plan based on which plants work best. Gardening is powered by trial and error and you can increase your yield annually by noting which plants perform best in your garden. Certain plants may not grow well in your climate, soil, or with your amount of sun exposure. Annually testing out new fruits and vegetables will help you to discover the most productive plants for your location. We have found tomatoes to be our most productive crop. On the other hand, cucumbers were unsuccessful initially in our garden, but have since done very well.  It's great to constantly experiment to see what grows well in your gardens. 


6. Grow plants to support pollination. By using flowers and native plants to attract pollinators, while limiting the use of pesticides, you can support local pollinator populations. This has beneficial impacts on your local ecosystem and some of the pollinators may even help pollinate your flowering vegetable plants, like tomatoes. Here is a guide for supporting pollination [4.15].

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Garden Jobs

The general tasks of weeding, watering, replanting, and harvesting fluctuate based on the time of the year and progress of the garden. Here is our general PCG Garden Operations Calendar[4.16] that gives an outline of when garden tasks need to be completed for our organization. (In the next chapter, we will delve into mobilizing volunteers to complete these tasks.)

  • Weeding. Weeding needs to be done frequently so that your plants have better access to nutrients. It is important that your volunteers can identify your seedlings and avoid weeding them, or else we suggest limiting weeding until the seedlings are more easily identifiable.

  • Watering. If you have an irrigation system, you may only need to water when it gets very hot and dry. Our drip system is used 1 hour per day (5 am – 6 am) which takes care of most of our garden watering. When volunteers water, be sure to have them water gently so as not to inadvertently dig up seeds or kill small plants. The best judge of garden moisture is not the surface but two inches down. Teach your volunteers to use the “finger test” by pushing a finger two inches into the soil to see if it is moist under the surface. The best times to water your garden are the early morning or late afternoon. Because the sun is not at its height during these times, the water will not immediately evaporate and the plants will also have time to dry before night.

  • Reseeding. We suggest reseeding certain plants throughout the growing season. For example, lettuce and bean seeds should be planted every two weeks throughout the season so that your crops can cycle and produce abundantly throughout the season.

  • Harvesting. Perhaps the most fun part of gardening, harvesting needs to be carefully managed. Volunteers are very excited for the opportunity to harvest, but you should give guidelines as to the right color and size the vegetable should be for harvesting. Early harvesting of vegetables before they get to their full potential will lead to a lower yield and less nutrition provided to people in need, if you are donating the produce. Here is a chart of optimal storage for fruits and vegetables [4.17], which will help you determine if you need to refrigerate your vegetables right after harvesting or not.


Two of our volunteers created a growing guide [4.18], which we laminated and have hanging in our garden. This growing guide helps volunteers with identifying seedlings, when to harvest all of the vegetables and fruits, and how to harvest the produce that we grow. We suggest that you create your own growing guide with the vegetables you are growing to put in your garden for your volunteers.

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