Reading garden tips when you are a beginner is an easy way to take the confusion and intimidation out of gardening. 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 easy to follow garden tips to consider:
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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.
A garden also needs to be located close to a water source. At the very least, you will need to be able to run hoses or irrigation pipes. If you do this, keep in mind those hoses may be stretched across mowing or play areas, and will have to be moved around.
Size – a Serious Consideration for the Beginner
Gardens are much like children. They need attention, water, food, and tending. The best garden tips for the beginner is to 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.
Begin with a 4×8, 6×6 or even and 8×8 bed first. You can also consider container, raised beds, or even square foot gardening to start. Smaller gardens such as these give you an opportunity to see how much time you spend caring for your garden. Containers can be small enough to hold a few herbs, or large enough, such as a half whiskey barrel, to plant two or three different plants in one space.
One of the garden tips many beginners don’t think about is timing. 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, try the double-dig method.
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 and other nutrient-rich amenities.
When you rake leaves in the fall, pile them up in the garden area and till/dig them in.
By preparing your garden in this manner in the fall, you give the organic matter an opportunity to break down. It leaves you with soil that is nutrient rich and easier to manage. It is also easier for your plants’ roots to grow!
Choosing your Seeds & Plants
When it comes to choosing your seeds, you need to first decide if you want to grow hybrids or heirlooms. Hybrids are a ‘blend’ of two or more different varieties, and are designed primarily to produce a certain size, color, disease and pest resistance and other characteristic. Although some hybrids are good, others tend to have the flavor bred out of them.
I prefer heirloom seeds. First, the flavor is still there, even if the shapes, colors and other characteristics vary. I also want to save the seeds from the plants that do well in my garden, climate and micro-climate. Most heirlooms are ‘indeterminate’, meaning it keeps growing. (A determinate seed will quit growing, once it has reached a genetically pre-determined size.)
Seeds grown from heirloom plants will come back true to type. Hybrids will not, as they are usually crossed with too many other varieties. If you like the idea of growing heirlooms from seeds, one of the best places to get them is through Mary’s Heirloom Seeds.
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 of vegetables and don’t have a lot of room, try using a space-saving trellis. Place them on the very edge of the garden and grow climbers, such as beans and cucumbers.
Another space-saving idea is to use the companion planting method. You can plant carrots and/or basil between your tomato plants, parsley with your peppers, and other companions together to grow more in a small space.
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.
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 2 inches 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 within an irrigation system work well for this, and they are one of the best garden tips for the beginner I can think of. They save time, go straight to the roots of the plants and the water goes deeper into the ground.
(for seed saving & how many plants per person charts, a garden design worksheet, and more,
check out the Garden section in my Homemaking Manual!)
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.
‘Suckering tomatoes is a practice that means removing the growth between the main stems on a tomato plant. This portion of gardening tips for beginners has two schools of thought. Some gardeners say ‘do’, others say ‘don’t’.
The basic idea behind suckering is to allow the main branches to grow thicker and stronger. It also prevents too many blooms, which causes the plant to try and get nutrients and water to an over-abundance of fruit.
Whether one way works better than the other is mostly a personal preference and observation. To decide which garden tips on suckering 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.
Use Garden Tips for the Beginner to Kickstart Your Gardening Adventure !
Garden Tips for the Beginner 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!
In the fall cover the beds with layers of cardboard and newspaper. It will decompose over the winter but will keep weeds away greatly.
I don’t prune my tomatoes, I just tie everything to the one stake as it gets big enough. I hate tomTo cages, they aren’t tall enough and I think they are worthless.
Julie remind me and I will send you some of my heirloom tomato seeds. I got them from an old tomato guy in Wisconsin
Great advice, Kim, and covering the beds like that really work. I would LOVE heirloom tomato seeds! I’ll see what I can swap you! Thanks, Kim.