A vegetable garden is a wonderful way to enjoy the sun and soil. It can be hours of pleasurable activity, planning, nurturing and eating. Fresh vegetables taste better than any bought in the store. Whether you’ve been dreaming of a vegetable garden or haven’t had luck with what you’ve started, creating a vegetable garden doesn’t have to be a mystery.
Just make sure you pay attention to the basics. You don’t want to realize in the middle of summer that your garden hose can’t reach the vegetable plot or the peppers you planted need a spot with more sun.
Here are six vegetable garden basics to know before you plant your first seeds.
Vegetable gardens need certain basics. Sun is the first one. Ideally, a vegetable garden should get six to eight hours of sun per day in the summer. So, don’t plant in the shade of tall trees or in a space where the house will block the sun.
You will also need an adequate amount of space for the plants to grow and flourish. A good rule of thumb is to keep 18 inches to 24 inches between plants like tomatoes and cucumbers. The total size of your plot is up to you.
A 16- by 10-foot garden will likely give you enough to feed a family of four. Remember, you don’t want to be overwhelmed the first time out. A smaller garden will also give you experience in planting and harvesting. And you won’t feel like barricading yourself from yet more cucumbers once the plants start to produce.
As you’re looking at available yard space, keep siting requirements in mind. The ground should be level. It’s not impossible to grow gardens on sloping land, but it’s much harder to weed, hoe and rototiller. Be sure your garden is close to available water sources. Otherwise, you’ll be carrying a lot of watering cans back and forth, which can get old really fast.
If the first balmy days of spring have you rushing out with seed packets…don’t. A good garden needs to be planned. And we mean, literally, sit down with a pencil and paper and plan the size, what you will plant in each area, when you will plant it and when it should be harvested. Graph paper is good for sketching the plot. Then write “when to plant” and “when to harvest” in lists.
Planning ensures the crops have enough space. If you don’t have enough space for both carrots and radishes, a list can tell you this before you start digging. Lists also ensure you don’t plant too late for a good harvest.
You need to know beforehand when seeds should go in the ground and when there should be vegetables ready! When planning the harvest, make sure it doesn’t coincide with vacation time. Also, make sure you won’t have a frantic two weeks when everything is ripe.
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others. It’s a good idea for newbie gardeners to focus on the easy ones. Next year, grow some of the harder ones. Easy ones include lettuce, basil, cucumbers, radishes and carrots. You can simply plant these in the ground, weed, fertilize and water, then pick when they are ready. Radishes can go from seed to table in about 20 days.
Tomatoes, green beans and zucchini are also easy. They grow best with a trellis or stake support, so they are slightly more complicated to grow. Some gardeners suggest newbies begin with cherry tomatoes, which are small and can be grown plant by plant.
Plants need room to set down roots. Water needs a place to go. If your soil is compacted, you need to hoe, dig and perhaps rototiller until it is loose enough to receive seeds or plants. In general, the soil needs to be loose about one foot down from the topsoil. Tomato roots will need two feet.
Then, add mulch and fertilizer. Mulch adds nutrients to the soil. Mulch can be made of bark, pine needles and grass clippings. In general, 10 percent to 20 percent of the soil should be compost. Use fertilizer very sparingly.
Your garden needs steady care and maintenance. Make sure it receives plenty of water, especially when the seeds or plants first hit the ground. Check the topsoil frequently, and water before it gets dry. The only way to be sure your plants are getting enough water but not too much is to use your hands and check. They can show signs of mold or failure to thrive if they are getting too much water.
Weed frequently as well. Weeds can grow quickly enough to choke seedlings before they start flourishing. While herbicides can kill weeds, they also have harmful effects on the garden itself. It’s best to pull up weeds by hand. This will not be a huge chore if you check for weeds regularly.
As you’re checking for weeds, look for signs of pests. The category of pests is broad, ranging from aphids to rabbits. They can destroy all your work in the garden. Insects can either be visible or leave signs of damage. Check with your local plant store about ways to get rid of them. Rabbits will eat your lettuce and other plants. A fence will discourage rabbits.
Finally, make sure you have all the common tools before you start. A hoe, shovel and some spades, for starters, will help prepare the garden. A watering can and gardening gloves are also good ideas.
Keep shoes and clothes just for gardening. If you’re doing it right, they’ll be too dirty and stained to use for anything else. Many people like to wear a hat that shades their eyes and keeps the sun off in the summer.
And there you have it! Take it easy and follow these simple steps. You’ll be enjoying fresh radishes and tomatoes this summer if you plant this spring.