My friend Casey is new to growing a garden, and asked me how to do it. Just in case there are more of you out there who are interested, but don’t know where to start, here are a few tips to consider:
1) Location – for most vegetables, you need a sunny spot that is on a slight slope, for drainage. If at all possible, have the slope facing south for better sun/ground contact.
2) Size – start small. There is nothing worse than tilling up a huge space, only to find that you don’t really have hours and hours available to weed it and tend to the plants. It’s better to start with a small area and grow just a few of your favorite vegetables. Try a 4×8, 6×6 or even and 8×8 first, and decide if you really enjoy gardening.
3) Preparation – if at all possible, it’s best to prep your garden in the fall. Mark off the size you want, and using a flat shovel, remove as much of the grass as you can. Using the blade of your shovel, cut one-foot squares, to make it easier to handle. Then slide your shovel underneath the grass, cutting as much of the root system as possible, but leaving as much of the top soil as possible. (This sounds easier than it is, but it isn’t impossible!) Once this is complete, remove any remaining grass by hand. If you have a tiller, run it over the area once to break up the dirt. If you don’t, use a shovel to dig a one foot strip approximately 18” to 2’ deep, and lay the dirt on the outside of the bed. Move to the next one foot strip and place the dirt in the space you just dug up. Repeat until you come to the opposite side of the bed. Take the dirt from the first strip and place it in the remaining hole. Once this is done, you may want to amend your soil with humus, well-aged manure and/or compost. If your ground is too sandy, add a little bit of clay. If it is as solid as a brick, add peat moss. When you rake leaves in the fall, pile them up in the garden area and till/dig them in. All of this will help to make a rich soil for your garden.
4) Planting – in the spring, after all chances of frost has passed (Good Friday here in the South), loosen your soil through tilling or the digging method once again. Mark rows. Choose vegetables that you know your family will enjoy. The easiest to grow are tomatoes, squash, green beans (pole or bush) and cucumbers. If you want to plant a good variety and don’t have a lot of room, place a trellis on the very edge of the garden and grow a pole bean variety. Be sure to follow the spacing guides for each plant – i.e. tomatoes are usually planted 18” to 24” apart, while squash needs about 24” to 36”. Check to see if your preferred cucumbers and snap beans are a pole or bush variety, to determine if trellises are needed.
5) Water / Feeding – if you prepared your soil with the above amendments, you shouldn’t need to fertilize the first year. As for water, most vegetables need a good solid inch or so of water three times a week (at least, here in the South they do). If you experience heavy rains, allow Nature to do the watering for you. If not, water from the base of the plants, and not overhead to prevent molds, mildew and other problems. Soaker hoses work well for this, if you want to include them.
6) Plant care – Tomatoes need to be staked, due to the heaviness of the fruit, not to mention that the plant is a vigorous grower and will fall over if not tied up. 4’ to 6’ tomato stakes can be purchased, or made of wood cut 1”x1” square. We use rebar that has been left over from some of Randy’s jobs, but it can also be purchased and cut to length, if you want to spend the money for sturdy, reusable stakes. There are two schools of thought on ‘suckering’ (the growth between the main stems on a tomato plant). One says do, the other says don’t. To decide which you want to follow, you may want to do some research. I do, but it’s because otherwise there are just too many branches to keep tied up, and I seem to get a fairly good harvest that way.
This is just the start of your adventures into gardening. It may entail a little hard work in the beginning, but once you have prepared your bed, the rest is relatively easy. And there is nothing better than harvesting fresh vegetables that you have grown yourself. Ask any gardener – the fruits of your labor also taste much better than anything you can buy in the grocery stores.
Fellow gardeners – did I miss anything? Do you have an easier way or advice for Casey and others that are new to gardening? Please comment below, so they can also benefit from your own experiences. And who knows? I may even learn a thing or two myself!